Last October I blogged about the division in crime fiction between those who abhored supernormal elements in detective stories and those who took them in stride:
Life is sometimes absurd or fogged in the dreamy cloud of unknowing; and in literary metaphors, ghosts can represent many things including that absurdity, the unfathomable blank beyond the capacity of everyday human conscious experience.
But in the typical detective novel, the ghost story is a red herring. The ghostly evidence usually turns out to be nothing of the sort, a contrived cover story for the real murderer, or a con job used to extract money out of the gullible. A hoax.
Connie Willis's Inside Job concerns a professional debunker, who makes a living by investigating and explosing the false claims of professional mediums and spiritualists. It is a crime novella in a minor key, a ghost story in the way that the movie, Ghost, is a ghost movie. It assumes that the reader knows that such mediums are bunk, and then it throws the reader a funny curve.
It does this in the way that Ghost does it, by having one of these con artists unwillingly and unknowingly conjuring up a real ghost, and to compound the comedy, the unwitting ghost is none other than that of hard core skeptic and humorist, H. L. Mencken.
That's the premise, and veteran wordsmith Connie Willis pulls it off beautifully. My only complaint is that it is a 99-page novella rather than a full length book. I finished it, when it first came out back in 2005, wanting more.
I reread it again just now wanting more. Still, a funny read in a beautiful book.
For this week's links to other selections of Friday's Forgotten Books, by other bloggers, go to the pattinase site at this link.