In April 2015, B.K. Stevens debuted the blog series “The First Two Pages,” hosting craft essays by short story writers and novelists analyzing the openings of their own work. The series continued until just after her death in August 2017, and the full archive of those essays can be found at Bonnie’s website. In November 2017, the blog series relocated to my website, and the archive of this second stage of the series can be found here.
In 1929, Monsignor Ronald Knox—one of the founders of The Detection Club—published his ten commandments for writing detective stories, a “decalogue” quickly embraced as guiding rules for writers during that Golden Age of Mystery. Rule #3 stated: “All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course”—a sentiment dating back to the earlier roots of modern detective fiction. As Dupin says to the unnamed narrator of Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “It is not too much to say that neither of us believe in praeternatural events,” and when Sherlock is confronted by the possibility of a demonic beast terrorizing the moors in The Hound of the Baskervilles, he suggests that “The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?” (Spoiler alert: He’s right.)
When readers think of the Golden Age of Mystery, Agatha Christie may be the writer who pops to mind first—and her primary detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple together exemplify the triumph of rationality, intellect, and a keen knowledge of human nature. But as the just-released collection The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural proves, the Queen of Mystery was equally skilled at stories that stepped into the fantastic, the otherworldly, and even the occult.
Most of the stories here have been gathered in other collections, but one—”The Wife of the Kenite”—makes its U.S. debut in this book. That story is more a tale of dark motives and merciless revenge than anything supernatural (unless coincidence counts), and not all of the stories here maintain a focus on the unknown and unexplained. But those that do—including “The Dressmaker’s Doll,” “The Lamp,” and the collection’s title story—reveal a side of Christie that many writers might be unfamiliar with. These tales and others are perfect for the Halloween season and for those dark winter nights ahead—and don’t forget the British tradition of ghost stories at Christmas, of course!
Today at the First Two Pages, I’m offering something different—my own analysis of two pages by a legend at work. The essay below considers the opening of “In A Glass Darkly,” an expertly told tale with uncanny elements and swift and satisfying surprises. Highly recommended.
And a quick tease toward future essays: This isn’t the only time this year that I’ll be analyzing the work of a master of the mystery short story. The final First Two Pages of the year is already reserved to mark a milestone of 2019. Stay tuned to find out more.
Please use the arrows and controls at the bottom of the embedded PDF to navigate through the essay. You can also download the essay to read off-line.Christie-Glass-Darkly