My favorite time-travel story is The Devil in Velvet by Golden Age Mystery writer John Dickson Carr, usually known as the master of the subgenre known as the “locked room mystery.”
For Devil in Velvet, Carr stepped away from locked rooms to pen a brilliantly bubbly and delightful one-off that’s part time-travel tale, part deal-with-the-devil story, part comic-historical swashbuckling romantic mystery that I like to think must have partially inspired George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman tales.
The novel opens in 1925. Nicholas Fenton is an aging, tweedy, book-bound Cambridge professor who’s become fixated on a murder mystery dating back to 1675 Restoration England that implicates an ancestor of Professor Fenton’s.
Who should flare up in Nicholas’s musty study one night but another Nick, the one known as Old Scratch, to grant Nicholas’s wish.
Unfortunately, Old Horny’s method involves transplanting the meek professor’s soul into the body of the main suspect, a 26-year-old impulse-driven, drunken, sword-wielding rake, also named Nicholas Fenton. (For modern movie-going readers, think the mind of Christopher Plummer forcibly fused with the body of Johnny Depp).
To say that this ignites a serious case of inner conflict (as they call it in writers workshops) and Yin v. Yang warfare is putting it mildly. The good mild professor must not only prove the innocence of his thoroughly disgusting ancestor, but must also save the murder victim’s life without falling in love with her, all the while trying to negotiate, by sword and smarts, the seamy grubby world of Restoration England.
The results are tremendously entertaining, written with precise and vivid color, narrative dash, and great humor. The Devil in Velvet never ceases to enthrall and delight. (It’s one of those books I’d throw at Nabokov and Edmund Wilson when they start carping at genre fiction). I’ve only read one other of Carr’s novels, but according to some fans, this rates as his best. It certainly rates highly with me.
Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark is available right NOW, published by Ambler House Publishing. It can be ordered in both paperback and e-book editions through your local independent bookstore, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell's Books, Smashwords, Scrib'd and now at the Red Room bookstore. His original comic screenplay Whackers is now available in Kindle, Nook, iPod and on Scrib'd, also from Ambler House. His screenplay The Uglies, a crime saga about the 99 percent, will be out exclusively as an e-book soon. Other material can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. Not enough for ya? He can also be friended on Facebook (where you can read his almost-daily movie reviews), tweeted at on Twitter. You can also join his e-mail list via at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.
Causes Thomas Burchfield Supports
The Nature Conservancy; Africare; Capitol Public Radio