Friday, January 26, 2007

The philosopher and the murder mystery

Ned Beauman has an interesting entry on the Guardian's book blog about novels, particularly mysteries, in which historical figures play a role:
[W]hen mystery writers have looked for a real historical figure to add gravitas to their novels, they've usually gone for the very mighty, from Julius Caesar in Steven Saylor's Rubicon to John F Kennedy in James Ellroy's American Tabloid. This makes sense - a lot of murders are about power - but what's much more interesting is the clash between the brutal, messy world and someone who lives mostly in their own gentle, ordered mind, like a philosopher or a novelist.

The supreme example of this is probably an out-of-print, 1978 novel called The Case of the Philosopher's Ring by Randall Collins, in which Bertrand Russell despatches Sherlock Holmes to find out who has stolen Wittgenstein's mind.
Beauman mentions other writers and philosophers who appear in fictional roles--including Kant, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Defoe, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Mark Twain, Poe, Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter--before naming the philosopher he'd like to see as a mystery-solver.

--Marshal Zeringue