“And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? --now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.”
― Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart"
Like the mad narrator of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” crime fiction invaded my mind and my bones and wouldn’t let me go. It wouldn’t show me any peace. You wouldn’t have thought this given my initial readings in the genre. Here I was this black kid growing up in then mostly African American South Central in Los Angeles reading the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Even some John Dickson Carr. Damn. Now, to maintain what little hardboiled cred I have, I hasten to add I would eventually drift into the works of the likes of Chester Himes, Hammett and the Godfather if Ghetto Lit, Donald Goines...but still.
The cleverness of the puzzle of who did the thieving and the killing, obfuscating their trail or in some cases, presenting the head scratcher of how was the murder was carried off given the victim was in a locked room. Those kind of stories knocked me out. The locked room, the so-called impossible crime, were a specialty of Carr, an American whose stories and characters were set in Britain, where he lived. His protagonist Dr. Gideon Fell was a blowhard, overweight ass who nonetheless cracked these cases by methods of observation, interrogation and deduction.
It seems having a grounding in what’s termed the Golden Age of British detective fiction where cerebral powers mattered more in the solving of the crime had an affect on me. This before I got deep into the American branch, where rougher, edgier characters, protagonists and antagonists, resided. The motivations of the villains on both sides of the Atlantic were often the same; greed, lust, avarice, revenge. It was how they went about achieving their dastardly goals, poisoned tea versus crowbar upside the head, that gave me my rounded education in disposal and psychosis A fuller appreciation for the twisted, bent human nature as both the Golden Age stories and our homegrown street-level criminals and catchers showed me.
The guilt that the murderer in the “Tell-Tale Heart” couldn’t shake for his deeds, his imagining of hearing the beat, beat of the old man’s heart he killed and stuffed beneath the floorboard ate at him. Crime fiction eats at me like that too. I gotta get it down on paper, have to appease the heart that won’t be silent, won’t leave me alone until I till the stories it commands me to tell.
It’s just an over-acuteness of the senses I tell you.