This semester, I’m teaching a course on American Gothic Literature, so I have gothic and all of its shivery goodness on my mind. I’m always fascinated by where gothic and mystery overlap, and one of their points of connection involves how, typically, something must come forward from the shadows.
In gothic, there are usually actual shadows, such as those cast by the moonlight peeking through the ominously twisted tree branches in a dark forest, or those thrown by the flickering light of a torch—or it may be the shadows of the mind, where, in gothic, madness so often lurks and brings back repressed things with a vengeance.
In mystery, shadows are similarly cast, but depending on what genre we’re talking about, they may work differently. For example, a thriller might give us shadows right off the bat in the form of shadowy figures, dangerous landscapes, etc., while cozies tend to give us more of a gradual revelation: the community and characters often look bright and sunny…until the body “drops.”
Both gothic and mystery in general can be focused on the big reveal, along with any number of smaller revelations along the way. Moreover, the characters have shadow sides, too. Protagonists and antagonists alike have secrets and tendencies that may be revealed when we least expect it.
This presents quite a challenge for the writer. It’s not easy to pull off a believable emergence from the shadows that has been plausibly set up but isn’t broadcast a mile away. Plus, experienced readers are anticipatory…we know not to relax too comfortably into the story because something is coming our way from the shadows. All of this to say: when we are surprised, we should applaud the author.
What are some of your favorite examples of “coming forward from the shadows” (in mystery or otherwise)?