I recently finished and submitted a new Michael Macbeth: Paranormal Consultant story to an upcoming anthology; it hasn’t been accepted yet (although I’m hopeful), so I won’t say more than that about the specifics, but I do want to talk about the form a bit.
Michael is that hoary old chestnut, a psychic (mystic, what-have-you) detective, a concept that’s been around, sorta quietly lurking, since at least the pulps of the 1930s if not before. The character type has enjoyed a recent resurgence with the popularity of such things as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the “weirdening” of Sherlock Holmes in several recent adaptations and anthologies, and so forth. And of course Kolchak, while not a psychic himself, was a Marlowe-style private eye in a world of horror and monsters, so he fits right in.
This is a genre that I am comfortable in, and in which I will probably be writing no small amount of stories in the not-too-distant future. Whether they feature Michael, or another character, or possibly several different ones, is yet to be seen. However, I have recently come to a conclusion about the genre: the perfect psychic detective story has already been written. That story is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
I’m not going to go into why here, well except for the bit about use of language. Oh, and depth of theme. Not to mention the tight plot and nifty twists. And atmosphere. The point is, with all due respect to Mr. Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Gail Carriger, Seanan McGuire, Charlaine Harris, and all the way back to Seabury Quinn, there will never be another psychic detective story that reaches the pure ideal of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. This is my own personal opinion of course, but anyone claiming otherwise is objectively wrong. Even Douglas Adams couldn’t do it! There’s a reason The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul took him so much effort, and The Salmon of Doubt was never finished. After Dirk Gently, Adams had nowhere to go but down, and he knew it.
At first, I was discouraged by this. But upon reflection, I found it strangely liberating: the pressure’s off. The competition is already won. I never have to worry about trying to write the best psychic detective story ever written, because it’s already been done. All I need to worry about is writing the best psychic detective story I can write. Of course it won’t be as good as Dirk Gently, because that can’t be done. I wouldn’t feel any guilt or pressure about not being able to fly and shoot lasers from my eyes, for the same reason.
All that said… if I could manage to write a book that was “kinda sorta nearly as good as some of the bits in Dirk Gently,” I’d be totally happy with that. 🙂