Paul Doiron here—
As a reader, I am always curious to learn about authors and their literary influences. I’d be interested to hear from my fellow Maine Crime Writers about novels that had a profound impact on their own writing.
I’ll go first. One of my childhood favorites is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s both a perfectly plotted work of art and a seminal book in the history of crime literature. (Stephen King rightly called it “a masterpiece of concision.”) I once taught a class at Emerson College called “The Divided Self,” and this passage was one I highlighted for my students:
Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life.
It’s not just that Henry Jekyll leads a divided existence between uprightness and degradation, it’s that he knowingly and eagerly chooses to do so. That choice leads him to create the potion that precipitates Edward Hyde.
When it comes to explaining why humans act violently, contemporary culture tends to discount the concept of agency for other motivations (e.g. addiction, mental illness). But I believe that moments of conscious choice lie at the center of the best crime stories. All mysteries are driven by deception, but the great ones acknowledge that the decision to commit a duplicitous act comes “de profundis”—from the depths of our beings. Catholics like me call this “sin” and embody it in the story of Lucifer’s rebellion against heaven.
In Stevenson’s book, Henry Jekyll believes he can escape his own culpability by creating an alter ego free of moral compunctions. Even at the end he still clings tightly to that self-delusion But we, the readers, should recognize that Jekyll was in fact always Hyde. This unflinching assessment makes the doctor’s plight no less tragic, but it also makes him unforgivable.