Monday, August 04, 2008

Deptford Stories

A would-be literary pedant (OK it was me) was spotted in Greenwich Waterstone's earlier today tut-tutting over the display of London novels. Next to various works by Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd were copies of The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies. The only problem being that the Deptford in this trilogy is not in South East London - it is a fictional Canadian village based on the author's home of Thamesville, Ontario (confusingly the real life Thamesville is on a river Thames and in area called Chatham-Kent!).

So what novels and short stories are actually set in our Deptford? Well for a start there's ‘The Adventure of the Deptford Horror’ (1953), a Sherlock Holmes story by Adrian Conan Doyle (son of Arthur). In this tale giant killer spiders from Cuba are used to deadly effect in ‘a lane of mean slatternly houses sloping, so far as I could judge from the yellow mist that was already creeping up the lower end, to the river's edge... Usually I am not unduly affected by my surroundings, but I must confess that I was aware of a feeling of depression at the melancholy spectacle that lay before us’.

Doyle was not the only writer to see Deptford as a suitable setting for crime. A murder in a Deptford almshouse features in Molly Brown’s restoration mystery ‘Invitation to a Funeral’ (1995), while in ‘Go’ by Simon Lewis’ (1998), the story starts in a Deptford nightclub presided over by murderous gangsters, before moving on with its backpacker characters to Goa and Hong Kong. In ‘The Family Arsenal’ (1976), Paul Theroux uses the area as the base for a group of urban guerrillas, living close to ‘the river at Deptford, showing like a band of bright snake scales; but the snake lay hidden, and here when the wind was right on the creek it was a smell – a tidal odor of mudbanks and exposed pebbles, a blocked sink holding a dead serpent’.

There are also fictional accounts of the death of Christopher Marlowe, most notably ‘A Dead Man in Deptford’ (1993) by Anthony Burges, in which Marlowe is ‘soothed by the noise of the waterside taverns, where there was much hard drinking’ in an imagined 16th century Deptford: ‘the shipbuilders early awork… A faint stink from the Queen’s slaughterhouse. But was not the whole land her slaughterhouse? A firmer stink from the tanneries. Inland gulls wove over the waters and crarked. Sails, sails, a wilderness of them’. A more outlandish fictionalisation by Rosemary Laurey, ‘Walk in Moonlight’ (2000), has Marlowe as a vampire, although I must confess I haven't actually read that one yet.

Anyone know any others?

6 comments:

Blackheath Bugle said...

Not about Deptford, but I'm still waiting for "The Blackheath Poisonings" to be freed up in the local library - I'm 2nd in line now at last...

Transpontine said...

There was a 1990s TV version of the Blackheath Poisonings which I think is available on DVD.

Anonymous said...

Although most of the action takes place underneath Deptford, there's also the Deptford Mice Trilogy by Robin Jarvis

http://www.robinjarvis.com/deptfordhome.html

Has been years since I read them so I'm not sure how much detail there is about Deptford, but I remember really enjoying them as a kid.

Anonymous said...

I read the Deptford trilogy last year, it was fantastic.
There is a hint, however, that the Deptford of the title may refer to our one. This is because the family hail from somewhere in London and Davies was involved in theatre in London and may well have visited it.

Andrew Brown said...

Just finished Redemption Falls, by Joseph O'Connor, which admittedly is set outside of Deptford, but one of the leading characters is a Deptford boy.

Transpontine said...

Sounds promising - could be one for my book group.