Carl Jung’s Detectives

Posted: January 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

This Guest Post originally appeared on Omni Mystery News


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Please Welcome Thriller Novelist D.L. Johnstone


Omnimystery News: Guest Author Post
by D.L. Johnstone

We are delighted to welcome novelist D.L. Johnstone as our guest.

D.L.’s new novel is the Ancient Alexandrian thriller Furies (D.L. Johnstone, December 2012 ebook formats).

Today D.L. tells us about a most interesting subject, Carl Jung’s detectives. And he is giving one of our readers a chance to win a copy of his book (details below).

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Carl Jung loved mysteries. Not just those of the human psyche — straight-up detective novels that he’d read every night before falling asleep. He was especially a fan of Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series. Okay, first, how cool is that? And second, what do you think Jung got out of it, besides a good night’s sleep (filled with a very rich dream-life)? This wasn’t your typical mystery fan. This was Carl Gustav Jung. The founder of analytical psychology. The father of the study of archetypes and the collective unconscious. The inspiration for Campbell’s Journey of the Hero. The guy who put the Jung in Jungian. What universal truths did he plumb in reading mysteries?

D.L. Johnstone
Photo provided courtesy of
D.L. Johnstone

There are universal truths in mysteries and crime fiction, of course, no matter if they’re ancient historical, hard-scrabble contemporary or dystopian-futuristic. There will be a crime. There will be a hero. There will be a villain. But that’s only the surface. What lies beneath? How do mysteries delve into our collective unconscious?

I really got into this when I started writing my latest novel, the historical thriller Furies. Setting an crime novel in ancient Alexandria has a host of challenges, from the politics and history to the layout of the city, the language, culture, money, dress, food, social interactions, business, the criminal justice system, ancient forensics and burial practices. Getting into the heads of characters from a different era and culture presents an entirely different challenge, however. What were they like? How did they think? Yes, people are people. We all have the same basic motivations, the hierarchy of needs we all seek to fulfill, no matter what period of history we live in. But we’re also creatures of our culture, our society. What cultural elements shaped ancient Romans’ and Alexandrians’ thoughts and world views?

I decided on two key entry points: philosophy (since Alexandria, with its famed Library and Museion and tradition of patronage, was the centre of academia in the ancient world for a good four centuries) and mythology. The competing philosophies of the time were clear enough. At least we have a good understanding of who the main sophists were and what the main precepts of their arguments were. Mythology is something else again. And that’s where Jung comes in.

I’ve been a mythology geek for as long as I can recall. As a kid, I ate up stories of Hercules, Hermes, Perseus, Theseus and Achilles — the original superheroes. I read the Odyssey and the Iliad multiple times, from Illustrated Classics to three different translated versions. Mythology is key to the way the ancients thought. While most educated Romans and Greeks didn’t believe them literally, their mythology shaped them the way we’re shaped by the New Testament, the Koran, writings of Confucius, Marx, Voltaire or Lennon and McCartney (or, admit it, ET, Disney movies, J. K. Rowling, Twilight … we’re all creatures of our society). The Romans made their regular sacrifices to the Gods, worshipped in the temples, read the divinations before making any new venture. Heresy was a capital offense. Roman school children would study the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid, and not only learn them by rote but take lessons of virtue and honour from them. I admit to geeking out a bit when I learned that the Library of Alexandria contained Alexander the Great’s personal copies of both — annotated in detail by his own boyhood teacher, Aristotle. It wasn’t just a good story for them — it defined their way of thinking.

And their mythology helped explore universal truths. They contained countless stories of crime, heroes and villains/tricksters.

The archetypal hero is Apollo, God of Law and Justice but also, as God of Divination and Prophecy, a character with a unique connection to intuition. What detective doesn’t use a healthy dose of intuition in solving cases? Apollo’s traditional foe is Dionysos, who represents the murderer. While Apollo inspires wisdom and was equated by Jung (in Psychological Types) with introverted intuition, Dionysos is all about extroverted sensation: ecstasies, excesses of drunkenness and passion, madness, blood lust, throwing off all inhibitions. Picture the typical, over-the-top Bond villain. Or Ted Bundy. Or Adolf Hitler. With his horned head and pronged staff, Dionysos is the archetype for modern representations of the devil.

There is also a fascinating mythological connection between the murder victim — Dionysos’ sacrifice and the killer. Dionysos himself was a victim of murder (by Hera and the Titans). While he was later reborn, he was also driven to madness and went on a killing rampage. So he became the God who was murdered and the God who murders. Quite the handle. Don’t most mass-murderers have some horrible back story to explain their madness? Dionysos’ crimes in part symbolize a self-killing, losing one’s soul as one takes another’s life.

Apollo and Dionysos are therefore natural enemies not only in mythology or their roles as God of Justice vs God of Passion and Madness, but from their starkly contrasting approaches to the world. The classic, eternal battle of introverted intuition versus extroverted sensation.

In the Roman view, gods tended not to do their own dirty work. Instead they had humans act on their behalf. Unconsciously, of course. And so our detective will strive for justice, with his sensory and/or intuiting skills in full engagement, not realizing he is acting as Apollo’s agent. And the villain would do the same, on Dionysos’ behalf.

There is a theory that Dionysos and Apollo started out as one and the same god, representing different facets that split off and evolved over the centuries (millennia?) within the rich fabric of mythology. This highlights another classic element of crime fiction, the parallels between the killer and the hero, two sides of the same coin, defining one another by their contrasts.

Did Jung think about all this when he read Simenon? Probably that and a great deal more. And hopefully he also read for the not so simple pleasures of just reading a good mystery.

(With thanks to John Boe, Rafael Lopez-Pedraza and Kay Marie Porterfield for their insightful research.)

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D.L. Johnstone lives in the Toronto area with his wife, four kids and a half-dog/half-sasquatch named Charlie. He is also the author of the contemporary thriller Chalk Valley. He comments on thrillers, “indie” publishing and other miscellany at his blog

— ♦ —

Furies by D.L. Johnstone

D.L. Johnstone
An Ancient Alexandrian Thriller.

It’s 36 AD. The city of Alexandria is a center of Roman commerce — and a sinful playground for the pleasure-seeking rich and powerful.

For wealthy merchant Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, however, Alexandria has become a living hell. Ruined by a string of mysterious investment disasters, deserted by friends and family, his reputation in tatters, Aculeo is forced to eke out a meagre existence in the poorest, back streets of the city. He’s desperate to find the man he blames for the debacle and recover what he’s lost.

Aculeo’s quest forces him deep into treacherous, unfamiliar territory, Alexandria’s criminal underworld. And entangles him in a web of corruption, conspiracy and murder.

A common slave is found murdered in the magnificent temple of the god Serapis. Days later, the brutalized body of a high-priced hetaira is discovered floating in a canal, after an evening entertaining the city’s elite. The grim truth soon becomes clear: a ruthless killer is moving among Alexandria’s aristocrats, commercial titans, and philosophers.

And ominous clues connect those murders to Aculeo’s quest, with disturbing revelations about his own past.

Aided by an Egyptian mortuary attendant, a brilliant philosopher, a lovely hetaira, and his last remaining friends, Aculeo must hunt down a terrifying murderer in the highest echelons of society if he hopes to reclaim the life he has lost.

But first, he must survive … Print and/or Kindle Edition

For a chance to win a copy of Furies, courtesy of the author, visit Mystery Book Contests, click on the “D.L. Johnstone: Furies” contest link, enter your name, e-mail address, and this code — 6567 — for a chance to win! (Note: The prize is an ebook. One entry per person. US residents only. Contest ends January 16th, 2013.)

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