I received a letter addressed simply to ‘The Literary Critical detective’ c/o Françoise. I came downstairs from my study to find it half wedged through the letterbox of my front door. Françoise herself was out, and although I could have simply opened it there and then my sense of correctness meant that I waited until her return.
The address had been typed out onto a separate sheet of paper and then stuck on to the envelope. As such it allowed me no clue as to the identity of my mysterious correspondent. Interestingly, it was also incorrect, or rather incomplete, which suggested that whilst the writer had taken pains to obscure their identity, they were nevertheless still a little careless in their work
When, some hours later, Françoise finally returned I pressed her to open the letter. Immediately sensing my urgency she took great delight in fussing over her things. ‘It won’t do for me to simply drop my bags when I walk in through the door. How am I supposed to get my work done when I’m expected to just stop like this? Am I not even allowed to take my coat and shoes off, after I’ve been out all day fetching things for you? And let me put my shopping away first. Tut.’ This last was just to annoy me, it being a game she played to frustrate me when I was at my most fervent, and to impose her own will on any situation. ‘Let me have a look then.’
She opened the envelope, pulled out the one sheet of paper and cast her eye over it a little suspiciously; then when the suspicion had worn off, with a look of concentrated confusion; and then, finally, with a yawn of boredom. She tossed it away, so that I had to retrieve it from the far side of the desk at which she had placed herself. ‘It is from Thistleton,’ she said, her tone letting me know precisely what she thought of that.
Indeed it was from Thistleton, that great scholar, a fact that will account for the inattention to the address – he was in a sense, only sending something out for it to come back. I have not seen this man for some time past, despite his protestations that we should be great associates. So this letter came as something of a surprise. In it, he apologises for not writing sooner, accounting for his silence by the need to find some suitable response to my previous works.
He proceeds to warn me in his own particular way, quoting those lines from the Aeneid: ‘The descent to Avernos is easy … but to retrace your steps and escape back to the upper air, this is the task, this is the difficulty’. Thistleton reminds me to be mindful of this in my work as the world’s only consulting Literary Critical Detective, and mentions to me the figure of Daedalus.
I am, indeed, beset by difficulties, and by tasks that lie at hand. However, I will be always mindful of these words.