Zoe Sharp is the woman Lee Child wishes he was – Google it, it’s true – she’s the author of the kick-ass Charlie Fox series, which is now on its ninth installment; Fifth Victim, and features in Childs’ new anthology Vengeance. Zoe blogs regularly on her website, and at Murderati, and can also be found on Facebook, and Twitter (@AuthorZoeSharp).
Zoe’s pick is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies…
“What’s the dirtiest thing there is?”
This is a question asked by the visionary character, Simon. The answer he’s looking for is abstract—evil.
In William Golding’s 1954 classic, a group of English schoolboys being evacuated during a nuclear war are marooned on a tropical island after their plane crashes with the loss of all adults in the party. The boys start off with some semblance of law and order, electing Ralph as their leader, with the intellectual Piggy as his advisor. They build houses, gather fruit, and start a signal fire in hope of rescue.
It isn’t long before another boy, Jack, challenges Ralph. Jack wants to hunt, gradually becoming more and more consumed by the savage and predatory side of his nature. Jack is supported by Roger, whose sadistic tendencies are allowed free rein without the constraints of grownups and civilised society. He becomes Jack’s henchman and enforcer.
The boys all have fears, at first of some unnamed beast they think is lurking in the jungle, then later of the body of a dead paratrooper which lands on the island’s mountaintop and seems to move of its own volition as the wind catches the corpse’s canopy. This fear leads to Jack seizing control and appointing himself tribal Chief. Simon is accidentally killed when he appears in the camp suddenly out of the darkness, having discovered the true identity of the dead paratrooper. But when Ralph and Piggy refuse to submit to Jack’s tribe, Piggy is murdered by Roger. The boys start a forest fire in an attempt to run Ralph to ground. It is this fire which leads to their ultimate rescue.
Golding’s book was intended to be a modern fable, although it is not as clear-cut as that. His theory was that humans have savage and brutal natures which are only held in check by society as a whole. When society breaks down, evil takes control. It is Simon who sees this most clearly, after Jack’s slaughter of a nursing sow and the mounting of her head on a stick. To Simon’s hallucinating mind, this fly-blown head is the Lord of the Flies of the title, who taunts him that the nature of evil cannot be hunted down as it is contained inside the human psyche.
Golding set his tale on a tropical island to offer contrast to the boys’ adventure novels of the period. The war going on in the outside world—that led to the boys’ situation—is another point, that the grownups have descended into savagery, too.
At the heart of every crime novel is some form of exploration of the nature of evil. Lord of the Flies strips that to the bone.
- Zoe Sharp
The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.