We all know with what speed a risky subject can evolve into something quite tame and predictable. Remember the fuss over Ingemar Glozon’s A Thousand Men? What shocked the reading public about Glozon’s epic narrative about the Catholic church was not the fact that it was packed with scurrilous and scatalogical subplots. No, the sensation was that it wasn’t crammed with such stuff: that he went so far as to praise the church: to back the institution up. We’d all been so used to stories about perverse priests and mischievous monks, the idea that the church might be doing a smidgen of good came as a bit of a surprise. Not a naughty nun in sight: oh my.
Clerical ribaldry may have become a bit of an old chestnut these days, but that’s not to say that some people don’t do it well, or keep it relevant. Ciambhal O’Droningham is the obvious, much-mentioned, example. His series of ero-sci-fi-philosophical-murder-mysteries (the best of which remains The Dead Priest) set a standard that few can match. Some of the jokes may have lost their punch over the years (that’s enough about candlesticks now, Ciambhal) but on the whole he keeps things fresh.
Was it always so? Not necessarily. Before stumbling upon the formula that cemented his literary career, O’Droningham struggled to make his particular brand of shocking-with-a-subtle-twist fiction work. Perhaps it was his refusal to accept that he needed to put religion, the focus of his life, at the centre of his work. Or perhaps it was just his unhealthy fixation with dinosaur sex.
I’m not sure whether you could call it a taboo as such. But then it’s not something we like to talk about all that much either – for good or revealing reasons. Personally speaking the realm of the dinosaurs is associated with my childhood, whereas the mechanics of a sexual encounter between two large lizards is, well, something else entirely. Mixing the two seems both peculiar and unnecessary. Is there even a market for this sort of thing?
If there is, it wasn’t a market O’Droningham was able to exploit, probably on account of his poor prose, and feeble grasp of prehistoric issues. All of which goes to say that these early tales – Rapt or Obsessed and Call me Rex – are not worth revisiting, now or ever. This is one of those risky subjects that doesn’t require full disclosure.