Purgatory and Crime


I reserve the right to feel very smug about my writing progress at the moment. I can’t always explain why things suddenly turn out for the better, but whilst watching the brilliant 60’s TV Series “The Prisoner”, I suddenly found the right angle for my crime fiction story. Previous to that, I had read a BRILLIANT article that defined literary fiction.

Literary Fiction

I’ve known for the last two years at least, that I love description, and in the last year, I’ve really become attuned to the power of characterization. Plot and action scenes are not my forte– which means I need to work harder on those. As the article states, you CANNOT sacrifice plot in literary fiction. But deeper, philosophical works with finely-crafted sentences are more to my taste. I’ll take Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky and Okri over McNab, Patterson and Ryan. Funny thing? I never realized it. After reading the above article, and seeing that literary fiction requires focus predominantly on CHARACTER, a light-bulb went on in my head.

(I didn’t run into the street naked like Archimedes, though).

So in comes “The Prisoner”. This brilliant series (1967- 1968) describes the fate of an unnamed man in Civil Service (top-secret government job) who suddenly resigns. Alarmed by this, a covert organization (his former employers) knock him out and imprison him in a mysterious realm called The Village. He no longer has a name, but is referred to as Number Six, with the village being ostensibly controlled by a Number Two, who changes each episode. Number Six is rebellious and keeps trying to escape, but almost always fails, often because people he has trusted are secretly working for Number Two, or powerless in their own right. He is told he can ONLY leave if he tells Number Two why he resigned.

The Prisoner Opening Sequence

I love the deeper meaning behind this series. For example, if the man who controls The Village is called “Number Two”, then who is “Number One”? This relates to power structures in society, and criminal gangs are the best comparison. For example, in the great Sherlock Holmes series, we learn that several crimes he investigates appear to have been orchestrated by a higher power, who is likened to a spider. Of course, we know this is the malign Professor Moriarty– but he is too clever to make his appearance known. Hence he uses middle-men.

Whatever Number Six does is constantly being watched, which is reflected in our society today. Everything we visit on the Internet is being watched, and government organizations try to justify prying even more into our private lives. Because they control our countries, we are loath to argue with them. But are their powers justified?

The other Villagers seem very happy with their situation, and there is a quaint old English feel about the place, despite the sinister controls around it. I feel this reflects those of us who never challenge the status quo and prize our own comforts above challenging the authorities and creating change. This often leads to people appropriating too much power and being allowed to get away with excess or even crime– simply because people look the other way. Reminds me of several governments and other institutions in the news today.

The fact that the man is now called Number Six commodifies him, and this makes him angry. I find this most reflective of prison, and how your name turns into a number. I was recently reading Malcolm X’s autobiographical account (Chapter Seven- Satan) of his time in prison, and although he forgot his prison numbers, he could never forget the bars. Of course, every time The Prisoner tries to escape, he gets brought back in. Malcolm X discusses a fellow prisoner, Bimbi, who argued that the difference between those in prison and those outside was that the prisoners had been caught. Indeed, why is Number Six treated as a renegade criminal when he shouts “I am a free man!”, whilst Number Two unlawfully imprisons him, but acts as though he is merely keeping law and order?

And how many people in power today should really be in prison? Why aren’t they?

Depressing? I find it fascinating, and that is PRECISELY why I successfully revamped my own crime fiction original.

Going on the basis that no idea is original, the structure of my work is inspired by “The Prisoner”. My detective has recently served a prison sentence for art fraud, having worked for a shadowy organization called “The Company”, which is ostensibly an art dealership. She feels that “The Company” set things up so that she would take most of the blame, and is determined to expose them when she leaves. Unfortunately, an agent of said Company awaits her upon release and demands that she sign a Contract of Silence. When she refuses, Dido is kidnapped and sent to Purgatory, a mysterious city just outside London, and barred from escaping until she signs The Contract. If she repents of her sin (refusing to sign), then she will be released into “Heaven” (back to her hometown, London). If not, she will remain in Purgatory. Whilst in the city, she is used by the authorities as a detective, but it soon becomes apparent that she is merely a pawn and some criminals just cannot be caught.

This is a very rough plot at the moment, and in need of refinements. I welcome any critical suggestions and enhancements in the comments section. But I am mostly pleased about this, as writing a literary original will allow me to flesh out on character, examine philosophy and society, and still apply the principles of solving a crime.

Any writers out there? Do you prefer literary or genre fiction, and if so, why? What are you working on right now?

Feel free to let me know!



“He can make even the act of putting on his dressing-gown appear as a gesture of defiance!”

Number Two, speaking about Number Six

The Prisoner- Episode Two: The Chimes of Big Ben




4 thoughts on “Purgatory and Crime

  1. This is an interesting outline with a great deal of potential and I would look forward to seeing posts of the first drafts.
    The only suggestion I would add would be to introduce some tensions with The Company’s personnel, maybe allowing the detective some traction in her struggles. (My own reading of histories both political & military indicate there are never monolithic organisations where everyone thinks and works as one).
    I like the idea of this being used as a reflection upon society and asking a few hard questions.
    (I’m currently working on a fantasy novel, which is not as serious as it ought to be & a very skewed account of a history of The Isles commonly known as UK & Ireland).
    All the very best with your project.

    • Thank you very much- and an excellent suggestion. I’ve taken note of it.

      And you must be a fellow Brit- welcome! Should fantasy be serious? Depends on what you wish to communicate really, I look forward to following your progress on it.

      • Yep, Brit!
        No fantasy should not be all grim and gore; angst and plotting, but aside from a few that’s the way it sells.
        My first three volumes were all comic…and as I am proud to boast; 3 books written and 1 sold! (yeh team!!).
        This time I am trying to balance and seeing on it turns out by posting up the whole thing as concurrent episodes on my blog; which is quite a fun way of doing re-writes and editing.
        All the best with your project, looking forward to seeing how it develops.
        Best wishes

  2. […] beyond the technicalities of writing technique itself. As I explained in an earlier blog post, Purgatory and Crime, I am currently a writing a novel in which my protagonist is trapped in a dystopian world as a […]

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