My latest crime novel, Desecration, is definitely darker than my previous books, and it tackles themes of corpse art, body modification and genetic science.
I was interviewed about some of my thoughts around these areas by author Dan Holloway, who is himself a connoisseur of the dark side.
Here’s an excerpt:
Dan Holloway: There’s a wonderful scene in Hannibal where Thomas Harris describes Dr Lecter standing amongst the exhibits of a collection called Atrocious Torture Instruments. The real horror, he says, is to be found not in the exhibits but in the gawping fascination on the faces of the crowds. I wonder if something similar could be said about the Hunterian Museum.
J.F.Penn: When I first visited the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, I felt physically sick as I studied the medical specimens in their jars, and I try to capture that revulsion in Desecration. The display of historical medical instruments could certainly be categorized alongside torture, used as they were before anesthetic and before antibiotics. It’s true that visitors stare into the cases with fascination, but I think it is more about looking within ourselves, than some kind of schadenfreude at someone else’s pain, as the Lecter example.
I felt the same way at the Von Hagens’ Bodies exhibition, where corpses are plastinated, partially dissected and posed in various tableaus to illustrate aspects of life. The descriptions of the corpse art within Rowan Day-Conti’s studio in Desecration are straight out of that exhibition. As I looked at the figures, examining the muscles and veins, the displayed organs, it was both obscene and fascinating. The most disturbing thing was a room full of foetuses, of all ages right up to full-term still-born with its eyes open. Those images haunt me and that definitely comes through in the book.