How the Dead Live finds the Detective sent away from
Raymond’s book has many of the trappings of Gothic horror; a veiled woman, a decaying mansion, mysterious voices, but this window dressing serves only to contrast with the real horror. There are no ghosts, no voices reaching out from the great beyond to guide or torment the living. Supernatural horror is a crutch in disguise, something that reassures while it supposedly terrifies. If a ghost can live forever why can’t you? In Raymond’s world no one lives forever, no matter how desperately they want to. The Detective exists in a world where the only constant is death.
For all its horror and police conventions, however, the greatest surprise of How the Dead Live is that, in the end, it’s not a police procedural or a horror story. It’s a romance. The central conspiracy the Detective uncovers is not one motivated by malice or greed, but by love. True, there is no shortage of villains in this book, but, at the very core of the book, where one expects to find the worst humanity has to offer, Raymond substitutes the best. It should be a relief. It’s not.