Dethroning The Yellow King: Five Possible Inspirations for True Detective‘s Next Case

As soon as it was announced that True Detective was an anthology show, with new crimes and new sleuths each season, Twitter lit up with suggestions for new partners. My favorites include @blairelliott with “Dog & Capybara in Kiddie Pool” and @kellyoxford with “Matthew McConaughey and Kim Novak.” I just hope they solve crimes at the Oscars! Then Nic Pizzolato came out and said that Season Two is going to involve “Hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system.” So far, so good. He also said, “…I realize I need to keep being strange. Don’t play the next one straight.” Even better.

Since he’s already tackled Robert Chambers, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, and Apocalypse Now, we here at thought some suggestions for further literary inspiration were in order.

Two True, Two Detective: Literary Maximalism

Twitterer @SixTwentySix has already called for Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and we think that’s a fabulous idea! But why stop with just one Pynchon novella? All of the ’60s literary maximalists would be a great source for weirdness! We take a page from Mad Men, and jump back to the late 1950s, where the new detectives, working under Eisenhower, have to stop a Russki plot against the burgeoning interstate highway system. And this time there are two sets of detectives! We cut to a second story, set in the 1980s, in which two hard-bitten female detectives investigate a secret postal cabal and a terrorist act known as the, um, “Waterborne Toxic Event.”

Required Reading:
Crying of Lot 49—Thomas Pynchon
White Noise—Don DeLillo
The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways—Earl Swift

Return to Bayou Religion

Who says “U.S. transportation system” has to be on land? We head back to the bayou to explore the occult history of the shipping industry! And since season one made great uses of those creepy devil’s nests, why not go full-bore into Santeria, Louisiana Voodoo, and Haitian Vodou? Pizzolato could draw on literary references from Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse to Wade Davis’ The Serpent and the Rainbow, with plenty of opportunities to explore the legends around Marie Laveau, the aftermath of Katrina, and the history of race relations in New Orleans. Possible bonus points for exploring the differences between Vodou zombi and George Romero-style zombies. Plus, if you go the Wade Davis route, the potential drug combos (pufferfish neurotoxin!) will make Rust Cohle’s coke problem look positively quaint.

Required Reading:
Mules and Men
and Tell My HorseZora Neale Hurston
The Serpent and the RainbowWade Davis
How to Avoid Huge ShipsJohn W. Trimmer


Screw Lovecraft. If Pizzolato wants to go old-school, while still homaging the crap out of Alan Moore, he should look no further than the history of Gnosticism. And while it might be a stretch to tie a religious sub-genre that flourished in the 3rd Century C.E. in to the history of the U.S. transportation system, I think we can do it, although we may need to make a dark pact…take a deep breath.

We go full Dan Brown.

I know, I know, I don’t like it either, but hear me out! Pizzolato could set the second season in Washington, D.C. with a mystery surrounding a trail of blackmail hinting at a centuries-old war between Freemasons and Gnostics for control of the U.S. presidency! The true American Freemasons want to encourage the highway system, while those elitist bastards in the Gnostic camp want to cut back on our oil dependency through a better monorail system. For heavy-duty literary touchstones, look no further than Philip K. Dick and Pizzolato favorite Alan Moore, whose comic Promethea includes bonus references to Tarot and the Kabbala!

Required Reading:
The Gnostic GospelsElaine Pagels
Nag Hammadi LibraryVarious
ValisPhilip K. Dick
PrometheaAlan Moore

On the Road with Samuel Delany

Any of Delany’s books, really, but if we use Rust Cohle’s obsession with the possibility of a “language-virus” as a jumping off point, we can go straight into Babel-17, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and the idea that a personality can be re-written through words themselves. Let’s say… a cult, widely scattered across America, considers the Tales of Neveryon to be their own secret history. The new detectives research them when bodies start turning up at truckstops, and soon their own brains are in danger of Delany-fication. Hours of musing on the state of the American Dream (and the trucking industry) ensue, with allusions to Kerouac, William Least Heat Moon, and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.

Required Reading:
Babel 17 and Tales of NeveryonSamuel Delany
Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other LanguagesGuy Deutscher
Blue HighwaysWilliam Least Heat Moon

The Great Occult Train Robbery

Finally, we go to the heart of the American transprotation system, and revisit the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Think about it—the sudden explosion of secret societies among America’s wealthier classes, the culture and religion of Chinese railroad workers, the corruption of coal barons—just slap a couple of Pinkertons in there, and you’ve got a whole season without even trying.

Required Reading:
Nothing like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869
Stephen E. Ambrose
Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland
Beau Riffenburgh
Secret Ritual And Manhood In Victorian America
Mark C. Carnes

So what do you think? Which strange mythologies and little-known stones of American culture should Nic Pizzolato and his new cast overturn next?

Leah Schnelbach thinks the next season should be about Audrey and Maisie Hart solvin’ crimes on a starship, with occasional guidance from Force Ghost Rust. But she realizes that’s a long shot. Tweet at her if you are so inclined!


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