Tuesday, November 21, 2017

News flash: Peter Lovesey is an MWA Grand Master

Peter Lovesey (Photograph for Detectives
Beyond Borders by Peter Rozovsky)
Mystery Writers of America have announced that Peter Lovesey has been named an MWA Grand Master. The Last Detective, first of Lovesey's novels about Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, is one of the best alienated-cop novels. I got to meet and chat with Lovesey at Crimefest 2017 in Bristol, and I am pleased to report that he is one of the most pleasant fellows one could want to meet, entertaining as a panelist and informative as an interview subject. And here's an old post about that most virtuosic of crime-fiction feats, Lovesey's Bertie and the Seven Bodies.
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I like authors who solve narrative problems, and that superb craftsman and fine storyteller Peter Lovesey solved a whopper in his 1990 mystery Bertie and the Seven Bodies (Felony and Mayhem Press), the second of his three novels about Bertie, Prince of Wales.

I picked up this affectionate tribute to Golden Age mysteries, Agatha Christie's in particular, as a change of pace, and I noticed early on how skillfully Lovesey captures the flavor and tone of an English country-house mystery while at the same time remaining thoroughly up to date.

How does he do this? First by making the jovial prince and the pretty hostess more explicitly randy than his predecessors in the Golden Age probably would have; second, by describing the pheasant hunt that is the occasion for the story's house party far more thoroughly than I expect a Golden Age author would have done:

"The planning for this week of sport had begun more than a year ago, and the arrangements couldn't be altered at the drop of a hat. What with loaders, beaters, stops, pickers-up, drivers and catering staff, we could be using more than two hundred personnel."

"The dead birds were tidily lined up for counting, almost two hundred pheasants, one of the gamekeepers said, bringing our day's bag past seven hundred."

"I waited, flanked by my loaders, picturing the activity in the coverts as the fugitive birds scampered ahead of the beaters. A pheasant has a natural reluctance to take to its wings, and it requires a well-managed beat to put it up precisely over the guns without flushing too many other at once."

"This
battue was faultless. They presented the birds in a long, soaring sequence almost vertically above us. I worked with three guns, receiving from the loader on my right, firing and passing it empty to the other man, never shifting my eyes from the sky."
The accumulated weight of these vignettes adds up to a startling picture of sybaritism, a portrait of long, hard work by many devoted to the idle and momentary enjoyment of a few. And yet they work as action and description without ever coming off as shrill, polemical, condescending or anachronistically knowing.

Why? Because Bertie describes the scene with an innocent eye. He does not know that what he sees might be appalling to the democratic and ecological sensibilities of today's readers. That distance safely allows us both to enjoy the scene and to be surprised, even shocked, by its waste and luxury. To put it another way, Lovesey has written the most socially authentic-seeming hunt scene I can remember in any crime story.

Lovesey appeals beautifully to current readers' sensibilities. At the same time, he maintains the atmosphere of a story composed in the past (that he does this all against yet a third layer of time, the story's 19th-century setting, is a matter for discussion elsewhere). What other authors do this?
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(Read another Detectives Beyond Borders post about Bertie and the Seven Bodies.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008, 2017

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Shots

Three from Bristol shot by me, one from New Orleans not.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016, 2017



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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Knowles and Truman: What I've been reading



© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Top news from the antipodes: New Zealand's Ngaio Marsh Awards

Craig Sisterson, last heard from in this space explaining cricket to your humble blog keeper, sends along cool news about the recent Ngaio Marsh Awards, New Zealand's top crime fiction prize, and the flock of talented newcomers who won this year's awards. (Craig founded the awards, and I served as a judge a few years ago, so Craig is the man in N.Z. fiction, and I'm an old friend.)  Here's Craig:
"The usual suspects took a back seat as first-time crime writers Fiona Sussman, Finn Bell, and Michael Bennett swept the spoils at the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards in Christchurch on Saturday night.  
"The talented trio made history on several fronts at a special WORD Christchurch event hosted in Dame Ngaio’s hometown by Scorpio Books as part of nationwide NZ Bookshop Day celebrations.  
“`Each of our winners this year is a remarkable storyteller who uses crime writing as a prism through which to explore broader human and societal issues,' said Ngaios founder Craig Sisterson. `When we launched in 2010 we wanted to highlight excellence in local crime writing, beyond traditional ideas of puzzling whodunits or airport thrillers. Our 2017 winners emphasise that broader scope to the genre, and showcase the inventiveness and world-class quality of our local storytellers.' 
"Sussman is the first female author to win the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. THE LAST TIME WE SPOKE (Allison & Busby) is her second novel but the first foray into crime storytelling for the former GP who grew up in Apartheid South Africa. It explores the ongoing impact of a brutal home invasion on both victim and perpetrator. `Laden with empathy and insight,' said the international judging panel. `A challenging, emotional read, harrowing yet touching, this is brave and sophisticated storytelling.' 
"It took Sussman seven years to research and write her winning novel. She travelled Aotearoa visiting prisons, talking to police and victims, inmates and ex-gang members, and seeking advice from Māori writers to ensure she brought authenticity to the disparate worlds of her characters. She won a Ngaios trophy, special edition of a Dame Ngaio book, and $1,000 cash prize courtesy of WORD Christchurch. 
"Self-published e-book author Finn Bell won Best First Novel for DEAD LEMONS and was a finalist for Best Crime Novel for PANCAKE MONEY. His debut explores themes of addiction, loss, and recovery as a wheelchair-bound man contemplating suicide decamps to a remote cottage in Southland, only to be obsessively drawn into a dangerous search for a father and daughter who went missing years before.  
"Bell has worked in night shelters, charities, hospitals, and prisons. He is the first author to ever have two books become finalists in a single year. The judges called him `a wonderful new voice in crime writing' who `delivers a tense, compelling tale centred on an original, genuine, and vulnerable character.' 
"Experienced filmmaker Michael Bennett (Te Arawa) won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Non Fiction for IN DARK PLACES (Paul Little Books), the astonishing tale of how teenage car thief Teina Pora spent decades in prison for the brutal murder of Susan Burdett, and the remarkable fight to free him. The international judging panel called it `a scintillating, expertly balanced account of one of the most grievous miscarriages of justice in New Zealand history.' 
“`Decades ago a woman from Christchurch was among the biggest names in the books world,' said Sisterson. `In recent years there’s a growing appreciation abroad for the top talent of our contemporary Kiwi crime writers; a reputation that’s going to flourish even more thanks to this year’s winners.'" 
For more information about the Ngaio Marsh Awards, contact the Judging Convenor: craigsisterson@hotmail.com or ngaiomarshaward@gmail.com
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Bouchercon 2017, Part II: Cricket lesson

Craig Sisterson (right) with
William Deverell. Photos by
Peter Rozovsky
Craig Sisterson is a small land mass in the South Pacific, about 600 square kilometers in area, 700 meters high, and characterized at times by sparse facial vegetation. He also created New Zealand's Ngaio Marsh crime fiction awards, and he's been a jovial companion at crime fiction conventions in England and North America.

At the recent Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto, he gave me a lesson in cricket, explaining the sport's tactics and pointing to fellow hotel guests and saying things like, "He's a short third man" and "She's a fine leg," by which he meant that those are the names of the cricket fielding positions corresponding to where those guests were standing in relation to us, had Craig and I been bowlers, strikers, wicket keepers, umpires, or silly mid offs. The bemused smiles and puzzled stares of those so anointed did not detract from Craig's lesson, and I now know much more than I once did about cricket.

Toronto City Hall

Antti Tuomainen, Karen Sullivan
I also took some pictures.

Colin Cotterill
Ian Truman
Elizabeth Heiter, Stuart Neville
© Peter Rozovsky 2017
James Ziskin

Karin Salvalaggio, Mindy Mejia, Lori Roy
Anita Thompson, Kay Kendall
David McKee, John McFetridge
Barry Lancet
Baron Birtcher
Emelie Schepp

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Two smart authors, one of them Sharp

Zoe Sharp and John Lawton in New
York. Photos by Peter Rozovsky
Bouchercon is a great opportunity to hang out with people who believe that a good piece of writing should be at least 141 characters long and that those characters should form an elegantly written whole that, nonetheless, deserves a second look before it leaves the writer's desk and goes public.

A week after returning from Bouchercon in Toronto, I visited the Mysterious Bookshop in New York to hear fellow attendees Zoe Sharp and John Lawton read from their new novels. (Sharp's is Fox Hunter. Lawton's is Friends and Traitors.)  Lawton said spies (if I remember correctly) are made in the nursery. The man talked Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and what made those celebrated British defectors what they were, and he never mentioned geopolitics.

John Lawton,
Bouchercon 2017,
Toronto
Sharp bemoaned the idea of the strong female character in crime fiction. A male character kicks ass, he’s just a character. A female character does the same, and she’s singled out. Worth thinking about, I’d say.
Zoe Sharp at Noir at the Bar, Bouchercon, Toronto
Alluding to recent news headlines, Sharp said she hopes the new word “Harveyed” enters the language, to which a woman in the audience replied “and leaves the workplace,” to nods of assent and quiet cheers.

Read Lawton, read Sharp, and go hear both authors if you can. They’re worth reading and also listening to.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bouchercon 2017: A Report from Loonie Land

My 10th Bouchercon included a few firsts and superlatives:

1) The first panel on which I sat as a panelist rather than a moderator.

2) My first Bouchercon outside the United States.

3) The most cold medicine I'd ever taken at a Bouchercon and, as a consequence ...

Zoe Sharp reads at the pre-con Noir at the Bar.
Photos by Peter Rozovsky.
4) The least gin I'd ever drunk at a Bouchercon. (I made up for this by drinking  more wine and eating more oatmeal.)

Jacques Filippi
5) This was the first Bouchercon to which I'd arrived by car (from Montreal to Toronto in the company of Jacques Filippi and Karen Salvalaggio, the latter of whom learned much about maple doughnuts, while all three of us practiced swearing in Yiddish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Quebecois French). It was in no way Jacques' fault that a normally five-and-half-hour trip took eight. The soothing presence of Karin, Jacques, and Tim Hortons eased any angst that the endless highway construction might otherwise have caused.

Karin Salvalaggio
6) It was the first Bouchercon for whose story anthology I served as a judge.

7) My first panels, as either panelist or moderator, with David Poulsen, Alex Gray, Margaret Cannon, Thomas Enger, Leonardo Wild, and Timothy Williams.

The Toronto street where I lived when not
dining with Karin, Jacques, and Martin
Edwards
Eryk Pruitt
8) My first experience of Sarah Weinman as a moderator. Sarah chaired the "History of the Genre" panel in which I took part, alongside Poulsen, Gray, Cannon, and Martin Edwards. Moderating: one more thing Sarah does well.

Noir at the Bar
Jen Conley, Jay Stringer
Karen Sullivan, Zoe Sharp
S.G. Wong, Thomas Enger
David Morrell, Ann Cleeves,
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
William Deverell, Craig Sisterson
Jennifer Soosar
Christopher Brookmyre,
Colin Cotterill
John McFetridge
Lou Berney
Eric Beetner
Kay Kendall, Ryan Aldred
Jamie Mason
Three guys from Montreal:
Kevin Burton Smith,
Jacques Filippi, me
Emelie Schepp
Craig Robertson
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Sen and sensibility: Detectives Beyond Borders schmoozes three Nobel Prize winners

In honor of Nobel Prize announcement season, I bring back this post, which I promise to update the next time I have coffee with a Nobel laureate.
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The number of Nobel laureates with whom I have exchanged pleasant words grew to three this week when I attended a lecture by Amartya Sen, who won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1998 for his work on poverty, famine, and welfare economics.

"You can't have a humane society without considerations beyond your own interests," Sen told his audience at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and if that's a surprise from an economist, consider Wikipedia's summation of the economics classic with which Sen began his lecture. That book's author
"critically examines the moral thinking of his time, and suggests that conscience arises from social relationships. His goal in writing the work was to explain the source of mankind's ability to form moral judgements, in spite of man's natural inclinations towards self-interest. [He] proposes a theory of sympathy, in which the act of observing others makes people aware of themselves and the morality of their own behavior."
If you know as little as I do about the literature of economics, you may be surprised to learn that the economist in question is Adam Smith — you know, the invisible-hand, self-interest guy (The book is The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the Penguin Classics edition of which comes with an introduction by Sen.)

I won't bore you with statistics and numbers, because Sen didn't bore me with them. Rather, he made the simple case that social factors, ethics, and indices of social well-being and misery all have a place at the economist's table, and he did so without turning preachy or dogmatic. In short, he's the kind of professor who might have made me an economics major had we crossed paths when I was in college.

Sen moves beyond the traditional purview of economics when he talks and writes about India, where he was born in 1933. His essays in The Argumentative Indian make the case that dissent, heterodoxy, and respect for opposing viewpoints have been integral to Indian culture at least from the time of Arjuna's debate with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and constitute a touchstone of India's present and its future. And that constitutes his rebuttal to the chauvinist, nationalist Hindutva movement in Indian politics, whose apparently organized campaign on Amazon has done so much to generate interest in Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History.

"Oh, yes! They have attacked me!" Sen said as he signed my copy of The Argumentative Indian.

"Be proud of your one-star reviews!" I replied. If the line of autograph-seekers behind me had not stretched a fair way down a hallway, we'd have high-fived.

 (My previous most personal contact with a Nobel winner came in 1986, when I sipped coffee with Dario Fo, the Italian actor/playwright, who ordered decaf because he needed sleep. He regarded his envelope of Sanka with suspicion before tearing, pouring, stirring, and sipping. Then he made a face, shook his head sadly, and said in the one language we could speak with something approaching mutual comprehension, "Détestable!"

(My third Nobel encounter was more memorable for the beautiful, philo-Semitic water polo fan in line behind me as we waited for Isaac Bashevis Singer to sign our books.  "Tell him something in Yiddish!" she said. Alas, the moment did not mark the beginning of a torrid fling.)
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Sen's dynamic view of the Sanskrit classics sent me in search of The Mahābhārata. To my delight, the opening of that ancient book suggests that it may be as glorious a celebration of storytelling as The Thousand and One Nights.  I doubt if I'll write a complete review any time soon, though. The Mahābhārata is variously said to be seven, 10, or 11 times as a long as The Iliad and The Odyssey put together.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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