Saturday, August 31, 2013

"Whatever You Say, Say Nothing"

For my tribute to Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet who died Friday, I'll include a segment from "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing."

That poem has been cited often since yesterday for what its title came to exemplify about the sectarian divide's effects on Northern Ireland. But it hits home with me for its jaded view of the reporting segment of my profession, of the ballet of stock phrases and replies in which reporters engage with the man in the street and that, by the numbing effect of constant repetition, ceases to have anything to say about anything, much less something so serious as a civil war fought in the streets.

I'm writing just after an encounter 
With an English journalist in search of 'views 
On the Irish thing'. I'm back in winter 
Quarters where bad news is no longer news, 

Where media-men and stringers sniff and point, 
Where zoom lenses, recorders and coiled leads 
Litter the hotels. The times are out of joint 
But I incline as much to rosary beads 

As to the jottings and analyses 
Of politicians and newspapermen 
Who've scribbled down the long campaign from gas 
And protest to gelignite and Sten, 

Who proved upon their pulses 'escalate', 
'Backlash' and 'crack down', 'the provisional wing', 
'Polarization' and 'long-standing hate'. 
Yet I live here, I live here too, I sing, 

Expertly civil-tongued with civil neighbours 
On the high wires of first wireless reports, 
Sucking the fake taste, the stony flavours 
Of those sanctioned, old, elaborate retorts: 

'Oh, it's disgraceful, surely, I agree.' 
'Where's it going to end?' 'It's getting worse.' 
'They're murderers.' 'Internment, understandably ...' 
The 'voice of sanity' is getting hoarse. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Friday, August 30, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: J. Robert Janes' murky world

J. Robert Janes' fourteen Kohler and St. Cyr mysteries pair a Gestapo officer and a French Sûreté inspector solving "everyday" crimes in German-occupied France during World War II, and if that description gives you pause (as it gave me for years), Janes recognizes that such a reaction is likely.

Each book in the series, from Mayhem (1992) to the new Tapestry, bears an exculpatory note from the author explaining that he abhors "what happened during these times" and that "during the Occupation of France everyday crimes of murder and arson continued to be committed, and I merely ask, by whom and how were they solved?"

An introduction to the series on Janes' Web site suggests (accurately, at least for Tapestry) that no one in the books comes off as especially pure, ethical, admirable, or even clean:
"It's German-occupied France during the Second World War. Two honest detectives, one from each side of that war, fight common crime in an age of officially sanctioned crime on a horrendous scale. Gangsters have been let out of jail and put to work by the Gestapo and SS; collaborators welcome the Occupier and line their pockets; ordinary citizens struggle to survive; inflation hits 165% while wages are frozen at 1939 levels; but most of all, German servicemen come on leave to Paris, ‘our friends' to some, ‘the Green Beans' to others, the ‘Schlocks, the Boche'.

"Paris, unlike all other cities and towns in war-torn Europe, is an open city, a showcase Hitler uses to let his boys know how good things can be under Nazi rule. French Gestapo are everywhere and definitely don't like these two detectives since St-Cyr put many of them away before the war, but Kohler is all too ready to tell them this and is fast becoming a citizen of the world under Louis' influence and also has no use for the Occupier, even to ridiculing Nazi invincibility. Hated and reviled by the Occupier and often by the Occupied, the two constantly tread a minefield."
I'm not up on my administrative history of the German occupation of France, so I don't know how much attention the various organs of the occupation and of the French civil authority and population paid to ordinary crimes. But a relatively recent history of the occupation, Robert Gildea's Marianne in Chains, suggests a real occupied France similar to Janes' fictional one:
 "The moral universe of occupied France was notoriously murky. What was right and what was wrong, what patriotic and what unpatriotic, may have been clear in 1944, but not before."
Oh, yes. Crime fiction. Tapestry's moral, ethical, and physical environments are the darkest I have ever read in crime fiction. Kohler and St. Cyr are called on to work in a city so darkened by blackouts that characters must feel their way through the streets at night. Plunder, greed, puritanism, lust, patriotism, violence, and luxury in the face of deprivation slip in and out of focus, the reader never sure if any one is staged to cover for another. I'm not yet sure if Tapestry is good history, but it sure is good noir.
 J. Robert Janes will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thanks for sharing

When I first started hearing "Thank you for sharing" and, more frequently, seeing it in print, I thought it had to be a joke, except that people seemed to be using it seriously or, even worse, to be using it in that postmodern, hedging one's bets way that says the user so lacks confidence in what he or she has to say that he wants to be taken seriously and be thought to be poking fun at himself at the same time. I say never trust any expression that misuses a transitive verb intransitively, and you'll rarely go wrong.

So I was especially pleased to see the following sentiment placed in the mouth of a character in John Lawton's novella Bentinck's Agent:
  "‘You have anything else you want to share with me?’

"`Share? Share! Oh you fucking hippies. Yes, I’ll “share”’ (both hands went up to frame the word in speech marks)...'"
I like that because it's funny, because it vents spleen at an insipid expression, and because it explains its own disdain ("Oh you fucking hippies.")  I look forward to similar scorn for the even worse "reaching out," which lacks even the redeeming touch of self-mockery that "Thank you for sharing" is said once to have had.

What expressions drive you nuts? Why?
John Lawton will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Americans go to war, Part II (Bouchercon 2013 panels)

Last month I noted a motif common to John Lawton's Bluffing Mr. Churchill (also published as Riptide) and James R. Benn's Billy Boyle: Each features a young American bewildered by wartime London.

Three weeks later I learned I'd be moderating a panel at Bouchercon 2013 of which Lawton and Benn will be members, along with Susan Elia MacNeal, whose Mr. Churchill's Secretary features a young American woman who winds up working for Churchill in 1940.

I'll ask all three authors why they chose to thrust three Americans, all young, into wartime London. In the meantime, I'll ask you: Why do you think Lawton, Benn, and MacNeal made the choice they did? What are the attractions of the innocents abroad theme? What are your favorite stories, crime or otherwise, of Americans abroad in wartime? Why do you like those stories?
James R. Benn, John Lawton, and Susan Elia MacNeal will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pulp in the paper: I review Day Keene in the Philadelphia Inquirer

My review of The Case of the Bearded Bride and Other Stories: Day Keene in the Detective Pulps, Vol. #4 (Ramble House) appears in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

The book is a collection of stories that originally appeared in pulp magazines covering two periods in the prolific Keene's career: 1931-35 and 1942-1950. 

The first group, written under Keene's real name, Gunnard Hjerstedt (spellings of both names vary by source), shows affinities with the wisecracking, fast-talking detective tales that had become popular in the late 1920s, such as Frederick Nebel's long-running Kennedy and MacBride tales. The later stories, written as John Corbett, move in darker territory that may evoke Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis.

That facility in widely different styles will likely be the most fascinating aspect of the volume for crime readers in today's era of specialization: Keene could write anything for a market that demanded everything. He was an earlyish representative of a crime fiction tradition whose last examples include Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block.

That's one reason this review, though a bit out of my territory, was among the most fun I've written. A tip of the battered old fedora to the editor who asked me to write it.

Here, again, is the review, And here are the Keene entries at Gold Medal Corner and the Thrilling Detective Web Site. Not only did the man write everything, he wrote lots of it and for a long time.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bcon panels: What's your favorite non-standard setting for noir?

Here are three brief excerpts from Setup on Front Street, first of Mike Dennis' Key West Nocturnes novels:
"`I'm Special Agent Ryder,' he said. `I understand you've been having some trouble with former mayor Whitney.'

"I had to laugh. Is there anything in this town that isn't public knowledge?"

"Now that I was running plastic, I needed to buy some new clothes, but I didn't want to chance any buys in Key West.

"Like Yale said, it's a small town."
"See, this is one of the downsides of living your whole life in a small town. The cop knows what happened, and he knows that I know. Pretty soon, it'll be in the fucking paper."
Those passages do double duty as a leitmotif, tying the story together, and as an answer to the question of why Key West is a good place to set a noirish crime story. Noir is all about constriction, about the world closing in on the protagonist, and since a small town can be a constricted place even for those not just out of prison trying to collect old debts, getting ripped off, and running into  mobsters and corrupt politicians, you can imagine how tough it is on Dennis' Don Roy Doyle.

But let's talk about you.  What's your favorite non-standard noir setting, i.e., not New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, et al.? How does the author convince you that his or her unusual setting is a good one?
Mike Dennis will be part of my "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany on Friday, Sept. 20, at 10:20 a.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: Martin Limón on life after wartime

I chose the name "World War II and Sons" for one of my panels at next month's Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., with Martin Limón in mind. His novels and stories chronicle the adventures of two criminal investigators in the U.S Army in 1970s South Korea. They thus have much to say about a war's strange and lingering aftereffects (made even stranger because the Korean War still awaits a final peace agreement).
Sure, Martin Limón's novels are rollicking tales of two loose-cannon military investigators, but they show considerable and illuminating sympathy for a society recovering from war.

Here’s co-protagonist/narrator George Sueño on a British soldier’s Korean manservant from Slicky Boys, second novel in Limón's series:
“His English was well pronounced. Hardly an accent. I knew he’d never gone to high school — probably not even middle school — or he wouldn’t be working here. He’d picked it up from the GI’s over the years. Intelligence radiated from his calm face. When I first arrived in Korea, I wondered why men such as this would settle for low positions. I learned later that after the Korean War, having work of any kind was a great accomplishment. Even cleaning up after rowdy young foreigners. At that time, the rowdy young foreigners were the only people with money. … Yim seemed lucid, calm, smart, sober. An excellent witness, except that I knew from experience that houseboys were so low on the social scale that nobody took their testimony seriously.”
Here he sees a sign of Korea’s recovery in the surprising beauty of a local “business girl”:
“Over the last few months, more girls like Eun-hi had drifted into the GI villages. More girls who’d grown up in the twenty-some years since the end of the Korean War, when there was food to be had and inoculations from childhood diseases and shelter from the howling winter wind. Eun-hi was healthy. Not deformed by bowlegs or a pocked face or the hacking, coughing lungs of poverty.”

And here are Sueño's thoughts on prostrating himself before a powerful gangster:
"So I’d lowered myself to a common thief. A Korean one, at that. ... Such things didn’t bother me. I was from East L.A. I’d been fighting my way up from the bottom all my life. Herbalist So had power. A lot more than I did. In certain areas, more than the Commander of 8th Army. He deserved respect. This little ceremony didn’t bother me any more than standing at attention in a military formation and saluting some potbellied general with stars on his shoulder.”
There's humor amid the sociology, though. Here’s a look at Sueño’s colleague Ernie Bascom:
“The joint was in the brightly lit downtown district of Mukyo-dong. Outside, a hand-carved sign in elegant Chinese script told it all: The House of the Tiger Lady. A kisaeng house. Reserved for the rich. `This place sucks,’ Ernie said.”
What are your favorite crime novels about the social after-effects of war?
Martin Limón joins fellow authors James R. Benn, J. Robert Janes, John Lawton, and Susan Elia MacNeal on my "World War II and Sons" panel, Thursday Sept. 19, at 4 p.m., at Bouchercon 2013.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: Noir, hard-boiled, fantasy, and reality

My noir and hard-boiled panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., next month will also be a reality and fantasy panel, fantasy meaning nostalgia, pulp, and other forms of retreat from the everyday.

In this corner, representing reality, Dana King's Grind Joint, with its utter lack of illusion about the supposed benefits of a casino for an economically ravaged Pennsylvania town. In that corner, Terrence McCauley's violent Prohibition-era novel Prohibition and Eric Beetner's post-apocalyptic cannibal/survivor tale Stripper Pole at the End of the World.  Somewhere between these extremes, showing affinities at times with one, at times with the other, are Mike Dennis and Jonathan Woods, who join King, McCauley, and Beetner on the panel.

McCauley harks back to Dashiell Hammett and Paul Cain (and to writers and movie makers who harked back to Hammett and Cain). While his book's themes of loyalty, doubt, and betrayal are confined to no one era, the cover of the novel, at upper left, quite accurately reflects the early- and mid-twentieth-century gats 'n' gloves mythos to which McCauley makes a modern-day contribution. He and Beetner are acutely aware of periods in American popular culture that preceded their own.

King, on the other hand, writes about a world where beaten-down cities are desperate for the next big thing, where governments happily throw cash at companies to relocate to (or remain in) their state, and a lot more money seems to circulate among corporations and politicians than among the relocated workers. For all King's affinities with Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins or King's amico Charlie Stella, it's a world you can find lurking behind today's headlines.

Fantasy? Reality? Pulp? Bad juju? You'll find it all at Bouchercon ... and here, at Detectives Beyond Borders.

How about you, lovers of noir and hard-boiled? Is your favorite reading reality? Fantasy? Or some mix of both?
Eric Beetner, Mike Dennis, Dana King, Terrence McCauley, and Jonathan Woods will be part of the "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" panel, with your humble blogkeeper as moderator, at Bouchercon 2013 on Friday, Sept. 20, at 10:20 a.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In memory of Elmore Leonard: The Westerns

In honor of Elmore Leonard, who died today after one of the longest and most influential careers in crime fiction, here's a Detectives Beyond Borders post from last year about the still-vital Westerns he wrote way back at the beginning. And here's a link to previous DBB posts about Leonard. Click the link, then scroll down. 

Before I head east, a post about the West.

I don't know where Elmore Leonard fits in the history of the Western, other than that he wrote some good ones, Hombre and "3:10 to Yuma," to name two. But to this neophyte reader in the genre, Leonard's early stories make an instructive comparison with American crime fiction of the same time: the early 1950s. (That's right, the early 1950s. Leonard, whose latest novel, Raylan, has recently hit the shelves, was a published author at least as early as 1951.)

Here's the conclusion to one story:
"The Southwest was full of Hydes. And as long as there were Hydes, there were Billy Guays. Big talkers with big guns who ended up lying dead, after a while, in a Mimbre rancheria. Angsman would go back to Fort Bowie. Even if it got slow sometimes, there’d always be plenty to do."
The matter-of-fact resignation reminds me of hard-boiled crime writing from a few decades earlier. It's as if hard-boiled writing decamped for the West around 1951, leaving American crime fiction to the twisted mental worlds of Jim Thompson and David Goodis.

Leonard's Western stories are almost breathtakingly free of political correctness, unsparing in their discussions both of the counterproductive brutality of American policy toward the Apaches of the Southwest and of the blood-curdling violence and internecine feuds of some of those Apaches. Leonard is careful, too, to delineate different habits and war customs of various Apache bands, thus honoring their humanity more fully than do blanket views of Indians as bloodthirsty savages or creative and ecologically sensitive innocents.

Leonard gets great mileage of the tension between experienced Western scouts and hot-shot young military officers from back East, mining the theme both for dramatic conflict:
"It was his patrol and he was supposed to have the answers. That’s why he had a commission. But the face bore a puzzled expression. It was young, and lobster-red, and told openly that he was new to frontier station, though he had learned all the answers at the Point. You hesitate when it’s your command, your responsibility. When a dirty old man in an undershirt is studying you to see what you’ve got, waiting to pick you apart. And if he finds the wrong thing, the buzzards do the rest of the picking."
and for humor:
"`I’m only saying what if,' Travisin agreed, with a faint smile. `Could be one way or the other. I just want to impress you that we’re not chasing Harvard sophomores across the Boston Common.'''
And, Leonard being Leonard, he could work a good line out of a routine bit of description:
"A hundred things raced through his mind, and every one of them was a question."
"Six enlisted troopers prayed to six interpretations of God that the young lieutenant wasn’t a glory seeker … at least not on this patrol."
OK, that's it for now. More on Leonard later, and the next time I mention Western in a post, it will be next to Wall.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, August 19, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: John Lawton on being a "crime" writer

I first heard of John Lawton on crime fiction blogs, and I first heard him read at New York's late Partners & Crime mystery bookshop. His series protagonist, Frederick Troy, is with London's Metropolitan Police, and Lawton attends crime fiction conventions now and then. But when I wrote that Lawton reminded me more of Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell or even, in spots, P.G. Wodehouse than of crime writers, a reader huzzahed all the way from Canada. He wrote, too, that he was baffled by the occasional descriptions of Lawton's books as spy novels. So, is Lawton a crime writer, or a spy writer, or what? If not, why do some people say he is? And does it matter? I sought answers from the source, and here's what Lawton had to say:
“I can't recall any discussion with my editor at Weidenfeld – Ion Trewin, who edited all my work until the move to Grove – as to genre. Black Out had no tags. Nor did any subsequent novel. I was reviewed as either fiction or crime. It wasn't an issue. `Genre' is a tag neither to be sought nor resisted. Like a book prize – neither sought nor resisted.

“It's flattering to be told `this book transcends genre,' but it's not a phrase that holds up to scrutiny. Five nano-seconds later, you're asking yourself, `What does he/she think is inferior about genre writing?' And when toastmasters at crime gigs harp on about crime being `as good as literature,' you think, `So what?' And when a crime novel is deemed `too literary,' you think, `Ain't no such critter.'

“It's marketing ... whatever gets you on the shelves and then off the shelves and into hands. And marketing is different country to country.

“I first became aware of an `invisible' crime tag only when the CWA called in (so I was told) Riptide for consideration for the Ellis Peters Award. As I said, you don't seek it and you don't resist it. It's only an issue if you win – who in their right mind, after all, would want to sit through an award ceremony they didn't have to?

Paint and drying come to mind.

“The book after this was Sweet Sunday. Ion and I agreed this wasn't `crime.' Still ... it got reviewed as crime. But a review is a review ... not to be knocked. Better by a yard and a half than being ignored.

“And a few years later I was asked in an interview to categorize myself. I said something like ... `historical, political thrillers with a big splash of romance, wrapped up in a coat of noir.' What they're not is mysteries, and I think there is a tendency to assume that crime and mystery are synonymous. They're not.

“There are crimes in most of my novels. Occasionally unsolved. They aren't there to be `solved;' they're a propellant to drive the book along.

“Pretentious bit coming up ... I don't think I'm doing anything different from my immediate contemporaries. ... McEwan, Faulks, Amis, Hare, Turow (all born within months of me). ... In intent.

“That said, I've never written anything set in the present, and none of them has written a series around a policeman. Scott Turow is regarded as `crime' – he has no problem with this. (I asked him.) And at this point the sensible thing to say is, if Scott has no problem with `crime' neither should I.”
— John Lawton
Here's Lawton's Web site with essays and other information about the Troy novels. Here's a New York Times review that asks: "Is there any genre convention John Lawton hasn’t boldly disregarded, often to brilliant effect? "
John Lawton will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: Stripper Pole At The End Of The World

Pick up a book called Stripper Pole At The End Of The World, and you expect something over the top, especially since the book is part of an imprint called Schlock Zone Drive-In, which has to be one of the better names in publishing.

Author Eric Beetner offers a mix between Mad Max and Gilligan's Island, a stripper on crutches, her wounded colleagues, bartenders, and bikers banding together to fight off cannibals in a post-apocalyptic landscape. An introductory note tells us, however, that
"The time is a not-too-distant future. It’s after The Collapse, but don’t call it an apocalypse. The trouble is man-made: financial ruin, panic and mass hysteria...."
That's social breakdown with a bit of brain behind it. But Beetner's novella works because he has the good sense to write about outlandish situations with relatively understated prose and the writing chops to poke the gentlest of affectionate fun at a genre he loves without going way over the top into tiresome luridness. And he does it all without becoming annoyingly arch or self-conscious. His characters, in other words, say and do outrageous things without appearing to know they are doing so. Two of my favorite bits:
"At first, all I could think was, for God’s sake it’s only been two years, how did we come to this so goddamn fast? Eating each other? I mean, what the fuck? But I didn’t have time to contemplate society’s downfall there in the aisle of a mini mart."
"I turned to see the two cannibals, a man and a woman who weren’t on fire, dragging away the woman with the burning hair. As they dragged her, the man was already taking bites of her arm. Normally they ate raw, but I wondered if he enjoyed a little barbeque."
Eric Beetner will be part of my "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany on Friday, Sept. 20, at 10:20 a.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bouchercon 2013 and what I'll do there

I'll be moderating two panels at Bouchercon 2013, which begins Thursday, Sept. 19, in Albany, New York.

First up, on Thursday at 4 p.m., is "World War II and Sons," in which I whip authors James R. Benn, J. Robert Janes, John Lawton, Martin Limón, and Susan Elia MacNeal into fighting shape with a discussion of crime fiction set in wartime and its run-up and aftermath.

Then, after a quiet evening with a good book followed by a solid eight hours of sleep and a frugal yet nutritious breakfast, it's "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" on Friday at 10:20 a.m., with Eric Beetner, Mike Dennis, Dana King, Terrence McCauley, and Jonathan Woods.

That's a nice mix of authors I've read and admired, authors I'd heard about but not read until now, and a couple whose names were new to me. And that means I should be in for a stimulating and entertaining Bouchercon, and I hope you will be, too.

Here's the complete Bouchercon schedule. See you in Albany.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Busted, Part II

Remember last week's post about my bus trip from Boston, a journey extended from eight hours to ten by highway tie-ups that pushed my arrival smack into the middle of Philadelphia's evening rush hour? You know, the post that began "Remind me never to travel by bus again"?

That was a longish trip; what could possibly happen on a short hop, like the one from Philadelphia to New York? I pondered the question Thursday as my bus sat in a spreading red pool of engine coolant on the shoulder of Route 90 in Pennsauken, New Jersey, waiting for a tow truck, a replacement bus, and an ambulance for the cardiac patient/passenger who had begun feeling faint during the delay.

The new bus arrived, the heart patient was all right, and I found Derry's own Desmond Doherty, for whose debut novel, Valberg, I inverted a few commas and made sure no dashes were used where hyphens were called for, browsing patiently in the Mysterious Bookshop in Lower Manhattan when I arrived, barely half an hour late for our meeting.

The day's haul included books by John Lawton, J. Robert Janes, and "Owen Fitzstephen," and some good Derry stories over lunch from Doherty, a lawyer with business on both sides of the Atlantic who made the brave decision not to make his debut novel the story of a lawyer with business on both sides of the Atlantic.

The book is a serial killer/police procedural/story of its city that does, however, incorporate some of Doherty's own professional experiences, including a heart-rending bit of backstory. I'll look forward to discussing the novel's sequels with Doherty, only I'm traveling to our next meeting by plane.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Alan Glynn, meet Leonardo Sciascia

I don't like when reporters slip into the jargon of the beats they cover, even something as simple as politics writers calling the Justice Department "Justice" or education reporters calling charter schools "charters."  If a reporter talks like his sources he might identify with them, think like them, act like them.

I seethe at the evasive intent of "going forward," and my allergy extends to apparently harmless locutions such as "Thank you so much" or "reach out." Why the effusion? What is the speaker hiding?

So my heart beat faster at the following, near the beginning of The Moro Affair, by Leonardo Sciascia:
"He was obliged to express himself in a language of non-expression, to make himself understood by the same means he had sought and tested in order not to be understood."
"He" is Aldo Moro, an Italian politician kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades in 1978 with the apparent post-facto consent of leading figures in Italian society and, in the communications his kidnappers and killers allowed him with the outside world, forced to try to tell the truth without appearing to do so after a career of doing precisely the opposite. 

I can think of no writer of crime fiction (or, in this case, of true crime and cynical, deadly corruption) other than Alan Glynn who thinks so deeply in his writing about what words mean and what they conceal. Alan Glynn, if you read this, you should read Leonardo Sciascia.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

William McIlvanney: "Like a suitcase with doors"

When is comes to setting a scene, William McIlvanney has a way of doing what a hundred other crime writers have done worse.

How many crime writers have created single, divorced, or recently split-up police officers or detectives? How many of those writers have given those maritally troubled officers a messy house or apartment as an objective correlative of the character's troubled emotional state? The number is incalculable.

Here's how McIlvanney sets such a scene in The Papers of Tony Veitch, second of his three great Laidlaw novels, now rereleased by Canongate:
"(H)e recognized the inimitable decor of Milligan's poky flat, a kind of waiting room baroque.

"The walls were dun and featureless, the furniture was arranged with all the homeyness of a second-hand sale room and clothes were littered everywhere. It wasn't a room so much as a suitcase with doors."
There's more to McIlvanney than a Chandlerian flair for metaphors, of course, his empathy for all his characters, for one, and his sharp, wry, affectionate portraits of Glasgow life, for another. But the metaphors help. They make McIlvanney's novels into verbal champagne, and they say old things in fresh hew ways. And that's where you come in, readers. What crime or other writers render hoary, obligatory scenes in such fresh and clever ways that they almost make you forget the scenes are hoary and obligatory?
(Browse some previous McIlvanney posts at Detectives Beyond Borders. Click the link, then scroll down.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

The story of a crime, or Nathaniel Hawthorne and crime fiction

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts
I visited a house Wednesday that lent its name to a novel. That novel:
  • Portrays the slow ripple effect of a crime.
  • Speaks with sympathy of a socially low character cheated out of his land by a socially prominent one.
  • Is neither Scandinavian nor French.
The book appears to have had greater influence on "weird" or supernatural stories than on crime fiction, but its examination of a crime's after-effects ought to set crime writers and readers abuzz with possibilities.

What crime novels can you name that portray a crime's effects on those not directly involved with it,  years or even generations later?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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It's not the heat, it's the banality

Don't take me
Remind me never to travel by bus again. Guy in front of me is the sort who says “discourse” and “ostensibly.” Guy to my right snores, probably almost as loudly I do.

Retrieving a package from under one’s seat requires contortions. We’ve just got through our second highway traffic jam only to wind up in our third. This should delay us long enough to arrive in Philadelphia smack in the middle of the evening rush hour.

On a bus, I can experience the physical discomfort of modern air travel and (Woman in front of me just said: “The amount of people.”) the inconvenience of road travel all in one loud, cramped, knuckle-cracking, banality-spouting, hairy armed, sharp-elbowed package.

The “amount of people” woman just said that she used to take Amtrak all the time, and “I don't know if it was accident or suicide, but someone jumped onto the tracks every time.” Discourse Boy sounds like he went to film school. So take the train. But be aware that Amtrak appears to have “rationalized” its pricing, the way airlines do, so book well in advance, or you may be forced to pay big bucks.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Killer in the Rain, or What's your favorite crime art?

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, "Shirai Gonpachi," from
The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road,
1852, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Today's offering comes from the printmaker Kuniyoshi's series depicting the post stations, or rest stops, on the inland Kisokaido road between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto.

Such series were a favorite of Japanese printmakers, depicting natural sights and vignettes of human activity. This example incorporates an earlier favorite Japanese genre, the actor print (yakusha-e or, if you prefer, 役者絵). An excerpt from Sarah E. Thompson's description of the scene in her book about the series will explain why it belongs here:
"In both real life and drama, Gonpachi's criminal career began in his home province of Tottori, where he killed a man named Honjo Sukedayu ... This print shows the moment just after the killing, when Gonpachi emerges from Honjo's house into the rain. An umbrella and a rain clog (with a cover to keep the foot dry) can be seen on the ground beside him; the umbrella and swords also appear in the series title border [upper right]."
That could be a scene from a crime novel. What is your favorite art (painting, print, drawing, or sculpture) that hits you like  crime fiction does? Links to visual examples welcome. Here's one from yesterday's Detectives Beyond Borders post.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Monday, August 05, 2013

McKinty makes the Ned Kelly shortlist

Kelly's Horse, by Sidney Nolan
Detectives Beyond Borders friend Adrian McKinty is a finalist for what may be the world's only literary award named for a man who wore a metal trash can over his head. The prize is the Ned Kelly Award for best novel, Australia's highest honor for crime fiction, and the shortlistee is Adrian McKinty, for I Hear the Sirens in the Streets.

Here's what Detectives Beyond Borders said about McKinty's novel, the follow-up to his The Cold Cold Ground:
"Like its predecessor, Sirens is a serious portrait of one man's progress through troubled times (early-1980s Belfast and Carrickfergus, the author's home town). Like The Cold Cold Ground, it feels organic. Every joke, every grim encounter, or musing on the crappy Irish weather, or setback or advance in the police investigation contains the seeds of the whole. And it's a hell of a whole; these books are as smart and fun and harrowing as crime fiction gets."
McKinty's competition includes Blackwattle Creek by Geoffrey McGeachin, whose name has come up here a time or two.

The awards will be presented by the Australian Crime Writers Association Sept. 7 as part of the Brisbane Writers' Festival.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

The longue and the short of it

He got it right
A story (or maybe two) in a volume of Day Keene's stories that I recently finished reading had a character relaxing on a chaise lounge. John Lawton's Bluffing Mr. Churchill, on the other hand, has:
"Troy was flat on his back on the chaise longue."
The term is French for long chair.  You may enjoy lounging on it, but it's still a chaise longue.
Chaise longue
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Day Keene and other professionals, plus a question for readers

A true professional finishes his work just as the bar is about to close. I've never done so deliberately, but any time I go to my local to write (armed with headphones and a computer full of rai, guajiras, and flamenco to insulate me from lawyers and actors), I inevitably finish the article I'm working on sometime between last call and the bartender's switching off the neon Yards sign in the window.

Tonight's work was a review of a collection of Day Keene's pulp stories, and you'll hear more when the review appears. Keene, like many authors who wrote for the pulp magazines and, later, for paperback original publishers such as Gold Medal, was a professional. He was prolific, he could write anything, and he did so under a variety of names.  Donald E. Westlake was a late exemplar of that tradition, and Lawrence Block may be its last exponent.

This got me thinking: In today's writing world, we may think of an author as talented or less so, as an artist, a hack, or a mercenary. But which writers do you admire for their professionalism? What does professionalism mean to you when it comes to writing?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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