The British are Different
Edward Marston's "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" and Anthony Mann's "Esther Gordon Framlingham" are meta-mysteries -- mystery stories set in the world of mystery writers. The former is about a gathering of crime writers, of whom one is especially successful and especially obnoxious. The latter is about a writer who competes to become the new ghostwriter for a looooooooong-running series of historical mysteries. The Mann, especially, has some delicious jabs at the field's penchant for ever-more outlandish sleuths. Here's one snippet of tasty dialogue:
"How about a late seventeenth-century Russian peasant?" I asked.
Across the room, my agent Myra raised an eyebrow. "North or south?"
"Ah, I meant north," I said quickly.
Myra shook her head. "Sorry, been done," she said. "Sheila Trescotchick's Ivan the Irascible series. Ivan's an irascible Russian peasant, disliked by all and sundry in his small northern Russian village, tolerated only because of his extraordinary ability to solve the most perplexing of crimes."
That's wonderful stuff, a little gem of comic timing. So why did the two stories make me shift uncomfortably in my chair? That's easy: A mystery about a mystery, even one as clever as Mann's, strikes me as arch and excessively self-referential. OK, but why? Is it a matter of taste? Is it some natural British flair for zany and self-deprecating satire that I don't quite get? Or is crime fiction so much more a part of everyday discourse and taken so much more seriously in Britain that it makes a fine target for satire?
There, blog readers, are your essay questions. Discuss.
© Peter Rozovsky 2006