Friday, September 29, 2006

Garry Disher and "Meta"-Mysteries

I recently posted a comment about two mystery stories set in the world of mystery writers. The stories' self-referentiality made me squirm, their weird coziness and confidence that everyone would get the in-jokes. But Garry Disher's "My Brother Jack" in The Oxford Book of Detective Stories has forced me to sharpen my thinking on this vital matter. That story is entirely self-referential, a tale of a crime writer and his character teaming up to catch a villain who harasses them for not getting details right in their stories. The difference is that its self-referentiality is about the process of creating a story -- and it's as funny as all hell. Disher muses on, among other things:

-- Raymond Chandler
-- V.I. Warshawski
-- Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone
-- Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder
-- the difficulties of naming characters
-- His own work
-- Richard Stark's Parker
-- Inspectors Morse and Wexford
-- the art of creating a convincing private eye
-- Stanley Kubrick's The Killing
-- John D. MacDonald
-- Ross MacDonald
-- the flip tone of American crime writing
-- the gorgeous, formulaic language of crime stories

It's clever, it's an academic exercise (no shock from someone who's been a university writer-in-residence), and it's like a Woody Allen spoof except that it works perfectly as full-fledged fiction. A brief sample:

"It was about 10:30 and I was in bed, reading. There was no wind but those chimes rang out with the kind of abrupt discordancy that made me think prowler ... The love/sex interest in this story flung down her Sisters in Crime newsletter, revealing her small but high, low-slung but pointed, melony but round, sloping but curved, tanned but creamy breasts and said, `What the fuck was that?'"

P.S. This collection also has stories by Pentti Kirstila and Ian Rankin that I've praised elsewhere, along with a lot of good stories from the early days of Western crime fiction almost to today. It's worth looking for.

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© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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2 Comments:

Blogger AaronX9 said...

I enjoy these parodies as much as the next guy, but I also find them a little depressing. It's as though the whole genre has jumped the shark, and we are left to chuckle over the cliches and excesses.

Of course, I find everything a little depressing, so take that with a grain of salt. I do miss the visceral joy of reading the hardboiled writers before there was such a concept as "self-referential."

October 01, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note. I enjoy these parodies perhaps a little less than the next guy, which is why I was surprised how much I liked "My Brother Jack." It works as a story and not just as a comedy sketch. I found it in a collection right there alongside Conan Doyle, Simenon, Chandler, Hammett, Ian Rankin, Agathie Christie and more, and it was not out of place.

This may be more noir than hard-boiled, but you might lift your spirits with the Hard Case Crime catalogue (http://www.hardcasecrime.com/) for a good dose of hard-hitting, non-self-referential crime.

October 01, 2006  

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