Thursday, August 09, 2007

What ever happened to sports-related crime fiction?

Andrea Fannini's blog recently discussed an Italian crime novel set amid the Tour de France.

The review calls Giallo su Giallo, among other things, a diverting immersion in the cyclists' world and a gastronomic guide to France. When the killing starts, Inspector Magrite turns up to investigate. One assumes, with a surreal name like that, that author Gianni Mura has a sense of humor, too. (Would an inspector named Magrite puff on a Ceci n'est pas une pipe?)

Andrea posted his review nine days before the 2007 Tour began. That race, of course, turned into a doped-up scandal on wheels, which may have put the Italian reading public in a mood for cycling-related crime. Here in North America, though, crime readers and publishers have lost their appetite for sports. Horseracing tracks and boxing rings were once archetypal settings for crime fiction and movies. Then governments got in on the game with state lotteries and robbed gambling of much of its forbidden glamour. Outside of Dick Francis, Stephen Dobyns and Harlan Coben, I can think of no crime writers who still regularly use sports as a setting.

Why is this? Why have the Italian soccer bribery scandals, the proliferation of Olympic doping, the expenditures of billions on sports betting and television rights everywhere, the defections of Cuban baseball players, the shameful treatment of older retired football players and other such scandals not generated crime fiction? Or have I missed it?

So readers, what sports settings have generated crime stories — or should have?
==================================

N.B. Giallo su giallo means yellow on yellow. Crime stories are known in Italian as gialli, or "yellows," singular form giallo. Yellow is also the color of the leader's jersey in the Tour de France.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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15 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Well, with BALCO, true crime seems more convoluted than anything a fiction writer could dream up. Or is that a "truth stranger than fiction" instance?

I admit Bonds would be a good character type for a crime novel.

August 09, 2007  
Anonymous Perry Middlemiss said...

"A Private Man" by Malcolm Knox (which won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel in 2005) was set during a five-day Sydney Test match; ie cricket.

And, from Wikipedia, Ted Dexter (ex-England Test Cricket captain) "co-wrote with Clifford Makins the crime novel 'Testkill' (1976) where an Australian bowler is murdered during play at a Test match against England at Lord's."

Didn't Martina Navratilova co-author a couple of crime novels set on the tennis circuit?

August 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

The name is Bonds, Barry Bonds. Yes, the name does have a certain ring to it.

It occurred to me also that some of the big international sports scandals might make for something closer to a thriller than a traditional murder mystery. The BALCO story might be closer to mystery territory, with shady characters hanging around locker rooms and such, except that no one has been killed, as far as I know.

Perry, thanks for the Malcolm Knox suggestion. A few months ago, I visited with an English friend who is a big cricket fan. We watched highlights of England vs. the West Indies, and I got an education in some of the basic rules and terminology of the game. I might be ready to steep myself in its ambience with a good crime novel.

Navratilova did co-write three mystery novels in the 1990s, according to her entry on Wikipedia. I seem to remember reading about at least one of them, but I have no idea how well crime-fiction readers received them.

August 09, 2007  
Anonymous LauraR said...

One of the Pepe Carvahlo books by Vasquez Montalban, Offside, is set in the football world, about threats made to Barcelona FC.

Also a Dominique Manotti book, Dead Horsemeat is set in the Horse racing world.

How many years will it be before that fine sounding Italian book will be translated to English? 5?

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the names, Laura. I've read some Vasquez Montalban, but not Offside.

Just for fun, I looked up the original French title of the Dominique Manotti novel. It's A nos chevaux!, which is stirring in an entirely different way from Dead Horsemeat.

Giallo su giallo is newly published in Italian, so I'll give it a while before growing impatient for a translation. The author is a sportswriter, and the reviewer called him a journalist of "the old school. Educated, erudite, prepared. Articles full of citations and cross-references -- and sometimes almost poetry." Sounds as if he might be worth reading.

August 10, 2007  
Blogger pamos1949 said...

I think it is unwise to foster the idea of sports personalities writing crime fiction. Navratilova, as also celebrities in other fields, wrote or co-wrote those books in the same sense that George Forman designed his grill or Martha Stewart sews her sheets. And the co-authors are invariably hacks hired for the job. One of the glories of crime fiction is that so often superb writers get the yen to write it and naturally turn to their own fields of expertise for settings. So do we, as a huge bonus, get to learn so much about antiques, medieval Irish history, academic life, high finance, philosophy, just to note a few examples that spring to mind. But it has to come naturally and the urge to write crime fiction has to come first. We don't want people thinking, well, I know a lot about hockey, I'll write a crime novel. And we don't want any more franchising of celebrity names. That's part of the nadir of the genre.

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Pamos, I agree. That's why I wondered how crime-fiction readers received the books to which Navratilova's name is attached with an author's credit. I expect they were nominated for no Edgars or Daggers. I certainly have no interest in reading them. As admirable as Martina Navratilova may be in other respects, celebrity novel-writing is just one more odious technique of branding.

Gianni Mura, author of Giallo su Giallo, apparently knows cycling, but he's a writer and a journalist first.

I was simply wondering about why sports had declined as an attractive setting for real crime writers.

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Rex Stout wrote a Nero Wolfe novella (included in Three Men Out, I think, but don't hold me to it) about a gambler getting to an MLB team's trainer. It was in the 40s or 50s, though.

The Tour de France would surely present opportunity. It's got beautiful locations, drugs, multiple teams and personalities and a national sport.

Alistair MacLean wrote The Way to Dusty Death with Grand Prix auto racing as a backdrop, but again that was decades ago.

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'd certainly trust Rex Stout to get his research down pat for a baseball story. Nero Wolfe would let him get away with nothing less. And I suspect that Archie Goodwin would be excited by the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at baseball. Though the story may be fifty or sixty years old, it sounds as if it could have a contemporary touch. Thanks.

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Quoth I, "A contemporary touch," you say. "Listen, I've got an NBA referee you should meet. He's alleged to have shaved points to pay off his gambling debts."

Which reminds of some bit of dialogue I can't instantly attribute, but it went along the lines of "he's the guy who fixed the 1919 World Series."

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'd prepared some notes before I made this post. Naturally I could not find the notes when I needed them, but they included Tim Donaghy, the NBA referee in question. The Pakistan coach found dead at this year's cricket World Cup also made it onto my list.

A sportswriter, maybe Donald Hoenig, wrote a thriller some years ago about a plot to kill Jackie Robinson.

August 10, 2007  
Anonymous andrea said...

Hello Peter,
i'm happy that you have cited my article dedicated to "Giallo su giallo". Gianni Mura is a famous sport commentator. An intellectual. He writes very well even if crimes and investigations are less effective compared with food and sport subjects.
You have given rise to discuss!
Bye, Andrea

August 13, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Andrea, my Italian is not so good, but I could tell from your article that you have been reading Gianni Mura for many years and that his work impresses you. I was impressed by what you wrote about him.

Here in America, we don't have many sports commentators who are intellectuals. The number is zero, I think. That alone should make Gianni Mura's writing interesting.

I was also interested to see that an Italian writer can appreciate French food. The Italians (the French, too, of course) are so proud of their cuisine; it was nice to see that Mura could enjoy food and write about food outside his own country.

August 13, 2007  
Anonymous andrea said...

Peter, in Italy there aren't many sports commentators that we can say 'intellectuals'. Someone, however, there is. In fact thery are journalist developped and raised in the sport editorial staff, but provided with a special ability for writing; they are also capable of mixing sport stories with culture, politics, ecc. Gianni Mura is one of these.
About the food it's true that Italians are very proud. At the fist because we are very nationalist and obtuse. Not all of us. I like french food very much too.

August 18, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Your comments about Gianni Mura made me want to read his sports journalism.

I would have guessed that the French would be more nationalist than the Italians, but what do I know? As for food and wine, I could eat and drink very well in either country!

August 18, 2007  

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