Friday, September 07, 2007

Critic blasts crime fiction for lacking ontological scrutiny

An article in the Independent under the wince-inducing headline "Murder most horrid" let us know earlier this summer that crime fiction had turned decadent and, I might as well say it, yucky.

The shame of one author's otherwise praiseworthy patterns of good, evil, damnation, redemption and salvation, the article tells us, "is that he makes those patterns in blood and gore. ... There are almost as many deaths as in Hamlet but without any of the accompanying ontological scrutiny."

It seems to me that all that evil, damnation, redemption and salvation would provide just the ontologogical kick that crime-fiction readers crave, but the article's author, Paul Vallely, has read the novel in question, Allan Guthrie's Two-Way Split; I have not. At least Vallely finished that book. He tells us with fastidious relish that he was simply unable to get far into two others that he tried: "Enough. I turned from the prologue to the first chapter. It began: `It was pissing down outside ...' Enough indeed."

Though Vallely's style is more precious than most ("As an ingénue in the world of crime writing I had expected something else ... "), his complaints are, of course, old and familiar. I thought of them earlier today as I flipped through the introduction to a book containing a story I wrote about here recently. That introduction quoted an earlier objection to the sorts of stories the book contains. The are filled with, to select just a few from a catalogue of sins, "injury, anger, wrath, hatred ... murder, cruelty ... incest ... killing, stabbing ... "

The complaint's author was John Greene, its date was 1615, and its target was stage tragedies, quite possibly including those by the guy who wrote Hamlet. In the spirit of investigation, then, I'm rereading Hamlet, even though it includes desecration of corpses and murder by poison poured into the victim's ear.

(image from http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/frailtyofhamlet/gallery/shakepictures/)

© Peter Rozovsky 2007


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8 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

As I recall, there's a very famous sequence in that Hamlet book that gets downright existential in tone and scope; what more could a critic want?

Sheesh. Some people.

September 07, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, that prissy critic approves of Hamlet, or at least uses it as a stick to beat crime fiction over the head with. Ontological scrutiny is good, and if people know Hamlet for one thing, it's the ontological scrutiny of that sequence you allude to.

In fact, Vallely's tastes may not be that different from my own. Some of the more graphic depictions of violence do make me a bit queasy, and I think in some cases they may verge on pornography. That's some cases. But Vallely will have to come up with better objections if he wants his argument to be anything more than a declaration of what he doesn't like.

Needless to say, I don't mean to suggest that crime-fiction writers are Shakespeares. But it is worth pointing out that they explore some of the same issues as he did and that abiding interest in those issues accounts in part for crime fiction's enduring popularity.

September 07, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Isn't there a theory or thesis that there are really only six plots in all writing, and it's what the author does with the one he chooses which determines whether the book is good or not?

Baseball, thankfully, has more than six plots, so back to the Dodgers-Giants game.

September 07, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

You get Dodgers-Giants out there? Here we seem to get nothing but Yankees-Red Sox.

September 07, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

We get Fox Prime Ticket for Dodgers, Fox Sports West for Angels. Tonight's on ESPN, though, and Grady Little overmanaged and cost my guys the game.

And all of Red Sox Nation says, "well, that's nothing new."

September 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Here in Philadelphia, the manager is being talked up for manager of the year after a couple of years being derided as a bum. Each opinion is generally rendered with the originiality, supporting evidence and clarity of expression typical of American sportswriters.

September 08, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

And the Phillies fans are notoriously polite to their own players, too.

There's a great deal of local pride among our sportscasters out here, so I've seen more Phillies highlights this year than in the previous ten, all due to "Maui-born Shane Victorino." Worse, he's a former Dodger farmhand let go in the Rule 5 draft, which annoys me.

September 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I was at Shane Victorino Bobble-head Doll Giveaway Day this year, complete with Hawaiian singers and dancers. I had to leave for work, so I missed Victorino's game-winning home run. I think he also threw out a runner that game.

There was much excitement around the Phillies that day.

September 08, 2007  

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