I've finished Michael Walters' The Shadow Walker
and, as in last week's comment
, I'll say a word or two about settings.
My earlier comment discussed Clive James' occasionally simplistic view of crime novels set in far-flung climes, expressed in a New Yorker article in May called "Blood on the Borders."
His thesis is that since crime novels have nothing new to say, their authors instead offer colorful views of their homelands. ("In most of the crime novels coming out now, it’s a matter not of what happens but of where. Essentially, they are guidebooks.”)
I'll save the question of whether crime novels are outmoded for later. The other half of James' assertion is easier to deal with. His guidebooks comparison conjures up visions of picturesque settings, when, in fact, setting can be more sophisticated than that. Sure, Walters' novel offers an occasional marvel at Mongolia's splendid isolation, including this, about a tourist camp in the Gobi:
There are also occasional observations about older residents in traditional robes mingling with younger people in western dress and, as I mentioned last week, of traditional Mongolian tents called gers
incongruously co-existing with modern apartment blocks. I liked the observations, but I'll give Clive James the benefit of the doubt; they have a whiff of the guidebook about them.
"Holiday camps?" Drew said. "In the desert?"
"Well, you could perhaps think of it as a large beach," Nergui smiled. "Though I admit it's a long walk to the sea."
Not so for the novel's musing on the effects of capitalism on the environment and economy of the once-communist Mongolia. Nor is it the case for the unusual position in which the chief investigator, Nergui, finds himself, as a mix of police officer, diplomat and commercial and industrial relations specialist. Mongolia's rapidly modernizing economy is responsible for this mix of roles, and Walters make it a plot element.
Wearing his police hat, Nergui is resigned to the occasional blundering and ethical lapses of his colleagues, and this, too, is no mere narrative guidebook description. Rather, Walters presents it as the inevitable result of a sudden necessity for a professional police force, unnecessary when the army exercised police functions. The main plot, too, is tied closely to current conditions in Mongolia, involving as it does international struggles over rights to the country's extensive mineral wealth.
Yes, these are all aspects of setting, but they're hardly guidebook stuff. They're part of why I'd recommend The Shadow Walker as a story of, and not just a guidebook to, Mongolia.
Clive James called current crime novels "essentially ... guidebooks." What crime stories have you read where setting overwhelmed plot, where the story was lost amid the colorful sights?
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Mongolia crime fiction
Asia crime fiction
Labels: Asia, Clive James, Michael Walters, Mongolia