Monday, October 29, 2007

Peter Temple's idiosyncratic comedy

I’ve mentioned Peter Temple’s wit now and then and cited examples here and here. It was not until I read Dead Point, however, that I realized that Temple’s Jack Irish novels, of which Dead Point is the third, are comic in structure, and not just punctuated with funny lines.

The stories are reasonably hard-boiled, and Dead Point contains characters, scenes and outcomes that would not be out of place in the most violent neo-noir. Yet in the end, villains get a comeuppance of a kind, and Irish gets the girl. The novels don’t read like comic crime, nothing like Ken Bruen and Jason Starr’s collaborations, say, or Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder capers, but they do offer delightful bits of dialogue and deadpan observation here and there.

Readers: Can any of you think of anyone else who writes crime fiction that is comic in structure (happy ending, loose ends tied up, hero gets the girl as in, say, the marriages that end Shakespeare's comedies) without being slapstick in tone?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Horst said...

Peter, I don't understand quite know what you mean by comic in structure. Please explain.

October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Jonty said...

Have you seen Temple's review this past Saturday of a biography of Agatha Christie in the Age (Melbourne, Australia)? He will need to go into hiding and he can never visit England to collect another Gold Dagger.

October 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the comments. Horst, by "comic in structure," I mean, more or less, having a happy ending, particulary one in which the hero gets the girl, since marriage is the traditional happy ending of comedies. Perhaps I'll rewrite my question to make that clearer.

October 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Jonty, I have not seen that article. Is it available online? That would help, since Saturday's issue will be long off the newsstands by the time I can make it to Melbourne.

Assuming Temple is rational and amusing, the review might be helpful and interesting. Christie is such a seminal and almost legendary figure that subjecting her to a good drubbing might help being her back to life. I read a review of the annotated edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories that trashed the Holmes stories as shallow and childish. But it had some fresh and interesting things to say about Holmes, about scientific method, and about literary depictions of cities at night, for instance. Perhaps Temple subjects Christie to similar treatment. If not, perhaps he at least remains as amusing as he is in his novels and, I am told, in person.

October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Michael Walters said...

I'm pleased that you've highlighted that side of Peter Temple's work. When I came to the Jack Irish novels, after reading 'The Broken Shore', I was surprised by how funny they were ('The Broken Shore' has plenty of wit, but it's of a much more mordant variety). One of the (many) things that impresses me about Temple's work is that his books display such a variety of tone and style ('In the Evil Day' is different again), while always being very recognisably Temple.

October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Maxine said...

I'm really behind here, as I've read only the first Jack Irish. I hope to read the rest soon, but none of the others are out in PB in the UK yet, so it is hardback, library or going cap in hand to Quercus......

October 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Michael, there really is nothing else like the Jack Irish novels. I think very highly of them, of course, but I mean that no other crime writers even try what Temple does. He strikes a very delicate balance with his humor, and it always works.

I commented earlier about The Skull Mantra. Have you read Eliot Pattison? I ask because that novel touches upon the delicate dilemmas posed by exploitation of a remote Asian region's mineral wealth.

October 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Maxine, what's the publication schedule for the paperbacks in the UK? Frequent-flyer miles and a discount coupon might land me in the UK some time in the next few months. If that happens, I could airlift some copies to you.

October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Jonty said...

Peter: Temple's review is online at:
www.theage.com.au/news/book-reviews/agatha-christie-an-english-mystery

I have to say it made me laugh. Agatha fans will probably gag.

October 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'd love to read it, but the link isn't working. Am I having problems on this end, or have you committed a typo?

October 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I made my way through the Age Web site and found the review at http://www.theage.com.au/news/book-reviews/agatha-christie-an-english-mystery/2007/10/26/1192941328575.html

Wow, what a wonderful review! Temple knew how to channel his exasperation with his subject into something productively entertaining. Christie's brother sounds like a P.G. Wodehouse character.

October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Michael Walters said...

I haven't yet read 'The Skull Mantra' but I should - I've seen a couple of reviews, as well as your own excellent one, which make it sound very interesting (and pertinent to my own interests). So many thanks for (re)drawing my attention to it.

October 31, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

It's interesting that both of you featured mining prominently in first books of series set in wild regions of Asia. One can only be apprehensive about the fate of Mongolia and Tibet.

October 31, 2007  
Anonymous Maxine said...

Not sure of the answer, Peter, my friend at Quercus told me that the latest PT has been delayed a bit because he's still writing it, so the air miles won't help there, I'm afraid! In any event, I'm happy to wait -- I have 300 plus other books to read while doing so.

November 03, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I wonder in what order Quercus is publishing the Jack Irish paperbacks. Not by design, I think I've read the first three in series order. I've seen the first two in bookstores in Canada and the U.S.

I just now looked on the Fantastic Fiction Web site and found that the fourth in the series, White Dog, appears to be scheduled for August 2008 publication. The site lists a price in pounds, but none in dollars. The same site lists and April 2008 publication date for Truth, "Broken Shore, book 2."

November 03, 2007  
Blogger Juri said...

This isn't exactly an answer to your question - the book isn't certainly comic by your terms -, but I've always thought that Scott Phillips's THE ICE HARVEST is very funny without having any jokes in it.

November 05, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks, Juri. That's part of what I like about Peter Temple. He can be funny even when he's not writing jokes. I'll look for The Ice Harvest.

November 05, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Juri, I wonder how much liberty the filmmakers took when they made The Ice Harvest into a movie. I watched it last night, and it does have a few jokes. Oliver Platt's hard-to-take schtick as a drunk in the first part of the movie is clearly comic and intended to be so. Generally, though, I agree with your assessment. There was plenty of deadpan humor that had nothing to do with jokes. That made John Cusack, who has never been noted for his wide range of facial expressions, good in the lead role.

And the movie has a kind of a happy ending, arguably.

November 09, 2007  

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