Friday, February 08, 2008

Crime fiction and unfortunate events

I’ve rhapsodized about Frank McAuliffe and his three amazing books about Augustus Mandrell, that sly international spy and master of disguise who must nonetheless work for a living. But did you know a fourth Mandrell book, never published, predates the others? Its title is They Shoot Presidents, Don’t They?, and when I tell you that McAuliffe apparently submitted it to his publisher not long before Nov. 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you may understand its failure to appear. (Read this enlightening account and this discussion about the astonishing, brash, satirical and very funny Mandrell series.)

Thirty-eight years later, just before Sept. 11, 2001, the acidically satirical Christopher Brookmyre published A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, one of whose characters is a terrorist who blows up a plane. Brookmyre’s own Web site breaks down critical reaction to the novel into “Pre September 11th” and “Post September 11th” groups, and it’s natural to wonder how the terrorist attacks affected the novel’s popular and critical reception.

Each author ran full speed, smack-dab, face first and unaware into a historical event beyond his control. What other crime authors have experienced similar tricks of fate?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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12 Comments:

Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dennis Lehane's Gone Baby Gone was made into a film which I don't think was released in the UK, because of the disappearance of Maddie McCann.

February 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

That would be a shame, but it's precisely the sort of thing I'm talking about. I wonder if the film will eventually be released in the UK.

February 08, 2008  
Blogger Geoff McGeachin said...

On the day before Christmas 2004 I was doing the annual Sydney to Melbourne 10 hour drive to visit my parents. My wife and I usually do 2 hours shifts and she sleeps while I drive. This is good plotting time for me and I was trying to figure a suitably spectacular finale for my third book. One of my characters was a crazed environmentalist out to punish the Japanese for whaling. I decided that she was going to steal a US nuclear warhead and use a home made cruise missile to drop it into a rock fissure on the island of Minami Iwo Jima which would trigger a massive landslip resulting in a tidal wave that would flatten Tokyo. Two days later we woke up to news of the Asian Tsunami. I figured I would just scrap that whole idea but for various reason publication of SENSITIVE NEW AGE SPY was delayed till June 2007 and by then I felt comfortable about using the scenario – nipped in the bud at the last minute of course.

March 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I'd say that a tsunami that kills more than 200,000 qualifies as an unfortunate event, all right. What sort of alternate ending would you have chosen had publication not been delayed? Would you have gone with a similarly apocalyptic threat, or would the recentness of the tsunami made of leery of any threat of mass death?

March 03, 2008  
Blogger Geoff McGeachin said...

I guess the spy thriller (even the humorous type) pretty much always demands a mega threat for the hero to counter. However the magnitude of the Tsunami disaster really made me question what I was attempting. When it became clear there would be a longish delay before publication I made the decision to press ahead. I felt a little more comfortable as Japan has a Tsunami early warning system in operation and the villain was aiming mainly to create environmental and economic damage. Because of the style of this series I’m always pushing the story elements to extremes but to plot a potential Tsunami and have a massive one occur a few days later was freaky.

The other major plot point in this book was the US government secretly supplying the Australian military with two tactical nukes. The rationale was to provide a last resort option in case US forces became bogged down in the Middle East and were unable to honour the US/Australia defence treaties in the event of a crisis. I’m hoping I’m not too prescient on that one.

Mass deaths or just one character, I’m always leery. No one gets bumped off without me giving it a whole lot of thought. In my first book the three people who died really, really deserved it. Everyone else just copped a belting. In fact in the second or third draft I sometimes find myself ‘undeading’ characters - resurrecting isn’t a word I care to use in a fiction writing context.

On a personal note I lived in Atlantic City for a couple of years in the late seventies and spent some time in Philly. I liked it. You haven’t lived till you’ve watched THE HARDER THEY COME in a packed cinema where you’re the only white guy. Now that was a blast.

March 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

"On a personal note I lived in Atlantic City for a couple of years in the late seventies and spent some time in Philly. I liked it. You haven’t lived till you’ve watched THE HARDER THEY COME in a packed cinema where you’re the only white guy. Now that was a blast."

I've not had that pleasure, mon. And I think I may have to see about getting a copy of Sensitive New Age Spy here in America. I'm always interested in how humor and crime work together, and I would imagine that the challenge of making humor and a mega-threat work is even greater. Also, I've read that a number of the countries hit hard by the 2004 tsunami have since installed warning systems that seem to be highly thought of. Was that a factor in your decision to go ahead with the book?

March 04, 2008  
Blogger Geoff McGeachin said...

Call me cynical but your comment on these early warning systems immediately made me think there has to be a book here about the scamming and kickbacks and fraud that must be involved in the installation of such systems. And sadly, as part of the human condition, as time passes today’s tragedy of almost incomprehensible proportions becomes tomorrows historical footnote – except of course for those involved.

The humour/crime/thriller combo is a bit of a knife-edge thing (Hiaasen does it so well) and I didn’t really know if it would travel with an Australian voice. I get a lot of emails from Canadians and English people who seem to like it and get what I’m about but also quite a few Americans as well. I’m finishing off a forth humourous thriller for Penguin and then I’m contacted for something in the straight crime fiction style which looks to be an interesting departure for me.

Given our beginning as a rather nasty penal colony Australian humour seems always to be both self-deprecating and anti-authoritarian and we like to play it to the hilt. Sometimes humour is the only thing that gets you through, and the country itself might be described as someone’s idea of a joke - vast areas of desert, oceans full of sharks, saltwater crocs, lethal jellyfish, and tiny poisonous octopus, with the land not much better, given the amazing range of deadly snakes and spiders we enjoy. Okay, the nice bits are really, really nice and we have some amazing cities, great food, fantastic wines, spectacular scenery and friendly people. And our animals are cute too, and universally non-lethal, except for the bizarre Platypus, which features a poisonous spur.

For people interested in what makes Australians laugh this link takes you to a Federal Government webpage on Aussie humour – and doesn’t just the existence of a government webpage like that tell you a lot about us.

http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/humour/

My first book FAT, FIFTY & F***ED! wasn’t picked up for publication in the US – even with Colleen McCullough describing it as ‘Highly entertaining’ - and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Oh, right, you think that title might have been a problem?

Peter, If you have trouble tracking down a copy of SENSITIVE NEW AGE SPY in the US please contact me via my website.

March 05, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Many thanks for the copious comment. Corruption and kickbacks are an eternal fact of life in large American cities, too, including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Australian crime fiction has been my biggest discovery since I started this blog, and I’ve read enough of it by now to realize that humor is a defining characteristic. I also remarked after reading a novel by your sort-of neighbor, Paul Thomas, who writes zany crime novels, that he would probably do a good job with a non-comic thriller as well.

Another discovery since I began the blog is the quokka, so your comment about cute and non-lethal animals rings true as well.

Thanks, too, regarding Sensitive New Age Spy. I’ll see if I can track a copy down through the usual channels. Finally, what do customers ask for if they walk into a bookshop and want Fat, Fifty & F***ed!?

March 06, 2008  
Blogger Geoff McGeachin said...

This back-and-forth has been fun – just like a real conversation. And like a real conversation you walk away with more interesting insights to think about.

FAT FIFTY & F***ED! is the main characters description of himself early in the novel and my wife suggested I use it when I entered the book in a competition for unpublished authors. No way it would actually get released with that title, right? But this is Australia. Marketing the book was a publicists dream – Now, from an author you’ve never heard of, with a name you’re not sure how to pronounce, comes the book you can’t ask for!

I queried a lot of bookshop owners on how they handled customer requests for it and quite a few of the females said gleefully, ‘We make them say it out loud.’

March 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

How about the folks who introduce you at readings?: "Mr. McGeachin is author of ... " What do they say?

Christ, you can tell I'm from America, can't you, worrying about dirty words like this.

March 06, 2008  
Blogger Geoff McGeachin said...

At least you didn’t use the term ‘potty mouth’. There is nothing more disturbing than seeing adult, well-educated and highly experienced American media heavyweights using that term, especially as we all know they swear like troopers when the mikes are off. A few years back they ran a series of Billy Connelly programs on free-to-air TV here and bleeped out the F**KS! And there were a lot of them. The network got about a hundred complaints, all of which were about the bleeping ruining the show. We get to see and hear Connelly and Gordon Ramsey in all their glory. We also get sex, nudity, drugs (WEEDS is on free-to-air) and the country has yet to go to hell in a hand basket.

I usually do quite a lot of a lot of radio interviews for my books and that makes for some interesting intros. Most people fudge it with ‘effed’. But what about me having to ring my elderly mother to tell her I was finally going to be published and having her ask, ’And what’s it called, dear?’
Okay, so I fudged it.

March 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm with you on "potty-mouth." That's the sort of thing Ned Flanders would say on The Simpsons. It's even worse than "barnyard epithet."

Bleep the "f**ks"? F**k the "bleeps"!

March 06, 2008  

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