Friday, February 15, 2008

Politically disillusioned crime-fiction good guys

A humorous passage in Thirty-Three Teeth plus a comment from Matt Rees in an interview here last week got me thinking about disillusioned crime-fiction characters whose disillusionement is political. Here’s the passage:

“`All right, then. Let's see if we can get any information from the information department.' ...

"[Siri] was a remarkably patient man, but he had no time for incompetence in the government sector. He and Boua had fought for most of their lives to end corrupt systems and he had no intention of being part of one. In his most officious voice, he belted out: `Good god, man! What do you think you're doing? This is a government department, not a rest home. What if there was some sporting emergency or something?'"

Here's the comment, about a character named Khamis Zeydan, police chief of Bethlehem:

"He's typical of high-level Palestinian military men – though not those with the absolute top jobs. Most of them are very disillusioned. They thought they'd come back from exile to be policemen, and suddenly young gunmen took over the streets and they weren't allowed to do anything about it. Khamis Zeydan is based on a friend of mine who introduced me to many of his colleagues in this discontented echelon of the Palestinian military."

The characters, one a protagonist, the other a protagonist's dangerous friend, are both disillusioned revolutionaries who have not let their disillusionment carry them over to the dark side, at least not entirely. That old formula about walking the mean streets who are not themselves mean proves adaptable to cultural and political circumstances different from Raymond Chandler's.

That's two disillusioned revolutionaries who nonetheless stayed on the good side. Can you think of any more crime-fiction heroes or helpers whose disillusionment was political?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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12 Comments:

Blogger John McFetridge said...

Christopher Brookmyre has written a few books featuring Jack Parlabane, a disillusioned journalist. Without giving oo much away, part of Parlabane's backstory involoves him being hired as an investigative journalist and duped into helping the 'wrong' side.

there's a fair amount of politics in Brookmyre's work and he makes no effort at objectivity - he's clearly picked his side.

February 15, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Not only is there no effort at objectivity, but Brookmyre is a frothing moralist, which can make his books fun to read as long as one is not too in the mood to relax. (I've read Boiling a Frog and started A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away.)

I'd say Parlabane is a side all his own rather than a member of the good side.

February 15, 2008  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Salvo Montalbano is very disillusioned at the actions by the police during the demonstrations at the G8 in Genoa. He even contemplates resigning and if he had would probably would have opened a fish restaurant.

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Barbara said...

It's a minor example, but I remember Lord Peter Whimsey doing a bit of hush-hush diplomatic work in Gaudy Night and saying to Harriet something about how diplomacy is like riding a wobbly bicycle and that people with principles are the ones who scare him.

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah, in what book does that occur? I've wondered when Camilleri's politics (or former politics) would come to the fore in his books. And I'd also like to see what Montalbano does after contemplating resigning, then deciding against it.

Barbara, I wonder what Lord Peter thought of himself after that diplomacy in which he engaged. And I like the idea of Lord Peter thinking, in effect, that the best lack all conviction, etc.

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Maxine said...

James McClure - -The Steam Pig et al. (set in Apartheid South Africa). ?

I've just read The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson which featured a very disillusioned Chinese private eye.

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

You're Maxine again! Thanks for those two additions to my to-look-into list. How do the books' protagonists react to the political environments in which they find themselves? And did McClure write during the apartheid era in South Africa?

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I've answered one of my own questions. I see he won the old CWA Gold Dagger as long ago as 1971. This sounds well worth looking into.

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Peter, Montalbano's disgust with police violence at the Genoa G8 demo was in Rounding the Mark.

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Grazie. That's one of three I have yet to read, I think.

February 16, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

I am not sure if disillusionment here is meant to encompass cynicism, but if it is, then surely Rebus fits the bill, his views occurring passim, but very much to the fore in Naming of the Dead and Exit Music. (I think of Rebus as a cynic in the best sense: a disillusioned idealist.) The politics in Rankin has much to do with Scottish nationalism and the pursuit of the Celtic Lion, the equivalent of Ireland's Celtic Tiger, much commented upon by Burke's Jack Taylor. Indeed, I think Burke commented somewhere on his blog that the burst of fine crime fiction from Ireland stems from the dramatic increase in crime there, which in turn issues from the dark side of the Tiger. And this is inseparable from politics, of course. The prologue of Tana French's In the Woods suggests a dim view of politicians, and very early on Ryan says, "...in much of Ireland the 50s didn't end until 1995, when we skipped straight to Thatcher's 80s" -- the Celtic Tiger again. It's become a bit of a leitmotiv, cropping up in other Irish authors disillusioned with the Tiger and its political makers, if not, as with Rankin and the Lion, thoroughly sceptical in the first place. Rankin and Montalbano could compare notes on G8 summits.

February 17, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I just may have to read some more Rankin one of these days. I’ve read Knots and Crosses, Strip Jack, Black and Blue and a couple of short stories. I suppose Rankin’s skepticism about the North Sea oil boom in Black and Blueis the sort of thing I have in mind with this question. When I read the book, though, I was annoyed that Rankin had failed to subordinate anything to anything else. He included great globs of material about everything, including life on an oil rig, and all I could think of was that the man needed an editor.

I posted here about crime writers’ jaded views of economic miracles. Bruen’s name came up, as did those of several other Irish writers and also Peter Temple’s. Rankin’s and Camilleri’s books might make good reading on the subject of summits, a hell of a better guide than George Bush or Tony Blair on one hand and Bono on the other.

February 17, 2008  

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