Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Two professions, one of them odd, for fictional amateur sleuths

I've discussed amateur sleuths from time to time in this space, usually with emphasis on their professions, from high school history teacher to shady antiques dealer and beyond.

Implicit in any such discussion is the question of believability. How plausible is it that a stripper or real estate agent or nice old lady would get involved in solving a crime, usually a murder?

Robert Bloch's Mark Clayburn in Shooting Star is one of the odder combinations. He's a one-eyed private investigator who is also a literary agent. Further, he has entered the former profession after his flourishing business in the latter fell apart as a result of the same set of events that cost him one eye. How likely the combination is, I don't know, but it does make for some atmospheric touches — the weary P.I. musing about sending out manuscripts rather than about pounding pavement.

Elsewhere on the amateur-sleuth front, Bill Ott begins a review of Anna Blundy's The Bad News Bible with the declaration that "It’s odd that there aren’t more foreign-correspondent series leads in crime fiction. The job requires a classic hard-boiled hero—tough talking, cynical to the bone, and capable of ingesting prodigious amounts of booze and cigarettes—and the work entails jumping from one dangerous venue to another ... "

What ever could he mean? There are tons of foreign-correspondent sleuths in crime fiction. There's Dan Fesperman's, and um —

Maybe Ott is right. What other foreign-correspondent sleuths can you think of? Do such characters make good crime-fiction protagonists? And why are there so few of them, other than that American newspaper are closing down their foreign bureaus because news is too expensive?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger Bill Peschel said...

Probably the same reason that publishers shy away from overseas novels. American readers aren't interested in furreners.

Which, if true, is a shame. A foreign correspondent would be a great protagonist. An outsider observing the society and at risk of a host of violent possibilities, now with an added soupcon of dealing with the home office, competitors and snarky bloggers.

May 06, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

There's no dearth of spys using "foreign correspondent" as a cover, however.

May 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Bill, I shall make it my business to introduce more Americans to their fictional overseas brothers and sisters.

A foreign correspondent could make a good protagonist, with all sorts of sub-plots along the lines of your suggestions. Our hero must penetrate the mystery and solve the crime before his newspapers closes its foreign bureaus and transfers him back home to edit high school news in the suburbs.

Linkmeister, what fictional spies have posed as foreign correspondents, and have they done so with the cooperation of the news organizations they claim to represent? Or are they just posing as free-lancers?

May 06, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shooting Star is, I believe, the title of Peter Temple's fourth Jack Irish book, publication date in the UK is Sept 08, and it is very hard indeed to wait that long. Doubt the cover will look like this, though!

May 07, 2008  
Anonymous LauraR said...

possibly more in the spy thriller genre than the whodunnit but John Russell, the protagonist of David Downing's books Zoo Station and Silesian station is a foreign correspondence (based in late 30s Berlin, so a rather eventful beat!).

May 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think Shooting Star may be a standalone. And I think the book was published in Australia in 1999, which means the wait will have been especially long.

May 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Laura. I wonder if a decline in foreign-correspondent protagonists is due in part to a decline in newspapers and the consequent reliance on fewer and fewer sources of foreign news. My newspaper, for example, has closed all its foreign bureaus.

And yes, it will be interesting to see what a foreign correspondent can get up to in 1930s Berlin -- what he notices and what he ignores.

May 07, 2008  

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