Coda: A note on musical references in crime stories
One of my complaints about the last is that a given song or musician, usually of the rock and roll variety, too often serves as nothing more than a brand name or a label. The song or the performers are simply too popular to serve as a meaningful indicator of a character's uniqueness.
Håkan Nesser uses music in his recently published Mind's Eye, where he has his protagonist, Van Veeteren, slip into his car and put on some Francisco Tárrega. The reference to the great classical guitarist is, like many musical references in crime novels, a label. Nesser does not make music an important part of Van Veeteren's makeup. But at least it's a distinctive label. Not many fictional detectives favor classical guitar.
The music references that really caught my eye recently, though, were in Mehmet Murat Somer's The Prophet Murders. In the scene in question, the manager of a transvestite nightclub insists that the club's record spinner account for his choice of music:
"`What's this music you're playing?' I demanded.Now, that's a good string of musical references. The scene is funny. It tells us something about the protagonist's personality. It packs an amusing, self-satirical punch line. The mention of instruments may help you imagine the music. If you know the performers, you may smile (or wince) to memories of soaring, sappy, minor-key string passages. Somer's passage is a hell of a lot more than just a label, in other words. Most important, the scene could work just as well for a reader who has never heard of the performers in question.
"`Adiemus. New Age. It's a new group. Great, isn't it?'
"To add insult to injury, he was poking fun at me. New Age is one of the forms of music I simply don't comprehend. Paul Mauriat, Franck Pourcel, Francis Lai and even Fausto Papetti have been playing this kind of music for years. The only difference is that they perform with an orchestra, not synthesizers and the piping of a flute. Nowadays, intellectuals have elevated this sort of music into an art form. Why the double standard? What have the others been doing wrong all these years? A succession of critics has slammed them. All right, I don't think much of their work either, but I don't see the difference, do you?"
And now readers, what are your favorite musical references in crime novels or stories? What makes the references work?
© Peter Rozovsky 2008
Mehmet Murat Somer
Turkish crime fiction