Friday, July 11, 2008

Crime writers and their odd former careers, plus a chance to win free books!

John McFetridge says he thinks a member of a once-successful rock band in our mutual home town is a poet these days, which reminds me of some comments I'll likely post in the next day or two. The comments will concern a crime novelist whose association with pop music includes writing songs for a fabulously successful soft-rock group of the 1970s.

The author, Timothy Hallinan, writes a series featuring a travel-guide writer named Poke Rafferty who is trying to settle down in Bangkok. The first in the series, A Nail Through the Heart, is shot through with some of the sinister things one might expect of a book set in Thailand. But it also has some of the wriest humor you'll read a crime novel, plus an affecting emphasis on Rafferty's domestic life unusual for a book by a male author.

Three lucky readers will win A Nail Through the Heart plus Hallinan's second Rafferty novel, The Fourth Watcher, if they can answer this question: For which wildly successful 1970s band did Hallinan write? Send your answer with a postal address to detectivesbeyondborders (at) earthlink (dot) net.

While you're at it, what other odd or surprising previous careers have crime novelists had? You can post those answers right here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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21 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Rex Stout financed his early (pre-Wolfe) career by inventing a school banking system which at its zenith was installed in 400 cities' schools.

Dick Francis was famously a champion jockey before retiring to write books.

Tom Clancy was an insurance salesman before he sold The Hunt for Red October to the US Naval Institute's Proceedings, about the most unlikely fiction publisher I can imagine (my Dad subscribed to it for 30 years; navy current affairs is its more usual material).

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I never knew that about Tom Clancy, either about his previous job or about the unusual publisher of his novel.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I don't know what the publisher's cut of royalties is, but safe to say that the Institute has a nice little stream coming in from that book.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That could be an interesting publishing tale. I wonder if its success inspired any similar efforts. And why not? The idea of magazine fiction about a particular area of interest smacks of an earlier era in American publishing.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Not really a crime writer I guess, but wasn't William Faulkner a post office clerk for most of his life?

Story's that end in public sector clerks becoming giants of literature always float my boat. A man can dream.

Most of my favourite NI crime writers were or still are journalists. Garbahn Downey, Tony Bailie, Jason Johnson and Colin Bateman; all reporter types.

Sam Millar was quite a successful bank robber though.

gb

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Actually, after a quick google I've discovered that Faulkner was only a postal employee for three years before he 'agreed' to resign.

My mistake.

gb

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hadn't known what Faulkner did other than write. The most famous instance in American lit of this sort of "He did what?" job is probably Wallace Stevens and his career in insurance. The great American composer Charles Ives also spent his professional life in insurance and was quite successful, from what I have read. Perhaps insurance is the field to go into if one wants to become a creative giant, at least in America.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Insurance, eh? My wife used to work for Prudential. I wonder if that counts?

gb

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Actuarial tables say the odds are high you sleep with a genius.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

A genius in all thing bar matters of the heart. Which is how I eventually married her.

gb

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

Josephine Tey was a physical education instructor. Joyce Porter (Chief Inspector Dover, mentioned here recently) started writing after a career in the Women's Royal Air Force. Bruce Montgomery, better known in this context as Edmund Crispin, was a composer -- of film music for the money (the 'Carry On' movies, most notably) and church music for the love of it. Very fitting that he should have furnished the most familiar of the 'Carry On' themes, given that he was, at the least, one of the earliest novelists in the farcical school of crime writing.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd known about Edmund Crispin's music career and thought it one of the more interesting of crime authors' additional occupations, not to mention one of the most successful.

I had not known what Josephine Tey did. Hers is one of the most striking of the alternate careers because it is so commonplace, about the last thing one would expect a writer of thrilling tales to be doing. And I just had an idea for a thriller character who would introduce himself thus: "The name is Teacher. Jim Teacher."

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerard, it's always heart-warming when someone in the insurance business assesses the risk, decides it is worth taking, and gets married.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

A couple of afterthoughts re Montgomery. If you can find it, David Whittle's biography, Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books, is superb and fodder for anyone with an interest in English music and literature mid-century. In his prime, he was much in the thick of thick of things. If curious, there are some half-dozen recordings of his works, the most significant being the (actually rather large) Concertino for String Orchestra -- on the Naxos label, as it happens. A very sad thing that most of the last two decades of his life produced nothing but reviews and one last novel, published the year before his death at 57 and 24 years after the previous. Kingsley Amis thought his literary and musical wells simply ran dry early in life, but he was well in the throes of alcoholism by his early 40s, his right hand was crippled by Dupuytren's Contracture, and he was increasingly subject to depression, so I don't think one can be so sure of that.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or maybe I'll take another crack at reading Crispin. I started one of his novels and found it too mannered for my taste. The opening was a highly self-conscious scene of a train pulling slowly into a station, maybe Oxford, and the narrator notices everything -- and I mean everything. I wonder if Crispin was laboring under the influence of Proust.

July 11, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

If you do have another go, The Moving Toyshop is undoubtedly his best. The one you mention is The Case of the Gilded Fly, his first. Proust? Very likely -- spoofed, of course. The names of other crime writers, their detectives, writers in general, musicians, Oxford dons, anyone Crispin was at Oxford with, and the characteristics of all these, constantly crop up, sometimes thinly disguised, sometimes not at all. Waugh, Amis, Larkin, Michael Innes and Appleby, Blake/Day-Lewis and Strangeways, Dickson Carr...no one was safe. ('Edmund Crispin' came from one Innes' Appleby books.) And nothing, but nothing, was ever serious.

July 12, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just bought Michael Innes' Hare Sitting Up at a secondhand bookshop. Perhaps I can work myself into a donnish mood for another crack at Edmund Crispin. I may have to rely on you for the clef to his romans, though.

July 12, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

I don't think you'd have much trouble with the locks, Peter, except perhaps musical figures of that particular time -- you need treble clefs for some of them.

July 12, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know ... I'm weak on British mid-20th century. If I can't recognize the thinly disguised figures, I might have to resign myself to plain, old enjoying the book.

July 12, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

James Ellroy was a golf caddy while shopping his novel around.

July 12, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a good one. One hears about the weird things Ellroy has done, but I didn't know being a golf caddy was one of them.

July 12, 2008  

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