Thursday, September 25, 2008

All the news that's not fit for newspapers to print

I'm all for a bit of old-fashioned broadening with my crime fiction, just one of the ways my most frequent class of reading can transcend its genre. Running Mates, Garbhan Downey's novel of cross-border political shenanigans in Ireland, contains a nice example. Here's a savvy newspaperman/politician from Derry in Northern Ireland talking to a political operative from the Irish Republic:

"Stan took a small sip of his Powers and sighed into the phone. `Look, Sonny,' he said, `I'm no innocent. I know most of you guys down there would like to tie a big plastic bag around the Six Counties and hold it till our feet stop kicking. Let's face it, we're the child you gave up for adoption when you got knocked up too young. But like it or not, the secret's out now — and we want our mummy.'"
I read something like that, and I flatter myself that I've learned a bit about Ireland, about the weariness that conflict can produce. I can well imagine Irish people feeling this way, yet I have trouble imagining such a statement turning up in a newspaper, at least not without a counterbalancing quote to give Both Sides of the Story. Perhaps the folks who organized the Books 2008 Crime Writing Series had examples like Downey's in mind when they asked: "Journalism is the first draft of history. Is crime fiction its second draft?"

How about you, readers? What can crime fiction say that newspapers can't, particularly in the realm of politics?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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16 Comments:

Blogger John McFetridge said...

Maybe this example is too directly political, but Brian Moore's The Revolution Script is a fictionalized account of the FLQ kidnapping of James Cross. The book was published in 1971, which might have been too close to the actual events, and Moore tries to show the story from every angle - which probably not many people were interested in at the time.

That kind of 'story behind the story' is what I really like about crime fiction. And the depth of character. Of course, I use a lot of newspaper articles as jumping off points for my crime fiction, usually because I read something and think, "Wow, what could have led up to that?"

Newspapers, other than those big themed 'investigations' they do, give the results of the action, like a boxscore. Fiction can be like recreating the whole game.

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I like your analogy. Fiction is to journalism as Bill James is to boxscores.

Giles Blunt offers a fictionalized account of the Cross kidnapping, too, though just from Cross' point of view, in The Delicate Storm. It was novel to read a first-person account of the character's daily life observation as a captive, though I could well imagine those passages in a certain kind of newspaper article: the kind later collected into a book.

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Crime fiction needn't worry about offending one side or the other. You don't find false equivalencies in crime fiction (the joke is something like: Some physicists say world is round, others aren't so sure).

There are plenty of ambiguities to be found in crime lit, but usually ludicrous statements like the above are dispensed with.

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

Ian Rankin writes "...I continue to find the crime novel the perfect vehicle for a discussion of contemporary issues in the most unflinching terms. After all, the detective has an 'all areas pass' to every aspect of the contemporary urban scene, and this is a way for the crime writer to take the reader into forbidden territory..."

Crime fiction already delves into the repugnant and offensive. The reader expects to be disturbed. A little politics by comparison shouldn't offend their sensibilities too much, should it?

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's just what I was getting at. There's no cult of objectivity, no reflex need to get the other side. A novelist can put words in a character's mouth without the constraint of needing to run immediately after an opposing view. I'd say fiction can be a lot truer to life that way than journalism is.

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and congratulations on the Dodgers' clinching the NL West. I'd say that did nothing to hurt Joe Torre's Hall of Fame credentials.

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, that’s a novel take on politics, that it’s a refuge from real life.

I’d heard that statement from Rankin before, and it’s a neat summing up. I’m not the world’s biggest Rankin fan, but I do appreciate the way he goes beyond the facts of a case in the Rebus novels.

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, I think you still have a book coming to you. The post office returned to me a package marked as undeliverable because the address had been obliterated. I think it's the book I sent you for winning a competition here, but I want to check before I tear open that perfectly good shipping envelope. Did you ever get the book?

September 25, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Thanks. Didn't hurt Jeff Kent's or Manny Ramirez's chances either (they being the other two pretty sure things in HOF voting on the team).

The Phillies, the Brewers and the Mets can't seem to decide who should play on.

September 26, 2008  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

No, I didn't get the book, I was thinking yesterday I must drop you a line and say the US postal service got F for fail!

September 26, 2008  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

I have to say I like using my fiction to have little digs in about the political climate. But of course it's my non-PC protagonist who likes to vent her spleen about daft policies, privacy legislation gone mad and bureaucratic over-burden, not me.

September 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

People tend to forget about Jeff Kent, but he has been putting up good numbers for a long time. He's the kind of guy who may get in a few years after he becomes eligible, I think. Manny was a cinch even before he finally decided he wanted the Red sox to trade him. I wonder how he'll be received in Fenway should the Dodgers and the Red Sox make it to the World Series.

September 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, have you read Ruth Dudley Edwards?

September 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I might be the one who deserves the bad grade. The address appeared completely washed out. I must have used non-waterproof ink. How the package got wet in the first place is another matter, of course, but I shall resend it soon, more securely labelled this time.

September 26, 2008  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

I shall plead ignorance and say I've never heard of Ruth Dudley Edwards. That's the trouble of being on a little antipodean outpost - the selection of writing that turns up in our bookshops is rather limited (with the exception of those bookshops who boast informed and diversely read buyers.)

Enlighten me, please.

September 26, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I met Ruth Dudley Edwards on my recent trip to Ireland. Here a post I made about her. It sounds as if she might be right up your antipodean alley.

September 26, 2008  

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