Monday, September 29, 2008

Morality plays

What's comedy? It's what makes us laugh, but more high-toned definitions come to mind as well: Comedy exposes the foibles of others and lets us enjoy their pratfalls. Comedy is that form of drama in which all the right couples pair off in the end. And comedy, in a definition also often applied to crime fiction, may end in a restoration of social order or equilibrium.

That last has a strong moral element, which I mention because I have just finished the most strongly, insistently and amusingly moral crime novel I can remember: Garbhan Downey's Running Mates.

Here's Tommy `Bowtie' McGinlay, a lawyer with chronic irritable bowel syndrome, on the novel's protagonist:

"As you and I are both aware, Stanley is a lifelong believer in the Fuck-up Factor. He knows that if you do something bad, you're going to get caught. No matter how clever you are or how many angles you close down, your inner idiot will always escape."
And here's Stanley himself:

"If you only ever get to know one thing about me, Sonny, let it be this — I only ever take on one woman at a time. Two on the one page — no matter how far they are apart — is too much for me. I don't like being played for a sap, so I wouldn't do it to anyone else. But the bottom line is, if you do mess about, you always get caught."
Have a character make such strong declarations, and you've created suspense and comedy, the delicious guessing as to just how the malefactors and other messers-about will get caught. It's no wonder that when Downey dropped a note to your humble blogkeeper last week, after reflecting on the ugliness he had seen as a reporter, he wrote: "Any wonder I packed in the day job and started writing comedy?" Not fiction, or comic crime, but comedy. Sounds to me as if Garbhan Downey has a definite world view.

And now, while you head to the library or the bookshop to look for Downey's books, I'll ask you to think about comedy in that sense: funny stories with a firmly moral basis in which order is restored, and characters good and bad get what they deserve. What are your favorite examples of this in crime fiction?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

There are too many to count, in Irish crime fiction alone, but one of the first to spring to mind in Eoin Colfer's short story in Ken Bruen's Dublin Noir. So much lovely comedy and yet a sense of justice as the lesser of the two evils get away with the lesser comeuppance. I look forward to more adult crime fiction from Mr Colfer.


September 29, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, that story, "Taking on PJ," was a highllight of the collection and my introduction to Eoin Colfer. I have read that he was planning an "adult" crime novel, and I look forward to it eagerly, too.

Some of the Irish crime fiction I've read has sort-of happy endings, but nothing else was so comic in its structure and its action the way Running Mates. What are some your other candidates?

September 29, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Well, Yours Confidentially by Garbhan Downey was probably the funniest book I read this year. I loved the humour in Sansom's Mobile Library series. The Delegates' Choice, the most recent, took the buddy-humour between Israel and Ted to a new level. When you're talking about comedy-crime fiction, Bateman always warrants a mention. Any one of his novels belongs in this short list, but I remember laughing out loud most often while reading Belfast Confidential. And I know you'll agree with me on this one, Declan Burke's The Big O for crackling dialogue and crazy situation comedy.

I've probably overlooked a tonne of other perfect examples, but I don't want to go on too long here.


September 29, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You know how much I enjoy at least two of those authors, but I don't think those guys take as much delight in making sure everyone gets what he or she deserves the way Garbhan Downey does in Running Mates.

"Crazy situation comedy" is a nice way of characterising The Big O. Since I seem to be classifying different types of comedy -- I didn't mean to. Honestly, it just happened! -- I'll keep that term in mind, alongside Downey's moral comedy.

September 29, 2008  

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