Friday, March 20, 2009

Beautiful deaths

The excerpt from José Latour's Havana World Series that I quoted yesterday reminded me of another of my favorite crime-fiction passages, the opening of Bill James' The Detective Is Dead. I make no apologies for quoting that passage yet again. Its humor and its sheer, unexpected beauty make it well worth repeated reading:

"When someone as grand and profitable as Oliphant Kenward Knapp was suddenly taken out of the business scene, you had to expect a bloody big rush to grab his domain, bloody big meaning not just bloody big, but big and very bloody. Harpur was looking at what had probably been a couple of really inspired enthusiasts in the takeover rush. Both were on their backs. Both, admittedly, showed only minor blood loss, narrowly confined to the heart area. Both were eyes wide, mouth wide and for ever gone from the stampede."
That shares with the Latour excerpt specificity of detail, wry detachment, and an unexpectedly lyrical punch line.

Now it's your turn. What are your favorite lyrical descriptions of killing in crime fiction? How do you feel reading beautiful words about such a grim, violent subject? What are your favorite gorgeous pieces of crime-fiction prose, whether about death or not?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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8 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Will you accept a selection other than crime fiction?

Someone kicked him. Concrete tore his palms.

He rolled and kicked, failing to connect. A thin boy, spiked blond hair lit from behind in a rainbow nimbus, was leaning over him. Above the stage, a figure turned, knife held high, to the cheering crowd. The bow smiled and drew something from his sleeve. A razor, etched in red as a third beam blinked past them into the dark. Case saw the razor dipping for his throat like a dowser's wand.

The face was erased in a humming cloud of microscopic explosions. Molly's fletchettes, at twenty rounds per second. The boy coughed once, convulsively, and toppled across Case's legs.

March 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, that counts. The rainbow nimbus is a nice touch.

And that book, which I only know through its famous first line, is sort of a crime thriller, according toy our description, isn't it?

March 21, 2009  
Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

As usual, I have forgotten specific names, but P D James has done quite a few detailed deaths. I especially remember a book (starring Adam Dalgliesh) which opens with a corpse in a wooden coffin with the skin scraped off the knuckles of the hands. Th juxtaposition of the gruesome corpse with the beautiful evocation of the wild lonely seaside was attention-grabbing.

March 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Very nice and just the sort of thing I had in mind. If you remember which book includes this opening, let me know. P.D. James has written enough that such a search on my own would be laborious, and I'd like to investigate this scene further. Thanks.

March 21, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Peter,

Sort of a high-tech crime thriller, yes. Although it gets kind of metaphysical in the last quarter, which ruins a bunch of the suspense.

March 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hadn't known the book had crime or thriller elements until I read your comment. I had known about the book as a seminal text, of course.

March 21, 2009  
Blogger 2KoP said...

I'm afraid I don't have a beautiful death scene to contribute, but I had to comment that the name "Oliphant Kenward Knapp" is worthy of you repeating your cited paragraph.

I am also happy to bestow upon Detectives Beyond Borders the prestigious Premio Dardos Award.

March 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's quite the name, all right. James is one of those writers worth reading for the sheer pleasure of the prose, and that name is one example.

March 21, 2009  

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