Saturday, May 16, 2009

CrimeFest, Day III, Part I: Interviews

Håkan Nesser, interviewed by Ann Cleeves, shed light on that recurrent question of Scandinavian gloom and Scandinavian authors. Scandinavians, he said, are dour; their authors are not: "I wanted [my protagonist] to be, at least to start with, depressed. ... Happy people don't need their humor."

Dour Swedes may be, Nesser said, but not cripplingly so: "We're not that depressed, but we don't talk a lot. That's good for a crime story. You keep things inside for thirty years," and then they just come out.

Ten of Nesser's twenty-two novels have featured Inspector Van Veeteren; four of these have been translated into English. The remaining six would likely change Nesser's image in the English-speaking world. The books translated thus far have featured villains with whom the reader may sympathize deeply. But that changed: "There are two really bad guys in numbers nine and ten." After the fifth in the series, Nesser said, Van Veeteren retires from the police and opens a bookstore instead.

Nesser also discussed his series about a character with the whimsical name of Gunnar Barbarotti, a series as yet untranslated into English, a series whose premise seems an odd mix of whimsy and Ingemar Bergman: "It's a thing between [Barbarotti] and God, and God has to prove he exists. ... If the prayer is fulfilled, God will get one point, or, in more important cases, one or two points."

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Two interviews with authors I have not yet read offered insights I found especially pleasing. Andrew Taylor told Peter Guttridge that he loved Jane Austen, and Simon Brett told Gyles Brandreth that Austen was the one person he'd like to meet in Heaven, Taylor also cited P.G. Wodehouse as an early love.

So I'll take a tentative stab at charting some tendencies of British crime writers: They love Austen, they love Wodehouse, and they have a decided position, yes or no, on whether their novels have fundamentally moral concerns. At least this was true of some writers here, and the penchant for Austen and Wodehouse is by no means restricted to writers of what Americans call cozies or to any other type of mystery. Not should it be. Austen and Wodehouse are towering giants, a Hammett and a Chandler of English writing.

One remark was sufficient to get me interested in reading Taylor, who is English and this year's recipient of the CWA Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement: "Until ... 1934, it would have been utterly possible for us to slip gradually into being a Fascist state."

Oh, and he offered a valuable tip for beginning crime writers: "With the first novel, I had a corpse, and I went on from there. Corpses are good."

Click here for the full CrimeFest schedule.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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21 Comments:

Blogger Dorte H said...

Corpses ARE good. I often begin my reviews with whole corpses or just a bone as I also enjoy them immensely.

A really fine post, Peter, and actually my daughter and I discussed the 1930s today (she is preparing a history exam) when large parts of the world endorsed racism and eugenics. As she said, if Hitler had won the war ... Horrible thought.

I am really looking forward to hearing more about CrimeFest :D

Enjoy! Or ´tutchloo´ (word verification, an authentic Dame Edna greeting).

May 16, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

Given the premise for Hakan Nesser's WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK, there is no reason to expect much humor; in fact, we shouldn't rail against crime fiction novelists for a paucity of humor when murder is the centerpiece of the action (i.e., how many smiles can a murder provoke?). At any rate, for what it is worth, here is the link to my new blog/review of Nesser's novel: http://bookedformurder.blogspot.com/2009/05/review-of-hakan-nessers-woman-with.html

May 16, 2009  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Well, of course, I missed so much after a month of being away, Peter.
A fascinating read!

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, you might refer your daughter to Andrew Taylor. His summation of 1930s Britain, when fascism was so powerful a force, makes me want to read his wor.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I'd have found your discussion of the book interesting any time, but more so now that Nesser has dropped hints of what he does in the later books in the series that have not yet been translated into English.

Nesser has always managed to draw a smile with wry descriptions that quite nicely bring out the randonm-seeming nature of violent killings as well as amusing and touching scenes of the officers' domestic lives. But then, he said the villains grew less sympathetic in the series' ninth and tenth books. I wonder if Nesser retained the humor in those novels.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Welcome back, P.M. You have returned at a moment of especially high spirits in this blog's life.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, you received a high compliment at the convention's gala dinner this evening. I was at a table with Reg Keeland/Steven T. Murray, Stieg Larsson's English translator, and I mentioned that I'd received a comment from a Danish blogger. "Oh, Dorte," he said. You are known in prestigious circles, madame.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

You know, as depressing as our times can be, it never hurts to remind myself that I can be sitting here in California, in between spurts of packing up enthusiasm, and hear from a Canadian transplant to Philadelphia of a Danish blogger being mentioned at a British table on the topic of a Swedish writer by his English speaking translator.

And meanwhile outside my window, not only has the Boardwalk season officially begun, but also, judging by the police cars and the ambulance that just sped by, the season's first crime.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, the season's first crime always brings a sense of renewal, does it not?

May 16, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Oy vey.

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

a) I hope the crime was not too serious.

b) I hope Boardwalk season is a good thing.

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Peter, what can I say - blogging in English may be one of the best decisions I have made in this millenium :D
I have got in touch with so many new & interesting people all over the world. And to me it is so funny that Reg can just say Dorte, and you know who he is talking about. In my school Dorte was a buzzword - because there was one in every class.

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You have raised your head above the crowd of Dortes.

May 17, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

If the crime was serious, I will probably learn of it through the papers. It may as easily have been a heart attack or something like that, though there were a lot of patrol cars showing up for that to be the case.

Boardwalk season is good for countless thousands, just not so good for me. However, I'm leaving here pretty much today, so it's the end of my own Boardwalk season as well.

I'm so glad people like Dorte have decided to blog in English. I wish the language skills flowed equally in the other direction, but that sadly isn't the case.

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I may be able to identify in some small way with your Boardwalk-season apprehension. When I lived in Philadelphia's Old City, I used to carry an imaginary tourist gun during prime visiting season.

Dorte may help language skills flow in the other direction; her bilingual posts can serve as informal lessons in Danish. She has an illustrious predecessor. One of the great historians of the English language, Otto Jespersen, was also Danish.

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Seanag: "I'm so glad people like Dorte have decided to blog in English". With a Danish blog I would miss 75-80 % of my readers plus most of my comments. So I can assure you it is my pleasure, but thanks anyway.

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And with a bilingual blog and facility with those other North Germanic languages, you teach us interesting facts, such as how one pronounces the o with a slash through it in Norwegian. Tak!

May 17, 2009  
OpenID maxine said...

I don't think you can define "British" crime writers by two parameters any more than you could do American, when you look at the full gamut of novels on offer from both regions...cozy to literary to hard-boiled and all points inbetween.
Or to put it another way, M.C. Beaton, Lee Child, Andrew Taylor, Martina Cole, Ruth Rendell, John Harvey --- you get the picture...

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good god, you're right, of course. I should have spoken of tendencies rather than of defining characteristics. As always, I should also have been modest enough in the face of the vast compass of crime writing on both sides of the Atlantic to note that the opinions applied solely to those sectors of crime writing that I have found interesting so far.

There are vast swathes of crime writing in Britain and the U.S. I have yet to read.

May 17, 2009  
Anonymous Mark Henderson said...

Okay, it's a fair cop: you're right. I love both Austen and Wodehouse. But I love Chandler and Hammett too. And Dostoevsky. And...

I don't know whether the concerns in my one and only "crime novel" (Perilaus) are moral; more social and psychological, I'd say. But it's undoubtedly a British novel... except it was published in the States.

May 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In other words, I'm full of shite. OK, fair play to you. I'm swinging a sledgehammer where I should be wielding a scalpel, but I think there may still be broad differences between American and English attitudes toward crime fiction, though not nearly as much as there were in the Golden Age in England and the pulp era in America.

May 21, 2009  

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