Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Chasing the three-headed protagonist: Your chance to win a book

Posting may be sketchy for the next couple of weeks thanks to a pair of looming deadlines. Fortunately, a thoughtful author has stepped in to help.

Sandra Ruttan's new novel, Lullaby for the Namless, like its predecessors, The Frailty of Flesh and What Burns Within, has three police-officer protagonists: Nolan, Hart and Tain. Ruttan recognizes the increased dramatic possibilities multiple protagonists offer, and she says she's surprised that publishers are not more open to this format. We may never have another Ed McBain, she laments.

Is Ruttan right? Is there a prejudice against books with three (or more) lead characters? If so, why? What are your favorite such stories?
Best answer wins a copy of Lullaby for the Nameless signed by the author. And stay tuned for more Ruttan book competitions.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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48 Comments:

Blogger Timothy Hallinan said...

Hi, Peter -- Read the book and loved it. I think she's a tremendous writer.

Don't know about multiple protagonists. Seems to me it's always been an occasional thing. Back in the age of McBain, which was a long age, there was McBain and who?

I think the rarity of books with multiple lead characters may come from the fact that most writers can't pull it off. Ruttan is an exception. One other recent exception was Kathryn Stockett's THE HELP, not a mystery but definitely a three-protagonist novel.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I too have the read the book and I really enjoyed it. The polyphonic novel is dead because we have lost the ability to concentrate on multiple characters and situations except in limited increments on TV and in two hour movies. Neil Postman predicted this decades ago and I think he's right. Our attention span has gradually contracted and will contract further I suspect until the novel form itself dies.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tim, I just read an excerpt from The Help. It may not be a mystery, but the excerpt's opening ought to attract mystery readers: "Two days later, I sit my parent's kitchen, waiting for dusk to fall."

You're probably right about the Age of McBain. His name is likelier to invoke mentions of Hill Street Blues than of other crime novelists. John McFetridge has multiple protagonists, and I think he has remarked on the greater willingness of television to accept crime stories with multiple protagonists. Perhaps it's no accident that he's now writing for television in addition to writing novels.

I wonder who besides Ruttan and McFetridge has written -- or tried to write or thought about writing -- crime fiction with multiple protagonists.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Three lead characters in a crime fiction series well Arnaldur Indridason, and Sjowall & Wahloo are classic examples from Europe.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I wonder if any decline of the multivoice novel within crime fiction has to do with the worldwide influence of the more solitary American hard-boiled P.I. form. Some of the current Noric crime writers have single protagonists while giving greater voice to supporting characters (Arnaldur Indriðason, Håkan Nesser, Karin Fossum).

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah, you read my mind. Or else I read yours. I bought a copy of Roseanna with an introduction by Henning Mankell, so I may be able to offer more insight in this matter once I get these deadlines out of the way.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Neil Postman rocks! Amusing Ourselves To Death is my Bible.

Sandra
(Blushing furiously at such high praise from the authors who've commented, particularly since they're so talented themselves.)

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suppose I ought to read Postman. I suspect I'd agree with the substance of his arguments.

Sandra, you are ineligible to win a copy of your own book.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Peter

No I think its more that the novel form itself is becoming less challenging. Young men dont read books anymore and when they do they want the books to be like the first person shooters they play on Xbox. Middlemarch could possibly be published today as it would be marketed as a woman's book, but Moby Dick would be hard pressed to find a publisher.

I think that its interesting that the National Book Award winner "Let the Great World Spin" a polyphonic novel by talented Irish novelist Colum McCann has only sold 17,000 copies. Gone are the days when a big book like From Here To Eternity could sell a million units.

John's right, TV has given us good stuff like The Wire etc. but on the whole TV and video games are the enemy - crippling our attention spans and our imaginations. Years ago Werner Herzog longed for a Jihad against the Talk Show but it was already too late. The rot had set in and there's almost nothing we can do about it now.

Even as the population grows readership for novels will continue to decline in absolute terms and the books they demand will be simpler and more linear.
Thats not to say that there won't be a minority reading Finnish detective novels or interesting historical fiction or long polyphonic works of literature but even in that sector the texts people will discover will be the works the marketers want them to read - the novels of Brooklyn hipsters and professional outsiders.

In short as Dec Burke said a few days ago: we're doomed.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger ccqdesigns said...

I am actually in the middle of reading The Help, well almost finished with it. There are 3 lead characters and the book bounces among all of them. It is a great novel and having 3 separate characters with 3 very different points of view and lives, makes it that much more interesting. I grew up in the south so reading about the 60's from the point of view of 2 maids and one young white woman with a maid has been an eye opener. I was 13 years on in 1963 and we did not have a maid. I was only vaguely aware of segregation.

But back to the book. I had no idea that publishers would have any prejudice against having 3 protagonists in one book. I simply have no idea why that would be.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

I was going to write that, in this regard, Scandinavia has produced quite a few 'Ed McBains', but I see ever-acute Norman ahead of me on this, not at all to my surprise. Of course, Steve Carella was primus inter pares in the 87th Precinct, but the novels were decidedly of the ensemble sort, as it were, most notably taken up next by Sjowall and Wahloo. I was struck by the approach again in the past few days reading the latest from Karin Fossum and Hakan Nesser in quick succession. I have Indridason waiting, and he is another such, and you have just mentioned these very three, Peter. And there are others. I remember thinking some time ago, half-way through a Fossum, I think, that quite often with Scandinavian works one might be forgiven for not being quite sure who is in charge on the front line, partly a result of title being so little used and rank being so rarely exercised in any obvious way, and all pitching in, though it may be with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The ensemble detective novel.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Funny you should mention that Middlemarch would be marketed as a women's book. (Hmm, think Jane Austen would make it today?) I was musing upon the increase of niche marketing in entertainment since I was a kid. I caught the tail end of the Warner Brothers era and watched cartoons that used classical, jazz and music influenced by both on their soundtracks.

Cartoons today, as near as I can tell from my occasional glimpses, contain generic, upbeat poplike music. Leaving aside debates over which music is better, today's kids certainly lose out on gateways into the wider world of the kind that the old Warner soundtracks offered.

I'm not sure John was defending television as much as he was stating that it seemed more willing to accept dramas with multiple protagonists.

Your comment renews my respect for Herzog. The smarminess of even talk-show hosts considered good has always got on my nerves, but I could never figure out why. The answer came to me a few months ago in front of a television at the Pen & Pencil Club. Conan O'Brien or one of the hosts from which he is indistinguishable told a pretty good joke. Then he mugged and hunched his shoulders and waved his hands and encouraged the audience to laugh, and he kept doing so until the dimmest, least attentive, drunkest, tiredest, most addled viewer in America could not possibly miss the point. He really was appealing to the lowest and the least.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter,

Howard Jacobson:

"No great comedian is ever amused by himself. Billy Connolly could have been a great comedian had he not taken to collapsing hysterically during his own routines. The seal on David Brent's prattishness was his laughing at his own jokes. Then it turned out that Ricky Gervais, who created him, laughs at his own jokes too. Self-satisfaction is an unpardonable crime in a comedian because his role is to remind us that nothing is satisfactory. Hence the necessity of keeping a straight face. It affirms the seriousness of his calling. Which is to make people laugh, not because life is funny but because it isn't."

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

ccq, welcome, and thanks for the comment. I think Sandra was referred specifically to crime fiction when she talked about a prejudice against multiple protagonists. I don't know that the thinking would be for "mainstream" or "literary" fiction, but in crime writing readers tend to grow attached to series and to lead characters or duos. These days, especially, publishers might be unwilling to take a chance on anything that breaks that mold. And, as Adrian McKinty suggests, multiple protagonists can mean more-complex narratives -- not exactly the direction popular fiction seems to be taking.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, Maj Sjöwall has interesting things to say here about her and Per Wahlöö’s translations of the 87th Precinct novels. She said the translations led to an inaccurate assumption that she and her husband borrowed the ensemble approach to police procedurals from McBain. In any case, the approach has found especially fertile ground in the Nordic countries. I remarked once about the unusually delayed appearance of Konrad Sejer, the ostensible protagonist, in Fossum's novels.

One of Nesser's novels, not translated into English, includes Münster's name in the title. That colleague of Van Veeteren's figures in an entertaining scene in Borkmann’s Point. I wouldn’t mind reading more about him.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I am now a Howard Jacobson fan. The thing about Jay O'Letterman, though, is that I'm not sure they're really amused at their own jokes. Letterman's bogus hearty chuckle is one of the ghastliest sounds in American popular culture.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

I would also suggest Scalped by Jason Aaron. The story starts out with Dash ostensibly as the main character who will pull us through the narrative but then it quickly widens and the scope of the story changes to encompass a far wider cast that is given equal time.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Just a couple of things re the talk show hosts. Letterman's chuckle I've always taken to be simply sardonic. He's really a satirist who wound up doing the sort of show in which satire has to be somewhat muted -- not that he doesn't get some pretty hefty shots in -- and thus a show of which he is himself quite contemptuous. The result is a sense of bitterness. I like him because the people wounded by those shots are usually people I wouldn't mind slugging myself.

But what absolutely boggles my mind is Jay Leno -- not actually laughing at his own jokes, though he is smugly satisfied with the putative cleverness of them -- but always turning to his bandleader, as if he's the comedic benchmark, and REPEATING THE PUNCHLINE! I cringe. It's like the episode of Cheers in which Cliff did his routine in a comedy club. I should have thought not repeating the punchline came up during the first class on the first day of Comedy 0001. But these I no longer watch at all, for I no longer have a television service. I wish I'd got rid of it years ago.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, you know what a Scalped fan I am. Even in the first trade paperback collection, one affecting story centers on the chief. At first the story seemed gimmicky, a contrived effort to show that a bad guy is not all bad. But I've reread the story, and it's nothing of the kind. I think he might be a convincingly complex character. I shall follow his progress with considerable interest. I shall be eager to how the two aspects co-exist: the self-interest with the burning and sometimes deadly drive to protect his people.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I wonder if you give Letterman too much credit. I've been down on him ever since I saw him poking easy fun at an apparently stoned Nastassja Kinski years ago. And he seems too sincere about sucking up to celebrities to be making fun of the whole thing. In any case, I'm highly suspicious of any entertainment that pretends to poke fun at itself while profiting handsomely at the same time. I'm unsure I'd be comfortably able to watch The Player, for instance.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

I really don't buy that there is a problem with the multiple point of view novel, though they may not be currently much in fashion. I think that the huge popularity of The Help, which appears to be a purely word of mouth phenomenon, would seem to put paid to that notion. I immediately did leap to television, where shows like not just The Wire which apparently had a large following in cable terms but not in terms of the viewing public as a whole, but also in long running soaps like Eastenders, which apparently have a big enough following to have run forever, shift threads all the way through almost every show. I would think that the fast paced cutting between scenes and characters in movies and TV, especially commercials, would tend to make people more able to handle these character shifts in books, not less.

I don't really know what to say about men not reading fiction. It's a declining demographic, I'm sure, but I know a lot of men who read fiction, and I think they do probably read for different things than women often, but there is also often quite an overlap. I think the idea that men won't read anything that doesn't have a sort of action figure hero that they can project themselves into, says more about the state of men's empathic abilities than it does the state of literature. And really, if they are that undeveloped emotionally, why care about them or court them? Are you, the hypothetical author, going to stoop to their level to gain that market?

Okay, maybe you could write an action screenplay and exploit them. Good luck with that.

December 02, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I care. It's a Very Bad Thing that young men spend less of their time reading fiction, both for the young men themselves and for society. I think video games are an infantilising agent, as is most TV and talk radio. I despair even more when I look at the non fiction best sellers: Sarah Palin, Malcolm Gladwell, Glenn Beck, the ultimate triumph of marketing over substance. As I mentioned in another place, the one true art form of the twenty first century seems to be marketing. Neil Postman and especially Bill Hicks saw it coming.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

I know you're not a big fan of Gladwell, but I really don't think you can put him in the same category as Palin and Beck.

The infantilizing I don't know about. My own limited and indirect experience of the gaming world is that of really bright people who actually do read but still remain somewhat bored with the world as it is. My college roommate, a girl, was well into the gaming world before there even really was a gaming world, and also would be pulled into certain kinds of fan stuff. But on the other hand she could sit down and polish off Buddenbrooks in no time flat.

We were having an interesting conversation at Thanksgiving. My nephew's very much a gamer and he hangs around his gamer geeky friends but is quite articulate about it all. They're in high school, again they're slight bored to be there, so games seem at least an interesting solution.

However my friend's boyfriend, an Iranian whose somewhere nearer my age, though fascinated by what my nephew was saying, was talking about something he had read about how seldom boys and girls of that age now do anything together. He recounted his experience of being a young guy in Iran, and everything was all about 'the ladies'. Apparently there was a lot of drama around the bus rides to school, for instance.

And my nephew said that he was partly right. He said that a big percentage of people don't really interact, and that there's maybe thirty percent of them that engage in what he called 'drama', ie, dating or girlfriend/boyfriend stuff. It was an interesting way of putting it, and it makes me wonder how much has changed.

I think the gaming world may provide a solace in a world where 'drama' is seen as somewhat aberrational and maybe not worth the risks involved. But I think that world is largely the infantilizing world of high school, not the world at large.

Sorry, can't view that Hicks. Postman is probably a wonderful social analyst, but I read one of his novels once and it really wasn't very good.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I didn't take an affidavit from her on the subject, but I think Sandra Ruttan referred specifically to crime novels when she talked about resistance to stories with more than two protagonists. She was, after all, talking about her own career. And I'd guess that the same is true of John McFetridge. Both are authors; both write crime novels. It's no surprise they'd think most closely about problems that affect their own kind of writing. It would make an interesting question to ask both if they see similar resistance to three- and more-headed protagonists in fiction other than crime.

I don't know about men and fiction, but it's a commonplace that many more women than men read crime fiction. I wonder if those are the right terms in which to put the question. More women than men seem to write (and, perhaps, read) "cozies," but the male sex is more than adequately represented at the bar at crime-fiction conventions. There may be a gender divide among crime fiction readers, but no one seems to talk about it in meaningful terms. Perhaps crime fiction encompasses too many different kinds of stories these days for such a broad statement as "more women than men read crime fiction."

" I would think that the fast paced cutting between scenes and characters in movies and TV, especially commercials, would tend to make people more able to handle these character shifts in books, not less."

Now, there's a fruitful premise for discussion. It could even be the resolution presented to opposing debate teams. I did not ask follow-up questions of either Sandra or John in this matter, but I got the impression that their concerns dealt more with producers' vs. publishers' acceptance of multiple protagonists, rather than whether readers were more or less likely than readers to accept such stories.

Empathy and emotion are always tricky subjects to deal with, at least for we men. It may of interest that two of the most highly praised authors in my corner of the crime-fiction world bring considerable emotional and, I think, empathetic appeal to their work: Allan Guthrie and Ken Bruen.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I remember reading an article some years ago that compared David Letteman and Rush Limbaugh as opportunistic entertainers with no particular history of political commitment that predated their celebrity. (Limbaugh was said never to have voted, or not to have voted in presidential elections in many years. The details escape me, but the scanty voting record was a surprise for someone so widely regarded as a standard bearer of conservatism. The implication is that Limbaugh was an opportunist rather than a true believer.

I never tire of telling people that probably knew about Sarah Palin a few weeks before the rest of the country. The National Governors Association held its 2008 meeting in Philadelphia, and I remember Palin was being talked up as this bright young governor who defied orthodoxy by pushing through higher taxes on oil companies. That's why I was gobsmacked when I heard her speak at the Republican National Convention a few weeks later, and the speech was the crudest, tiredest Republican cliches in the crudest, tiredest terms: The Democrats want to take your money, etc.

My question: Was Palin really a bright, young leader who pandered to the less convoluted areas of the GOP brain, or was she really a GOP paleoconservative who pandered to opinion makers by pretending to be bold and progressive? Which side of her, in other words, was pure marketing?

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, what I wonder is what these gamers will turn into when let loose on the real world. Does gaming encourage conformity, or creativity? And what implications does it have for social skills? Perhaps your friend’s boyfriend’s observation put me in mind of this. (And one wonders if everything is still all about the ladies in Iran, at least in public.)

I recently spent some time in a café filled with young gamers (and, I have to admit, comics readers), and it was maddening to listen to these people speak when their noses weren’t glued to their computer screens. Call me old-fashioned, but when every third word is like, I’m not thinking that this is the most articulate group of people among whom I’ve had bagels and coffee.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Er, Seana in my reply above, I meant, of course, that:

"I got the impression that their concerns dealt more with producers' vs. publishers' acceptance of multiple protagonists, rather than whether readers were more or less likely than viewers to accept such stories."

and not "readers ... than readers."

December 03, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

Well, my nephew has always been pretty articulate--it's just that he doesn't always play to the interest level of his audience. I don't think it's gaming that makes them use "like" like that.

Actually, and somewhat incredibly, I can remember my father complaining about that very thing when I was a teenager. It certainly should have passed out of fashion by now. Unless it's, like, back in again.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'm sure I'm usually right when I talk about the degenerate times in which we live. On the other hand, I used to spend entire Saturdays in front of the TV as a child, never once going outside, but I turned out all right.

No, I don't think gaming correlates directly with use of "like." I do, however, think it's reasonable to wonder whether gaming inhibits social skills and whether excessive use of "like" is a sign of social skills so inhibited. I read a theory some years ago that excessive use of "like" indicated tentativeness and lack of confidence, and the argument seemed plausible, if not conclusive.

I remember an old Dave Berg cartoon in Mad magazine in which a character complains that "My hang-up is, like, I like saying, 'like.'" I wonder whether this verbal tic passed into then out of and back into fashion from the 1950s to today, or whether I just notice it more now because I'm growing more ill-tempered or else more sensitive to the rhythms of popular speech.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

Seana

Well you've nailed me a bit there. "First take the log out of thine own eye" etc. as I have to admit that I accidentally on purpose left Buddenbrooks on a Continental 777.

If anyone finds it...

uh, no, actually, you keep it.

Peter,

Whats interesting to me is what Sarah Palin shares with Michael Moore, they both, apparently, are pathological liars.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I should add that other tics annoy me more. The next time you read that "Interest level is up" (as opposed to plain, old "Interest is up") you'll have come across one of these tics.

And I recently heard someone talk about "a problem situation." This was the same person of whom a weary bartender once said: "She went to NYU, but she has no information."

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael Moore lies like Sarah Palin and has the same waist size as Rush Limbaugh, is what you're saying?

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Police procedurals lend themselves more to multiple protagonists, from what I've seen. The 87th Precinct, of course, but also Dell Shannon's Lt. Mendoza and the LAPD, her Ivor Maddox and the North Hollywood cops (under her own name Elizabeth Linington) and Vic Varallo and the Glendale PD (as Lesley Egan). None of those were particularly accurate representations of police work, by the way, but the characters were real enough.

I think Peter's right (above) that the lone PI or his equivalent (male or female: Kinsey Mulhone comes to mind, as does V I Warshawski) have become the norm for novels.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

Way to steer the discussion back on track, Linkmeister.

Somehow several Irish crime novels just popped into my head after reading your post, in which there are multiple points of view: Declan Burke's The Big O, Gene Kerrigan's The Midnight Choir, and David Park's The Truth Commissioner.

Oh, and actually the one (not Irish) I'm reading right now, Sophie Hannah's The Wrong Mother, uses this technique.

Oh, yeah, and talk about your multiple points of view--what about Amara Lakhous' Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio?

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, were you an MP or equivalent when you served in the military? I ask because of your comment about inaccurate representations of police work. Do the other series you mentioned have casts as large as the 87th Precinct books'?

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio came up in one of our informal discussions in Baltimore, possibly because Brian Lindenmuth is a big fan of the book. He may have cited it as an exception because of its multiple points of view.

Your comment raises the question of the extent to which multiple points of view coincide with multiple protagonists. The Big O, for one, has both, and I wonder if Irish authors have a predisposition toward multiple (that is, more than two) protagonists, points of view, or both.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I don't have time for a full examination of the topic right now, but when I made the comments at the event, it was in reference to crime fiction, and particularly series books. We have a tendency to see more POV characters in standalones.

Of course, this is a generalization. The thing is, McBain's series worked off the precinct, not the characters. Certainly if you think of the long-standing, popular crime fiction in the US and UK, you're seeing series books built on characters, and usually it's one protagonist, two protagonists or a protagonist and a sidekick. Yes, there are some authors writing multiple protagonists, but for the most part we're the exception. Even John's series is distinctly different, in that the characters that carry over tend to be the cops, and they are not the prime focus of his books - the criminals are.

There's advice you get when you're starting out, and the idea of multiple protagonists in a series is not encouraged - at least, not in my experience. It was a hindrance to originally getting the book published, but this may also be about the publishing climate at the time. Right now, editors are probably going to make safer choices and take fewer risks.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

Sandra, no disagreement with anything you're saying. That last sentence in particular is truer than most authors can really bear to know.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sandra, we talked a fair amount about authors who make changes between books of a series. Resistance to change one can understand, especialy in this day and age. I'm still not clear why publishers and editors resist multiple protagonists in the first place, though. Fear of inhibiting that reader identification with a single dominant protagonist?

Back when I wrote about your first book, I suggested that the dmoestic vignettes in the 87th Precinct books felt somewhat grafted onto the story, rather than like organic components. I'm embarrassed now about the clumsiness of that comment, especially since I have read few of the books. Perhaps your comment that "McBain's series worked off the precinct, not the characters" states the case more accurately, but without making me feel like a complete ass. I may have been on to something.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"That last sentence in particular is truer than most authors can really bear to know."

Seana, I suppose you must see evidence of that caution every day.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

I'm neither a publisher nor an agent, so of course I'm being presumptuous, but my sense of it is that no wants to take anything today that they can't immediately figure out how to market. The easiest and most common way is to be able to say that it is 'like' something else that at the moment is hugely popular. Books are not valued for their new vision, they are valued to the extent they are like some previous vision. Some things, such as the Twilight series, break through anyway, though it could be said that vampires are hardly 'new'. But that's because it captures something about the current mood or moment. While that's still a strength, not even its ardent fans tell me that its well written. They just tell me that they love it.

Oddly enough, my v word is giving some very opposite advise--namely, 'berash'.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But it's brashness with a stutter — brashness for our time. Hmm, there's an idea for an easily marketed book.

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

No, not an MP. But the Wiki entry on Linington/Egan/Shannon points out a few items, and my vast knowledge of forensics as taught by Scarpetta and CSI have enlightened me.

Seriously, those books were written in the 1960s; police labs were barely visible in them. I'll forgive the lack of computer databases, but there was very little science in her books. No informants, either!

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I heard one author say, I think apropos of crime fans who don't like sci-fi, "Watch C.S.I.. That's science fiction."

One beef I have heard more than once about fictional forensics is turnaround times for lab tests far faster than one would get in real life. European crime novels may be more realistic that way.

I wonder who was the first crime writer to make informants an important part of the story -- and I wonder how important informants are in real life and whether this importance varies by country. My man Bill James has always been fascinated by informers or "grasses."

December 03, 2009  
Blogger Barbara said...

Um, Peter ... I thought you wouldn't be around much. Deadlines?

[evil chuckle]

December 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Give me ten minutes, and I'm in clover. Give me three months, and I flounder.

December 04, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, you wondered "who was the first crime writer to make informants an important part of the story." Maybe Hammett? One of the Continental Op's informants, Porky Grout, "the informant whose name was a synonym for cowardice the full length of the Pacific Coast," "a dirty little rat who would sell out his family -- if he ever had one -- for the price of a flop" appears in 2 or 3 of the Op short stories of the early-mid 1920s.

Some PI's (like Marlowe) enhance their loner status by claiming to never use informants.

But I too, wonder how widespread the use of informants is in today's policing. I have heard it is very important here in LA insofar as gang crime is concerned.

December 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I vaguely recall that character. I wonder if Hammett came across such people when he worked for Pinkerton's. And I wonder if they are a more characteristic feature of American policing and crime fiction than of European.

Oddly enough, I came across a reference to informants at work tonight on the sports copy desk. Our columnist Bob Ford wrote a fine piece about a former colleague of his now at the National Enquirer who helped break the Tiger Woods story. The National Enquirer pays for tips, our reporter said -- just as the police do, the N. Enquirer guy pointed out.

December 08, 2009  

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