Saturday, January 31, 2009

More Somer breeze

A few outtakes from this week's interview with Mehmet Murat Somer touched on setting, exotic and otherwise, a matter of occasional interest here at Detectives Beyond Borders.

"My books are not tourist guidebooks," Somer declared. Some crime novels, he said, express their sense of place through description, but "Istanbul is a personality in my books. It reflects ideas, feelings." To that end, he said he once turned down a request to give a visitor a tour of his novels' Istanbul and took the visitor for coffee instead. "What am I going to do, take them to transvestite nightclubs?"

At the same time, Somer appreciates the eye that a tourist or traveller can bring. "An observing eye," he said. "Even what we observe going for one day is valuable." This reminds me of Michael Genelin's remark at Bouchercon this year that a visitor may sometimes pick up details that a resident would miss because they are so commonplace.

With Somer's remark about Istanbul in mind, how can an author create a sense of place other than by taking readers sightseeing?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Fiction and real life

Matt Rees links to "The Fiction Writer's Gaza," an article he wrote about the differences between the journalists' Gaza and the one he portrays in his novel A Grave in Gaza (The Saladin Murders in the U.K.). "A Grave in Gaza," Rees writes, "traces many of the same troubles that we're witnessing today in the Gaza Strip — except that I hope it's more entertaining."

Rees discusses his third Omar Yussef novel, The Samaritan's Secret, in a video interview here. He talks about the difficulties of his previous career as a journalist in the Middle East, moving back and forth between two societies: "Each of them, when you're among them, is very convincing. ... As a journalist, I feel like you visit, but as a novelist you have to live with someone. Your novel has to take people inside the society."

Click here for Rees' promotional video, which gives enough history of the Samaritans to make the book a compelling prospect. Read my 2008 interview with Rees here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Belfast's and Bateman's little shop of crime

The estimable Gerard Brennan of Crime Scene NI gives a thumbs-up to Colin Bateman's upcoming novel Mystery Man:

"There’s a new PI in Belfast. His qualifications? He owns No Alibis, a bookshop specialising in crime fiction. Is he a fast-talking, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing tough guy? Um, no. Not at all, really. He’s a bit ... well, he’s cut from a different cloth. Oh, and he most definitely is not David Torrans."
Now, Mr. Brennan is always worth a listen when the subject is Irish crime fiction, but that's not why I bring the matter up. No, I mention Mystery Man because I have not only visited No Alibis (may its sales increase!), but I have met its real-life owner, the same David Torrans on whom the protagonist of Mystery Man is definitely not based. I offer photographic evidence here. I'm the one with the beard (I looked so much older then. I'm younger than that now.)

(Read the first two chapters of Mystery Man here, and learn what a good author can do with a pair of leather women's trousers.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An interview with Mehmet Murat Somer

Imagine a crime series written by a management consultant trained as an engineer. Odds are you'll conjure up something quite different from Mehmet Murat Somer's Turkish Delight mysteries (published as the Hop-Çiki-Yaya series in the United Kingdom).

Somer's hero manages a transvestite club in Istanbul by night and works as a computer security consultant by day. He (or she) is also an expert in aikido and Thai kick-boxing. Somer, both a canny businessman and angry over media and entertainment depictions of transgendered people, says: "A transvestite detective was a marketing niche." He also acknowledges frustration with depictions of transvestites as freaks or jokes. And, he says, "I always have my criminals from the `white' society ... in
The Kiss Murders right-wing nationalists, in The Gigolo Murder the finance world." ("Hop-Çiki-Yaya," the series' name in the U.K., originated as a cheerleaders' cry and came to be a sly or snide term for gay men, Somer says.)

Penguin has just issued
The Kiss Murder, the first of the series to be published in the United States, and plans to bring out The Gigolo Murder in October. The Prophet Murders had appeared earlier in the United Kingdom. Somer has published six novels in the series in Turkish along with an additional book featuring some of the series' minor characters. In a chat with Detectives Beyond Borders, Mehmet Murat Somer talks about his work and its background and reception. He also offers a brief lesson in Turkish etiquette.
======================

Detectives Beyond Borders: Mehmet effendi ...

Mehmet Murat Somer: Well, thank you, but that "effendi" addressing sounds a bit out of fashion, left in the 1920's. Now only janitors are called "effendi." [Ed. note: Here, as elsewhere in this interview, the reader must imagine the smiley icons Somer included in his reply.]

DBB: Jason Goodwin's novel The Snake Stone, also set in Istanbul, includes some köçek girls as minor characters, yet his book is set in the Istanbul of 1838. Are your characters part of that same tradition? If so, how far back does the tradition go in Turkey? What role do transvestites occupy in Turkish culture?

MMS: A lot!!! We have a tradition of men or boys dressing like females and entertaining other men, either dancing (çengi, köçek), or drink servers (saki). And still, the star status in the music industry is occupied by a transsexual, Ms. Bülent Ersoy.

DBB: Your first novel to be translated into English was published with the title The Prophet Murders. Is this a translation of the Turkish title? What is the reaction among Muslims to a title such as that?

MMS: Yes, the title is translated correctly. Although there were some fears before publication, nothing happened. They just raved about the book, possibly because my Turkish publisher was a prestigious one like Penguin here. It acted like a protective shield.

DBB: You set your books in one of the most crowded and most historically cosmopolitan cities in the world, yet they share characteristics with traditional English village mysteries: You gather a group of characters in a small setting (the nightclub), and your narrator/protagonist loves to comment on their quirks. Have village mysteries by authors such as Agatha Christie influenced your work? What crime fiction have you read and enjoyed? Which crime writers, if any, do you feel produce work similar in spirit to yours?

MMS: Naturally I adore the queen of crime fiction, Dame Agatha. My Gigolo Murder is a kind of ode to her style. My all-time favorite is Patricia Highsmith. Also my compatriot Perihan Magden's Escape.

DBB: Why did you choose crime fiction as a vehicle for writing about these characters and their world?

MMS: I like crime fiction. I consider myself a good reader. And I have the idea that crime fiction should and could be also fun, joyful.

DBB: The Prophet Murders and The Kiss Murder are full of explicit, matter-of-fact and often very funny discussions of sex. What reaction has this caused?

MMS: Some say there is not enough sex in them. I was even accused of creating very clean, white, puritanical transvestites. So, the opinion varies. Follow the rest of series; more will come.

DBB: In The Prophet Murders, especially, your protagonist has some harsh things to say about her co-workers' lack of seriousness or intelligence. How do transgender/transvestite/gay readers react to this? Is there ever any pressure to show "solidarity," to say only good things about the girls? Or does that pressure come only from politically correct liberal white males like me?

MMS: The books, themselves are considered as solidarity pieces. And it is a known fact that the transvestites working in Istanbul night life are not the front-runners of intellectuals.

DBB: You never give your protagonist a name, at least not in the two books published so far in English. Why not?

MMS: One of the small games I play by myself. With each and every book of the series, I reveal another part of life of my protagonist.

DBB: Val McDermid called The Kiss Murder "A cappuccino of a book – the froth and fizz on top disguises the dark and bitter brew beneath." I'd like you to talk about that comment, to tell me what you think she means and whether you agree with her.

MMS: I love that!!! And I believe it defines what I meant. Excellent!

DBB: How have the Turkish public and Turkish critics received your novels? Into what other languages has your work been translated?

MMS: I got all the good critics. Or at least my agent didn’t show me the bad ones. The Kiss Murder has been published in French, Spanish, German (2009), Polish, Greek (2009), Portuguese (Brazil).

Thanks indeed. Enjoy life ... Better with my books.
(Read Euro Crime's May 2008 interview with Mehmet Murat Somer here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Swede talking

Norm/Uriah at Crime Scraps leaps into a fascinating discussion of Swedish crime fiction and the attention it is currently receiving in the U.K. Some highlights:

"Will the professional journalists/critics move on to all the other Scandinavian crime writers who have not been televised and who have not been the beneficiary of a Stieg Larsson like marketing campaign [well deserved on the evidence of The Girl Who Played with Fire]?

"I very much doubt it as the media are quite fickle."
and

"In 1990 ... a Sami, who was very drunk, started a conversation with us on a train from Uppsala to Stockholm. He complained that he was a 'Swedish Apache', a depressed and oppressed minority in his own country. ... We were relieved that this was a short journey because he was very drunk, but as we were about to leave the train he said `if you are going to be oppressed this is the best country in the world to be oppressed.'"
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The David Goodis memorial

January cold came in from two rivers around a dozen David Goodis fans Sunday. The twelve of us had gathered by the great Philadelphia noir writer's grave site to read from his work and talk about him. We then repaired to a local diner, echoing a gathering of Goodis' friends after his funeral.

I probably had read less of Goodis than anyone else in the group, several of whom had met Goodis, and one of whom had taught him to shoot pool ("He was as bad as you can get."). But I read a selection from his 1953 story "Black Pudding" for its note of hope and even redemption, touching and unexpected from this darkest of noir writers.

Lou Boxer, of Noircon fame, read from Goodis' first book, Retreat From Oblivion. Some might call the passage maudlin, the sentimental work of a writer barely out of his twenties. I say it showed a man thinking more seriously about death than most crime writers ever do, and I'll be seeking out more of Goodis.

Duane Swierczynski posts some photos and video.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Class distinctions

A nice comment on romance and love from Mehmet Murat Somer's The Kiss Murder:

"My man intervened. `Calm down, lady ... '

"Ay! I don't think much of men who use the term `lady,' either. It reeks of the lower classes. The sort who imagine romance can only end in marriage."
And yes, that cover illustration is meant to evoke Audrey Hepburn.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Detectives Beyond Borders is ...

... one of the Top 50 Detective Blogs, according to the e-Justice Blog, and an inspiration, says Mysteries in Paradise.

Thanks for the kind words and for the logo, which is a bit more genteel than my normal reading matter. But then, who knows what book that woman is holding?

***

As welcome as those honors are, they pale beside another. The café where I take the day's first meal a few times a week has named one of its weekly specials for me. So, the next time you're in Philadelphia, eat at Black and Brew, home of the Peter Pancake.

All right, readers, if a menu item, food or drink, were named after you, what would it be?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Dunne deal for McFetridge

John McFetridge, author of Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, posts the good news that his third novel, Swap, is to be published in the U.S. early next year. Publisher is Thomas Dunne Books.

Here's an early version of the cover, and here's the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with the author. John's a nice guy and a hell of a writer. Possibly his only flaw is that as a self-created fictional character, he seems content to let the other guy do the dirty work.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

History lessons

I enjoy fretting about possible tension in historical crime fiction between the history and the mystery. When should an author tell, and when should he teach? And, when relating the history of a setting unfamiliar to readers, should an author try to conceal his or her didactic intentions?

Jason Goodwin wades into the historical fray, fists full of zesty historical facts. And they work as story-telling, too. It helps that Goodwin's chosen setting may be the most colorful, central, cosmopolitan city that man has ever built: Istanbul/Constantinople. It helps that the city, a bridge between Europe and Asia, a jewel of art, a focus of commerce and intrigue for many centuries, a seat of the classical, then the Byzantine, then the Muslim world, was full of people from elsewhere — people who might well be eager for any scrap of information they needed to understand the complicated city in which they were trying to make their way.

Thus, Goodwin turns a greeting into a lesson on Byzantine iconography:

"`Yashim — the angel!' Grigor opened his arms wide across a desk piled with packets and papers done up in purple ribbon.

"The angel was Grigor's little joke, not one that Yashim particularly shared. As Grigor has once explained, Byzantine iconography represented angels as eunuchs. Angels stood on the threshold between men and God; eunuchs between men — and women. Both were intermediaries, dedicated to serve."
Or, on yet another facet of the city's colorful history:

"`Viking, Yashim. You've heard of the Vikings, surely? ... They scuffed Europe into what we call the Dark Ages. Most notable product, after widows: Russia.'

"Yashim was leaning forward, listening intently. Now he shook his head. `What do you mean, Russia? Or is it a Polish joke?'

"Palewski looked pained. `Not at all. The Vikings didn't just sail across oceans. They used the Baltic rivers, too. ... Up the Volga, down the Dnieper. The Black Sea. Constantinople. Easy. ...'

"`And that's the origin of Russia?'

"`Broadly speaking, yes. ...'"
And then, in an acknowledgement that must have made Goodwin smile as he wrote it, "`History lesson over. I don't know that it's been any good. Sun's gone. Let's have a drink.'"

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"We'll be back on the air when we know anything," Part II

Some quotations from CNN.com's coverage of Barack Obama's inauguration:

"[Ted Kennedy] has been brought to a hospital at this point."

"Of course, we've got dire straits
at this point."

"I've been thinking a lot of this, and if you think about it, this whole weekend is about change. There was the concert ... He was careful not to overemphasize it."

"I thought his daughters were charming."

"It's very, very cold out there."

===================================

And all this over video from crappy camera placements that yielded nothing but long, static shots of a limousine proceeding slowly down a Washington street. Was Obama inside? Who knows?

"At this point"? Portentous, time-filling blather.

"I thought his daughters were charming"? Agreed. And I don't need a TV announcer to tell me that.

"It's very, very cold out there"? Thanks for the insight.

The concert as an example of change? As my old colleague Dave Knadler wrote: "Let me just say this: Stevie Wonder is fat. Bruce Springsteen is not a working man. Samuel Jackson is wearing the same Kangol hat he was born in."

All in all, the most fatuous, vacuous stretch of political television since Chapter I of "We'll be back on the air when we know anything."

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What's the future of comics? (Is another industry headed down the tubes?)

I've wondered from time to time what children read now that comic books seem all to be dark, brooding and full of unchildlike angst. I ran the question by my friendly neighborhood comics dealer on Sunday, and he lamented that today's comics industry takes little account of younger readers. "That doesn't bode well for the industry, actually," he added.

I read traditional superhero comics when I was a kid, so even Alan Moore's psychotic, worry-ridden crime fighters are somewhat familiar to me. I was part of a ready-made audience, in other words. But what about today's children? If they don't read comics now, will they read them when they're older? Do today's kids even think of comics? Do they regard them as a grown-up thing — and how odd would that be?

Parents, children and comics readers, please feel free to respond. What's the future of comics?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Carnival of the Criminal Minds: The XXX files

Edition thirty of the Carnival of the Criminal Minds is up, hosted for the second time by Julia Buckley's Mysterious Musings. Among other things, this carnival links to discussions of cozies and crafts mysteries. Now, this is not my preference in crime reading, but it's refreshing to be reminded that the phenomenon is there, with devoted readers and authors. It's a big crime fiction world out there, bigger than most of probably realize in our daily reading. I'm not sure I'll rush out and read books in that category, but I'd sure like to see what their fans and authors have to say.

As always, view summaries of all carnivals at Barbara Fister's carnival archive.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Historical periods and historical crime fiction

I've just started The Snake Stone, sequel to Jason Goodwin's Edgar-winning novel The Janissary Tree.

The first chapter takes clever advantage of the tension in historical crime fiction between the need to portray a historical period and that to tell a story. Goodwin does this through something like a cinematic jump cut, alternating between narrating a crime and painting word pictures of Istanbul.

The Istanbul is that of 1838, a perhaps unprepossessing date in that city's long and celebrated history. Why 1838 when Goodwin could have chosen the fourth, sixth, fifteenth, seventeenth or any number of other celebrated centuries in Constantinople/Istanbul's past? I asked Goodwin that question at Bouchercon in Baltimore, and, if I recall correctly, he said he chose the period because it let him portray the Ottoman Empire in decline.

Expanding on his remark, I'd say that if Goodwin really wanted melodrama, he could have set his stories at the very end of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I. Without knowing much about Ottoman history, though, I'd say the nineteenth century let him choose a period when the empire had declined from greatness but could still maintain the outward air of grandeur. The dramatic possibilities this offers are reflected especially in the character of Palewski, the Polish ambassador and friend to the protagonist Yashim, one of the most endearing sidekicks in all of crime fiction.

So much for 183os Istanbul. What are your favorite periods and settings for historical crime fiction? And why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Harvey, Alan and Clive

I bought books by Harvey Pekar and Alan Moore at my neighborhood's exciting new addition last week. Imagine my surprise when I opened the Pekar book at a random page yesterday and found a storyline about Pekar's visit with Moore in England.

Unlike The Simpsons' version of Moore, Pekar's, drawn by Ed Piskor, makes Moore look even more like a wild man than he does in video clips. "Alan is a very good and very talented guy," Pekar writes. "You couldn't have a better friend." Pekar has Moore say that he lives in Northampton because "It centers me. It has a large working-class population that I feel comfortable with." and "It's been inhabited continuously for 8,000 years."

In other news related to my reading, I found this in an essay by Hugh Trevor-Roper: "The world is jealous of confidence and success: it loves to detect the occasional ignorance of the omniscient, the trivial errors of the infallible."

Of course, he was writing about Macaulay and not about Clive James, but still.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Watching "Watchmen" and other Alan Moore movies

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rival studios say they have resolved their battle over the release of Watchmen.

The release of the superhero flick had been in doubt for months as 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. sparred in federal court over who had proper rights to the film. The studios say it will be released as scheduled on March 6.

(Read more here.)

Here and here is some of what I thought about Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. I understand that Moore has distanced himself from films based on his work. Having recently discovered Moore, I'll probably see Watchmen. But I hope it's not just an orgy of special effects, though the story offers ample opportunity for a moviemaker who has money to spend on this sort of thing.

OK, Moore fans: What do you think of movies made from his work? From Hell, V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen come to mind. What have I missed?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XII: Creative synergies

Blake looked at the scorched foil and cardboard that used to be his cigarette pack. Then he looked at the .38 that had blasted the pack out of his hand.

"Mad fucker," he said. "That's why they call it a smoking gun." His hand didn't shake much, all things considered.

"Now, listen," I told him ...

===============================
[Read the rest of "Part XII: Creative synergies" here and all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. None of it has really happened.]

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Netherlandish treat

Crime Time follows up its fine survey of France's crime fiction scene with an issue on Dutch crime.

Like its predecessor, this issue examines its subject in depth, as deep as 1889, in this case, the year of Maarten Maarten's Black Box Murder. It also offers a wrap-up of Web sites, publishers and publications key to tracking crime writing in the Netherlands. It's far more than just a list of names, in other words, and somene ought to hand Bob Cornwell and his Crime Time colleagues an award for this absorbing, educational entertaining effort.

Dankuwel, mijnheren Cornwell, Charles den Tex en Jos van Cann!

Switzerland is up next in the series, to be followed by Italy, Spain and Denmark.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XI: I hear music

When the skinny mystery fan gave up his jabber and walked off, I was alone in the street. I'd lost McCarver. Now Blake was gone, too.

[Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.]
=============================

Nothing to do but head back to the convention hotel and catch the late action at the bar. No way to get there in time unless I took the subway. I was in luck; this was Baltimore. In Philadelphia, you couldn't buy a token or a pass at my station, and the attendants wouldn't make change. So why have attendants? Don't ask me; I hadn't lived in America's Next Great City long enough to figure it out.

[Read the rest of "The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XI: I hear music" here]

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One good thing in Philadelphia

Unless one is a Phillies fan or, for this week at least, an Eagles fan, almost everything in Philadelphia is heading downhill and has been doing so since about 1840. The mayor wants to cut the fire department and close libraries (which, after a late public-relations effort forced action, now may be reopened by private companies as, believe it or not, "knowledge centers.")

Philadelphia gas rates are going up even as rates around the Northeastern United States are going down, thanks to a bungled financial deal. Mail handling in the city is a shambles. A recently retired state senator from the city is on trial for corruption.

On the cultural front, I bought a classical music magazine Sunday that ranked the world's greatest orchestras. Where was Philadelphia? Top ten? Nope. Best of the rest? Nah. This put it behind not just its fellow members of America's traditional Big Five of symphony orchestras (New York, Cleveland, Boston and Chicago) but also the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. What does Philadelphia get? A mention under "Past Glories."

But I forgot all of that for a moment Sunday because a new comics and video store has just moved in right near where I live. It's called RKO Video Rentals and South Philly Comics, and I found some good stuff there. I'd lost track of Harvey Pekar after he stopped publishing his American Splendor for a while, I believe because of his cancer (an experience he later wrote about in Our Cancer Year). Alan Moore many of you know about, and I may well write about V for Vendetta here sometime. And the guy working in the shop recommended Ex Machina, which I thought would be just an angst-ridden-ex-superhero comic but turned out to have delightful comic touches as well.

So thanks, RKO Video Rentals and South Philly Comics. You've given me something to read, something to write, and something to do besides complain.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Nice work, but how about springing for some copy editing?

The New York subway gunman was Bernhard Goetz, with an h, not Bernard; loath and loathe are not the same word; and a candidate who raises $40 million to his opponent's $32 million has outraised her by 25 percent, not 20 percent.

One of those mistakes is from the graphic novel Ex Machina, one is from the novel The Wheelman, and one is from the Daily Kos (which has refused to correct or acknowledge its error).

Now, all three of these are fine pieces of work, but making sure names are spelled correctly, looking out for frequently confused words, and calculating percentage change correctly are three of the first lessons any good copy editor learns.

Sadly, some publishers and blogs apparently treat copy editing the way some newspapers now do: as a luxury easily dispensed with when times are tight. Readers, get ready for floods of mistakes.

What errors have crept into books you've read? Who published those books? And where can you write to those publishers to let them know you'd have appreciated a job done right?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part X

Blake cursed softly and threw his cigarette to the ground. Then he lit another. He'd been waiting for McCarver for half an hour. We'd been waiting.

He took a notebook from his back pocket and started scribbling. I had to hand it to the man. Even though he'd branched out into armed robbery, he was still a writer. I wondered if I'd turn up in his story the way I'd turned up in McCarver's. I knew one thing: If I ever robbed people and wrote about it, I'd disguise myself so well in the story that no one would recognize me.

[Read the rest of "The Baltimore Drive-by, Part X" here. Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.]

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

What's your favorite caper? Any why?

Duane Swierczynski loves to pay tribute to his favorite crime writers and characters, everything from Jean-Patrick Manchette's head to Philip Marlowe's socks. But there's no one he loves better than Richard Stark's Parker, and no tribute more thrilling than the topographical accuracy of The Wheelman:

"Lennon took a hard right onto Twentieth Street, going north, then a quick left down a tiny side street that ran parallel to JFK.

"Now, here's where Philadelphia geography gets interesting. Even after ripping out the Chinese Wall, some bits of the old city remained. Tiny streets and alleys that used to run through the industrial blocks sat right next to the new thoroughfares. One of those alleys was the key to the getaway plan."
Man, I loved that. There's something seductive about planning a score on that big a scale, about making not just a bank vault, not just a building, but a whole city part of the plan. Stark did that in my favorite of the Parker novels, The Score, and what can give a crime-fiction reader a bigger vicarious rush?

Now, what about you? What's your favorite caper novel, movie or story? Why? And why do we love crime capers?
======================
The new University of Chicago Press edition of The Score comes with a foreword by John Banville (a.k.a. Benjamin Black), which ought to be interesting.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Rules of the road

Two fictional characters named John McFetridge and Declan Burke decide to give up holdups. But just because they're too scruffy to be gay doesn't mean they're going straight. Read Part Five of McFetridge's "The 10 Rules" here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part IX: Cheers!

Nix Kauffman is on the run after robbing Seamus Blake and Fetch McCarver at gunpoint. So why is he buying McCarver drinks?
=============================

Blake had gone to look for cigarettes. This took him out of the picture for at least an hour. He was hopeless when it came to finding smokes in America, and he'd never find any place open this time of night. And Kleinman — well, let's just say Kleinman was in no position right about now to tell McCarver or anyone else what she knew. And Kleinman knew everything.

McCarver gulped half his beer and said ...

[Read the rest of "Cheers!" here.]
=============================

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here
. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Practical advice on being creative

Timothy Hallinan, author of A Nail Through the Heart and The Fourth Watcher, has invited a string of guest bloggers to post some practical thoughts about creativity. First up is Christopher West, author of mysteries set in post-Mao China, and he gets the series off to a good start. My favorite of West's tips is this:

Seek out kindred spirits. Creativity flourishes best in an atmosphere of activity and excitement. Think Elizabethan theatre or the Liverpool music scene in the early 1960’s. OK, there may not be these prime examples going on where you live, but seek out the keenest, most able people around you. Don’t be afraid of competition. It’s good for creativity.
That's commendably non-wifty advice for such a weighty topic. More to the point, perhaps, it's applicable in the online world you inhabit as you read this. Schmoozing via blog can be productive — as long as you pick the right folks to schmooze with.

Starting Jan. 11, Hallinan plans to bring in a new guest each Sunday night. Have a look.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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A short review of Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand, incorporating the working girl's helicopter miscellany

I predict that Adrian McKinty won't be on Tom Cruise's Christmas list this year, probably not on Brad Pitt's either, and definitely not on Raul Castro's. I predict, too, that if the Boston Red Sox win the 2009 World Series, they will not vote McKinty a share of the winners' money.

Fifty Grand includes a gut-tightening prologue, a more nuanced view than you might expect of Mexican immigrant life in Colorado, and a refutation of Clive James's too-confident declaration that "In most of the crime novels coming out now, it’s a matter not of what happens but of where. Essentially, they are guidebooks.” And it includes revenge.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part VII: Hell to the editor-in-chief

Nix Kauffman is on the run after robbing crime writers Seamus Blake and Fetch McCarver at gunpoint. Is that any way for a respectable ex-journalist to behave?

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far
here or here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)
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The way he worked the room, I believed Obama might win this thing. He smiled, shook hands, talked with me and my colleagues. He put weak-kneed stargazers at ease, and he even charmed moderate Republicans. In ten minutes, he spent more time talking with the staff than the last five editors-in-chief had in the four years they'd served. He even joked about our old computers.

"Don't worry, senator," I said. "In a few months ...

[Read the rest of "Hell to the editor-in-chief" here.]

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© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Starburst over Sydney: Carnival of the Criminal Minds, #29

Mysteries in Paradise is the current host of Carnival of the Criminal Minds, opening by boldly confronting the propositions that Australia is an upside-down land and that it owes its foundation to criminals.

This installment, titled "Murder in the Outback," will more than most give viewers the sights and sounds of its host country. And Kerrie offers capsule reviews and biographies from Australia's long and rich crime-fiction history. Here is a good chance, in other words, to learn something not just about crime fiction but about culture, geography and history.

As always, visit Barbara Fister's archive for a summary of this and all previous carnivals.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who should play Dortmunder in the movies?

Steve Lewis of the Mystery File blog is reposting reviews of movies made from Donald Westlake's comic John Dortmunder novels. He's put up Why Me? and The Hot Rock so far, and both reviews have naturally pondered the weird surgery that movie producers perform on the books.

I mean, producers know better than anyone else what makes money, but here's what Westlake answered when asked what Dortmunder would have done had he not become a thief. Dortmunder is eternally 44 years old, Westlake said, and:

"I doubt John would have chosen a profession. He might have run a grocery store in a changing neighborhood where nothing really works out, or run the construction office for a large inept builder corporation constantly being ripped off by the employees. `Hey, where you goin with that plywood?' `It’s mine, I brought it with me this mornin.' `Oh, okay.'"
And you're going to have Christopher Lambert, Robert Redford and Martin Lawrence play this guy? OK, I can understand casting big names, but why violate the books' charm? Dortmunder is a downmarket type of guy. He slouches. His girlfriend May helps herself to bags of groceries from her job, and Dortmunder's gang always have to scramble for places to sit when they meet in his apartment. Yet the Dortmunder character in the movie Why Me?, for some reason called Gus Cardinale, lives in a clean, sunny apartment that appears full of gorgeous, blond-wood furniture. Why?

So, here are your assignments: If you don't know Dortmunder and his gang, make their acquaintance immediately (You'll find excerpts here, here and here). If you do, who should play Dortmunder on screen? A younger Harry Dean Stanton? Elisha Cook Jr.? Woody Allen? You tell me.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

I'm a fictional character, Part II

John McFetridge has posted Part Four of his online meta-story "The 10 Rules," a totally fictional tale of two crime writers named John McFetridge and Declan Burke who rob their way from Toronto to Baltimore.

The latest installment finds them in Philadelphia, where one Peter Rozovsky shows them a high time at a totally fictional Philly bar. This Rozovsky could easily be— But let John tell you.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, January 02, 2009

A bit more about Donald Westlake

Can I say just one more thing about the man? Or three or four?

Here's a post I made a year ago about Westlake's occasional tendency to jump the boundaries between series. Here's one delicious way he solved the problem of sustaining interest in a long-running series. Here's a bit about the fine Australian author Garry Disher and his fascination with Parker.

And here's just a touch of Dortmunder sneaking into a Parker book, Dirty Money:

"`You kill a lawman,' [Parker] said, `you're in another zone. McWhitney and I are gonna have to work this out.'

"`But not on the phone.'

"Parker yawned. `Nothing on the phone ever,' he said. `Except pizza.'"
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Donald Westlake, Part II

Donald Westlake, who died Wednesday at 75, was not just a prolific, creative, original and endlessly entertaining crime writer, he was also a thoughtful, intelligent observer of the world around him.

He once lamented the reduced distribution of foreign films in the U.S., calling the superb 1958 Italian heist movie Big Deal on Madonna Street a laboratory for comedy writers and mourning that future Americans might miss similar opportunities to absorb and learn from foreign influences.

He also noted mass media's tendency to telescope the past into a timeless present/past accessible to all. This meant, he remarked, that Americans could assess the accuracy of a movie scene set on a train even though most had never been on a train. I suspect he underestimated the number of Americans who had travelled by rail, but his point was valid, and it anticipated such phenomena as retro fashions, digital sampling/recycling of old pop songs, and the Beatles churning out new records long after they had broken up and begun to die off.

Those statements, one in an interview, the other in a preface to one of Westlake's books, if I recall correctly, rank among my favorite Westlake moments. They're right up there with Parker out of jail and walking across the George Washington Bridge in The Hunter or Joe Gores' D.K.A. gang meeting up with Dortmunder and his crew in Drowned Hopes or all of The Score or the stoic Parker finally losing patience with his lighthearted sidekick's antics and snapping, "Shut up, Grofield."

I always said Westlake differed from most authors in one respect: Most writers might come up with a wild story idea from time to time. Westlake turned his wild ideas into books. That's why even some of his less successful stories were always exciting and worth admiration for the man's gumption, imagination and industry.

Sarah Weinman's remarks include a library of Westlake links and a rolling list of Westlake tributes. Leap in. The man offers some terrific reading.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Donald Westlake dies

Donald Westlake, one of the world's liveliest, funniest and most prolific crime writers, died New Year's Eve. He was 75.

Westlake wrote around 100 novels, virtually inventing the comic caper with his Dortmunder series and the amoral, professional thief/killer in twenty-seven novels featuring Parker, written under the pen name Richard Stark.

Westlake was also a screenwriter, and his screenplay for The Grifters earned an Academy Award nomination in 1991. He won three Edgar awards from the Mystery Writers of America, which named him a Grand Master in 1993

Westlake was one of the cleverest of crime novelists, engaging in such experiments as beginning two different novels with the same botched robbery in order to take the story in two different directions. He also liked to share chapters with authors whose work he enjoyed, a Westlake novel and a book by the cooperating author having a common chapter that features characters from both. He did this notably in the Dortmunder novel Drowned Hopes, which shares a chapter with Joe Gores' 32 Cadillacs, a delicious treat for anyone, doubly so for readers who know both writers.

The New York Times obituary of Westlake, by the way, is a shoddy piece of work, full of what the writer probably thought was delightful color ("who pounded out more than 100 books and five screenplays") but not mentioning Dortmunder, one of the author's two most influential and enduring creations. The obituary also makes the questionable assertion that Westlake's work translated well to the screen. The Dortmunder novels especially have been notoriously ill-served by screen adaptations.

(A knowledgeable observer of both crime fiction and journalism points out that the Times was likely caught unaware by Westlake's death. With a holiday schedule likely in effect, the Times had to draft a non-obituary writer and non-crime-fiction expert. But my correspondent also expressed surprise that the Times did not have an obituary ready in advance, as it should have and as newspapers traditionally do. Westlake was 75, he was extremely well known, especially in New York, and he had had health problems in recent years, though not apparently related to the heart attack that appears to have killed him. The Times dropped the ball on this one. )

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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More good lines and a skull-cracking quiz

Here's that Bill James excerpt that I promised the other day.

The scene: Assistant Chief Constable Esther Davidson is contemplating the possibility that a gangster charged with the torture/murder of a police informant will be acquitted. She reflects on fellow ACC (and usual James co-protagonist) Desmond Iles' rumored conduct after one such acquittal:

"This simplistic, abattoir solution would not be available to Esther, though. She knew she'd never have the spirit and/or wrist strength to garrotte. To her, garrotting looked a sinister, damnable skill; in fact a kind of art, a kind of filthy art, and Iles had about him much of the good third/fourth-rate artist: arrogance, contempt for usual social and possibly legal standards, some flair, some posturing, some taste, some vision, and the irresistible impulse to create, or its complementary and sometimes necessary opposite, to wipe out."
As always, there is James' delicious, dark deadpan ("never have the spirit and/or wrist strength"). Artists everywhere ought to squirm, and James also hits his own co-protagonist, Iles. (Bill James fans should note that DCI Colin Harpur, Iles' usual foil, partner and sometimes nemesis, does not appear in this latest novel, which is called, for other reasons, In the Absence of Iles.)

The quiz comes from Norm "Uriah" of the Crime Scraps blog, a deceptively mild-mannered retired medical professional who exorcises his demons by teasing his readers with fiendishly difficult questions. Answer them correctly, and win some books. Deadline Jan. 5.

And Happy New Year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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