Monday, February 01, 2010

Here's to you, Mr. Robinson, or the real secret of Nordic crime fiction

(Photo © Katja Gottschewski 2002)

Uriah Robinson of Crime Scraps published a piece of common sense the other day about why Scandinavian crime fiction is so popular.

He invoked an anecdote about a question to Atlanta students on a high school history exam: Why did the South lose the Civil War?

"Most of the class wrote reams and reams on the military, economic, social, political and demographic reasons," Uriah reported, "apart from one student who answered with one sentence: 'I think the Yankee Army had something to do with it.'"

"Scandinavian crime fiction is popular," he continued, "because it features good writing, usually excellent translation, well-thought-out plots and interesting characters."

Search his blog post from top to bottom, and you'll find no sociology, no commonplaces about Nordic stoicism, nothing about suicide or vodka or long nights. (You'll find precisely the opposite, in other words, of Laura Miller in the Wall Street Journal.)

It was a pleasure to see good writing, rather than sociology, invoked as a reason for popularity. Nordic crime writing is good? I think Arnaldur Indriðason (Or Jo Nesbø. Or Karin Fossum. Or ...) had something to do with it.

What are your favorite or least favorite takes on international crime fiction in the English-speaking world?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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54 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

Yep, it's the writing. Turned on an old friend to Indriðason the other day, and she was ecstatic to know of him, so I know it's not just me.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Despite my vitriol toward Laura Miller(you should see what I edited out of my post), I have a bit of tentative sympathy for her. Her piece on Nordic crime reads as if she was ordered by editors to write about a subject for which she had no feel. It's almost an Onion parody of a trend piece. (And I know I wrote about the piece elsewhere in more complimentary terms. I wonder what I was thinking. Maybe I was impressed that she had mentioned the strain of humor in Nordic crime writing.)

Arnaldur's writing has an intimate relation with his land, and he has talked about his debt to the Icelandic sagas, but that does not mean he can be reduced to an assemblage of sociological facts.

Which of his books have you and tour friend read? With the reservation that I can't read his writing its original language, he's one of the authors I'd nominate for best crime writer in the world.

On a per-capita basis, there ought to be a thousand crime writers as good as Arnaldur in the United States. There are considerably fewer.

February 02, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

If I thought of Arnaldur Indridasson's police inspector in the middle of North Dakota, would he interest me as much?

I don't know. The sense of place and curiosity about Iceland is a draw for me, however, I do agree that he is a great mystery writer.

I've read the first five of his books and got them as fast as I could out of the library.

There is something though. When friends ask who my favorite mystery writers are, I dash off five women's names and then Indridasson's.

A friend of mine will drop by to pick up the latest Indridasson after I've read it, no matter what else he's doing.

Good writing, good sense of place, interesting plots and characters. And a depressed mood; he can't work out his relationships, yet he's totally functional. That must be a draw, too.

February 02, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter
I'm not really a fan of the Guilt-ridden, Grief-stricken Grumpy old Git school of crime fiction which the Nordics seem to specialize in. I like a bit more testosterone in my crime books.

Chandler's dictum was 'When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun.' The Nordic equivalent of this seems to be: when in doubt have a man come through a door with a groan.

Admittedly, I'm writing this from a position of even greater ignorance than usual, not having read a great deal of it.

I was disappointed by Indridason's Voices. Most good writers know how to leave some space for the reader's imagination but Indridason dots all the i's and crossses all the t's and it all comes across as far too pat. I think you wrote that Voices was his weakest book so I'll give Erlendur another chance in case I'm misssing something I'd like.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

As you know, Peter, my praise for Indridason is nearly unstoppable; however, it is--in some ways--an error to include Iceland as part of Scandinavia, but that is a geopolitical and cartographic argument we can save for another day.

Of Indridason's novels, I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite, though HYPOTHERMIA and JAR CITY--the most recent and the first translations--are my front-runners.

I'm not sure I agree with SOLO's assessment of VOICES; nevertheless, I urge SOLO to remain open minded about Indridason's work and to keep reading the other novels. Hint: read them in sequence from first to most recent because Erlendur's development as a series character is worth careful attention.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I seem to remember something about the earliest Indriðasons not being available over here. The first we have is Jar City. I've only read Jar City and Silence of the Grave, both of which I liked a lot. My friend will probably race through all of them though.

I must say that to Miller's credit she does seem to have read a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction, so in that sense she knows what she's talking about. But I don't really buy her theories on why it is so popular. These books were quite popular before the downturn in the economy, for one thing.

But I did learn two things that I did not know from that article. First, that Mankell is married to Ingmar Bergman's daughter, and second, that Walter Matthau played in an American movie based on The Laughing Policeman. Sounds dreadful, but maybe I'm not thinking outside the box enough.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for the promo, Peter.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

kathy d. said...

If I thought of Arnaldur Indridasson's police inspector in the middle of North Dakota, would he interest me as much?


At least the climate might be roughly similar.

In fact, Arnaldur's novels might be marginally less interesting if transferred elsewhere. Think of "Jar City," which relies heavily on Iceland's situation as a small, demographically homogeneous country, or "Arctic Chill," which relies on the shock when that homogeneity begins to break down, or "The Draining Lake," which was inspired by a real Icelandic lake that begin to drain after earthquakes. He's not just one more creator of a angst-ridden detective, in other words. His novels are firmly rooted in their country. A reader will wind up learning something about Iceland from Arnaldur's books, in other words, even if they don't take that reader on a tour of the sights.

Who are your other favorite mystery writers? (And I can recommend "Hypothermia," Arnaldur's most recent to be translated into English. It does some interesting things with some of the themes that have run through all the previous books.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah Robinson said...
Thanks for the promo, Peter.


You're welcome. You showed up the Wall Street Journal. You deserve kudos.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, your Nordic detective might be likelier to muse or ponder. Groaning implies greater outward display than he might like.

There being no accounting for taste, I would never try to convince anyone that at Arnaldur (or anyone else) was essential. What I will insist on, however, is that Arnaldur is more than the stereotype. His protagonist is solitary and, if one wanted to get melodramatic, he's driven to that solitude by an event in his past. But he's no sociopath. And, as I wrote above in a reply to Kathy d., Arnaldur's books are deeply rooted in their setting, perhaps more so than any other crime fiction I have read.

That's an interesting comment on "Voices." I wrote about some of its differences from Arnaldur's other books -- its indoor setting, its greater melodrama, Perhaps Arnaldur knew he was making a departure and, being methodical, dotted the i's and so on in the manner you describe.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., you'll know that Arnaldur is one of my top contenders for world's best. The "Scandinavian Mysteries" issue of Mystery Readers Journal (the one with my article on humor in Nordic crime writing), has an interesting short discussion of "Scandinavia" in its various geographical and cultural alignments. Some of these include Iceland and others of which do not, some include Finland, and others that extend culturally to Iceland and the Faeroe Islands.

You'll know my thoughts on "Voices" from the recapitulation in the previous comment. Still, I'm not discounting the possibility that I might make new discoveries if I were to read the book again. I did when I reread "Jar City."

My favorites among Arnaldur's books? I have four or five from among the six available in English.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, according to Wikipedia's list, the six of Arnaldur's novels available in English are books two through eight of his ten books featuring Erlendur.

Miller's manner annoys me more than anything else. Absent her silly, self-conscious flippancy, I'd be prone to accept her article as a good rundown for someone new to the field.

I knew about the Walter Matthau movie. I did not know that Mankell had married Bergman's daughter, though I don't think Miller even tries to suggest that this is relevant. But her "Bergman moment" remark is just more silly stereotyping, and meaningless to boot. I'm not sure she offers theories as much as she repeats cliches. And -- the point of my post -- I don't think she ever suggests that maybe some of these folks are popular because they're skilled authors.

February 02, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

I read all 3 of the Girl books by Larsson and couldn't put them down. In fact our informal book club is still going strong on them. I ordered the 3rd one from a bookshop in the UK. Turns out we have an arm of the club in a medical laboratory at the U of Minn. and one women there had her daughter bring a copy of #3 from London because she was unwilling to wait for my copy to make the rounds.

None of these readers has mentioned Nordic stoicism, social commentary or pagan gods as reasons they as so caught up in the books. While we think it's cool that the books are set in Sweden the real hook is simply the story being told.

It's fun to look up places in the book on the internet and see pictures but the Girl books could have been set almost anywhere with the same results.

Larsson's books are good because of the characters and the plot. The politics in the police work is reminiscent of the politics found in any group of people.

Our readers are enthralled by the story and the writing not any kind of social statements about Sweden per se. To my mind Larrson's view of financial journalists are quite accurate regardless where they are.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of looking places up on the Internet, you might like this map of Hedeby Island on Steven T. Murray's Web site (He's Larsson's English translator.)

I'm heartened to see your mention of Larsson's take on financial journalists. I highlighted this when I wrote about "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and I'm not sure many commentators have done so. Perhaps because that would require too much straining to cram it into the dull generalizations about Scandinavian crime writing.

February 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I meant to link to that discussion of the various geographic and cultural senses of "Scandinavia." It's here.

February 03, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I’m inarticulate at the best of times but find myself even more so when trying to describe how much I’ve enjoyed Arnaldur’s Erlendur novels. It’s difficult to pin down any particular element of them and, unlike many authors, trying to select a few sentences or even a passage to read to a friend as in a “Listen to this, you gotta read this guy” is so ineffective. I just finished “The Draining Lake” (my favorite Erlendur to date) and its sustained tone/mood was so intense that I periodically had to put the book down. The parallel narratives are so skillfully woven together that they never seem jarring as Arnaldur moves back and forth between them.

BTW, I recommended “Silence of the Grave” to my dad and the next thing I knew he had read four of the Erlendurs and was waiting for “Arctic Chill” to be sent to his branch library. Then my mom got in on the action, read “Jar City” and says she will probably read whatever Edward brings home next! That’s what Arnaldur does to readers.

solo, re “Chandler's dictum was 'When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun'” is Chandler at his most disgruntled. And he didn’t really believe it himself. Far more often Chandler (in his letters) bemoaned the curse of being labeled a hardboiled mystery writer. For example, in a March 1949 letter to the American author John Hersey, Chandler wrote:
A long time ago, when I was writing for the pulps I put into a story a line like ‘he got out of the car and walked across the sun-drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water’. They took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing: just held up the action. And I set out to prove them wrong. My theory was that they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain on his face and his mouth was half opened in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death. He didn’t even hear death knock on the door. That damn paper clip kept slipping away from his fingers and he just wouldn’t push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as it fell.

Arnaldur understands this, too.

February 03, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth
I'll admit I was being a little bit facetious in using that Chandler line but I see few similarities between Chandler and the little Nordic/Icelandic fiction that I've read. And if there are similarities, they're when Chandler is at his worst, when he's being sentimental, or sour, or bitter. At his best Chandler writes with real gusto and humour, and I don't get that in the Nordic fiction that I've read so far.

Action is the glue that holds most mysteries together and I think Chandler, and Hammett before him, got the balance right between action and all the other things that matter in a book, whether it be character or setting or description or lyrical writing. Chandler is also quoted as saying that the best mystery is one that you would read even if you knew that the last chapter had been torn out and I think that sums it up pretty well.

I've just got my hands on Silence of the Grave so I won't say anything more about Indridason until I've read it.

February 03, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, True, there is little "action" in an Arnaldur novel but that relates to Chandler's "the things [readers] really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description" and in these, particularly the latter, that Arnaldur delivers in spades.

I wouldn't really say "The Long Goodbye" was action-packed, would you?

It's really apples and oranges to compare Arnaldur with Chandler or Hammett (or them with anyone else). One may like both apples and oranges, or like neither, or like one or the other. Will I want to read Arnaldur as many times as I have (and intend to read again) Hammett and Chandler? Probably not. But that doesn't lessen Arnaldur's power. If it helps any, just pretend that the words "mystery" and "crime fiction" have nothing to do with Arnaldur and that rather than being shelved in this section of the bookstore/public library, they are shelved in the "contemporary fiction and literature" section.

February 03, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth, what I liked about Hammett is the way he confines himself to using his characters' behaviour or dialogue to express the emotions they have. This restraint leaves lots of gaps in how we understand those characters but that has always seemed realistic to me. It's the way we know most people in our lives.

In the one book of Indridason that I've read (Voices; possibly uncharacteristic of him) he seemed to explain his characters from the outside, almost to psychoanalyse them. Particularly the victim in the book. That character is presented in terms of: he experienced this, therefore he bacame that. He even dramatises the very moment when the young boy lost his voice on stage as if readers couldn't be trusted to understand for themselves how traumatic it had been.

Every writer who turns out a book a year is liable to have a dud once in a while so I won't hold Voices against Indridason.

February 03, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, I very much agree that "...about Hammett is the way he confines himself to using his characters' behaviour or dialogue to express the emotions they have. This restraint leaves lots of gaps in how we understand those characters but that has always seemed realistic to me." I think this is partly a function of writing, as Hammett so often did, in the first person. And he did this very consciously and deliberately. Like Chandler, the tremendous effort to produce this effect is almost invisible to the reader and makes these two men’s work such a great pleasure to read.

I might agree with you and Peter that "Voices" is Arnaldur's weakest novel to date. I admit to getting caught up in the references to a Scandinavian Christmas (and I read it, accidentally, over the Christmas break) and so I enjoyed this familiar, homey element of the story.

I think I know what you mean by “[Arnaldur] seemed to explain his characters from the outside, almost to psychoanalyse them.” That’s not an uncommon device in a lot of contemporary fiction. But I think Arnaldur does this very effectively and, unlike you, I didn’t find it annoying but rather amplifying my own responses to the events. I’d be curious to see if you feel this way about Arnaldur’s delineation of a particular character’s mental state in “The Draining Lake.” If you read it, you'll know the one I mean.

February 03, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth
You mentioned one of Chandler's letters earlier. I read a book a few years ago that contained some of those letters as well as some of his non-fiction.

I couldn't help agreeing with his dismissive take on sci-fi writing. And his love for his wife was very touching. Those letters also portrayed him as being just as homophobic as the age in which he lived. But they also show up the extraordinary depth of his bigotry towards Irish Catholics, which he seems to have acquired during his frequent stays in his youth among the Quaker/Protestant community in Waterford. It's to his credit, I suppose, that he was able to acknowledge that bigotry in himself.

As an obvious fan of RC I'm sure you're familiar with his Irish background but for anyone else here's a link that elaborates on that:

http://waterfordireland.tripod.com/raymond_chandler.htm

February 03, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, RC's "Selected Letters" is in my sweaty paws right now and I'm afraid I don't see "the extraordinary depth of his bigotry towards Irish Catholics" in any of them. When he writes "I grew up with a terrible contempt for Catholics" he is writing in that offhand, cooly dispassionate manner common to most of his self-observations in his letters. There's no real vitriol behind it. His real contempt, revealed in several letters, was for the RC _Church_ and its politicking, etc. It's like here in L.A., my Catholic friends have no truck with Cardinal Mahony and his protection of abusive priests, self-aggrandizement through the construction of the cathedral (the Taj Mahony), his support for illegal immigration, etc. but their religious faith is not lessened by this man’s foibles. And remember Chandler had Catholic, Jewish, etc. friends and correspondents from different social strata.

As for being a homophobe, what letter are you referring to? The one in which he speaks about homosexuality at some length:

http://books.google.com/books?id=-AHYeTyVbUkC&pg=PA184&lpg=PA184&dq=%22raymond+chandler%22+homosexualist+%22surface+brilliance%22&source=bl&ots=GJ8lYrhCgw&sig=pyLkKDybafqOLjAW56ll2BKMxIY&hl=en&ei=KkVqS6LtJIvWsQPg2MSvAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=surface%20brilliance&f=false

seems more sympathetic than antagonistic.

February 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, you’re articulate on the subject of your own inarticulateness. I can well understand your feeling that selecting isolated passages might not convey what makes Arnaldur special, “Silence of the Grave” hit hard, for example, for the slow, unsparing, methodical description of the abuse -- a fine correlative in words for what such ongoing abuse must feel like. One would be hard-pressed to convey that effect in a short excerpt. Perhaps Arnaldur is an especially patient writer.

And thanks for the Chandler insight. This makes me want to read his letters. Maybe after I get in a few hours of work tomorrow …

Tell me more about your writing for the pulps.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I'd say at least some of Arnaldur's books would work just as well if one knew in advance that the last chapter had been torn out.

I'll say in Arnaldur's favor as well that he grapples with different themes in each book and seems to take all seriously.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll need to flee my current noisy location and resume this exchange later. For now, though, on Chandler and homophobia, I've always balanced the ugly, dismissive attitudes in "The Big Sleep" against his acknowledgement in a letter, maybe one to which one of you linked above, that he did not understand "the homosexualist" and his openness to the possibility that someone else would one day write a novel offering insight on this subject. I'd say this indicates a certain self-awareness on his part.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"In the one book of Indridason that I've read (Voices; possibly uncharacteristic of him) he seemed to explain his characters from the outside, almost to psychoanalyse them. Particularly the victim in the book. That character is presented in terms of: he experienced this, therefore he bacame that."

Solo, when I called Voices heavy on the melodrama, I had in mind the excessive reliance on the sort of outside, circumstantial character-building you cited. I also said this made Voices an exception among Arnaldur's books, and I expressed respect for him for trying something different.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, like you, I enjoyed the observations in Voices about a Nordic Christmas, or at least about the curious phenomenon of tourists in Iceland.

February 04, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth
The book I was referring to was 'The Raymond Chandler Papers,' edited by Hiney and MacShane.

Unfortunately, I seem to have mislaid my copy so I can't quote chapter and verse to back up my comments. When I locate it I'll try and defend my heretical views with some actual quotations.

BTW, my reference to Voices as a dud were over the top. I didn't think it was a bad book. I was merely disappointed that it didn't live up to some of the superlatives I've heard regarding Indridason's books.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I don't know the Chandler statements in question. I had not even known he ever had any particular views on Catholics one way or the other. If the snippet Elisabeth quotes is accurate (and I don't doubt her fidelity to the truth; I'm just not sure she had the book in front of her):

"I grew up with a terrible contempt for Catholics"

then I'd say that whatever anti-Catholic animus Chandler had was tempered by insight. The question then is whether the insight ever mitigated the contempt.

February 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, "The Raymond Chandler Papers" (2001) includes a selection of, among other writings, some of his letters that originally appeared in MacShane's 1981 "Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler." So the latter is more comprehensive but the crossover excerpts are the same in each. I cruised through the excellent index in the latter and that's how I pulled out the quote that Peter remembers when he replied "that [RC] did not understand 'the homosexualist' and his openness to the possibility that someone else would one day write a novel offering insight on this subject."

I also browsed through the text (which I have annotated in the margins) and that quote I pulled out about contempt for Catholics seemed to be the harshest; but, I am not so infatuated with RC that I am not open to being persuaded that he had more than contempt for (some) Catholics. I remember one letter in which he told his publisher, or a reviewer, that he did not want to be identified as "Irish-American" on a dust jacket as IA generally meant something to the US readership that was not applicable to him, and obviously "Catholic" is one of the first things US readers would think RC was if he were to be described as IA.

Speaking of Hammett and Irishness reminded me of Rory Gallagher. I used to follow his band around a lot in the 1970s. Are you familiar with his song dedicated to Hammett -- "The Continental Op"? If not, it is readily available online.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had one Rory Gallagher album in my youth, the one with "Tattooed Lady" on it. And I saw the guitar-shaped plaque to Rory Gallagher in Temple Bar in Dublin. I'd never known he dedicated a song to Hammett.

The identification in America of "Irish" with "Catholic" is something I began to unlearn only after I visited Ireland and met a few folks on both sides and read about some of the great Protestant nationalists in Irish history -- and learned that Yeats was Protestant.

February 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, "Tattooed Lady" was one of his very best. I believe he is still much-revered in Ireland. I have been to his hometown of Cork, but not to Dublin. And I should go. Just to see some of the Irish studs. No, not that kind. I mean what we call breeding farms.

Ian Rankin's "Mortal Causes" deals with sectarian violence spilling over from Ireland to Scotland (although the Wikipedia entry for this novel says "the political background of the plot has elements which may lack verisimilitude"). I presume the Wikipedia author knows what s/he is talking about but I was interested to read that there are strong ties between Irish and Scottish nationalists. (Which apparently is true, even if the plot is not.)

February 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, re “the curious phenomenon of tourists in Iceland” – “wearing traditional Icelandic sweaters” and hiking regalia in the city center… I remember when I went to Norway for the first time (age 9) all the tourists had to get those traditional Norwegian sweaters (man, those suckers itch!) but I just had to have a little stuffed seal toy, made with real seal fur. When I got older I was appalled at my insensitivity but still liked stroking the thing. Living in a heavily tourist-infested city, I can understand some of Erlendur’s baffled responses to them. How tourists come to a place to find proof of their expectations, and sometimes try to pretend they have seen them met even if the reality is unlike the fantasy. I see the poor things strolling down Hollywood Blvd. searching for some of the glamour that they heard Hollywood had, but never really did, and most definitely does not have now.

The best thing I’ve always liked about a Nordic Christmas is that Christmas Eve is the big day. A big dinner à la Elínborg, including the smoked lamb, marzipan pig, and rice pudding with an almond—whoever gets the almond received a special present (and it always had to be a child, so if an adult got it in his/her mouth, they had to surreptitiously slip it back into the pudding—yuk!). And when it came time to opening presents, the house was dark and cozy, the tree’s lights were glowing and, best of all, everybody was still dressed, coiffed, etc. and not slouching around in their bathrobes in the morning as I found out my friends did when I got old enough to notice things like that.

I enjoyed the further adventures of Elínborg’s culinary exploits in “The Draining Lake.” They make for a bit of comic relief. And I love how Erlendur would most times rather have traditional Icelandic fare--like all those goodies on the hotel’s smorgasbord--than all that fancy global cuisine that Elínborg whips up.

Re "perhaps Arnaldur is an especially patient writer" -- it would be interesting to learn a bit about how he writes. Does he go back over his work, tweaking it; does it come out the way we read it from the time he sets it down, or what.

February 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, you said “tell me more about your writing for the pulps” – but that was from Chandler’s quote (that I forgot to put in quotes). I’m old, but not that old!

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had a friend who worshipped Rory Gallagher among other guitar gods, but I liked "Tattooed Lady" because it was a nice, melodic, strongly rhythmic song with a bit of an edge.

I think the Glasgow Celtic soccer team, great sectarian rival of Rangers, was founded by Irishmen who had crossed the Irish Sea to settle. And Rangers, in turn, have a rowdy suporters club on the Shankill Road in Belfast.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I visited Hollywood Boulevard my first time in Los Angeles with no special expectations but certainly not the nondescript, mildly rundown strip that I found -- rather hard-boiled or noirish, in retrospect.

I like Erlendur's culinary tastes even though I think Eva Lind chides him. Roasted meat is fine with me. I also liked the hotel smorgasbod's magnetic effect on Erlendur in Voices.

I get the idea from Arnaldur's comment about the Icelandic sagas' influence on his prose style that he's careful about his craft.

February 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter, you said “tell me more about your writing for the pulps” – but that was from Chandler’s quote (that I forgot to put in quotes). I’m old, but not that old!

So much for that partcular hidden depth of yours, then. I thought you must have meant you wrote for Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine in the '70s or something

February 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Hollywood Boulevard...rather hard-boiled or noirish, in retrospect." Marlowe would appreciate that. A gentleman has gone to considerable effort to re-create Marlowe's office in a building on the SE corner of the Cahuenga-Hollywood intersection. Down to the Dionne Quintuplets calendar, squeaky chair, etc. It is, in the words of one of our fellow tour companions "zehr cool".

One year Marlowe had a Rembrandt calendar. Knowing you like Rembrandt, do you recall this passage in "Farewell, My Lovely"?

"They had Rembrandt on the calendar that year, a rather smeary self-portrait due to imperfectly registered color plates. It showed him holding a smeared palette with a dirty thumb and wearing a tam-o'-shanter which wasn't any too clean either. His other hand held a brush poised in the air, as if he might be going to do a little work after a while, if somebody made a down payment. His face was aging, saggy, full of disgust of life and the thickening effects of liquor. But it had a hard cheerfulness that I liked, and the eyes were as bright as drops of dew."

And Chandler not only lets us know that this is a reflection of Marlowe's face, but maybe his own as well.

I copied-and-pasted the text from some bore's essay in a 2002 issue of "Texas Studies in Literature and Language."

This is the text that precedes the Chandler quote:

"The self-portrait of Rembrandt on a calendar hanging in Marlowe's office in Farewell, My Lovely helps to establish the dichotomy of vocation and avocation, reflecting the degree to which subordinated labor provokes the desire for autonomy."

I wish I could read Chandler's response to that...

February 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Didn't that passage spark an earlier exchange here about Rembrandt?

I exoect Chandler would have pulled a gun and told the author of the article where to stick it.

February 05, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Didn't that passage spark an earlier exchange here about Rembrandt?" Not that I was involved with. That's not to say you didn't bring it up with someone else. You brought him up in one of your comments in the "sex scandals in history" exchange. Rembrandt's "Bathsheba." And then we chatted a bit about Rembrandt's pros and cons.

February 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's what I was thinking of: A post I made last year whose substance is the passage you quoted.

February 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Seana, according to Wikipedia's list, the six of Arnaldur's novels available in English are books two through eight of his ten books featuring Erlendur."

Seana, you were kind not to call me out on that slip. The six novels available in English are books three through eight.

February 05, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I didn't know Rory Gallagher was a Hammett fan, Elisabeth. I was twelve when Tattoo'd Lady came out and was probably listening to the Osmonds or similiar dreck. Later when I started listening to music seriously it was Punk/New Wave. Long guitar solos were considered deeply unfashionable so I never really got into Gallagher. He was always popular in Ireland, although now hugely so. He was even bigger in Germany than he was at home.

I wouldn't hold Chandler's views against him. He was aware of prejudices in himself and was honest enough to admit them. And when you write as well as he did, who cares?

I've never visited any studfarms here in Ireland being more interested in racing than breeding.
Michael Osborne, who ran studfarms here and in the US, tells the story of going into a hotel in America once and being asked if he had a reservation. He couldn't remember if the booking had been made in his employer's name or his own so he gave both: Michael Osborne, Irish National Stud. He immediately had the undivided attention of all the girls behind the desk.

February 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know if I'd have been aware of Rory Gallagher if not for my friend, the guitar nut. I do know that I had no particular awareness of his being Irish and was surprised later when I found out how revered he was in Ireland. One does not get a historical plaque for nothing.

An Irish crime novel set largely in the world of horse racing: The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes (called The Dying Breed in the UK).

And, since talk has turned to Chandler, here a post from the Detectives Beyond Borders archives about Chandler's influence on some crime writers from outside the U.S.

February 05, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

My goodness, you've got a mind like a steel trap! Once again, I apologize for not being consistent in performing a simple search before I plonked down that wonderful Chandler quote that you, and other respondents, already knew was wonderful. I get excited and then "prudenza" flies out the window...

"...my friend the guitar nut." I had a number of those, too. 30+ years ago I won some contest in a UK music mag. The "why so-and-so is my favorite guitarist" kind of contest. I wrote something about Rory Gallagher and trumped the Page and Clapton entries. It wasn't my entry so much as the guitarist that caught the juror's eye. But I was sincere and I have updated my CD coll. to include some RG. I have most of his stuff on vinyl.

solo, I love the story about the "Irish National Stud." I'm more interested in racing than breeding, too, but when their racing days are (too soon) over it can be fun to visit some of my favorites on the farm. Like some millionaire Gr. I winning filly who is now a fat and matronly broodmare who comes running up to a fence, covered in mud and her mane all matted, to accept a carrot from an adoring fan.

Peter, thanks for the tips on racing-set novels. I'm not really interested in gambling or racetrack heist ("The Killing") type novels but if horses are involved my interest is piqued. I have a Peter Temple on ILL request at the LA pub Lib.

February 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Elisabeth ...

"My goodness, you've got a mind like a steel trap!


Oh, I don't know. Painting is a rare enough topic on a crime-fiction blog that anyone would have remembered the post. Now, had I written about a certain work of Dali's then forgotten about it, that would have been funny.

"...my friend the guitar nut."

Clapton was god to this friend of mine. Guys like Rory Gallagher and Mick Taylor were part of the heavenly host.

"Like some millionaire Gr. I winning filly who is now a fat and matronly broodmare who comes running up to a fence, covered in mud and her mane all matted, to accept a carrot from an adoring fan."

Ye gods, the old girl still has a twinkle in her eye, and for a moment you think you could recapture the old magic ...

Horse racing is just one of Peter Temple's settings because it's just one of the worlds in which he's interested. (I'm happy to report that Peter Temple once posted some amusing comments on this blog about wet-behind-the-ears book editors.)

February 05, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Of Indridasson's book, I liked "Jar City," "The Silence of the Grave," and "Arctic Chill" the best. I have yet to read "Hypothermia."

Of all of my mystery-reading friends who all vary greatly in their book tastes--they all like Indridasson's works. They will drop what they're reading to come and borrow a copy and do nothing else until they're finished with it.

It's not action that does it although the set-ups and mysteries are interesting. It's that Erlander understands the human condition and human behavior. He's introspective about the people in his story and himself and the conditions he's talking about (but not so much that we'd gag and give up reading the books).

And his other characters are interesting. They're not just one-dimensional police detectives who solve crimes--that's it.

The reader wants to know what Erlander is thinking, who he's meeting, who he's talking to.

And also what's going on in Iceland and what are people thinking about and what social developments are new.

I really wanted to know about Icelandic immigration in "Arctic Chill," who's immigrating, what are their circumstances, are they accepted, how do they lives.

And Indridasson told just enough to keep it evolving and interesting.

February 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It speaks well of an author who has six books available in English when his readers talk about their three or four favorites among those books. Arnaldur writes at a high level.

What I liked about Arnaldur's handling of immigation issues in "Arctic Chill" is that, while it's clear where his sympathies lie, he writes with understanding of characters apprehensive about immigration and about the state of their country. I like very much that Erlendur is solitary and with angst of his own but, as one reader said, still fully functional.

February 07, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes, "Arctic Chill" is very well written and the immigration issues stated well.

And Erlander is introspective and thoughtful and depressed--about his past tragedy and he has so much trouble relating to his children. So, on a personal level he's troubled but he manages to function as a police detective very well and use his introspective and thinking skills to solve the mysteries.

It's a bit reminiscent of Martin Beck, the Sjowall/Wahloo detective whose marriage falls apart and he's not relating well to his children, and he's brooding but he is the one who solves complicated and seemingly unrelated crimes.

Just finished "The Locked Room," where Beck does this quite well while no one else can solve the crimes.

Seems this type of brooding, semi-depressed, not able to manage his personal relationships well-type detective, who is quite alert and smart, does good detective work--is prominent throughout much Scandinavian mystery fiction.
(Wallender also comes to mind, though I haven't read any of Mankell's yet.)

February 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole is a related type, but only becomes he remains likeable (because not self-pitying) and an effective investigator. But his drinking interferes with his investigation and comes close to crippling his career. Erlendur's problems never interfere with his work, which is why I can't bring myself to include him among angst-ridden detectives.

February 08, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

But Erlander is always coming home at night and brooding about his family tragedy years ago and feeling guilty about his brother.
And he feels guilty about his daughter's tough life and substance-abuse problems which he can't solve.

He can't solve his own relationship problems except to relate to his work colleagues who are at a distance.

He is troubled by all of this yet does his job well.

I have read and enjoyed Barbara Fister's Scandinavian Crime Fiction website and blog often and have written comments on the blog.
It's very good.

Read the posts about Kjell Eriksson and was glad to see comments about Helene Thurston's writing, which I have enjoyed in the three books I've read.

February 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have to think about Erlendur more. For a fictional detective who has such deep-seated problems, he's remarkably well adjusted. Here's another fictional detective who arguably fits that description: http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/2009/09/return-of-pufferfish.html

February 09, 2010  
Blogger Reg said...

Hi Peter, here's the real link to the maps for Tattoo: http://www.sallysfriends.net/nest/the-missing-map-from-tattoo/

I've been immersed in German lately and haven't been keeping up with the blogging...

February 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Danke schön. Here are those maps in handy clickable form.

February 27, 2010  

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