Monday, March 29, 2010

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the nulla-nulla

I've remarked often that I have no objection to well-deployed slang, dialect, and local vocabulary in crime fiction. I've said further that I enjoy having to figure out from context an unfamiliar term's meaning. Here's a bit from Adrian Hyland's Gunshot Road:

"I kept going at full pelt, knocked him off balance, managed to get him cuffed before he knew what hit him. Which would have been a satisfactory to the incident had not the victim found her feet and turned out to be Cindy Mellow. A nulla-nulla materialized in her right hand.

"The first blow hit my prisoner in the head ... "
That's Hyland's novel at left and a nulla-nulla at right. And here's a bit more about nulla-nullas, information I'd likely never have looked for if not for a crime novel. (Gunshot Road is due out in May from Text Publishing and Soho Press.)

Now, what have crime stories taught you?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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22 Comments:

Anonymous Dave Riley said...

I know what a null nulla is but I did not know who Adrian Hyland was! I guess I gotta read more locally to think more globally.

But for cultural stimulation and learning curve input I have to pimp for the Montalbano novels of Andrea Camilleri . They have to come published with extensive cultural artefact and lingusitic back notes -- all of which I read.eg: "Saracen olive trees",octopus a strascinasali,etc. But in Montalbano the recipes are just suggestive unfortunately.

So I'm turning into a Sicilain devotee and of course with Montalbano (and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's Pepe Cavalho which has a more than passing resemblance to Montalbano)you have to begin with the cuisine.

In the case of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán he is the champion and primary advocate of Catalan cuisine such that his cookbook is a classic and standard work -- reflecting a passion that Pepe is ruled by.

March 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Stephen Sartarelli's translator's notes are concise lessons on Italian politics, literature and history, and a wonderful answer to the question I pose here.

The recipes are just suggestiive, but Montalbano's popularity has ensured that full versions are available on line and in books, at least if one read Italian. You'll find one such site here, with recipes broken down by course and references to the Montalbano novel in which each recipe appears.

A blog called Briciole occasionally discusses Camilleri and food, with recipes in English and Italian.

You may know that Montalbano's name is said to be a tribute by Camilleri to Vázquez Montalbán.

March 29, 2010  
Blogger Dave Riley said...

I'm reading Camilleri in sync with watching the DVD collections.Great adaptation. Wonderful acting and caste of character actors. A credit to the original author...

But the video version doesn't have that attention to intricacy and interest that you get from the composed word.

While Inspector Montalbano may be one of the best crime series adaptions I've ever watched it still falls short on the humour, joie de vivre and the attention to Sicilian culture, history and heritage that marks the novels.

Since so much crime fiction is indigenous to space this parochial element is always important especially if you tour the world a la detectives without borders. If you don't get geography ( eg: Rayomond Chandler) you at least get cultural psyche (eg: Arnaldur Indriðason).

This may not be a rule however as I though Kenneth Branagh's Kurt Wallander (speaking English in Ystad) was a better and more loyal take than Krister Henriksson's in the most recent Swedish adaptations. But I guess it's like doing Hamlet -- there are many ways to act Scandinavian .

Getting back to the nulla nulla, Detective-Inspector Arthur Upfield's Napoleon (Bony) Bonaparte series
http://www.addictivebooks.com/unusual/unusual_1.htm
is about a Australian aboriginal detective's cases in various locales often in the Outback.

Since the novels predate the modern Aboriginal land rights and urban protest movements ( Upfield died in 1964)they don't reflect that sort of community consciousness broadly embraced by Indigenous Australians today (and Upfield was an Englishman). They are nonetheless a affirmative statement given that it wasn't until 1967 that Aborigines here were given the vote and policing for Indigenous was so often referenced as "black tracker" status.

More recently Peter Corris' Cliff Hardy novels on occasion
http://www.petercorris.net/cliffhardy.html
reflect a truer image of the contemporary Aboriginal condition (which despite Boney's 60s profile is worsening).

March 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Montalbano adaptations are among the most intelligent I've seen. They trim judiciously, and they're true to the spirit of the originals. And Luca Zingaretti makes a marvelous Montalbano despite being younger and balder than the original. I wonder if the producers deliberately avoided having him ape the character's appearance in order to give him more freedom of interpretation. Of course, Camilleri never makes a big deal of Montalbano's appearance.

I've mentioned Upfield, Bony, and the author's take on Aboriginals a few times. I knew Upfield had written most, if not all, the books before the civil rights era or its Australian counterpart, and some of the attitudes are well outdated. At the same time, he has Bony express in one of the novels a thought as fresh as today. He says that one success can wipe out all a white officer's previous mistakes, but one failure can wipe out all an Aboriginal officer's previous successes.

By coincidence, I borrowed Peter Corris' "Master's Mates" from the library this evening. Adrian Hyland's "Diamond Dove" offers another take on life among and for Aboriginal people in Australia, including its setting after favorable land-rights rulings but before those rulings have taken effect. In Hyland's second's book, one character belittles the protagonist, Emily Tempest, as a "black tracker."

If you don't get geography ( eg: Rayomond Chandler) you at least get cultural psyche (eg: Arnaldur Indriðason)

In other words, there are many ways to convey a sense of place.

March 29, 2010  
Blogger Dave Riley said...

The "black tracker" theme is taken up and turned on its head in Rolf de Heer's film, The Tracker. It has a delightful dark and triumphalist twist enriched by Peter Coad's paintings and soundtrack by Archie Roach. It is Australian white/indigenous relations in a historicised nutshell.

As for Upfield's own context there was a major land rights dynamic in the late fifties and early sixties which were precursors of the Gurindji strike -- 1966-1975 -- by Aboriginal stockmen.

9 years is a long time to be on strike is it not?

Prior to that there had been several campaigns fought in conjunction between trade unions, the Communist Party and desert based aboriginal communities but urban based activism didn't really take off until the late sixties despite its strong land rights component.

It was the case in my state -- Queensland -- that up until the 1980's, aboriginals were still kept on reserves and had their movements controlled by overseers and their wages held "in trust" so that they were surreptitiously stolen over many decades.

Bony, as I recall, lived in the Brisbane suburb of Banyo -- where I also live, and that in itself is cause to retell the aboriginal history of Banyo, the suburb's bora rings, middens and the plight of the Turrubul people whose land this is.

Despite the seeming comfort of Bony's police ranking -- Murris (Qld Aborigines)have been fighting the Qld cops for years about Aboriginal deaths in police custody and as a consequence, the most senior Aboriginal members of the force have resigned as this police force is racist through and through.

(See 2004 Palm Island death in custody for a sample.)

But as yet no cop has been found guilty of manslaughter.

Even today millions are still owed in back wages stolen by government agencies.

The irony is that "crime" is no fiction for these people:Indigenous Australians are jailed five times more often than black males in South Africa under apartheid. In 2004, Indigenous Australians were 11 times more likely to be in prison than the rest of the population. In June 2004, 21% of prisoners in Australia were Indigenous.

March 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the heads-up on "The Tracker" and Australian history. Interesting to read about urban-based activism, too. The Aboriginal characters in Adrian Hyland's books move fluidly between the bush and the towns. And, though his work is closer to the amateur-sleuth tradition than to urban noir, there is that dread of what can happen to a black male in police custody.

March 30, 2010  
Blogger Dave Riley said...

FYI: Peter Corris was an academic whose specialty was the history of the South Pacific especially the blackbirding of Islanders (ie: kidnapping, some argue that it was slavery) to work in the Queensland sugar harvest.
Thousands were bought to Australian and then most of these were expelled when the 1901 White Australia Policy was bought in.

But Corris had a long term deteriorating eyesight condition which caused him to make the jump, leave academe and switch to writing.

A few years later he met Dr Fred Hollows who while a member of the Communist Party began to adopt his eye surgery technique to combat glaucoma when he worked with the Gurindji people at Wave Hill(see above) in the Northern Territory during the 70s.

He restored the eyesight for countless thousands of people in Australia and many other countries. Among them, Peter Corris. It has been estimated that more than one million people in the world can see today because of initiatives instigated by Hollows.

In a sort of pay back, Corris wrote the definitive biography of Hollows.

March 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's another comment destroyed by Blogger and retrieved from e-mail:

Dave Riley has left a new comment on your post "How I stopped worrying and learned to love the nul...":

FYI: Peter Corris was an academic whose specialty was the history of the South Pacific especially the blackbirding of Islanders (ie: kidnapping, some argue that it was slavery) to work in the Queensland sugar harvest.
Thousands were bought to Australian and then most of these were expelled when the 1901 White Australia Policy was bought in.

But Corris had a long term deteriorating eyesight condition which caused him to make the jump, leave academe and switch to writing.

A few years later he met Dr Fred Hollows who while a member of the Communist Party began to adopt his eye surgery technique to combat glaucoma when he worked with the Gurindji people at Wave Hill(see above) in the Northern Territory during the 70s.

He restored the eyesight for countless thousands of people in Australia and many other countries. Among them, Peter Corris. It has been estimated that more than one million people in the world can see today because of initiatives instigated by Hollows.

In a sort of pay back, Corris wrote the definitive biography of Hollows.

March 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I knew Peter Corris had done some historical writing, but I had no idea of that background. That's quite a story. Thanks.

March 30, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

What have crime stories NOT taught me? A few of the lessons have been about justice and the political system in Venice (Leon), geography,climate, moodiness, mores and some history in Iceland (Indridasson, Siggurdadottir), too much to list about Sweden (S. Larsson, A. Larsson, H. Thurston, H. Mankell, etc.), 1940 San Francisco (Stanley), the legal system, the death penalty in Mississippi (and more) (Grisham), and so much, too much to enumerate.

Also, all of the tidbits of information of Conan Doyle's via Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes.

March 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, that's a fine argument for reading the stuff and an endorsement that deserves a place on book jackets and in the minds of readers, writers, sellers and publishers of crime fiction everywhere.

April 01, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Thank you so much--and that was off the top of my head. If I stopped to think about it going back to high school days of reading Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, with some Sayers and Tey thrown in, the blog would be humongous.

I could add lots of legal information such as on patent law by Paul Goldstein, and much about criminal law by numerous writers like David Ellis, Joseph Teller, Steve Martini and more.

And so much about the environment and U.S. geography, such as Nevada Barr's national park mysteries.

And so it goes.

April 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Peter - thanks for your interest in the book. Hope you're enjoying it.

Just been reading your fascinating discussion with Dave Riley. I've got a bit of a connection with Peter Corris myself - there was a legend in my wife's family that one of her mother's uncles was killed by headhunters in the Pacific. Then Peter Corris wrote a history called 'Lightning Strikes the West Wind' which showed us that the story was true - the uncle was a government official killed in a famous uprising in the Solomons. The irony was that we had more sympathy for the native rebels than the imperialistic uncle.

All the best

Adrian

April 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, perhaps you could learn something about food from Andrea Camilleri, Manuel Vazquez Montalban or Jason Goodwin.

April 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that's the sort of story that can pull one right into history, or rather erase the division between one's self and history.

One does not read much about the Solomons other than the strife of recent years. I am generally reminded of that part of the world only on my periodic visits to the Pacific Islands sections of art museums.

April 03, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Just an fyi (and wasn't sure where to write this in): Sarah Weinman highly recommends "In Free Fall," by Juli Zeh, as an intellectual mystery.

Another point on mystery trivia: there are lots of pre-WWII b/w movie classics, made by Hitchcock and others. Many are available at public libraries and are free.

April 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I'll look into Julie Zeh and see if I'm ready to butt heads with an intellectual mystery.

Would be nice to see people saving money and supporting their libraries by getting movies there. I have just a few more Hitchcocks to see, and then I'll have seen his complete body of work.

April 04, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, at least Juli Zeh's is international as it's translated from German.

Yes, to more movie viewing and right now, it's pre-WWII and early years of the war, checking out Sidney Greenstreet, Brenda Marshall, George Raft, others' names at the library.

April 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You should be in Los Angeles, or perhaps you are, for all I know. There's a big film noir festival going on, or maybe it just wrapped up. The program included a couple of movies that starred Goerge Raft.

April 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here are some posts about the L.A. film noir festival that might give you a heads-up on some lesser-known titles. (The top few posts are about the festival. The rest are posts the author tagged "noir." She writes crime fiction herself, so her insights might be of interest.)

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

Too bad, East Coast. Have on library reserve Hitchcock's "Secret Agent."

will check out the L.A. film noir festival link.

April 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An odd mix of thrills and comedy from Hitchcock, and not one of his better-known movies. You are applying yourself to this Hitchcock mission with great diligence.

April 12, 2010  

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