Monday, March 22, 2010

The Papers of Tony Veitch, or showing, telling and compassion

"Show, don't tell" is one of those writing mantras that I think I believe in but have never examined thoroughly.

I guess the idea is that readers don't care what the author has to say, they want to see what the characters do. The Scottish novelist William McIlvanney intrudes on his own narrative far more than most crime writers do, often with thrilling results. Here's McIlvanney getting inside his protagonist's head in The Papers of Tony Veitch:

"He could recall giving up any belief in an overall meaning to living because any such meaning would have to be indivisible, unequivocally total, giving significance impartially to every drifting feather, every piece of paper blowing along a street.

"Eck was like one of those pieces of paper. You couldn't say the meaning of things was elsewhere and Eck was irrelevant. That was a betrayal. All we have is one another and if we're orphans all we can honorably do is adopt one another, defy the meaninglessness of our lives by mutual concern. It's the only nobility we have.

"Laidlaw tried to reinstate his energy by declaring war, over his whisky, on all brutalisers of others, all non-carers. Yet the very thought embarrassed. He would have been such a compromised champion, a failure opposing failure."
McIlvanney invokes compassion implicitly and, elsewhere, explicitly, compassion for victims, for perps, compassion for those who feel hopeless compassion. I've noticed a similar tendency in Allan Guthrie's novels and in Ken Bruen's Priest.

And now, two questions: 1) How do you feel about showing vs. telling? and 2) Is it any surprise that authors of hard stories about hard men should be attracted to compassion as a theme and a human attribute?

(Read about William McIlvanney here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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72 Comments:

Blogger Philip said...

Just to say I'm delighted to see you highlight McIlvanney, Peter. I commented elsewhere recently that, while people are always asking on blogs for lists of the best in crime fiction, it might be interesting to see some lists of the worst, and now your post here makes me think that even more useful would be lists of those past crime fiction writers most forgotten and those of the present most ignored. McIlvanney would certainly be on my list of such if I made one. More about such as he in the various media and a complete embargo on Patterson, Cornwell, et al., would be very therapeutic for the field, I'm thinking.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Kate S. said...

I love William McIlvanney's Laidlaw novels and I'm very happy to see you highlight one here!

I think that "show, don't tell" is good advice for beginning writers, but it ought not to be regarded as a hard and fast rule. In the hands of a good writer, telling can be masterful, and McIlvanney is one of the best. A few years back, in my own reconsideration of the "show, don't tell" mantra, I praised James Salter as a brilliant teller. Mind you, in a genre where suspense is key, perhaps writers need to be extra careful about how telling rather than showing will affect the pace of the narrative.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

Like everything else about writing, how closely to adhere to "show, don't tell" depends on the ability of the writer to pull it off. In effect, anything written in first person involves a lot of telling, and it's socially acceptable. (Any time the narrator character mentions anything that's not happening right now, he's telling.) Ed McBain used to make little authorial asides all the time; they helped to make his books unique. (And great.)

Chandler had this exchange in PLAYBACK:

Woman: How can such a hard man be so gentle?

Marlowe: If I wasn't hard, I wouldn't be alive. If I couldn't ever be gentle, I wouldn't deserve to be alive.

The same applies to writing. Bruen and Guthrie can make outwardly horrible characters readable by showing them as gentle enough to be worth reading about.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I'd be no help on a list of the worst, since I lack the patience to read books I don't like. There are ongoing lists of forgotten books.

Patti Abbott's Forgotten Friday comes to mind.

I alsp put up a post about Laidlaw a few weeks back.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kate, I read a recent attack on "show, don't tell" that interpreted that prejudice against telling as prejudice against the novel of ideas. But yes, pace would probably be a bigger concern to readers and to authors contemplating telling instead of showing. Laidlaw's pace took some getting used to. I remarked to a friend that McIlvanney seemed often to be stopping the narrative. I'm not sure if The Papers of Tony Veitch does this any less, or whether I've simply grown accustomed to McIlvanney's pace.

And can't an artful tease -- stopping for a bit of telling at a critical moment -- contribute to the suspense?

I highlight another McIlvanney novel here.

March 23, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

Let me third the high praise for McIlvanney's Laidlaw novels.


As for the show and tell rule, I remember an Italian reviewer (of sf/fantasy) who stygmatized and ridiculed on her blog long passages of soul-crushing infodump.
Often her victims told her that "show and tell is not a hard and fast rule" to which she answered that it felt like saying "don't put your finger in the socket" and having someone respond "Oh, but electricity is not always bad, just think of defibrillators"

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Chandler? Who's he?

One of the impressive features of McIlvanney's telling is that it's third-person, and it still works.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, she's right about defibrillators.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

I just picked up a copy of THE PAPERS OF TONY VEITCH when browsing an independent bookstore's sale table here in NZ yesterday. The author's name caught my eye because I interviewed Liam McIlvanney (William's son, and author of ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN) late last year. Liam shared some stuff about his father, who I learned during background research was a highly regarded novelist (not just in terms of detective fiction).

As part of that background research, I also came across comments from Ian Rankin, crediting the Laidlaw novels as being quite a big influence on him, as a writer.

I also got a copy of STRANGE LOYALTIES yesterday, and am very much looking forward to getting my first taste of the Laidlaw novels.

Great post Peter, as usual.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Philip said...

I'm pleased to hear that about Rankin, Craig. I posted a comment earlier today on your blog re writers who owe much to McIlvanney but don't seem anxious to acknowledge it. I'd not expect Rankin to be shy in doing so, good man that he is, but, in truth, most of the present-day Scottish school have a debt to McIlvanney directly or vicariously.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had just seen your shopping list that included McIlvanney. That's where I learned that he was Liam's father. A fortunate coincidence that we should come across McIlvanney at the same time, I thought. (I first read him when a friend gave me a copy of Laidlaw a few weeks ago, and I will look eagerly for a copy of Strange Loyalties.)

Naturally I'd come across invocations of Rankin's name in connection with William McIlvanney's. In fact, I may try Rankin again. I've read three of his novels, and I never quite saw what the fuss was about. Now I may seek a consensus as to his best novels, read them, and see how they stack up against McIlvanney.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

" ... in truth, most of the present-day Scottish school have a debt to McIlvanney directly or vicariously."

Philip, this makes me curious about the Scottish school. Perhaps I ought to carry out more explorations like the Eankin investigation I proposed in the comment immediately above.

March 23, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Thanks for drawing readers’ attention to Wm. McIlvanney’s exceptional “Laidlaw” novels. He and John Lawton have been my favorite crime fiction “discoveries” this past year. Rankin (among other Scottish crime fiction novelists) has mentioned McIlvanney’s influence on him in several interviews and that’s what led me to seek out the Laidlaws. I’m often drawn to read books by authors cited as influences on those authors I’ve enjoyed.

This excerpt from an interview with Rankin appeared in the online January Magazine: [interviewer] “And then there was William McIlvanney, who wrote Laidlaw (1977) and a couple of sequels.
[Rankin] Yeah, but McIlvanney has stopped writing crime fiction. He says he wrote those books for the money, and then didn't want to write anymore. McIlvanney was important to me in the early days, because he was a proper, grown-up ‘literary’ writer who wrote crime fiction. And I thought: If it's OK for him, then it's OK for me.”

If McIlvanney was not by nature, only by necessity, a crime fiction writer (and the Laidlaw trilogy makes up a small percent of his output) then I think that may help in understanding why he was more interested in telling rather than showing. His prose is what used to be called “vigorous” and that almost physical quality to it (I’d sorta like to say “virile” but I guess that’s passé) drags the reader along and I never found the shift between the “doing” and the “saying” jarring or otherwise disruptive.

Laidlaw’s acute self-knowledge (should have mentioned him in reply to a recent post you had on this subject) is almost painful for him at times and he feels things so intensely, so desperately. This intense emotion in a “hard man” is very striking and makes him such a fascinating character. Do you remember this self-assessment from “Laidlaw”: “He felt his nature anew as a wrack of paradox. He was potentially a violent man who hated violence, a believer in fidelity who was unfaithful, an active man who longed for understanding.” Man, how many other fictional detectives are that aware? And, because they _are_ hard, would admit it?

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I’m often drawn to read books by authors cited as influences on those authors I’ve enjoyed.

I may play the influence game in reverse, trying Rankin again to see what the big deal was and to see what he may have taken from McIlvanney. Aside from a feeling that the oil-rig section of Black and Blue was too long, my reaction to the Rankin I've read was less critical than somewhat puzzled. Not that the books were anything close too bad, but I could not get what made them so widespread a success and so admired. With McIlvanney as a touchstone, I may able to answer that question.

McIlvanney was important to me in the early days, because he was a proper, grown-up ‘literary’ writer who wrote crime fiction. And I thought: If it's OK for him, then it's OK for me.”

I'm glad to see Rankin called McIlvanney literary, even if her put the word in quote marks. The same word had occurred to me in connection with the breaks in Laidlaw when McIlvanney would suspend the action for a glimpse inside a character's a head or a bit of description not immediately related to the action.

The passage I quote in this post is a good example of Laidlaw’s acute self-knowledge, I think.

March 23, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I think “Black and Blue” is one of the three or four best Rebus novels (OK, so it was overambitious), so perhaps you are just not destined to like Rankin. But may I put up “Dead Souls” and/or “Set in Darkness” as a last-chance suggestion?

“I'm glad to see Rankin called McIlvanney literary, even if he put the word in quote marks.” Well, it might have been January Magazine that put it in quotes.

The main reason I initially went looking for “Laidlaw” was because Rankin said he was very influenced by McIlvanney’s exploration of what the investigation of crime does to the investigator. McIlvanney might have been among the very first crime fiction writers to do this, although it’s almost commonplace today.

You might be interested in a recently published book, “The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives,” ed. By Otto Penzler. OK, so we’re all gonna argue about the worthiness of the subtitle. But Rankin’s chapter on Rebus provides some useful insight into the development of the character and how Rankin felt he got it mostly wrong with the first book, “Knots & Crosses.”

“…I could not get what made [the Rebus novels] so widespread a success and so admired” -- I honestly couldn’t tell you why these are internationally successful. But for English-language readers I think the fact that the crimes, although some are gruesome, are, with the exception of the earliest novels, not graphically depicted. That can automatically bring in a wider readership and Rankin probably learned this lesson after the first few installments. Rebus, for all his faults—and he has many—is a likable character because of his basic decency, his humanity. This makes him appealing to readers. I don’t know if I could have read 18 novels about an essentially unlikeable protagonist; although I could read 3 or 4… Rebus develops and changes over time; it’s not a progressive evolution, or devolution. He tries to give up smoking and booze and fails; he tries to have successful relationships with women and fails. By the end of the series, he, like many fictional detectives has no life outside the police force and his only friends are other policemen and policewomen. Rankin was smart to discard an early male protégé (Brian Holmes, perhaps drawn from McIlvanney’s Brian Harkness?) and supplant it with a female one, Siobhan Clarke who becomes more and more like her mentor over time. Presto, a female protagonist for women readers (and men, too) to root for.

Edinburgh is as important a character in the novels as any of the human ones and this excavation of place and Rebus's trying to make sense of it are, I think, critical to the novels' popularity.

So you have crime that isn't cozy or grotesque, fully-developed and basically likable characters and a complex city for them to live in, and last but not least, good plotting. Rankin is adept at weaving several plot lines together. Yet the plotting never compromises Rankin's real interests--exploring character development, place, and contemporary Scottish society.

"The passage I quote in this post is a good example of Laidlaw’s acute self-knowledge, I think." Yes, it is. I didn't mean to suggest I wanted to swap my passage for yours. It's just that there are so many notable passages--as attested by my many marginal notes.

March 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think “Black and Blue” is one of the three or four best Rebus novels (OK, so it was overambitious), so perhaps you are just not destined to like Rankin. But may I put up “Dead Souls” and/or “Set in Darkness” as a last-chance suggestion?

I think we discussed Black and Blue briefly. I very much liked what I think Rankin was trying to do, which was to show that his characters inhabit a world that is more than just the plot’s central crime. I just didn’t think integrated the various strands all that well. Thanks for the recommendations. There is a good chance I will take them. Maybe I’ll make the Otto Penzler book part of my Rehabilitate Rankin project as well.

… McIlvanney’s exploration of what the investigation of crime does to the investigator. McIlvanney might have been among the very first crime fiction writers to do this, although it’s almost commonplace today.

I don’t think anyone does this as thoroughly and rigorously as McIlvanney does, though some, such as Ken Bruen in some of the Jack Taylor books, may be harsher on their own protagonists.

But for English-language readers I think the fact that the crimes, although some are gruesome, are, with the exception of the earliest novels, not graphically depicted. That can automatically bring in a wider readership and Rankin probably learned this lesson after the first few installments.

I remember a scene in one of the novels I read in which a character, ties to a chair and about to be tortured with tools, leaps out a window, chair and all, and impales himself on an iron fence. Pre-lesson Rankin, perhaps?

Rankin was smart to discard an early male protégé (Brian Holmes, perhaps drawn from McIlvanney’s Brian Harkness?) and supplant it with a female one, Siobhan Clarke who becomes more and more like her mentor over time. Presto, a female protagonist for women readers (and men, too) to root for.

It’s interesting to think about how Rankin sustained interest in the series. My man Bill James’ Harpur & Iles series ran out of steam for a while after James resolved two long-running themes.

Edinburgh is as important a character in the novels as any of the human ones …

Glasgow is a vivid presence in McIlvanney’s books, and I wonder if Maxim Jakuboski might consider that city for sequel to his Following the Detectives collection.

Rankin is adept at weaving several plot lines together.

You’ll see I disagree, at least with respect to Black and Blue But I defer to you in this matter; you’re a Rankin exper— I mean, you've read far more Rankin than I have. In fact, I consider that I have had a meeting of the minds when another reader and I recognize the same characteristic in a book even if we assess that characteristic differently.

March 23, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

It's actually kind of fun to compare Laidlaw's comments on Glasgow and Rebus's comments on Edinburgh. And the almost cross-town rivalry-like push-pull relationship between the two cities.

Ouch! I remember the novel about the tortured/impaled victim. Yep, definitely early Rebus. Ditto for the graphic depictions of serial murders in "Wolfman" (subsequently changed to the better "Tooth & Nail").

"I don’t think anyone does this as thoroughly and rigorously as McIlvanney does." I agree; it's so intense that I literally had to put both novels down periodically. I think this may be, at least in part, because McIlvanney is more interested in what his characters think and feel than in what they do.

"I consider that I have had a meeting of the minds when another reader and I recognize the same characteristic in a book even if we assess that characteristic differently." Absolutely, agreeing to disagree is fine. I'd just kinda like to find one wee morsel of a Rebus novel that might please your discriminating palate.

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of "Strange Loyalties" to see how the very "telling" McIlvanney handles the "showing" of a Laidlaw first person narrative.

And all this talk about McIlvanney/Rankin and Laidlaw/Rebus has made me think of a story element essential to both characters: a nice wee drop of malt. So I've popped over to the BevMo! website and added Laidlaw's favorite, Antiquary, (cool bottle), to my basket for in-store pickup.

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The friends I stayed with in Glasgow were a native, who offered that very funny remark that exemplified the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and an Englishwoman who has lived in the city for about twenty years, loves it to pieces, and is a marvelous chronicler of its humorous incidents.

The intensity of McIlvanney's descriptions probably is bound up with why the dialect worked for me. I'm telling you, I came out of those books feeling that I knew something about the city. The richness of incident and description likely account for why I read the two novels a bit more slowly than I usually read. Alas, I did find a misspelled word in The Papers of Tony Veitch, a proper noun, too, and one that would not have got by me had the publishers had the good sense to hire me to proofread the book. And, though the subject may be painful, you really ought to listen to Hamish Imlach singing "Cod Liver Oil and Orange Juice."

I'm not much of a one for spirits, but Antiquary is a marvelous name for a drink.

March 24, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, it took me about six months to read Black and Blue because every time I put it down I didn't want to pick it up again. My copy came in an omnibus volume and I read about forty pages into the next book before finally throwing my hat at it.

Taste is a very mysterious business. I caught up with Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose about ten years after it came out. That too left me mystified by its success.

March 24, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

I've read three of his novels, and I never quite saw what the fuss was about.

I've read Resurrection Men and Exit Music and couldn't see it either. Among the various contemporary Scottish crime writers I've read he's probably the one who made the least impression.

But for English-language readers I think the fact that the crimes, although some are gruesome, are, with the exception of the earliest novels, not graphically depicted. That can automatically bring in a wider readership and Rankin probably learned this lesson after the first few installments.

Which brings to my mind his rather controversial views about the "bloodthirsty" female ( and in particular, lesbian) crimewriters which gained him an amicable WTF from Val McDermid.
On the basis of my admittedly limited exposure I'd surely take McDermid or Denise Mina over him, bloodthirsty or not.


I understand he's a good chap, but he seems prone to foot-in-mouth disease.
Like when he said that science fiction is just aliens with fancy names in the same article in which he lamented that crime fiction is not taken seriously by the literary establishment.



Laidlaw’s acute self-knowledge (should have mentioned him in reply to a recent post you had on this subject) is almost painful for him at times and he feels things so intensely, so desperately.
...
I don’t think anyone does this as thoroughly and rigorously as McIlvanney does,


The frequent comparison is with Derek Raymond's factory novels, and I think it's an apt one.

About McIlvanney and "literary" I'm afraid Mr.Rankin got it backwards - it's not that he did write the Laidlaw novels for money - he stopped writing them exactly because he didn't want to write them for the money "The publishers told me if I could do one a year, I'd be a millionaire. Maybe I should have. But I had a dread of the assembly line, of becoming product."

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, it has been a few years since I read Rankin, and my impression of him since has probably been colored by all the discussion that I've heard and read. This means that I don't have much to say about why he failed to grab my attention. On the other hand, I did read three of his novels.

If I pick him up again, intrigued by the McIlvanney connection, I may at least be able to say why he does or does not grab me. If I'm still not thrilled but can explain why, that will leave the elusive question of his (or anyone's) success, which I won't even try to explain. I'll leave that job to potted newspaper articles.

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, Rankin's foot-in-mouth disease is a curious by-product of his success, which transformed a writer into a spokesman. What a bloody waste of time such public pissing matches are, though "amicable WTF" ought to bring a sheepish smile to the faces of everyone who got all heated up and took sides in this matter.

The frequent comparison is with Derek Raymond's factory novels, and I think it's an apt one.

I invoked Ken Bruen, who I think has also paid tribute to Derek Raymond. Of course, Bruen has paid tribute to many authors, but in this case the tribute may be especially apt.

"The publishers told me if I could do one a year, I'd be a millionaire. Maybe I should have. But I had a dread of the assembly line, of becoming product."

Here's another statement of the kind I prefer to stay away from. I don't much care whether he wrote the Laidlaw novels for money or not; they're fine novels. I'd feel more comfortable if he had modified "product" in some way -- " ... becoming too much of a product, say. "Product" and "assembly line" are slightly too pat as put-downs. Anything offered by a commercial publisher is product, to some extent. But again, I don't care whether he wrote the books for base gain or to follow his muse. They're fine books.

March 24, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

I think what he meant was that he felt the "temptation in the desert" of diluting his "muse" purely for the sake of money .
He did write the third Laidlaw novel after 10 years or so - probably because he felt he again had something to say within the form of crime fiction.
If he had written a series of Laidlaw novels in those years he probably would have had to forsake real inspiration and motivation and substitute them with craft.
Authors who feel this way may still write fine novels, but rarely are pleased by them or hold them in high regard.
Moreover in many cases, like that of the recently departed Robert B. Parker, later novels in a series may still be an enjoyable reunion with old friends, but don't add much to the formula and qualitatively don't stack up very well with the best ones.

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

Adding on to what Marco has said, when I interviewed Liam last year, my impression from his comments was that William was pretty proud of the Laidlaw novels, and didn't see writing detective fiction as lesser or more commercial/mercenary. But the reason he didn't write more was simply that he was never a 'book a year' type writer (which many commercially successful crime writers become), and as Marco pointed out, didn't want to try to become one, just for the money.

It was nothing to do with the quality of the Laidlaw books vis a vis his literary fiction.

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

Oh, and adding to what Peter has said, I'm not such a massive Rankin fan myself. I like, but don't love, the books of his that I've read.

But he is influential and important in terms of the development of modern crime writing - and as Liam McIlvanney pointed out, it was people like Rankin who over the past twenty years and more were addressing important societal changes in British (particularly Scottish) society, when many 'literary' novelists were avoiding dealing with such issues.

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know how much McIlvanney has written, but the Laidlaw novels were far from his only creative outlet. This may have relieved him of pressure he might otherwise have felt to keep the series going.

I have read that McIlvanney wrote the third Laidlaw novel, Strange Loyalties, in first person -- a departure from the first two. He also calls it "the most disappointing book I've written," which does not mean that a reader should feel the same way. I'll still look for it.

... later novels in a series may still be an enjoyable reunion with old friends, but don't add much to the formula and qualitatively don't stack up very well with the best ones.

Yep.

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Craig, in the interview to which I linked in my previous comment, the interviewer calls William McIlvanney's The Kiln "in a sense a follow-up" to Strange Loyalties, though it's not a Laidlaw novel. That maybe a clue that mcIlvanney was up to something other than the continuing adventures of a series character even when he wrote a series.

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But he is influential and important in terms of the development of modern crime writing - and as Liam McIlvanney pointed out, it was people like Rankin who over the past twenty years and more were addressing important societal changes in British (particularly Scottish) society, when many 'literary' novelists were avoiding dealing with such issues.

This is where a bit of history is called for. One would have to ask what reaaders were reading at the beginning of Rankin's career, what sorts of crime novels were winning awards and attracting popular and critical attention and discussion. And then one can ask whether Rankin, or any other author who begins or exemplifies a trend, has held up.

In re Rankin's addressing matters that literary or mainstream novelists did not, John McFetridge said that he wasn't even thinking of writing a crime novel when he started his first book. Rather, he set out to write about Toronto. Perhaps William McIlvanney did something similar with Glasgow.

March 24, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

According to the interview, the disappointment originated from the the reception of the novel rather than the novel itself.
"I felt I'd arrived at a destination I'd been trying to get to for years with my writing, but nobody appeared to notice my arrival"

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

Good point Peter - perhaps I should have phrased it as Rankin is "seen as being influential and important".

I think I could argue either way on whether he is actually particularly influential or important (but then again, I was a lawyer - so that comes with the territory). It depends on what criteria you are using, and what you consider as important. :-)

Like Mankell with Swedish crime writing over the past couple of decades, Rankin could be seen as the modern-day flag-bearer that has in some way sparked a wider and growing interest in crime fiction from his country.

And like Mankell (with Wahloo and Sjowall, for example) there were of course very important crime writing others that came before Rankin, but he may have been the one to capture the wider public consciousness, and have readers, reviewers, and others looking more specifically at other writers from his country who followed.

Of course in the case of Sweden and Mankell, that has been taken to a whole other level with the Larsson juggernaut now. And even more people, from an even wider group, are paying attention to Swedish crime writing now.

March 24, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

If I ended up sounding like Ian Rankin’s flag bearer, that was not my intent at all. It’s just that I simply don’t think he’s as bad as some of the other commenters here think he is. Are the novels so memorable that you imagine picking them up and reading them again? With the exception of 1 or 2, no. But the ability to make many readers want to follow a character over the course of 20 years is no mean feat and I have to admit to a certain compulsion to keep going once I dive into a series. I maintain that Rebus is a character worth following. And I’ll defend the opinion of anyone else who anyone else who disagrees with me. As solo said, “taste is a very mysterious business.”Essentially a “series completist” (as described by Peter) I have felt a certain compulsion to keep going once I dive into a series. This has kept me plugging through Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, too. And they are all even less memorable than Rankin at his best.
And I am in agreement with Rankin on his comment on overly graphic, even sadomasochistic crime fiction as written by some women writers, including Denise Mina. Her stated goal is to produce even “darker” novels. As a reader I don’t want to go back there. If he’d had better sense not to use the L word, maybe we could have had a reasonable conversation on this topic. So because I don’t want to read any more Mina that naturally that makes me a wuss who’d rather read cozies, right? No. But for someone far more articulate than I am on this subject, see the article “Sexist violence sickens crime critic” at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/25/jessica-mann-crime-novels-anti-women

marco, Derek Raymond has come up frequently at the Rara-Avis group and he is now in my TBR stack. Re McIlvanney asying: "The publishers told me if I could do one a year, I'd be a millionaire. Maybe I should have. But I had a dread of the assembly line, of becoming product." Rankin calls the one-book-a-year the “velvet treadmill” and I will cut him some slack on submitting to this grind to churn out a Rebus (or whatever) “product”. He has a teenage son who requires round-the-clock care due to a severe physical disability. Rankin needs money to give this young man everything he needs. McIlvanney could “afford” to be glib in by when he says he chose not to grind out a book every year --he had an income from teaching.

March 24, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Since I accidentally "published" my previous comment before "previewing" it, some of my comments did not come out quite right and the below got left out entirely...

Peter, you said "I'm not much of a one for spirits." But you like gin, n'est-ce pas?

March 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

According to the interview, the disappointment originated from the the reception of the novel rather than the novel itself.
"I felt I'd arrived at a destination I'd been trying to get to for years with my writing, but nobody appeared to notice my arrival"


Marco, it's discouraging to read such a comment, though more so for McIlvanney than for me. I liked "The Papers ... " better than "Laidlaw," so I'm looking forwar especially eagerly to the third book and sorry that he has written no more than three in the series. I may investigate his work beyond the Laidlaw novels.

I'm guessing you read them in English. McIlvanney's Scottish dialect would challenge any translator, as would the contrast between dialect and standard English.

V-word: whoop

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Craig, Swedish crime writers acknowledge lines of influence. Mankell pays tribute to Sjowall and Wahloo, just as authors like Hakan Nesser pay tribute to Mankell. Perhaps because the British crime writing tradition is older than the Swedish one, Scottish authors feel less of a debt to their immediate predecessors.

It's good that readers pay attention to Swedish crime writing (and Norwegian and Icelandic), though the search for explanations for the sudden interest yields up some tedious guesses. So few people suggest that Nordic crime writing's popularity is due to good Nordic crime writers. The sensible Uriah Robinson of the Crime Scraps blog proposed just that explanation. But then, he's a humble blogger, unconstrained to offer high-flown sociological and economic reasons.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If I ended up sounding like Ian Rankin’s flag bearer, that was not my intent at all.

There's no shame in being his flag-bearer. He's one of the most popular and acclaimed crime writers of the last twenty years. No one here would be thinking, "Hmm, is Rankin really that great?" unless even more readers already thought he was. Success like his will attract greater critical scrutiny. I'll seriously consider your contention that you are no Chandler expert. I'm less likely to let you avoid being called a Rankin flag bearer.

Who was it who said that the only sensible reason to write was for money? And I have seen noble defense of the series character, that a crime fiction series is akin to a decades-epic. And who the heck says that monetary motives and artistic success are mutually exclusive?

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gin? Me? You must be confused because I kept talking about Jimi Hendrix and Vicki Hendricks.

On the other hand, gin is probably the only spirit a bottle of which has illustrated a post on this blog.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Philip said...

Peter, I remember well Norman making that observation, and thanking him in abstentia for doing so. It is no mystery to me: with only a very few exceptions, the Scandinavian crime novelists write singularly well-contructed and well-written/translated works with striking characters, sound plots -- often dealing with serious societal issues, but rarely lapsing into a sermon -- a transporting sense of place and atomosphere...actually, the very things I said in a comment somewhere and some time ago make up the collective sine qua non of what I think are the best crime novels. The only puzzle is how it is that of twenty of so Scandinavian crime writers I've read, only three, as I recall, did not get added to the list of authors I ask my library to alert me to should their books be purchased. The quality is remarkably and consistently good overall. There are not nearly so many available in translation, so the comparison is a weak one, but nevertheless I observe that the same is true of crime writers in other parts of Europe. I've been very happy with almost all the Italians I've read, and so too Spanish, French, German, Dutch...And I can't say the same of British crime writers these days, too many of whom, much-lauded and high-selling, I don't think come anywhere near these standards -- I think they're sloppy and chock full of cliches. On the American, I shan't comment, for it's a school much marked by sub-genre I read relatively infrequently. But Norman's wise comment reminded me again of how little attention is paid to these attibutes of crime novels in reviews these days -- I don't care whether msm or blog -- whence comes this puzzlement which is no puzzle at all to some of us. No critical paradigm, and there isn't one, means no sense of what to look for in a book.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

It’s just that I simply don’t think he’s as bad as some of the other commenters here think he is.

I didn't say he was bad. I'm saying what I read didn't do much for me, especially after the hype.

I have felt a certain compulsion to keep going once I dive into a series

I understand this feeling and I sometimes share it, but even thinking about some of my favorite authors, while I enjoy reading about recurring familiar characters I often find the non-series novels sharper, more focused and overall more successful.

And I am in agreement with Rankin on his comment on overly graphic, even sadomasochistic crime fiction

This doesn't bode well for your enjoyment of Derek Raymond (though enjoyment wouldn't probably be the right word in any case)


that makes me a wuss who’d rather read cozies, right

They are perfectly decent human beings too, you know? Cat detective lovers and all ;)

Derek Raymond has come up frequently at the Rara-Avis group and he is now in my TBR stack.

I think there are strong affinities in their approach and in some situations, but in Raymond the sense of hopelessness is unrelenting.
And the murders are among the most gruesome you'll find.

And I have seen noble defense of the series character, that a crime fiction series is akin to a decades-epic.


I think there's a clear difference between series which follow a plan and series that go on indefinitely. S/W 10 novels cycle can rightly be called an epic, others, however good the single installments are, do not feel like a cohesive unit, even when characters evolve in "real" time. My favorite modern epic, Sandman, ended at the height of its success, causing withdrawal symptoms across the globe, but with the realization that every single comic had its place in the larger tapestry, and that the series had achieved closure.

And who the heck says that monetary motives and artistic success are mutually exclusive?

Noone says they are, but feeling forced to write about something you have not much to say anymore rarely brings out the best in a writer.

I'm guessing you read them in English. McIlvanney's Scottish dialect would challenge any translator, as would the contrast between dialect and standard English.

I've found Laidlaw in an English bookshop and then discovered McIlvanney had been comprehensively translated in recent years by a nice little independent publisher and bought the others in Italian. It's true that the dialect doesn't really survive the transition, but the translation is good.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

On the subject of series, the only one of any great length that has captured me is the Aubrey/Maturin series of books by Patrick O'Brian.

Not crime fiction, alas, unless the occasional espionage element lets it in by the back door.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I may just have a bit more sympathy (or scorn; I'm not sure which) for the wretches who write reviews. I imagine there is some pressure, whether self-imposed or otherwise, to look for Unified Theories when a subject such as Scandinavian crime fiction comes up, and the grand explanation just might not exist. One might just as well propose high literacy rates or long winter nights that leave plenty of time for hatching plots or revising manuscripts.

With respect to the quality of translated crime fiction vs. that of British and American, perhaps the worst crime fiction from elsewhere never gets translated.As you suggest, the size and relative quality of the sample make comparisons problematic. In addition, crime writing is relatively newer and probably less pervasive outside its traditional countries. This might make authors from those countries less prone to turn to crime fiction as a matter of course. And this, in turn, could mean that the ones who do turn to crime fiction do so only when they have something to say.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I haven't read those, but the adventure elements and the protagonist/sidekick motif would help make them accessible to crime-fiction readers, I imagine.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

... especially after the hype.

The hype's the thing. Amid Stieg Larsson's massive success, one would invitably read occasional vitriolic backlash. Only rarely would one read a measured assessment that ascribed some of the quirks and flaws to first-novel jitters or, as in my case, to his background as a reporter.

And I am in agreement with Rankin on his comment on overly graphic, even sadomasochistic crime fiction

This doesn't bode well for your enjoyment of Derek Raymond (though enjoyment wouldn't probably be the right word in any case)

I haven't read much by authors at the center of the torture-porn debate. I think Allan Guthrie's name has come up, but I don't know whether as a central or just a peripheral figure. In any case, to call his writing torture porn is to miss the point. Marco, you might also add him to your list of Scottish crime writers.

I think there's a clear difference between series which follow a plan and series that go on indefinitely. S/W 10 novels cycle can rightly be called an epic, others, however good the single installments are, do not feel like a cohesive unit, even when characters evolve in "real" time.

Then there are chronicle- or epic-like cycles within a series, such as books secen through 16 in Bill James' Harpur & Iles series.

... and then discovered McIlvanney had been comprehensively translated in recent years by a nice little independent publisher and bought the others in Italian. It's true that the dialect doesn't really survive the transition, but the translation is good.

I wonder if Stephen Sartarelli has any counterparts on the English-to-Italian side.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

marco, re your comment “This doesn't bode well for your enjoyment of Derek Raymond (though enjoyment wouldn't probably be the right word in any case).” Well, if that turns out to be the case I won’t read more than one; but I’m interested to try at least one of the Factory novels. And a novel’s tone of “unrelenting hopelessness” is ok. I read mountains of those novels in the 1960s-70s.

Having been a bit involved with behind-the-camera film production a decade ago I found myself both fascinated and appalled by the lavish attention paid to onscreen violence and how “making it real” took up so much time and labor—sometimes far more time and attention than spoken performances, set design, etc. The image of an author, screenplay writer, and then film director of an action pic (to be distinguished from, say, a realistic film about war) setting about to make torture, wounds, loss of limbs, and other associated horrors as graphic and explicit as possible is repellent to me. No amount of fine writing, plotting, character development, etc. can overcome it because by then I’ve been taken out of the story—both _told_ and _shown_ something that my own imagination could have conjured up without visual/textual explicitness. I suspect this response may be due in part to my age as well as my sex; if I were in my 20s-early 40s I would probably be more desensitized to this element that pervades popular culture today.

Peter, what do you mean by “to call his [Allan Guthrie’s] writing torture porn is to miss the point.” He’s in my TBR stack and I’m curious.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, Guthrie's novel Hard Man includes a scene in which a protagonist is imprisoned in a room with a man who has been crucified and is still alive. Guthrie describes in graphic manner their struggle to escape.

But the scene, while it may be painful to read, is akin to a movie escape scene that is liable to leave an audience alternately holding its breath and cheering. The crucified guy, though he obviously can't do too much, manages to exert heroic effort.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth, I'm not sure I'd buy into the idea that people can be desensitized to violence. Tom and Gerry cartoons contain extreme violence but in that context it doesn't feel like violence at all. The violence in most mainstream Hollywood movies is of a similiar cartoon-like nature.

Watching Hollywood movies won't prepare anyone for real violence or make it more acceptable to them when they witness it.

I don't know if you've seen the Nicholas Ray movie The Savage Innocents but the opening scene
which shows an attack on a polar bear makes uncomfortable viewing for anyone, whatever their age or sex.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, I discussed this topic with my massage therapist today. She is the mother of 3 boys from late teens-late 20s, so you might think she’d be immune to their tastes in films, books, and video games but she says she is appalled by the casualness with which they not only accept but seek out (“But Mom, we love that over-the-top stuff”) what to her (and I imagine to me) is gratuitously vicious and repugnant.

Any film that graphically, explicitly, depicts animal (or child) brutality, torture, killing, etc., in the name of “art” such as a film that “shows an attack on a polar bear,” (or the axing of a buffalo in “Apocalypse Now”) is the most contemptible form of “entertainment” I can think of. And this includes the trip-wiring of horses, no longer allowed in US films but still permitted in many countries. What torments and humiliations adults want to submit themselves to is their own business but a child or an animal has no choice, cannot make a critical decision. The people who make such films are, to bring this back to the Scottish subject of this post, toerags.

Peter, based on your description of Guthrie's novel "Hard Man," I think I might be able to get through that. And just to show that I’m not really a Carrie Nation-type (who most assuredly did not speak for me when she said: “Men are nicotine-soaked, beer-besmirched, whiskey-greased, red-eyed devils”), that when it comes to hard men and violence I agree with the immortal words of Mae West: “A hard man is good to find.”

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I think there is no doubt we can be desensitized to depictions of violence. The question is whether extreme or gratuitous violence desenitizes us to the real thing. You might be interested my post on Reed Farrel Coleman's Soul Patch a few weeks ago.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth, no doubt your 'massage therapist' is right but the term 'over-the-top stuff' is suspiciously vague.

The Ray movie I referenced concerned human beings whose continued existence depended on slaughtering animals such as seals and polar bears. Not pretty to watch but truthful and truth has its place in 'entertainment.'

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, you're a two-fisted drinker and a hell of a woman, and I will defend your honor in the face of anyone who insists otherwise.

Guthrie had this to say about violence:

"I believe that writing's about creating sensory experiences. If a character's eating a hamburger, I want the reader to taste it. So if a character's in pain, I want the reader to feel it. Violence in my books always hurts. And it always has a lasting effect. None of this getting knocked unconscious and waking up two minutes later with a little bump that's completely forgotten about ten seconds later. That annoys me almost as much as gratuitous scenery. I also try to write from the point of view of the victim where possible. But even my aggressor's get hurt. Hit somebody with your bare fist and you're liable to break a finger. In my books, anyway."

So his violence has its consequences (though he's not averse to very dark humor at violent moments). There's something highly moral in an old-fashioned way about that, I think.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth, this life and death stuff is all very well but I was really hoping to get your expert opinion on what was going to win the World Cup at Meydan on Saturday. Admittedly, my way of going about that has been rather clumsy. I think there's a good French phrase for that beginning with plus but I forget the rest of it.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, mea culpa. It was “suspiciously vague” because I neglected to name the two films she mentioned, “Final Destination 3” and “The Saw (I forget which number).” Perhaps this tripe is to the whippersnappers of today what Wile E. Coyote vs. The Roadrunner was to my generation?


OK, so that stuff’s drivel. What about “over the top” violence in some of the films by such an intelligent (and knowledgeable film historian) like Martin Scorsese (ex. the brutalization of Sharon Stone in “Casino”)? Some of his work has left me completely nonplussed.


Of course there are people whose subsistence depends on their killing animals for food. I even know a duck hunter or two. That’s not the issue. The issue is the filming of an ethnographic practice (killing of animal X by indigenous person Y) for the “entertainment” of sophisticated (?) urban filmgoers.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

The issue is the filming of an ethnographic practice (killing of animal X by indigenous person Y) for the “entertainment” of sophisticated (?) urban filmgoers.

I'm an indigenous person, Elisabeth, not a sophisticated urban one, or at least I like to think I am.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, Ah! Now we're talking! But, please, don't refer to a horse as a "what." A horse is either a "he" or a "she". (This practice always disturbs me when I watch Aussie racing on TV.) I’ve still got a lot of research in the Form to do tonight but… Since I won $434 on a $20-to-win bet on the winner of last week's Florida Derby, I'm going to try to parlay that into more hard cash.

The WC is dicey. Mainly because we've got a surface most of the horses have never run on. And temps will be in the 80s -- not conditions under which most European horses are used to running. So I’m looking for US-based horses to make a good account of themselves, esp those like Richard’s Kid, The Usual Q.T., California Flag, etc. who have been running at Santa Anita.

Of course, the world’s greatest racehorse, Zenyatta, will not be there, but how about Gio Ponti (second to her in the BC Classic) in the WC Classic? Although I would love to see Red Desire win (in the place of Vodka who has been retired). Add Richard’s Kid and Crowded House.

Gayego in the Golden Shaheen?

Presious Passion is such a fun horse to watch. I’d love to see him win the Sheema Classic.

I'd probably throw out most of the S American and Australian horses (now watch me eat my words) because of the N vs S hemisphere issue. I would love to see some of the Japanese horses like the aforementioned Red Desire and Buena Vista run well.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was really hoping to get your expert opinion on what was going to win the World Cup at Meydan on Saturday.

Perhaps I can give over my present life and instead spend the year travelling the world talking about crime stories and horses. I could think of worse ways to live, but first I'd have to learn the origins of the terms "place" and "show."

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth, if Gayego doesn't win the Golden Shaheen I may be homeless by Saturday night. If it does win I'll take my chances with Gio Ponti (6/1 is very tempting), although the presence of that Japanese filly is giving me sleepless nights. The 10/1 about Dar Re Me is tempting but in the interests of having a shirt on my back I think I'll stick to just the two bets. Ice Box? 20/1? You're a braver woman than I am. I won't touch a 3yo until at least June.

Peter, don't pay any attention to this horse racing stuff. Just consider it a slightly deranged but ultimately harmless occupation like, say, watching baseball.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps this tripe is to the whippersnappers of today what Wile E. Coyote vs. The Roadrunner was to my generation?

I think it was a child in one of Jo Nesbo's books who didn't like watchnig the Roadrunner because he felt sorry for Wile E. Coyote.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, you don't need "to learn the origins of the terms 'place' and 'show.'" You just need to learn how to handicap horses so you can make informed decisions on whether to bet them to win, place, show, across the board, or any of the more exotic wagers.

"Place" is a bit tricky because any of the first three (or four) final positions is considered a "placing."

The thought of "giving over [your] present life" to wandering the world to talk about crime fiction and horses reminds me of an amusing exchange between daughter and father in "Meet Me in St. Louis":

Esther Smith: Papa, if losing a case depresses you so, why don't you quit practicing law and go into another line of business?

Mr. Alonzo Smith: That's a good idea. Starting tomorrow, I intend to play first base for the Baltimore Orioles.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, "homeless" on the possible loss of a 2-1 shot?! "won't touch a 3yo until at least June"?! C'mon, man up! Now is the bet time to bet a 3 yr old. This is the time past performance is secondary to the proof that "pedigree will out."

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, re "I will defend your honor in the face of anyone who insists otherwise" -- I hope I don't have to take you up on this but if solo bets on any of my tips and loses, I may have to...

And the "two-fisted" drinking may have as much to do with my tendinitis as my fondness for scotch... Yes, I thought "Antiquary" was a good name, and time frame-appropriate. Although it turned out to be a blended and not a single malt.

I, too, "felt sorry for Wile E. Coyote" but his indomitable spirit in the face of every defeat provided a source of encouragement for a kid.

Re Guthrie’s views on violence. “So if a character's in pain, I want the reader to feel it. Violence in my books always hurts. And it always has a lasting effect.” I couldn’t agree more, it’s just that I think it’s possible to describe this in a way that doesn’t make the reader gag. Read the last few pages of “Boulevard,” a recent book I mentioned a while back, to see what I mean.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm an indigenous person, Elisabeth, not a sophisticated urban one, or at least I like to think I am.

Time was when indigenous peoples, hewing to their ancient ways in the face of the incursion of modern life, didn't discuss racing odds over the Internet.

March 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Since I won $434 on a $20-to-win bet on the winner of last week's Florida Derby, I'm going to try to parlay that into more hard cash.

Elisabeth, I don't know if I'll bet my life's savings based on your handicapping, but I may read some more Peter Temple.

Another crime novel, Dominique Manotti's Dead Horsemeat (set in France, where horsemeat is not as shocking a proposition as it is here), includes a scene in which a horse farm is torched. The scene is harrowing, though not, I think, gratuitous. It might pose an ethical test for the sorts of questions that have arisen in this discussion.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, have you seen the 'The Lusty Men'(it's about rodeo riders in case you were wondering). Robert Mitchum gives a decent performance in it but that's not surprising. Nicholas Ray was good at coaxing performances from actors. In Party Girl he was able to make Robert Taylor look almost human.

These comments are designed to hopefully take the steam out of such sexist comments as 'Man up.'

I tell you, some of these women are ruthless once you let them off the leash.

March 25, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

A novel "in which a horse farm is torched" is harrowingly portrayed is quite different from the movie (should there be one) of this novel. Fire in a stable is esp awful because even when they are provided the opportunity to escape, horses have been known to run back into a burning barn. Why? Not because they are stupid but because they are prey animals and the barn is where they have learned to feel safe and protected. They don't understand that they are running back into a deathtrap.

The brutal, fatal beating of a racehorse forms the centerpiece of Andrea Camilleri's next-to-be-published-in-English Montalbano novel, La pista di sabbia/The Sandy Track.

There is a horsemeat supplier in Pordenone, the town in N Italy where the largest intl silent film festival is held each year. Would I eat horsemeat? No, but I don't condemn anyone who does. It's horses' inhumane treatment on the way to slaughter that I condemn.

March 26, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, "I may read some more Peter Temple," too. Some readers have commented on their enjoyment of his side narratives on horse racing and football. Well, I don't know squat about football but the horse racing elements in "Bad Debts" were very enjoyable, true to life. And since solo mentions my man Robert Mitchum on horseback in "The Lusty Men," I would also recommend Big Bad Bob as an Aussie sheepman in "The Sundowners" -- Peter Temple's stated goal of winning the Melbourne Cup with a 100-1 shot is related to a subplot in the latter half of this film.

March 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Just consider it a slightly deranged but ultimately harmless occupation like, say, watching baseball.

This is fascinating stuff, and no joke.

Solo, I have never been to the track, but I imagine sitting among the punters could enlarge my vocabulary the way sitting among Waterford supporters during the 2008 All-Ireland hurling final did.

March 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mr. Alonzo Smith: That's a good idea. Starting tomorrow, I intend to play first base for the Baltimore Orioles.

That's an excellent line and of historical interest, considering when the story is set and which of several Baltimore Orioles teams the script referred to.

As a practical matter, I'm putting nothing down on anyone to win, place, show, quinellas, exactas, daily doubles, percect numbers, lowest common denomnators, prime factors, slugging percentages or anything at all. One day, maybe, though.

March 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter, re "I will defend your honor in the face of anyone who insists otherwise" -- I hope I don't have to take you up on this but if solo bets on any of my tips and loses, I may have to...

If solo bets on your tips and loses, you're a femme fatale, and I'm just another farm boy in the big city and caught in the downward spiral.

I, too, "felt sorry for Wile E. Coyote" but his indomitable spirit in the face of every defeat provided a source of encouragement for a kid.

You might have noticed, then, that one of the big supermarket chains in Philadelphia is called Acme.

Re Guthrie’s views on violence. “So if a character's in pain, I want the reader to feel it. Violence in my books always hurts. And it always has a lasting effect.” I couldn’t agree more, it’s just that I think it’s possible to describe this in a way that doesn’t make the reader gag. Read the last few pages of “Boulevard,” a recent book I mentioned a while back, to see what I mean.

Guthrie might make a reader squirm, but not gag. I've found no salaciously described dismemberment or torture in any of the four books of his I've read.

March 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, my Nicholas Ray viewing is sadly deficient.

I tell you, some of these women are ruthless once you let them off the leash.

She might have stood for being called a femme fatale. If I were you about now, though, I'd be fearful of getting whacked in the head with an Antiquary bottle any second.

March 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A novel "in which a horse farm is torched" is harrowingly portrayed is quite different from the movie (should there be one) of this novel.

You read my mind on this.

The scene in Manotti's novel is one of chaos and a moving aftermath in which a weeping stable boy cradles a horse's head.

The brutal, fatal beating of a racehorse forms the centerpiece of Andrea Camilleri's next-to-be-published-in-English Montalbano novel, La pista di sabbia/The Sandy Track.

Does the crime upset Catarella especially? He becomes so attached to the dog in "Il senso di tatto" and so angry at the dog fighting.

March 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, Temple's side narratives on cabinetmaking are good as well. He said the interview to which I posted a link some time back that this and the horseracing were interests of his own that he incorporated into the book. He does this exceedingly well and unobtrusively, I think, a sign of his great skill.

Big, shambling Bob might just make a good Australian, come to think of it.

March 26, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, “If solo bets on [my] tips and loses, you're a femme fatale, and I'm just another farm boy in the big city and caught in the downward spiral” – wouldn’t this hold true if I used _solo’s_ money to make my (presumably losing) bets, then left him for broke (sucker!), and headed out of town with my new sugar daddy?

“I'd be fearful of getting whacked in the head with an Antiquary bottle any second.” – Ach! Are ye daft, man?! I might break the bottle! Reminds me of the old, old joke that goes: [insert stereotypical Scots surname] was staggering home with a [liter of Antiquary] in his back pocket when he slipped and fell heavily. Struggling to his feet, he felt something wet running down his leg. "Please, God," he implored, "let it be blood!"

"Does the crime upset Catarella especially?" -- I don't recall that it did. Montalbano found the dead horse on the beach in front of his house and I don't believe that Catarella ever saw the body. Catarella was much smitten by an equestrienne friend of Ingrid's, however. You know what a sucker he is for a pretty ragazza!

"Temple's side narratives on cabinetmaking are good as well." Yes, you're right; one can almost smell the wood and varnish. Very sexist I presume, but I like that the craft of cabinetry/woodworking is a kind of guy thing (like baking or needlepoint, etc. for a woman) that allows one to ponder the mysteries of the universe and even when one is no closer to the answers one at least has a chair, cake, or pillow cover to show for it.

March 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A femme can be fatale in any number of ways, yes.

“I'd be fearful of getting whacked in the head with an Antiquary bottle any second.” – Ach! Are ye daft, man?! I might break the bottle!

Ach, will ye nae gie me a moment o' peace? You empty the bottle first.

Reminds me of the old, old joke that goes: [insert stereotypical Scots surname]

Jamie MacPherson it was, staggering home of a night with his bottle o' cod liver oil and orange juice.

I like that the craft of cabinetry/woodworking is a kind of guy thing (like baking or needlepoint, etc. for a woman) that allows one to ponder the mysteries of the universe and even when one is no closer to the answers one at least has a chair, cake, or pillow cover to show for it.

Jack Irish says a time or two that the cabinetmaking pulled him from a funk, but he never dwells on this. The cabinetmaking is no mere therapy, in other words.

March 26, 2010  

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