Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do hard-edged crime series get harder as they progress?

I've just read back-to-back Ken Bruen: The Killing of the Tinkers and Sanctuary, second and seventh of the Jack Taylor novels.

I don't have the books at hand, so I could be talking through my hat, but it seems to me The Killing of the Tinkers had a harder edge. Taylor often muses about people dying because he screwed up. Here we see an example of it. Perhaps this accounts for my impression.Check Spelling

Do harder-boiled crime series fall into any sort of pattern with respect to the grittiness of their stories? Do novels get harder-edged as a series progresses? Does the opposite happen, or does the answer vary from series to series?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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49 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I can't answer the question, but I do think the stakes are raised for crime writers as a whole as time goes by. Coming up with something new is hard and one of the tactics seems to be to make the crimes more grisly. Which is a shame, as I don't really read crime fiction to be shocked or scandalized by the violence of the deed. I just want to know who done it.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I didn't intend for this to bleed into my earlier post about open and closed texts, but it could, I suppose.

I just got the odd feeling reading Sanctuary that I was reading a relaxed tale, not usual for Bruen. I could be wrong, but I seem to remember Jack Taylor talking about and recalling violence more, and experiencing it in the narrative present less than in other novels.

Grisliness is said to be a tactic to shock readers, but I'm not sure I've ever read it that way. You read to find out who done it? I read crime fiction because ... because ... I don't know, maybe because I like plunging into the depths and then climbing back out.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, I want the puzzle solved in a satisfactory way. That's more or less the requisite foundation on which all the elaborations are built. The first Stieg Larsson did not do this, in my opinion. I recently saw the movie and found myself boggled by the opening device all over again. I am really hoping the second book does a better job on that aspect, as the first story as interesting as it was, felt built on sand in retrospect.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll buy the proposition that solving the puzsle may be essential as long as one allows for elaborations. In one of the novels under discussion here, the interest is less in the protagonist's solving the puzzle and more in what he does when he realizes that he may not have solved it quite the way he intended.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

In rethinking this, it's really that the puzzle aspect can't be solved in an unsatisfactory way because then you get pulled out of the story and the elaborations don't mean as much. It's kind of a first element.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's hard to discuss this issue without giving away endings. I have read crime novels whose resolutions are satisfactory, though those resolutions did not necessarily include a perp being brought to justice. A reader is left somewhat up in the air at the end of Jean-Patrick Manchette's novels, but that is their point, and Manchette was one of the greatest of crime writers.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm half-way through my first Bruen novel, 'The Guards' and I have a feeling it will be my last.
Having said that there's been a notable shift in style in the last 40 pages or so, - since he was 'committed', - so I'm not giving up on him in midstream.

(if the novel is at least in part autobiographical I owe it to a fellow schooldays Hardy Boy reader to persist)

May 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

btw, Peter, for TCO, read TCK!

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, I did not get far with "The Guards" when I picked it up quite some time ago. I have since read five of the Jack Taylor novels, of which I especially recommend "Priest" and "The Killing of the Tinkers." Now I may try "The Guards" again.

You might also look at Bruen's novels featuring Brant and Roberts for action of an almost unhinged pace and the funny, violent novels he wrote with Jason Starr for Hard Case Crime. And congratulations on the new moniker.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A response via Twitter to this post proposed a factor I would not have thought of:

"Re hb series. I think you might find the primary publisher makes a difference... "

May 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

And congratulations on the new moniker.

I've always liked the 'concept': I tend to use it, or variants of it, whenever I do 'Fantasy Football' competitions.
I tried to nab 'Kagemusha' but its already been taken.

But anyway 'The Celtic Kagemusha' sounds an apt moniker for an Irishman who's a huge fan of Japanese cinema.
Plus 'The Chosen One' was a more 'soccer-centric' moniker.

I'll keep those other Bruens in mind, but I suspect they'll be put on 'the long finger'

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of soccer, I like to think I was among the first, maybe the first, to call hurling "The Beautiful Game."

May 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

as a proud Tipperary man I'm naturally looking to our boys to dethrone The Cats this September.

I'm not the first to call it the greatest team game in the World
(and I'm a fan of American Football; indeed got to two games in Phillies' Veterans Stadium, back in '94

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Ray Banks' Cal Inness books got darker and darker but also better and better.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

The ongoing references to hurling are endearing, though it must be remembered that it is probably one of the most terrifying sports ever invented.

An English neighbour used refer to it as "hockey without any rules".

Your post on the hard-boiled nature of thrillers has got me thinking. I really don't like gritty realism and I think that P.D. James is an example of a writer who became increasingly forensic in her work, to the point that I could not persist in reading.

This may be of interest:
"http://moderntwist2.blogspot.com/2009/11/my-own-little-personal-zeitgeist.html"

Although I claim to have virtually stopped reading novels years ago, due to the graphic nature of so many disturbing lives contained in the contemporary zeitgeist, I have found many Australian writers who have, while not insisting on terrifying the reader, manage to be strong portrayers of a society that is, increasingly, alarming to many.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The ongoing references to hurling are endearing, though it must be remembered that it is probably one of the most terrifying sports ever invented.

An English neighbour used refer to it as "hockey without any rules".


And did Ken Bruen call it a cross between hockey and murder? I've remarked that the match I saw was not nearly as violent as I expected. I suspect much of the mayhem happens at lower levels of play. Someone pointed out to me that tenacious defense may be self-preservation on the defenders' part. Stick right on top of your man, and he's less likely to brain you with his hurley when swinging at the ball.

I really don't like gritty realism and I think that P.D. James is an example of a writer who became increasingly forensic in her work, to the point that I could not persist in reading.

Interesting you should invoke P.D. James as an example of gritty realism. Many readers would read that term as synonymous with graphic violence, with which I don't associate P.D. James. And I'll take a look at that link. Thanks.

Who are some of those Australian authors on your list? Any crime writers?

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I haven't read Ray Banks, but I hear his name often in tandem with Allan Guthrie's, and I like Guthrie. What do you recommend of Banks'?

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, you'd have seen the Phillies a few years before they got good, and right now they're pretty damned good and likely to stay that way a few more years.

I could not call hurling the world's greatest game off one match (though folks were calling it porribly that best match ever by possibly the sport's greatest-ever team), but it sure looked good from where I sat: speed, grace, precision. So the next time some Brazilian says, "O jugo bonito," I'll smirk and say, "You mean hurling, of course."

I'll look in on the hurling news in the fall to see how the Cats do in their bid for a fifth straight all-Ireland.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The ongoing references to hurling are endearing, though it must be remembered that it is probably one of the most terrifying sports ever invented.
Interestingly enough I think its only this year that the wearing of helmets has become compulsory: offhand I can't remember when they were introduced, probably over 30 years ago, but yet many of the top players felt secure enough not to want to wear them

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of the more feared penalties in ice hockey is high-sticking. Those whirling, whacking, dribbling hurleys create the potential for high-sticking mayhem on every play. I don't think I saw any player even come close to being hit in the head at the Kilkenny-Waterford final, though.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yet again Blogger fails to post a comment. In cast this one stays unposted, here it is:

The Celtic Kagemusha has left a new comment on your post "Do hard-edged crime series get harder as they prog...":

The ongoing references to hurling are endearing, though it must be remembered that it is probably one of the most terrifying sports ever invented.

Interestingly enough I think its only this year that the wearing of helmets has become compulsory: offhand I can't remember when they were introduced, probably over 30 years ago, but yet many of the top players felt secure enough not to want to wear them

May 19, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

To step back a moment from hurling, which, as you know, Peter, has quite a different connotation in the U.S., I don't mean that I need all the loose ends tied up or that the detective has to solve the crime even. It's just that you can't say, have a locked room sort of mystery and then have it turn out that it really wasn't a locked room at all. I'd give an example but it would be spoilerish and I don't want to do that.

May 19, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Peter, I'd start with Saturday's Child and do the whole Cal Innes Quartet which ends with Beast Of Burden.
http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/b/ray-banks/

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'd rather watch hurling in Ireland than in the U.S. any day. There are many synonyms for the U.S. version of hurling. "Hurling" is not the most attractive of them.

Re the substantive part of your comment, I wonder if American crime writers know how to construct a well-crafted puzzle or traditional mystery, or whether that art is lost in our country.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just finished 'The Guards', and although I'm not sure I'll ever warm to Ken Bruen's 'style', - but then he's in good company: two Ellroys were enough for me, - he went out with a bang,...and that's a big plus in my book.
Next time I might borrow from the library,....just to be on the safe side

May 20, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I don't think I saw any player even come close to being hit in the head at the Kilkenny-Waterford final, though.
the Kilkenny-Waterford final unfortunately was a 'non-event': 14 Waterford players gave up the ghost after 10 minutes or so, as did I.
But this Kilkenny team are the best team I've ever seen, so you were privileged to get to see them in action.

Ken Bruen's Galway have a decent team this year, with some kind of a 'wunderkind' Joe Canning leading their attack

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Paul. I was given books by Guthrie and Banks some time ago and just took off on the Guthrie. May be time to look again at the Banks, which did not grab me at the time for no reason I can recall.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

"Interesting you should invoke P.D. James as an example of gritty realism. Many readers would read that term as synonymous with graphic violence, with which I don't associate P.D. James. And I'll take a look at that link. Thanks.

Who are some of those Australian authors on your list? Any crime writers?"

Anything stronger than a flung cushion, à la Bertie Wooster is "violent" in my book.
The Jacobean aspects in PD James are very marked, and I found them more disturbing as I got older.

When I find a moment I'll write a post about Australian writers. Peter Temple is now considered to be an Aussie by adoption although he is from South Africa and you may know of "The White Earth" which is a mystery:

"http://www.readings.com.au/product/9781741141474/andrew-mcgahan-the-white-earth"

The Australian continent is very evocative and hides many secrets, as so many stories about lost children and people disappearing without trace reveal. I think the psyche is very influenced by the romanticism of the British Isles.

As for hurling being akin to murder, only when played by young girls, causing many black eyes (I speak from personal experience) could it be called so.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, you're a good man if you're patient enough to give authors a chance when they don't grab you. Ellroy and Bruen -- that's heady crime-fiction medicine.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

14 Waterford players gave up the ghost after 10 minutes or so, as did I.
...
Ken Bruen's Galway have a decent team this year, with some kind of a 'wunderkind' Joe Canning leading their attack


I had the game over after about nine minutes. After that, Waterford kept making these harmless passes away from the goal, grousing to the officials -- all the things a beaten team does. And I was sitting in the midst of a Waterford supporters section.

You mention Ken Bruen's Galway. Plenty of Irish crime writers allude to hurling as byword for violence, but I've come across no character who just likes the game.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Anything stronger than a flung cushion ... "

Now, there's a sentiment that could have been uttered in the Drones Club and perhaps was. I chatted earlier today with Ruth Dudley Edwards, a crime writer who worships Wodehouse.

The Jacobean aspects in PD James are very marked, and I found them more disturbing as I got older.

... Peter Temple is now considered to be an Aussie ...


Another crime-writing James -- Bill -- writes stories in which critics have seen "almost Jacobean savagery. You may know that I rate Peter Temple very highly. As for people disappearing without a trace, there are always Arnaldur Indridason Icelandic crime novels.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

you're a good man if you're patient enough to give authors a chance when they don't grab you. Ellroy and Bruen -- that's heady crime-fiction medicine.
in both instances the authors employ devices which I might say are the literary equivalents of 'scat singing', - or using words for their rhythmic qualities, which often deflected from the novel's theme or plot.
I think you need to be in the right mood for them when you're reading: as to what extent you tolerate of a group of drunken revellers when you're enjoying a quiet drink!

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or maybe like hearing a long, high-tension soprano-saxophone solo by John Coltrane when you'd rather be listening to Anita O'Day swinging lightly.

Scat singing is a beautiful analogy with the writing of those particular authors, though I suspect they might choose some more raucous style of jazz as an analog to their work. Ellroy has read his work with a jazz combo backing him.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Or maybe like hearing a long, high-tension soprano-saxophone solo by John Coltrane when you'd rather be listening to Anita O'Day swinging lightly.
I had to be careful when playing Coltrane's 'Mr PC' on my in-car stereo, even though its possibly my favourite track of his, - a veritable adrenaline rush of a toon!
particularly if 'The Guards' were out and about, with their speed guns!
I never did get to learn to play my saxophone which I bought because I wanted to play like John Coltrane: its still in its case!

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A memory test for myself: Is that from "Giant Steps"?

I was wiser. I only rented a saxophone because I wanted to play like John Coltrane.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yep, thats the one
The sax case blends in beautifully with the living room colour scheme, though ,and I haven't completely given up on taking lessons

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, the thing about becoming competent on a musical instrument, let alone breaking musical ground, is that you have to practice long and hard.

But I'd bet that saxophone cases and saxophones would make attractive pots for plants, so the effort is not a loss.

May 20, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

'The Sandwich Man'
"He was a tall man with a thin face stretched tight over high bones; his pale hair was side parted and fell lightly across his forehead, just as it must have done when he was eleven.
He sat across from me and began unwrapping a package of sand-wiches he had taken from a Tupperware box.
'Lunch-hour. I'd offer you one, but I've only sufficent for myself,' he said in a careful, peevish voice, biting into a thick wholemeal wedge filled with ham and egg mayonnaise. 'Prices have gone very dear these day. Better to make your own. Safer too.'
.......Kearney jammed a hunk of sandwich into his mouth. Egg spilled on to his chin as his eyes locked on to the brown enve¬lope once more, and sweat glistened on his brow........
Kearney snapped the lid shut on his Tupperware sandwich box, picked up his flask and brought them both back to his desk."


from pp157-161 of 'The Wrong Kind Of Blood'

May 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for that nice bit of history. Hughes must have enjoyed writing that passage, especially the part about the egg spilling onto Kearney's chin.

May 21, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Hughes must have enjoyed writing that passage, especially the part about the egg spilling onto Kearney's chin.
Yeah: its particularly funny the way he dragged it out over 5 pages: the sandwiches were clearly an important part of the character's personality.
and perhaps that was the recipe for the 'Gogarty Sandwich' which were on sale during Gogarty's trial

May 21, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

Fetch linked a Parnel Hall video "signing in the Waldenbooks". I found a few others. They're hilarious. Maybe Kill'em all is the one that deals more directly with your topic.

May 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, maybe Hughes changed, say, tuna salad to egg for fear of being sued for libel.

May 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Parnell Hall is one whacky guy.

Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana came up in this afternoon's panel about translated crime fiction. Barry Forshaw cited it as a swuperb Italian crime novel that had not done as well in English translation as it should have. Another panelist, Maxim Jakubowski, said a number of excellent Italian crime writers had yet to be translated in English, in part because of the place-specific, social-realist nature of their novels.

May 21, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just by chance I just happened to notice in the tv schedules for tonight:

Jack Taylor "Former policeman Jack Taylor investigates the disappearance of a woman's daughter, a task which leads him into the underworld of Galway City - and when an old friend dies in mysterious circumstances, he wonders if he can even trust the people closest to him. Feature-length drama based on The Guards, the first in the series of Jack Taylor novels written by Ken Bruen, starring Iain Glen, Ralph Brown and Tara Breathnach."

Unfortunately, not only because its a made-for-tv production, but because its on TV3, which defines 'low-rent', I'm not holding out any high hopes for it; cetainly I'm not expecting 'Wallander'-quality, but I will tape it, and intend to watch it.
.....and, after that, who knows??

August 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here are some trailers for the show. I haven't watched them, so no opinion yet here.

Perhaps the low-rent quality will mean some salutary grittiness.

August 02, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm more inclined to think 'lousy script and direction', and over-heated acting.
Iain Glen seems to have starred in a helluva lot of films and tv episodes that I haven't watched, or avoided, so that may just be a warning, of sorts!

August 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, now I'm curious to watch the episode, if I can do so.

August 02, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've decided to watch it as its being screened.
Then folley her up with last Saturday's (repeat) episode of a Wallander.

Doesn't look too bad, so far, to be fair
Iain Glen suitably weather, and life, beaten looking, as Jack
And looks like the Galway I know, albeit a 10 year old one, and one thats filmed in all the recognisable locations

August 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jack Taylor is probably a tough character to cast. He has to look young and old at the same time, or rather, he has to look like someone who looks older than he is.



I guess the Jack Taylor novels do mention Galway from time to time, but for me the series is far more dominated by Jack's messed up psyche than by a sense of place. Of course, I;ve never been to Galway, and a number of scenes come to mind that might his especially hard if viewers recognized the scenery.

And I think I'll copy your comment onto my most recent post, which announces the airing of the first "Guards" episode.

August 02, 2010  

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