Saturday, May 15, 2010

Grim laughs: A question on humor and crime fiction

It's early in The Killing of the Tinkers, Jack Taylor has just been beaten up, and his client/employer asks what happened:
"They surprise you?"

"They bloody amazed me."
Bruen's characters don't applaud their own wit or the author's. This makes the dialogue less stand-up yuk fest, more real conversation, and all the funnier and more poignant for it. Bruen adds a clever spin on slightly different meanings of surprise, so you know the man is a nimble wordsmith as well.

That's how Ken Bruen does it; what do you think about the touchy combination of humor and crime? When does it work? When doesn't it? What are your favorite examples?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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75 Comments:

Blogger Bernadette in Australia said...

Humour is such a subjective thing and my sense of humour is clearly not a mainstream one so I haven't found too many crime fiction books funny. I am at the moment though reading Hakan Nesser's THE MIND'S EYE and it really is damned funny - the detective is a sort of dour Swede but has a bit of an internal monologue going that has made me LOL multiple times (reminded me of Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' books). Other books that have made me laugh recently are Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg. More 'traditionally funny' would be Carl Hiassen's Skinny Dip which I did enjoy though not, apparently, enough to seek out any more of his books.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Roger Smith said...

Elmore Leonard effortlessly weaves humor into his books. Mainly through his superb dialogue, but the humor is situational too: what he does to his characters, and what he makes them do, is often damned funny.

I’ve recently read Daniel Woodrell for the first time (Tomato Red and The Death of Sweet Mister are being reissued by Busted Flush) and he has an amazing way with words, capturing the backwoods humor of his characters in their thoughts and their unique speech patterns.

In Tomato Red a young woman talks to Sammy, the loser hero, about her mother, who earns her living on her back:

“We don’t say mom, we say Bev.” There was a sharp bite to her sentence. “Bev’s a porcupine, Sammy. Know what that is?”
“I’ve heard this one, but I forgot.”
“If Bev had all the dicks that’ve been stuck in her stickin’ out of her, she’d look like a goddam porc-u-pine.”

Who could resist this?

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Sarcasm and cynicism are very entertaining for me in novels. "The Ax" by Donald Westlake comes to mind as having both.

As already mentioned, Leonard Elmore's dialogue is always entertaining.

I have not found any author who does it better, in so many different ways than Stephen King. A recent example is "Under the Dome". I cannot not even count the number of times I laughed out loud as I read that. He is in a league all his own.

May 15, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I've just been reading Dig That Crazy Grave (1961) by Richard S Prather and enjoyed his humour a lot:

The Eiverson house looked as if it was held up by the paint, and the paint itself was cracking and peeling. I got the same impression from Mrs Eiverson when she answered my knock.

There is a name, beat generation, which has been applied to a gang of unkempt and uncouth cats who strike blows at conformity by conforming absolutely, dressing and talking and thinking alike, and who are seldom much prettier than the crumbs in their beards. There should be a name, bat generation, for unkempt and uncouth and crumby old bats. Like Mrs Eiverson.

She peered past the door at me, hostile eyes squinting from a caked mass of powder and rouge and mascara. Mrs Eiverson looked about sixty, made up to look a hundred.

In the 70s Truman Capote wrote:

[A]s Kate McCloud has said, ‘A really good lay is worth a trip around the world — in more ways than one.’ And Kate McCloud, as we all know, has earned an opinion: Christ, if Kate had as many pricks sticking out of her as she’s had stuck in her, she’d look like a porcupine.

I guess that one's been around a while.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

Elmore Leonard effortlessly weaves humor into his books. Mainly through his superb dialogue, but the humor is situational too: what he does to his characters, and what he makes them do, is often damned funny.

Roger if you haven't already done so, check out Chester Himes, who, arguably, does it better.
I don't know was Leonard influenced by him, although, even if he was, they are both unique and vital crime writers for me.

I loved Carl Hiassen's 'Skin Tight' so much that I went out and bought an omnibus of his books, but, almost 20 years later, I still haven't read another of his novels.
So I guess I probably prefer my crime writing with at least a dark and menacing undertone

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bernadette in Australia has left a new comment on your post "Grim laughs: A question on humor and crime fiction...":

Humour is such a subjective thing and my sense of humour is clearly not a mainstream one ...


Bernadette, your comment did my heart good. I have long championed the proposition that Scandinavians are not dour and humorless, at least not their crime writers. I have not read Camilla Lackberg, but I have read Nesser and Yrsa and enjoyed the humor in both. I also wrote about humor in Nordic crime fiction for Mystery Readers Journal, if you or anyone else would like even more Scandinavian laughs.

I've started "Skinny Dip" a few times, but I can never get past the last line of the first chapter. I know the book is supposed to be a comic farce, and that humor must sometimes permeate even the most deadly situations, but I find it distracting and unbelievable that a woman thrown off a ship by her husband, plunging to what could be her death, would thing, "What an asshole." That's precisely the kind of preening, attention-calling that Ken Bruen avoids.

I do like comic caper, escape or adventure novels, though, notably Declan Burke's "The Big O" and Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels. I've also had some nice things to say recently about Geoff McGeachin and Donna Moore. And I remember Marvin the Paranoid Android fondly from the radio broadcasts of "Hitchhiker's Guide."

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Roger, I may be unable to resist that. I've long heard Woodrell praised; that bit may get me reading him. I may not have paid much attention, but I don't remember his being praised for his humor. Gritty, sympathetic portrayals of hard-scrabble down and outers, yes, but maybe reviewers think those qualities more elevated, serious and deserving of mention than is humor.

I haven't read much Elmore Leonard, but his deadpan humor is highly enjoyable. And, as with Bruen, the characters don't realize they're being funny.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I've read a bit of Prather, and I like the stories better than the novels. That first Elverson line is wonderful because it's so firmly in the P.I. tradition of laugh lines that work equally well as straight description. And Prather could write scenes of great hard-boiled tenderness, believe it or not, as in a story called "Dead Giveaway."

In re the porcupine line, that little bit of folk wisdom has been around, I guess, as folk wisdom will do.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

check out Chester Himes, who, arguably, does it better.

Yep, the Coffin Ed and Grave Digger stories have some dark deadpan humor, all right.

So I guess I probably prefer my crime writing with at least a dark and menacing undertone

Yep, that's Bruen, Allan Guthrie, a Declan Burke or an Adrian McKinty, too. Even Garbhan Downey, whose stories are comic with elements of farce, will never let the reader forget that dark matters lie behind the wisecracks and tallish tales.

Even Westlake's Dortmunder novels, especially the later ones, had undertones of quiet desperation and sympathy for the downtrodden.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean, even though I'm a Westlake fan, I've refrained from reading "The Ax." Let me put it this way: I work for a newspaper.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

'The Big O' is the Declan Burke novel I've just picked up today.
What I find interesting, though, is the almost incestuous nature of the cover blurbs on all of the Irish writers books.

That in itself isn't a good sign as it almost suggests a self-congratulatory cartel.

I've got a Bruen on the way, 'The Guards' so at the end of this splurge I'll have a better idea of the current state of Irish crime writing.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What I find interesting, though, is the almost incestuous nature of the cover blurbs on all of the Irish writers books. That in itself isn't a good sign as it almost suggests a self-congratulatory cartel.

I'm only recently acquainted with Irish crime writing, so I don't know much about its history. Perhaps the apparent incestuouness is simply the result of the scene's small size and its members' willingness to help one another. Most of my exposure to Irish crime writing came through Declan Burke, for example, or through people I met, read about or read through someone I'd met first through him. The Irish crime scene my be a small one, at least for now.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

"What I find interesting, though, is the almost incestuous nature of the cover blurbs on all of the Irish writers books. That in itself isn't a good sign as it almost suggests a self-congratulatory cartel"

I rarely even look at cover blurbs. My indoctrination to Irish crime, came by seeing Steven King's list of the 10 best novels he read in 2009. "The Ghosts of Belfast" and "Ravens" (not Irish crime, but good read) sounded most intriguing to me. On Amazon, TGOB, listed some novels I may like, so I dug in, This lead to Richard Marinick, and Adrian McKinty, The links / Comment section of Adrian's blog have lead me to Decal Burke, and I will keep at it, and keep reading. It is damn good writing, of damn good crime stories, and I do feel there is some sense of comraderie among them. I don't know if it holds through with the native Irish, but I know 100% percent that there is an almost an inbred pride among I.A's that is instilled in us from childhood. I'm not shocked at all, if the authors support each other's novels, in fact, I admire it.

May 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean, few crime novels of the last few years, Irish or otherwise, have not been blurbed by Ken Bruen. You might also want to consult Critical Mick Halpin's site for reviews of Irish crime fiction (and other varieties of fiction).

In re Ghosts of Belfast, I came to Stuart Neville through Declan Burke at the Sunday Irish Independent book festival in 2008. If Irish writers lead readers to other Irish writers, fair play to them. And it's not as if these authors are all boisterous jingoists, or anything. Several of them talk about Irish readers' traditional lack of appreciation for Irish crime writing, and a number of the ones I like openly express their debt to American hard-boiled crime writers.

May 16, 2010  
Anonymous Martian Momma said...

Hey guys, notice how all the girls disappeared after the comment about the porcupine?

Might want to put it in context - I’m assuming (because I’ve never read the books concerned) that the purpose of the dialogue was to show how crass and lowbrow the characters spouting it were.

My answers to Peter’s original question - Elmore Leonard definitely, and Lenny Bartulin since I just blogged on both of them. (See http://martianmomma.blogspot.com/2010/05/lenny-and-leonard.html for more.) Also Chandler, of course.

This from “A Deadly Business” (“Death By The Book” in the US):

“He made a mental note to sacrifice a small animal to the God of Afternoon Delight when he got home. Maybe Lois (his cat) could nab him something suitable out in the rear yard.”

Modern crime is a bit too grisly for my tastes. What attracts me to Leonard/Chandler/Bartulin is the dark humour and witty repartee.

The same thing weirdly enough which has in the past attracted me to “South Park”, “Fire Fly”, “Black Books” and even Shakespeare.

Hey, bet you never thought you’d hear “South Park” and Shakespeare mentioned in the same sentence. . .

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Michael Malone said...

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Robert B Parker so far (or did I miss it?)
I thought Hiasen's Lucky You was hilarious. Bateman is always good for a laugh and I giggled through Donna Moore's Old Dogs.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Bernadette in Australia said...

Peter thanks for the link to your article and I do so agree with you that the Nordic crime fighters are not all dour and frosty - I am always amazed that such linguistic based humour can come across in translation - must be hard to do. Thanks for the link to your article too, I shall look out for Liza Marklund now too. And isn't the best humour bitter or is that just me?

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

The Big O, Old Dogs, Deadfolk, The Windowlicker Maker. Cracking stories. Dead funny. You've either got it or you haven't.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Roger Smith said...

Chosen One: I have read Himes, but many years ago. Thanks for the reminder, I should refresh my memory.

Peter: Both the Woodrell's that I mention are gritty and superbly written, but also very funny.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

I'm not shocked at all, if the authors support each other's novels, in fact, I admire it.

Sean the point I was making with those blurbs is:
1). In some if not all cases they're the only blurbs quoted;
2). The 'prima facie' assumption is that its a case of 'you scratch my back,.....'
3). In My case not having read the work of the writers concerned I wouldn't know how much weight to attach to them

.....yadda, yadda, yadda

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Oh, this is a guest blog in connection with this subject. http://pdbrazill.blogspot.com/2010/05/guest-blogger-tatjana-kruse-hun-humour.html

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Janet Rudolph said...

Several years ago, I did a 10-week (10 book) session on humor in mystery fiction. Ultimately we decided everyone sees and understands humor in a different way. Since then we've discussed humor as it has surfaced in our readings.I think Carl Hiassen and Elmore Leonard are incredibly adept at infusing their books with humor. Not everyone in my bookgroup agrees.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

"What I find interesting, though, is the almost incestuous nature of the cover blurbs on all of the Irish writers books. That in itself isn't a good sign as it almost suggests a self-congratulatory cartel."

It's because they're all fucking brilliant, squire.

Cheers, Dec

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Nike Chillemi said...

I like humor in crime fiction. It can add to tension or give relief from tension, depending on author intent.

I like Robert Crais use of humor as he's crafted his wise cracking private detective hero Elvis Cole.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall look out for Liza Marklund now too. And isn't the best humour bitter or is that just me?

Bernadette:

And I, in turn, will look up Camilla lackberg. I had heard good things about her, and who would have expected humor in a book a) from Sweden and b) called "The Ice Princess"?

Much of the best humor is probably at least rueful, if not bitter. That sort of humor gers deeper at the heart of a character, I think. It averts what is to my mind the greatest danger od humor in any kind of writing: that of turning the tale into a stand-up comedy routine rather than a story.

If not bitterness, a comic crime story should have an edge. Paul Brazill's comment mentioned "Old Dogs" by Donna Moore. You'd probably call that book a cozy if you had to classify it, but its two old dears are a lot saltier than the type on which they are modeled, and the story's main villain is about as evil as villains get.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Big O, Old Dogs, Deadfolk, The Windowlicker Maker. Cracking stories. Dead funny. You've either got it or you haven't.

Paul, what should I know about The Windowlicker Maker?

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

It's because they're all fucking brilliant, squire.

Cheers, Dec

Dec, I hope to give my 'non-published Irish crime writer' verdict on the work of at least three of these writers, to wit D.Hughes, esq., D.Burke, esq., and K Bruen, esq., sometime in the near future.

Keep watching the skies!

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

I like Robert Crais use of humor as he's crafted his wise cracking private detective hero Elvis Cole
Nike, I loved Crais' 'LA Requiem', even though I got a sense of a strong Ellroy influence, if not Harris' 'Manhunter'.

Read any other of his books that you'd recommend?

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter: Both the Woodrell's that I mention are gritty and superbly written, but also very funny.

Thanks, Roger. Readers and critics and other authors rave about Woodrell, but I don't remember seeing his humor mentioned. Thanks.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Chosen One said...

Sean the point I was making with those blurbs is:
1). In some if not all cases they're the only blurbs quoted;
2). The 'prima facie' assumption is that its a case of 'you scratch my back,.....'
3). In My case not having read the work of the writers concerned I wouldn't know how much weight to attach to them

.....yadda, yadda, yadda


I've wondered -- occasionally but not often -- about the practice of blurbing. Do publishers update blurbs in successive printings, for example? If a hypothetical unknown Irish author emerges from the sheltering coccoon of mutually supportive Hibernian blurbsters, will a third, fourth and seventh printing replace some of the praise from fellow Irish authors with blurbs from critics and other more or less independent sources, or at least augment it?

May 16, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Might want to put it in context - I’m assuming (because I’ve never read the books concerned) that the purpose of the dialogue was to show how crass and lowbrow the characters spouting it were.

Bad assumption. Capote revelled in making vicious comments about people. 'Women are like rattlesnakes — the last thing that dies is the tail' is another of his quotes. But he didn't confine himself to being nasty about women. In his unfinished novel Answered Prayers he skewered his friends (soon to be ex-friends) using pseudonyms and, without pseudonyms, many famous people as well:

Cole Porter unzips a "stud wine steward." Salinger "must be a boy who cries very easily," both brilliant and "just silly." Jackie Kennedy is not so much a bona fide woman as "an artful female impersonator impersonating Mrs. Kennedy." The Kennedy men are "like dogs"--"they have to pee on every fire hydrant." Johnny Carson, "midnight TV clown/hero," is a "sadist" behind a "huckleberry grin." Faulkner is "Lolita-minded," Sartre "wall-eyed, pipe-sucking, pasty-hued," Koestler an "aggressive runt," Toklas a "mustachioed spider," Stein a "big-bellied show off."

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Martian Momma has left a new comment ...":

Hey guys, notice how all the girls disappeared after the comment about the porcupine?


What do women have against porcupines?

Might want to put it in context - I’m assuming (because I’ve never read the books concerned) that the purpose of the dialogue was to show how crass and lowbrow the characters spouting it were.

Crass and lowbrow, or eartht and gritty, I'd say.

Modern crime is a bit too grisly for my tastes. What attracts me to Leonard/Chandler/Bartulin is the dark humour and witty repartee.

Have you read Allan Guthrie?

Hey, bet you never thought you’d hear “South Park” and Shakespeare mentioned in the same sentence. . .

The first time I read the words "horse piss" was in Shakespeare, if I recall correctly, in "The Tempest."

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Janet Rudolph has left a new comment ...":

Several years ago, I did a 10-week (10 book) session on humor in mystery fiction. Ultimately we decided everyone sees and understands humor in a different way. Since then we've discussed humor as it has surfaced in our readings.I think Carl Hiassen and Elmore Leonard are incredibly adept at infusing their books with humor.


From what little I know of Hiaasen, he does more than just infuse his books with humor.

But yes, tastes differ. I have one friend who is troubled by humor in crime fiction. Murder and other serious crimes are not funny, she says. Yet she loves Raymond Chandler, whose wisecracks are justly celebrated (though his characters don't generally crack wise about the killings and other crimes).

Who else did you read in that 10-week session?

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's because they're all fucking brilliant, squire.

Cheers, Dec


A blurb I'd like to see, preferably on the front of the dust jacket above the title:

"Fucking brilliant!"
-- Declan Burke

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul D. Brazill has left ...

"Hun humour." That's a promising start. And here's that link in easy, one-click form.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

, If a hypothetical unknown Irish author emerges from the sheltering coccoon of mutually supportive Hibernian blurbsters, will a third, fourth and seventh printing replace some of the praise from fellow Irish authors with blurbs from critics and other more or less independent sources,
I suspect they probably would, Peter: I presume the blurbs are chosen as most likely to attract its target readership.

I think its only in the case of US published books though that I've seen upwards of 3 pages of review quotes,on the inner pages, ranging from 'New York Times' and the various prestigious publications to reviewers of various 'provincial market' publications.

I guess in those instances the 'Peoria Pamphlet's' reviewer would consider it an honour for a quote of his/hers to feature, even if only last on the list

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

A blurb I'd like to see, preferably on the front of the dust jacket above the title:

"Fucking brilliant!"
-- Declan Burke
,
...with accompanying promotional mug, t-shirt, baseball cap tie-ins, of course

May 16, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Much of the best humor is probably at least rueful, if not bitter. That sort of humor gers deeper at the heart of a character, I think. It averts what is to my mind the greatest danger of humor in any kind of writing: that of turning the tale into a stand-up comedy routine rather than a story.

I' m sure a lot of people share that taste, Peter, but I'd be much less demanding myself. Writing colourfully, humourous lines doesn't seem to be a very common gift. I'll settle for a stand-up comedy routine in a book as long as the other elements of the story are at least adequate. Prather's Dig That Crazy Grave is fairly routine storywise, but the comedy has a fair degree of zest in it.

For your moral edification, here a few more of his lines:

The Rand Brothers Mortuary was so beautiful it almost made you want to die.

[The mortician] was a long thin man with a long thin face and the morose, saintly, weak expression of a starving gazelle.

There was, however, enough girl in this one to make two girls.

She was a tall, firm, abundantly curvaceous lovely with pollen-gold hair and a shape to make corpses kick open caskets.

babes . . . crammed into corsets or squeezed into girdles . . . who walk with all the poetry of a packing case rolling downhill

The chorus girls came on . . . like buffaloes fleeing from the Indians.

A queer blend of anger and surprise and fright was on his face, like the expression of a man astonishlingly aware that he was simultaneously experiencing hemorrhages, heart attacks, and bowel movements.

Reading back over those lines I find that isolated and out of context they lose a certain amount of their humourous power. I suppose, as the saying goes, 'you had to be there.'

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nike Chillemi has left a new comment ...:

I like Robert Crais use of humor as he's crafted his wise cracking private detective hero Elvis Cole.


Welcome, and thanks for the comment.

The one Robert Crais novel I've read, Stalking the Angel, opens with Elvis Cole greeting a prospective client in his office, only he's standing on his head at the time. That's a clever and highly entertaining spin on a standard PI trope.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCO, non-Irish, non-published, even non-writers have weighed in favorably on a number of these Irish crime authors.

I did get an interesting example of the power of blurbs recently. A colleague of mine likes Ken Bruen and Allan Guthrie. I showed him a novel by John McFetridge that carried blurbs from both, and he said: "Ken Bruen and Allan Guthrie? Wow!" and he noted McFetridge's name.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

Peter, did I tell you I've since read Paul Cain's 'Fast One', and loved it.

But I was especially interested to read that he also wrote the screenplay for the Edgar Ulmer horror film, 'The Black Cat', which is a great favourite of mine, and, incidentally, bears little relation to the Poe story.

As for blurbs, they're definitely a big factor with me: both in cases of who is quoted, and who isn't

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael Malone has left a new comment ...

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Robert B Parker so far (or did I miss it?) ... I giggled through Donna Moore's Old Dogs.


I missed Robert B. Parker, too, if anyone mentioned him. Paul Brazill mentioned "Old Dogs," and I seconded the mention. That book is gigglable, all right, but it's not just a string of one-liners. It has sub-plots of some human interest, and her old dears play against type because they are a pair of old tarts.

Characters swearing may be nothing new, and adorable old dears are nothing new. But get the old dears swearing, make it part of their character, and you've got something new and different.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

solo has left a new comment ...

Cole Porter unzips a "stud wine steward." Salinger "must be a boy who cries very easily," both brilliant and "just silly." Jackie Kennedy is not so much a bona fide woman as "an artful female impersonator impersonating Mrs. Kennedy." The Kennedy men are "like dogs"--"they have to pee on every fire hydrant." Johnny Carson, "midnight TV clown/hero," is a "sadist" behind a "huckleberry grin." Faulkner is "Lolita-minded," Sartre "wall-eyed, pipe-sucking, pasty-hued," Koestler an "aggressive runt," Toklas a "mustachioed spider," Stein a "big-bellied show off."


Wow! Those go beyond deliciously bitchy to deeply incisive, the Kennedy comments especially. And some of them are pretty funny, too.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Chosen One has left a new comment ...:

"Fucking brilliant!"
-- Declan Burke ,
...with accompanying promotional mug, t-shirt, baseball cap tie-ins, of course


That's a fecking brilliant T-shirt, all right.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCO, I suspect that publishers may see sheer volume of praise as conferring a certain authority. I admit to reading through those praise pages to see what common themes emerge. And the Peoria Pamphlet might offer as entertaining or informative an excerpt as any other source.

It's interesting to learn that these litanies may be a U.S. phenomenon. I suspect they are restricted to mass-market paperbacls. I don't remember seeing them in the more expensive, larger trade paperback editions.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, the Thrilling Detective Web site has more great Prather lines. My favorites on that list is probably:

“...she'd just turned twenty one, but had obviously signaled for the turn a long time ago.”

but there are many worth contenders.

Christ Faust's novel Money Shot contains two lines very much in the Shell Scott spirit. No surprise there, since she dedicated the book to him and is a huge fan:

"Now that I could see where I was, I still had no idea where I was"

and

"I slowly pulled open the Civic's passenger-side door and put my bare feet on the grimy concrete, high on beautiful, full-color action movie fantasies of dishing out .44-caliber justice. That's when I realized I was naked."

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter, did I tell you I've since read Paul Cain's 'Fast One', and loved it.

Holds up astonishingly well for a crime novel from the early 1930s, doesn't it?

I knew that Paul Cain worked in Hollywood, which likely accounts for his sparse production of novels. Philadelphia's own Ed Pettit, the Philly Poe Guy, is commendably open and relaxed toward movies that take liberties with their source material. I should ask him about "The Black Cat."

May 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Van de Wetering's Grijpstra and de Gier series.

Mendoza's Tale of the Enchanted Crypt.

Laugh out loud funny stuff.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm a longtime fan of the Grijpstra and De Gier stories, and I've always enjoyed their deadpan philosophical humor as well as the fun Van de Wetering had with Grijpstra's grumpiness and De Gier's vanity.

I had not heard of Mendoza before this recent guest post here at Detectives Beyond Borders. Mentions of the book online include words and phrases such as "weirdness" and "Released from an asylum to help with a police enquiry, the quick–witted and foul–smelling narrator delves deep into the underworld of 1970s Barcelona ... Helped only by his ageing prostitute sister and the voluptuous nymphomaniac, Mercedes ..."

Sounds like fun.

May 16, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, one of the best ever interviews with a writer (Richard S. Prather) I've read can be found here
It's quite lengthy so it's only worth reading when you've got a significant chunk of leisure time at your disposal.

What a fascinating character! I find him immensely likable but there's a part of him that, to someone of my way of thinking, is utterly bonkers.

The first part of the interview concentrates on the nitty-gritty of writing and is very interesting. But the second part looks at his personal views on life and takes you on a wonderful trip to Weirdsville.

Here's a description of his reading material:

Beyond the stack of books here in the kitchen, at the far side of my breakfast table (leaving not quite enough room for breakfast), is another foot-high stack, this one of magazines. It’s the past year’s accumulation of three very different publications, each one of which is, (in my opinion) essential for understanding what’s really happening in our world, as opposed to what the multitude of media mind-controllers—like the human parrots who read the “news” and pollsters with their phony polls and wonderful “experts” like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Mickey Mouse—keep telling us is happening. These three voices of sanity in the asylum are:

The Townsend Letter/The Examiner of Alternative Medicine. Everything your allopathic drug-dealer/orthodox physician doesn’t want you to know. Contains FDA-unapproved information that might help you avoid dissection or euthanasia, and maybe even actually cure something.

Plus, magazine number two: Nexus. One-of-a-kind Australian publication presenting an “alternative” or unpopular view of practically everything. Including: CIA scams; suppressed cancer cures; State-sponsored “terrorism” and acts of terror committed by those States and blamed on unnamed terrorists; free-energy devices that might—if they weren’t suppressed and eliminated, which they invariably are, sometimes along with their inventors—end earth’s reliance on oil for energy; the “truth” about so-called diseases from acne to autism to Alzheimer’s plus sudden death/Sudden Infant Death Syndrome often caused by “immunizations” with vaccines, which are a poisonous chemical/bacterial soup that I personally call bugshit; UFOs and ETs; NDEs and OBEs; mind-control; HAARP, and…well, you get the idea.

Later on, you find his ideas on 9/11 have been determined by reading a book by David Icke!

He gave this interview when he was 85, but when you read it you realize that even at that age he was still sharp as a tack. So his views can't be put down to being old. It's just the way he thought, and he had obviously thought that way for a very long time. It reminded me somewhat of Arthur Conan Doyle and the way his mind gravitated towards similiarly potty ideas.

But what really surprised me is how attractively human someone with views like that can be. Indeed, even more attractively human than someone with views that I agree with

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just took a quick look at the interview. Who knows? Maybe he was a nut when he was young, too.

I can see where some of the vulnerability he must have felt as a youth may be responsible at least in part for the sympathetic side of Shell Scott in "Dead Giveaway."

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

Philadelphia's own Ed Pettit, the Philly Poe Guy, is commendably open and relaxed toward movies that take liberties with their source material. I should ask him about "The Black Cat."

I can't imagine anybody who has just bought
, After Dark, My Sweet by Jim Thompson), a Pocket Book edition of Dorothy Hughes' In a Lonely Place, an ordinary tpb of George Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle could not love Ulmer's 'The Black Cat', even if he's a huge Poe fan, - which I also am, having two separate hardback complete works, - and even if he's been known to resent some bastardisations of Poe.

I loved 'Fast One': wonderfully poetic, fatalistic, 'Gun Crazy'/Jean Gabin style ending.
But he could write, too: it wasn't just pared-to-the-bone 'Black Mask'

Its just a pity he didn't write more novels, and perhaps a novel that was written as a novel.
Can't wait to read those 'Black Mask' stories

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ed Pettit is commendably open and relaxed even about film adaptations of Shakespeare.

"Fast One" is decidedly more than stripped-down Black Mask. Its noir ending, and the buildup to that ending, would not have seemed out of place in a book written thirty years later.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

Its noir ending, and the buildup to that ending, would not have seemed out of place in a book written thirty years later.

I wonder would Paul Cain have seen, or been inspired by, those great French 'poetic realism' films of the early 30?

Fritz Lang's 'You Only Live Once' may have been a contemporary, also.

May 16, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Peter, THE WINDOWLICKER MAKER is a revenge story written by Danny Hogan & published by Pulp Press. Info here: http://www.pulppress.co.uk/

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCO, I haven't seen "You Only Live Once," I'm afraid. Some capsule descriptions I've just read make it clear why movies later called noir were known originally as melodramas. It sounds worth a look.

I know Fritz Lang's work in the U.S. through "The Big Heat." That's certainly enough to make me want to see more.

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Paul. That looks like a worthy little imprint.

May 17, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

I know we're talking about humour and crime fiction , but I just happened to watch an episode of 'The Rockford Files' last night and was reminded of a perfect example of how to blend drama and comedy in the crime genre.
Of course it helped to have such a superb actor as James Garner in the title role

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

James Garner has played Philip Marlowe, so he's allowed in this discussion.

I have always thought of Garner as moer on the light comic side. I should rent some old Rockford Files episodes and pay attention to he did on the dramatic end.

May 17, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

Peter, have you already forgotten that Scottish master of gentle and understated humor, Christopher Broomkyre?

+1 on James Garner and The Rockford Files

May 17, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

You're right about Garner: but even when he's found himself in a 'tight spot', he finds time for the quips.
And his timing is invariably perfect.
Apparently he fought with the network producers who tried to drop the comic element of the series

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter, have you already forgotten that Scottish master of gentle and understated humor, Christopher Broomkyre?

That coziest of cozy writers? Of course not.

Sure, he deserves an honorable place in any discussion of humor and crime fiction, though I tend to think of his novels less as crime with humor, or humor with crime, and more Brookmyre's own mad creation. I suppose Colin Bateman comes closest to Brookmyre among crime authors I know of, but he's not that close. Brookmyre is a madman.

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCO, it's interesting that Garner feuded with the producers over the comic element. The comic is inevitable what viewers remember and mention today.

May 17, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

it's interesting that Garner feuded with the producers over the comic element
Hes interviewed for the DVD box-set and its clear that despite his laidback screen persona, he was not somebody who got pushed around in his dealings with employers.


btw, speaking of humour, I immediately recognised the real-life inspiration for one of Declan Hughes' characters in 'Wrong Kind of Blood': he was a notorious Dublin City senior civic official with responsibility for planning and zoning: 'the sandwiches' was a dead giveaway

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's been a while since I read the book; I don't remember the sandwiches reference. But it's nice to know that not all the topical references are non-specific. What should I know about the sandwiches guy?

May 17, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

But it's nice to know that not all the topical references are non-specific. What should I know about the sandwiches guy
He was the 'king-maker' in the Dublin Corporation Planning Dept.

Google the name 'George Redmond'; perhaps you should include the words 'Irish' 'sandwiches', 'Tribunal', and 'offshore' in the same search to narrow things down

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll confer upon him a nickname borrowed from the late-night snack peddlers who were an institution at my university: Sandwich Man.

May 17, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

here's a link to a brief article on Redmond
http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-19780734_ITM

(From Irish Independent)

LIKE other celebrity villains, George Redmond doesn't measure up in the flesh to his media notoriety. The old man waiting in the dock for sentence could have been queueingfor his pension in a post office.

However, his infamy was only confirmed yesterday - he was already a celebrity two years ago when the 'George Redmond Sandwich' was on the menu in a cafe beside Dublin Castle when he was a star turn at the Flood Tribunal.

In court he looked a bit like Junior Soprano. And, like television's only celebrity criminal pensioner, he never admitted anything. There was no remorse and no apology. He gave nothing away but took at least

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What was in the sandwich?

May 17, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

I don't know.
And I don't know did George ever tell them.
He didn't seem to be too bothered by his 'skinflint' reputation.

He was also intercepted by police returning from The Isle of Man (an offshore banking location) carrying a suitcase stuffed with bank notes
(more than enough to set up his own chain of sandwich bars!!)

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I would imagine a skinflint reputation could come in handy at sentencing time for someone accused of financial wrongdoing. or maybe that sort of character-witness shite less prevalent there than here.

I know someone who lives on the Isle of Man. He appears mild-mannered, but that could be a ruse.

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Couldn't a court compel him to reveal what was between those slices of bread, or is the right to avoid self-incrimation, Fifth-Amendment style, an American thing?

May 17, 2010  
Blogger The Chosen One said...

Couldn't a court compel him to reveal what was between those slices of bread, or is the right to avoid self-incrimation, Fifth-Amendment style, an American thing?
It may well have done so, in camera , to protect his reputation.
I think I might have read a general description of what was contained in the sandwiches, but nothing to give the indication that they were in any way special.

I believe musician Rick Wakeman, and ex Formula One champion, Nigel Mansell, live on the Isle Of Man.
I know Rick is something of a beer cognoscenti; its possible he's a sandwich fan, also

May 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wakeman must be living a comfortable life off the proceeds of his ponderous music, drinking all the bwwe and eating all the sandwiches he wants to.

May 17, 2010  
Anonymous C. Martin Stepp said...

Douglas Adams did publish a couple of humorous detective novels. I read "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency." It somewhat inspired my recent series. "Walking Backwards" and "Two Thursdays" are published now.

-C. Martin Stepp

April 21, 2013  

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