Friday, June 04, 2010

Indian crime and proto-crime

(Eighteenth- or nineteenth-century painting from a classic Hindu proto-crime story.)

More good ancillary material from The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, this time from a Q&A with Rajesh Kumar:
"Some people don't think crime novels count as literature. My answer to them is that the first crime novel in this world is the Mahabharatham — which has every imaginable sort of intrigue — and the next is the Ramayanam. The great epics themselves depend on rape, molestation, abduction and murder for their plots. It makes me laugh when I am accused of spoiling society with my crime novels."
It is nice to see that an Indian crime writer faces the same moralistic scorn that some of his Western counterparts do. It's nice, too, to see two Hindu epics in the ranks of the world's great proto-crime stories (click link, then scroll down).

Kumar also laments India's poor performance in the country's favorite sport ("Our cricket team is too busy advertising soft drinks, having affairs with film actresses and abandoning their families. Where is the time for practice?") and offers a disarming answer to questioner who asks: "I am suffering from hair loss due to stress. Do you worry about such things?"

"Why should I worry," Kumar replies, "about you losing your hair?"

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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23 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

It's nice, too, to see two Hindu epics in the ranks of the world's great proto-crime stories.

My favorite proto-crime analysis is still your evaluation of David and Bathesheba as noir.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Some people don't think crime novels count as literature. My answer to them is that the first crime novel in this world is the Mahabharatham — which has every imaginable sort of intrigue
After finally reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' last Summer the way it should be read, -fast, and over a relatively short period of time, - I got to thinking that so many of the great crime writers of the 20th Century must have been influenced by Dostoevsky, more than any other 'classics' writer

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, I had the help of an able crime-scene illustrator on that one.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read "The Brothers Karamzov" years ago, I think in the manner you suggested -- over a relatively short period of time. I'd wager that Dostoevsky is the author most often cited as a precursor to or influence on crime novels. But the discussions usually cite "Crime and Punishment." R.N. Morris writes historical crime novels featuring "Crime and Punishment"'s Porphyry Petrovich as protagonist. ( He has written on "My Debt to Dostoevsky" here and here.) Stuart Kaminsky also borrowed the name for his own series set in Russia.

June 05, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Disgracefully off-topic, Peter, I confess but I'm in a state of pleasurably high dudgeon after reading a review of the 40th anniversary edition of The Friends of Eddie Coyle in the Boston Globe by Hallie Ephron. Ms. Ephron has written a number of mysteries and is related to various screenwriting Ephrons.

She says:

In his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,’’ Raymond Chandler credited Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon,’’ the other game-changing crime novel of the 20th century, with taking “murder out of the Venetian vase’’ and dropping it “in the alley.’’ But “Falcon” is about a man’s devotion to a friend. Coyle has no friends. And Higgins did just what Chandler says of Hammett, he “wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.’’

Higgins bristled when H.R.F. Keating, The Times of London crime-fiction critic, called him a crime writer. “I’m a novelist,’’ was the rebuff. He was influenced, he said, by the writings of O’Hara and Hemingway, not Chandler and Hammett. Regardless, “Friends” profoundly affected the genre. His legacy: the dialogue-driven novel


I'm not a great fan of Higgins writng, his literary snobbery is risible, and he neither invented or popularized the dialogue driven novel but how on earth could Ephron describe 'The Maltese Falcon' as being about a man's devotion to a friend? Presumably, the friend is Spade's partner Archer. But Spade is screwing Archer's wife and has Archer's name taken off the office door before Archer's body has even got cold.

Clearly, she has neither read the novel or even seen the movie, or else was ingesting some hallucinatory substance at the time. Somebody needs to hit her over the head with a blunt object, preferably a black bird.

OK, now I've got that off my chest I feel better.

June 05, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I'm an easy-going fellow at the best of times but after reading that Ephron piece I find that my hackles are being sorely tested once again. Maybe it's the weather. It's almost unseasonably hot here in Dublin. Maybe it's the drink. I'm not sure, but I've just being checking out Declan Burke's blog. And getting very irritated.

Declan qoutes a (Colin) Bateman article in The Guardian where Bateman says:

British authors like Robert Lewis, Charlie Williams, Malcolm Pryce, Chris Ewan, Declan Burke and Len Tyler are at the vanguard of a new wave of young writers kicking against the clichés and producing ambitious, challenging, genre-bending works

Declan's response to this description of his nationality is very restrained. He says:

Now, yours truly is a native-born and horny-handed son of the soil of Eireann, as some of you know and some of you even care. But I’m more than willing to overlook the fact that I’m now - according to Bateman, at least - a subject of Queen Elizabeth II, bless her cotton socks, on the basis that he reckons I’m (a) comic, (b) challenging, (c) loved and (d) young. Said last - young! - being by far the most important attribute, obviously

Perhaps, I'm just in a bad mood, perhaps I'm just cranky but what the f*ck does Bateman, a fellow who comes from a place where nationalist differences can lead to murder, mean by describing Declan Burke as British? Not to recognize a person's nationality is an insult to that person. Was Colin intending to insult Declan or was he just being thick?

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Peter,

As usual, interesting & educational stuff. Quick question, I know you have posted about and liked some Icelandic Crime writers. How about Swedish writer Steig Larsson? Read his name mentioned a few times lately. Have you read any of his novels,and do you recommend?

Re: Stephen King & baseball. At the end of "Nightmares & Dreamscapes, there is a true story of his son's Little League team & their journey through the playoffs. It is very good. He was already famous, but was just a Dad with a kid on the team.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I must have a high disgrace threshold; that's a most interesting comment. I haven't read the review in question, but it certainly does appear that Halle Ephron is striving mightily so say something new about an old classic to which she should really content herself with paying homage, as well as striving even more mightily to please a hometown crowd in Boston. Devotion to a friend? Devotion to doing one's job, maybe.

What defenders of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" may forget is that it was an early novel by a young writer, and thus prone to rough edges.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I'd say Bateman had a brain cramp, and the Guardian's copy-editing standards have lapsed as badly as those at American newspapers. One hopes Bateman is embarrassed by his stupid mistake.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, Bateman also wrote that "this year’s Crime Writers’ Association Dagger awards shortlist, which is not noticeably troubled by anything likely to put a smile on your face," according to the excerpt Declan quotes. That seems an odd assertion in a year when the International Dagger shortlist includes novels by Andrea Camilleri and Tonino Benacquista.

June 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Sean. I have read and posted about "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." It's certainly worth reading, but I do scratch my head a bit at the international phenomenon that it has become.

I have no reason to suspect the sincerity of Stephen King's allegiance to baseball and the Red Sox or his ability to write well about either or both.

June 06, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

My Irish eyes are burning at Bateman's error in not recognizing Declan Burke's nationality. It seems to me a bit of English snobbery about Ireland.

And agree that there is no way that Halle Ephron read "The Maltese Falcon" to have made it a story about friendship. In fact, it's rather a story about betrayals of friendships and relationships.

The Stieg Larsson phenomenon; that might be a good blog topic.
Everyone I know likes the books. My first impression is that they are extremely well-plotted, the characters are interesting, many conspiracies are exposed, as is Sweden as a peaceful country, there are social issues, action and more.

I was reading the books at the same time that I was reading Arnaldur Indridason, whom I think is a better writer in some ways, while Larsson's books are exciting and real page-turners, with deeper and deeper motives and conspiracies revealed with each page.

Many a friend has stayed up until the wee hours reading Larsson's books.

June 06, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, there's an old joke in one of Jim Thompson's books (Pop 1280, I think) where a characer says 'You should kick him in the balls' and the other character asks 'Won't that hurt?' and the first character says 'No, not if you wear a good pair of boots.' I think the next time Declan and Colin meet Declan should be wearing a good pair of boots.

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

Tamil literature is very fashionable at the moment.

There are many great links on the net and this might be of interest:

"http://www.shakthidaily.com/About_Us.html"

There's a link at the end of the page to a book about Indian writers.

If you search for "Pondicherry" and "thriller" you should discover hours of good reading.

It has gradually come to my attention that readers of crime novels must be the most argumentative bunch of gougers around.

Makes for great reading...

June 06, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'd wager that Dostoevsky is the author most often cited as a precursor to or influence on crime novels. But the discussions usually cite "Crime and Punishment."

I would certainly agree that C&P's plot and theme would be the single Dostoyevsky work that would most likely be the greatest influence on crime writers, but the breadth and complexity of 'Karamazov' would I believe be a richer source to mine.

And I'm not just talking specifically about the murder investigation and subsequent trial

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'll defend Colin Bateman to the point of accusing him of sloppiness rather than ignorance. I think he and Declan Burke know one another, and Declan has certainly written about Bateman's book's enough. Bateman probably wanted a short form for "writers from the British Isles and Ireland." There's a Welsh writer on his list, for example, so he had reason to scramble for a term to cover everyone. He just came up with the wrong term. And to keep matters straight about nationality, he's from Northern Ireland, not England.

Many people have stayed up late reading Larsson. When I say "I don't get it," I simply mean that I don't quite understand why these books are the ones that even non-crime-fiction readers read, why he is the writer whose death has spawned conspiracy theories and so on.

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, see my reply to Kathy. I would bet that Bateman knows Declan is Irish and just had a momentary slip. The ones who should be covering their privates when they see Declan coming are Guardian editors, for putting the piece in the hands of editors who obviously knew nothing about their subject.

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Tales. That link took me eventually to a massive directory of Indian writers that did not, as far as I could tell, include Rajesh Kumar. Perhaps crime writers don't get much respect. And now to search for Pondicherry thrillers ...

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, It's been many years since I read The Brothers Karamazov. Such parts as I do rememer don't immediately scream, "crime novel!"

June 06, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

To each his or her own about defining their nationality and whether or not they want to bring it up.

I know Welsh and Irish people who'd flip on this blunder.

It seems to me that many lives were lost over the self-defining and independence of Ireland, but, hey, that's just me.

Larsson--I can see why he's popular. His books are riveting page-turners, with social commentary, interesting characters, especially Lizbeth Salander, layers of conspiracies continually being uncovered (page after page), and that indescribable can't-put-it-downism.

I guess perhaps it's a cross between Sjowall/Wahloo and Harlan Coben. What do others think?

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, it's a blunder on Bateman's part, all right, but a blunder of carelessness rather than ignorance. It's the Guardian's editors who have committed the worse sin -- that of entrusting material published under the newspaper's name to the care of an editor ignorant of the subject, if the piece was edited at all.

I haven't read Harlan Coben, but I like your description. It makes Larsson's books sounds like socially concerned thrillers.

June 06, 2010  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I think that searches using the word film should give a more satisfactory set of links to Rajesh Kumar.


Tamil film is very linked to the writer's art.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

With respect to film, I mentioned that Surender Mohan Pathak's "The Sixty-Five Lakh Heist"has a character use "filmi" as an unflattering term for "garish, artificial."

June 07, 2010  

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