Monday, June 07, 2010

What's so unfunny about crime fiction, and why?

Colin Bateman holds forth on the Guardian book blog about why crime writing lost its sense of humor. Apart from oddly including Ireland's Declan Burke on a list of British crime writers, he has much of interest to say.

Bateman, a longtime writer of comic crime novels himself, notes the sly humor of British Golden Age writers and the one-liners of their hard-boiled American counterparts. These degenerated into formula and parody, he says, and "crime fiction was forced to reinvent itself. ... Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs and Patricia Cornwell's Postmortem became super sellers 20 years ago – laughs were out, torture porn was in."

The way back out, he suggests, is humor. Robert Lewis, Charlie Williams, Malcolm Pryce, Chris Ewan, Len Tyler and the non-British Burke "are at the vanguard of a new wave of young writers kicking against the clichés and producing ambitious, challenging, genre-bending works."

Now, humor in crime fiction is a frequent topic here at Detectives Beyond Borders, but I'd never thought of the stuff as a wedge for the avant garde.

What do you think of Bateman's thesis, particularly that graphic violence forced humor out? Is humor really the future of crime fiction? And who else belongs on Bateman's list?
***
From Declan Burke: "I think Bateman is talking about books that are equally crime and comedy/humour, as opposed to crime novels with comic flourishes."

Again, what do you think?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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252 Comments:

Anonymous Janet O'Kane said...

I certainly think that humour has a place in crime writing, often to lighten the mood as an occasional relief from the gloomy events taking place. It doesn't have to be much.
Two writers who surely deserve a place on the list are Christopher Brookmyre and Stuart MacBride. Both Scotsmen (though to what extent that's relevant, you'll have to make your own judgement).

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment, and welcome.

”It doesn't have to be much.”

But it’s always much with Brookmyre. He’s a wild man, he doesn’t know the meaning of restraint, and that makes him great fun to read.

I’ve written about Brookmyre occasionally here at Detectives Beyond Borders, and I mentioned him in a reply to Colin Bateman on the Guardian’s books blog.

I haven’t read Stuart McBride yet, though he has been recommended to me. What should I read first?

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Rob Kitchin said...

I'm not convinced that comic crime capers ever disappeared or crime lost its sense of humour. All though the period he describes as 'torture porn' there have been a steady string of comic crime novels by the likes of Janet Evanovich, Carl Hiaasen, Joe Lansdale, Lauren Henderson, Elmore Leonard, Christopher Brookmyre, Liza Cody, Laurence Shames, Kate Munger, Jessica Speart, Tim Dorsey, James Hall, Donald Westlake, Shane Maloney, etc. For another UK name add Donna Moore.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think its more a case of the original pulp writers having worked within such narrow boundaries that 'fans with typewriters' had used and abused all the cliches and conventions of straight story-telling to such an extent that they had to look around for variants.
referring back to our 'Chinatown' discussion a couple of weeks back its more a case of 'the exception proves the rule' that a modern-day story can hit all the right buttons with the original genre conventions without coming across as too much homage/pastiche

I hadn't realised that humorous crime novels had become the norm, now, but inevitably, its boundaries will become stretched too thin and another variant will be created which will attract its share of lemmings.

btw, just finished Declan Burke's 'The Big O' last night and its a fine example of the sub-genre, although I think it might be closer to Carl Hiassen than Elmore Leonard
(I'd be very surprised if he hasn't read Hiassen's 'Skin Tight',though, as well as a bunch of Leonards)

It might also be the most satisfactory of the 4 recent Irish crime novels I've read

June 07, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

It seems unlikely that “humor [is] really the future of crime fiction” perhaps because, whether we readers agree or not, humor/comedy has never been taken quite as seriously as drama/tragedy in literary criticism. (I believe this contention and what is meant by “serious” has been thrashed around here before.) Aren’t even Shakespeare’s great comedies thought to be not quite as important as such plays as “Hamlet” and “King Lear”? The same is true of film criticism—only 5 or 6 comedies have ever won Best Picture Oscars. Yet most actors would say that delivering a successful comedic performance (perhaps not including slapstick) is a lot harder than delivering a successful dramatic one.

The drive for critical literary success may also be one of the factors behind the number of women who have moved into the hardboiled, noir, “torture porn” series of late. What “serious” critic is ever going to rave about a crime novel featuring a quilting, cat-loving, amateur lady detective with no on-page sex life—no matter how beautiful the prose, how masterful the plotting?

As with film writing and acting, creating convincing comedic fiction (in any genre) is probably harder to write than convincing dramatic fiction. Delivery, timing, etc. are even more critical in comedy. For example, although the wisecracks are what often first spring to mind when readers think of Raymond Chandler’s crime fiction, it should be remembered that Chandler planned and placed these very judiciously so as not to overwhelm the drama.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t tend to reach for crime fiction hoping to get a lot of laughs from it—murder, kidnapping, etc. aren’t inherently funny plot devices—so I’d probably count myself among readers who enjoy what Declan Burke calls “crime novels with comic flourishes” (add Allan Guthrie and Ken Bruen to that list) rather than “books that are equally crime and comedy/humour.”

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

I think Bateman and others (e.g. Mike Ripley of the Angel series) are probably talking not about whether some dark gruesome books have some humour (esp gallows humour or sly humour) - but a trend away (at least in attention/bestsellers etc) from out-and-out humour, perhaps bordering on capers and farce-type situations.

Any of the MacBride books are pretty good Peter, but my recommendation would be to start with COLD GRANITE, the first - it gives you good background on DS Logan McRae - after that it may not matter as much what order you read them in (other than keeping track of the chronology of events and minor characters etc)...

June 07, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elizabeth you may make great points about comedy and tragedy and by and large I couldn't agree more but in view of your comments
The drive for critical literary success may also be one of the factors behind the number of women who have moved into the hardboiled, noir, “torture porn” series of late.
I wonder can you or anybody else comment on something I've repeatedly observed at ringside of big boxing fights: when one fighter is going 'in for the kill', and battering his opponent into submission, - at least until the referee intercedes, - invariably there'll be a number of women at ringside jumping up and down, apparently with excitement, and apparently willing on the fighter to 'finish him off'.

Apart from a couple of Ellroys I've no great interest in reading any 'torture porn' novels, unless the torture is only incidental and not an end in itself.
And although I've never been at a pro fight, at any of the amateur boxing contests I've attended its more the 'noble art of pugilism' that would interest me, even if a k.o. is always a spectacular sight

June 07, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Well, Janet Evanovich springs to mind immediately as a huge success at crime with a lot of comedy. Sue Grafton uses some. Neither of them write cozies, but it's not really gritty urban stuff either. Well, actually Evanovich can get into some pretty gritty subjects, but the humor puts the 'horrors' at some distance.

June 07, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

TCK, re the phenomenon of “…women at ringside jumping up and down, apparently with excitement, and apparently willing on the fighter to 'finish him off'.” I’m sure what my father would call “the sosh-anth-psych crowd” has another view of this from an environment-is-king viewpoint but I think at its most elemental, instinctive base this is a manifestation of a woman’s subconscious but powerful biological urge to favor the most successful fighting male as a potential mate. On the theory that such a male is the one who can sire more successful offspring and, in the case of mammal species in which both males and females raise the young, be the most successful provider and defender of the female and their young.

I say this as a failed animal behaviorist (couldn’t hack the statistics and inorganic chemistry to get the advanced degree) whose particular studied mammals were African antelope and California sea lions. Boxers in the ring seem to me to be the stylized human counterparts of the male antelope who runs himself ragged trying to fight off interlopers while trying to mate with as many available females as he can or the “beachmaster” – a male sea lion or fur seal who virtually starves himself while battling other males for control of prime landing spots where females come ashore to give birth and mate again. We humans tend to be more self-conscious about our courtship rituals, pairing off, and mating activities, so these take place outside the ring…

Why some women take up the "art" of boxing I really haven't a clue (from biology). That seems an example of how we humans really are a different kind of mammal.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rob, I am tempted to suggest that Colin Bateman's apparent focus on British crime fiction caused him to neglect American and Australian authors (though ignoring Westlake would be pushing nationalism too far) and that an aversion to anything smacking remotely of chick lit might have knocked an Evanovich off his list. Donna Moore may be too new on the scene to have made an impression on Bateman, but none of this accounts for his omission of a Christopher Brookmyre.

Humorous crime writing may have dipped out of fashion a bit in the 1950s, but I'm not sure it ever really left. Perhaps it would be best to read Bateman's piece as a hope that comic crime fiction could be the next big thing, that a comic crime writer could be as successful as Patricia Cornwell or Thomas Harris.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elizabeth, I was largely thinking along similar lines on the 'women and boxing front': I don't know whether it means I've a strong feminine side, or you've a strong masculine side, or thats just our point of intersection! :)

June 07, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think Bateman is both right and wrong. Lets start with the wrong: he needs to read more Elmore Leonard, Carl H. and Donna Andrews (of "We'll Have Parrots" fame)for crime fiction full of big laughs. I have a feeling that CB is so busy actually writing novels that he doesn't get a chance to read a lot of new crime fiction. I also think he's wrong about some of the best sellers too, maybe I'm perverse in this but I find James Ellroy to be absolutely hilarious.

Lets go onto the right. Torture porn is a pretty vile genre that lacks irony and a sense of humour. Stieg Larsson is a good example of someone who wants to have his cake and eat it too, railing againt the torture and humiliation of women but filling his books with pages of the stuff. I dont doubt his sincerity but still I'm not a fan. Are there any jokes in Larsson? I havent found any, but Swedes do have a good sense of humour.

Larsson's and Patsy Cornwell's popularity leads me to the conclusion that the public has been conditioned to tolerate graphic acts of violence against women but humour jars them and makes them uncomfortable.

I find this to be a disturbing development but like all trends I'm sure it will come to a crashing halt when the next big thing comes along.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, humor may get more ciritcal respect in American crime writing than it gets in American movies. In addition to the dearth of Oscar-winning comedies, one has Woody Allen justifying the excruciating Interiors with the declaration that, after a career making comedies, he wanted a place at the adults' table (unless I am misremembering the quotation). With the possible exception of the 1950s, humor has always has something of a place in crime writing, at least in the U.S.

Shakespeare's tragedies get more respect than his comedies, but don't forget all the great bitter comedy of Hamlet, which makes that play a tragedy with comic flourishes.

That's an interesting thesis about women moving into the harder sides of crime fiction because they crave the respect quilting cat-lovers will never get. Perhaps the lure of forbidden territory is in play as well.

I don’t tend to reach for crime fiction hoping to get a lot of laughs from it—murder, kidnapping, etc. aren’t inherently funny plot devices—so I’d probably count myself among readers who enjoy what Declan Burke calls “crime novels with comic flourishes” (Add Allan Guthrie and Ken Bruen to that list) rather than “books that are equally crime and comedy/humour.”

And where does one draw the line between comic crime, and crime with comic flourishes? Damned if I know. Evanovich is one, Ken Bruen is the other, but there's lots between those poles.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has left a new comment ...

Well, Janet Evanovich springs to mind immediately as a huge success at crime with a lot of comedy. ... Well, actually Evanovich can get into some pretty gritty subjects, but the humor puts the 'horrors' at some distance.


I'd say Janet Evanovich's stuff is closer to romance than to cozy crime, and I probably noticed this even before I knew she had written romance. Interesting you should mention her gritty excursions. I read her first four Stephanie Plum books, and the one time she brought the horror in close, I recoiled. The horror seemed out of step with what I'd read before and, worse, calculated. She tried too hard to do something different. But the scenes in question were effectively chilling, and she could probably write horror if she wanted to. The woman has chops.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha ...

"I think its more a case of the original pulp writers having worked within such narrow boundaries that 'fans with typewriters' had used and abused all the cliches and conventions of straight story-telling to such an extent that they had to look around for variants.


Hmm, so when did crime writers get ambitious? The 1930s in America? Post-war in Europe? Whenever there was a bit more money around to pay them?

I hadn't realised that humorous crime novels had become the norm, now, but inevitably, its boundaries will become stretched too thin and another variant will be created which will attract its share of lemmings.

I'm not sure there's any kind of a norm, and I am as sure as hell that I've not read nearly enough to figure out if there is one. And if I did, I'd read a book the next week that would explode my old notions.

Reviewers often invoke Carl Hiaasen when discussing "The Big O." I was immediately put off by my first crack at Hiaasen but immediately captivated by Burke's book, so who knows? I haven't read much Elmore Leonard, but the invocation of his name in connection with Burke's makes sense.

June 07, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, I'd say that Declan Burke's "The Big O" -- a book I know you and The Celtic Kagemusha enjoyed very much and I did not -- falls under the heading of "comic crime" fiction. I found the relentless reaching for the next gag on the part of nearly every character (was there a "straight man" or "second banana" in that novel?) too much for my taste as this device seemed to make most of the characters indistinguishable from one another.

Your quote from Woody Allen wanting to "sit at the table with the grown-ups" prodded me to think that maybe one reason graphic violence (particularly that against women) and sex are standard issue in most critically acclaimed films (witness the pre-release buzz for "The Killer Inside Me") and crime novels today is that this is our contemporary, perverted view of what it means to be "adult." If a "serious" critic calls to task writers/filmmakers for what s/he sees as over-the-top sex and/or violence, that critic tends to get savaged by his/her counterparts for "not getting it," for being a prude, nanny, etc.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I'm certainly not well versed in hard boiled crime or detective novels. I have read just about all of Elmore Leonard's crime novels and really enjoyed most of them. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments. Using "The Big-O" as an example, sure, the narration reminds me of Leonard, but the story is good and I never laughed as much as I did with any of Leonard's novels, or any novel for that matter.

"American Psycho" may not be a crime novel per se, but again, it was highly entertaining, and funny at the same time.

Adrian Mckinty's novels, at least the ones I have read so far, are both great stories and there are many humorous moments in all of them. A perfect mix for me.

So, I am all for humor in my crime reading as long as the story is a good one, but that is just my taste. Violence alone doesn't do it for me.

June 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kiwicraig has left a new comment ...

I think Bateman and others (e.g. Mike Ripley of the Angel series) are probably talking not about whether some dark gruesome books have some humour (esp gallows humour or sly humour) - but a trend away (at least in attention/bestsellers etc) from out-and-out humour, perhaps bordering on capers and farce-type situations.


I wonder what the high point of caper crime was. The mid- to late 1950 into the 1960s, I guess. And I wonder why Bateman does not include Allan Guthrie or Ken Bruen on his list.

To put the question another way, if Bateman is talking about "books that are equally crime and comedy/humour, as opposed to crime novels with comic flourishes," as Declan Burke suggest, why would he make that distinction? Why is Guthrie's violent comedy any less capable of revitalizing its genre than is Len Tyler's or Malcolm Pryce's gentler variety? (I don't presume to guess what Bateman would say on this matter, only that I would raise the question with him over a pint of Guinness or whatever else he drinks. I'll have a Magner's, if he's buying the first round.)

June 07, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I found the relentless reaching for the next gag on the part of nearly every character (was there a "straight man" or "second banana" in that novel?) too much for my taste as this device seemed to make most of the characters indistinguishable from one another.
Elizabeth I suppose we might appear to be dissecting Declan's novel and writing style, but my appreciation for the book is more down to how he kept control of the structure; the way he managed the various 'coincidences' so well, and the way it all ultimately coheres so well.
Plus he wrapped it up very neatly.

I'd certainly have reservations about the characterisations: not least because for the most part it could have been one character talking and the women characters were largely indistinguishable, in thought and utterances, if not deeds, and inclinations.

But, quite apart from my reservations about Carl Hiassen's endurance for me, I eventually OD'd on Leonard's style, which I was finding was becoming too formulaic, and that formula had stretched too thin.

I think Chester Himes was the best at balancing humour with menace for me.
But I'm definitely intrigued by this guy Bill James

June 07, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Hmm, so when did crime writers get ambitious? The 1930s in America?
I think 'The (First) Great Depression' produced some great crime literature.
I love Edward Anderson's 'Thieves Like Us', which is some kind of poetry, and is in the top rank of crime literature: - I'm itching to read more of the novels in the LofA's Crime Novels: American Noir of the 30s and 40s', specifically, and firstly, Horace McCoy's 'They Shoot Horses Don't They', which, if the film is anything to go by might match the standard of Anderson's Masterpiece.
(also William Lindsay Gresham's 'Nightmare Alley')
But 'Thieves', certainly, broke free of that 'Pulp' straitjacket, I think

I'm not sure there's any kind of a norm, and I am as sure as hell that I've not read nearly enough to figure out if there is one. And if I did, I'd read a book the next week that would explode my old notions.
The point I'm getting at here is that in the same way earlier writers aped, or piggybacked, on Hammett and/or Chandler's style, in the hope of winning some of their avaricious readership, inevitably many new writers will be attracted to the style of the likes of Leonard, Hiassen and their various acolytes.

June 07, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

This interesting discussion and its various readers' observations is now making me wonder if looking for/liking humor in crime fiction is more common among male readers than female readers. Just wondering in a curious way, not a stand-off, battle-of-the-sexes, them's fightin' words kind of way. If so, I don't know why it would be so. I only know that, sentimental me, I most prefer a hero in the Marlowe/Archer and now Ed Loy (thank you, Peter) mold. And I would say that most of my favorite crime fiction novels do have heroes, even counting Allan Guthrie's anti-heroes.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has left a new comment ...

Elizabeth ... can you or anybody else comment on something I've repeatedly observed at ringside of big boxing fights: when one fighter is going 'in for the kill', and battering his opponent into submission, - at least until the referee intercedes, - invariably there'll be a number of women at ringside jumping up and down, apparently with excitement, and apparently willing on the fighter to 'finish him off'.


For questions on women, crime fiction and the fighting sports, you might ask Christa Faust.

Apart from a couple of Ellroys I've no great interest in reading any 'torture porn' novels,

I confess that I could not cite a single instance of torture porn if asked to do so. At first I had the idea that people might have meant Allan Guthrie. Then I read his books. For reasons I've mentioned often, he's not torture porn. Tghen cam Vasl McDermid. I haven't read her work, but she always has intelligent answers when asked about the violence in her books. More recently I've read Patricia Cornwell's name invoked in connection with the discussion, which is surely a sign that the backlash against her is well underway.

"Torture porn" sounds too much like an attempt to make objective a matter of personal preference. I take no issue with anyone's revulsion at depictions of graphic violence. But start calling it torture porn, and the whiff of censorship is in the air. Look, we all know torture porn is out there, but I don't think much of it is in crime novels.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and speaking of Bill James and boxing, he said at the recent CrimeFest that:

"I try to smooth [violence] out with style. I think of it as very good boxing journalism ... make it sound like ballet, which it ain't."

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...we all know torture porn is out there, but I don't think much of it is in crime novels."

Peter, you "need" to read Stephen Jay Schwartz's "Boulevard" (2009). I picked it up because it was set in L.A. At the author's Web site it is described as a "dark crime thriller." I would say this novel's murders and revenge killings take it beyond "dark" into the realm of "torture porn." And I do not suggest that either it or any other book in a similar vein be censored. I just don't want to read books like it.

"'Torture porn' sounds too much like an attempt to make objective a matter of personal preference." -- I just thought it was a way of describing this sub-genre.

Peter, are you saying that from what you've read of books with this appellation that reviewers/readers are implying that such books should be censored?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Censorship schmensorship. I know torture porn when I see it and I increasingly see it everywhere. Why get rid of it? The phrase is a good useful shorthand for a book or film in which torture is used on an unwilling subject for the titilation of the audience. Just as in regular porn torture porn may employ some narrative techniques but the story itself is relatively unimportant.

When large portions of a more mainstream book or film employ torture porn techniques in their works we can still refer to those segments as torture porn.

There's something more than a little creepy about constantly upping the ante in a genre where the helpless female victim is slowly tortured to death in ever more exotic ways over pages and pages of text or minutes (sometimes hours of film).

Maybe I'm too prissy or have lived too long but I find Cornwell, Thoms Harris, the Saw series etc. utterly repellant

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty has left a new comment ...

I think Bateman is both right and wrong. Lets start with the wrong: he needs to read more Elmore Leonard, Carl H. and Donna Andrews (of "We'll Have Parrots" fame)for crime fiction full of big laughs.... maybe I'm perverse in this but I find James Ellroy to be absolutely hilarious.


I did suggest elsewhere that Bateman's concentration of British writers and Declan Burke may have blinded him to American humorous crime writing. I probably wouldn't call Ellroy a comic crime writer, but yep, he can be just as funny on the page as he is in person.

Torture porn is a pretty vile genre that lacks irony and a sense of humour. Stieg Larsson is a good example of someone who wants to have his cake and eat it too, railing againt the torture and humiliation of women but filling his books with pages of the stuff. I dont doubt his sincerity but still I'm not a fan. Are there any jokes in Larsson? I havent found any ...

Is Lisabeth Salander's revenge on her abuser in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo torture porn as well? That's the best question I can come up with; I haven't read the second and third books, and I have heard that they are more violent than the first.

I don't know about jokes, but there is a nice bit of what could be self-deprecating wit nea the end of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Larsson's and Patsy Cornwell's popularity leads me to the conclusion that the public has been conditioned to tolerate graphic acts of violence against women but humour jars them and makes them uncomfortable.

I find this to be a disturbing development but like all trends I'm sure it will come to a crashing halt when the next big thing comes along.


I don't know where this fits in, but I have recently seen respectable matrons reading Larsson in public without any apparent revulsion or fear of being seen. I wonder what they think of the violence under discussion here.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I probably wouldn't call Ellroy a comic crime writer, but yep, he can be just as funny on the page as he is in person.
Ellroy did a very funny co-commentary, with Eddie Muller, - on a recent film noir DVD box-set release: I think Andre De Toth's 'Crime Wave' was the particular film among the 8 or so in the set

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Adrian, re your comment that "there's something more than a little creepy about constantly upping the ante in a genre where the helpless female victim is slowly tortured to death in ever more exotic ways over pages and pages of text or minutes (sometimes hours of film)."

Absolutely. Especially in a film -- when one considers the amount of time and money spent and number of people it takes to get those images on film. I'd prefer industry self-censorship but the ceaseless "upping the ante" on the part of filmmakers may eventually lead to some kind of external censorship along the lines of 1930s Production Code.

And, dammit, you are not "too prissy" or "have lived too long" by saying so.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has left a new comment ...

Peter, I'd say that Declan Burke's "The Big O" ... - falls under the heading of "comic crime" fiction. I found the relentless reaching for the next gag ... too much for my taste as this device seemed to make most of the characters indistinguishable from one another.


I've put aside any number of comic crime novels because the authors could not maintain the balance between creating a convincing fiction world, and stopping that world to tell jokes. I say "The Big O" pulled this off very nicely, but I can well understand the complaint you had, because I've had similar (though not identical) complaints about other books.

Your quote from Woody Allen ... prodded me to think that maybe one reason graphic violence (particularly that against women) and sex are standard issue in most critically acclaimed films ... and crime novels today is that this is our contemporary, perverted view of what it means to be "adult."

And that reminds me a comment I read years ago that called sick, anti-humanistic humor, maybe from the 1960s on, a reaction to the sickly sweet, homogenized and homogeneous, unrealistic tone of popular entertainment that had preceded it.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Book 2 is pretty grim. I'm not surprised that David Fincher has been tapped to direct the American film version of the book. I'm sure we'll get a lot of close ups of women being tortured to death and it will probably get a 15 rating.

There is some humour in Larsson - the fact that 17 year old girls, lesbians, spinsters, married women and divorcees all find Blomqvist irresistible is - to me - pretty funny.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has left a new comment ...

Elizabeth I suppose we might appear to be dissecting Declan's novel and writing style, but my appreciation for the book is more down to how he kept control of the structure ...


Maybe the distinction between "books that are equally crime and comedy/humour" and "crime novels with comic flourishes" (Can we call that Burke's Law?) is that the former may seem more obviously staged. But so what? No crime fiction is more theatrical than Bill James', and none has even been better written.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm just about to do a search for Bill James' books in the Dublin library system, Peter.

And, speaking of 'Burke's Law', I think I preferred 'The Saint' with Roger Moore.

as for what distinction you mean by "books that are equally crime and comedy/humour" and "crime novels with comic flourishes" , it might be just a matter of degrees.
And intent, on the part of the writer

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter and TCG, I think crime writers first got ambitious around 1920 -- coinciding (but not coincidental) with the end of the First World War at the end of 1918 (the beginning of the "modern" world) and the enforcement of Prohibition in the US in early 1920. By the end of the 1920s crime fiction authors like Dashiell Hammett and W.R. Burnett were getting critical recognition in reviews in mainstream newspapers and magazines.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

This interesting discussion and its various readers' observations is now making me wonder if looking for/liking humor in crime fiction is more common among male readers than female readers.


Hmm, could be, though one would have to account for Janet Evanovich and, I suppose, Lisa Lutz (whom I haven't read).

even counting Allan Guthrie's anti-heroes.

I wonder if the hero/anti-hero distinction is as valid or vital as it once might have seemed. Guthrie's anti-heroes don't strike me as especially anti-anything, but they are the kinds of characters one could cheer for.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"I wonder if the hero/anti-hero distinction is as valid or vital as it once might have seemed."

Peter, I only meant "hero" in the Oxford English Dictionary definition #4 sense: "the chief male personage in a ... story; he in whom the interest of the story or plot is centred."

Guthrie's anti-heroes = OED's "a chief character in ... story who is totally unlike a conventional hero."

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

Edward Anderson's 'Thieves Like Us' ... certainly, broke free of that 'Pulp' straitjacket, I think


I'm woefully ignorant of my cultural history, but one can imagine simultaneous urgency in hard times to create crime writing more, er, urgent than a lot of the pulp stuff, and to retreat to the comfort of that pulp stuff.

in the same way earlier writers aped, or piggybacked, on Hammett and/or Chandler's style ... many new writers will be attracted to the style of the likes of Leonard, Hiassen and their various acolytes.

No doubt; everyone has to start somewhere. But the strength of influence might be exaggerated by the tendency of reviewers who are either deficient in knowledge or who have an eye to selling books to compare every crime novel to Chandler or Hammett of Leonard or Hiaasen.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean Patrick Reardon has ...

"American Psycho" may not be a crime novel per se, but again, it was highly entertaining, and funny at the same time.


And that came along well before the term "torture porn" entered popular usage.

Adrian Mckinty's novels, at least the ones I have read so far, are both great stories and there are many humorous moments in all of them. A perfect mix for me.

Rough humor at unexpected, often dangerous or violent moments is one of the delights of humorous, perhaps as opposed to comic, crime fiction.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

But the strength of influence might be exaggerated by the tendency of reviewers who are either deficient in knowledge or who have an eye to selling books to compare every crime novel to Chandler or Hammett of Leonard or Hiaasen.
Fair point, although I think you can almost equate that influence, or perceived influence, with the 'Biro Principle' of economic marketplace.

Not so much as one Bill James in the library catalogue but I see both Play.Com and Amazon.co.uk have plenty of his titles.
I'll see can I get his first novel in the series in town

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty has ...

Peter

Censorship schmensorship. I know torture porn when I see it ... The phrase is a good useful shorthand for a book or film in which torture is used on an unwilling subject for the titilation of the audience. Just as in regular porn torture porn may employ some narrative techniques but the story itself is relatively unimportant.


No disagreement there, as long as one notes that "pornography" is an easy term to toss around.

Maybe I'm too prissy or have lived too long but I find Cornwell, Thoms Harris, the Saw series etc. utterly repellant

Never read 'em, and I don't plan to see "Saw." The movies' entire appeal to the public seems to be the promise of graphic dismemberment, which holds interest for me and which I find sickening. I'd say the graphically violent scenes in your books are akin to the ones in Allan Guthrie's. They hurt because that kind of thing is supposed to hurt.

Perhaps I'm wary of the term "torture porn" because, as I mentioned a few comments up, I could not name any examples in crime fiction. I am wary of taking part in debates about matters on which I'm ignorant.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has l ...

Peter, you "need" to read Stephen Jay Schwartz's "Boulevard" (2009).


Nah, I don't. If it edges toward torture porn, I'm not especially attracted to it.

"'Torture porn' sounds too much like an attempt to make objective a matter of personal preference." -- I just thought it was a way of describing this sub-genre.

It may well be a simple description of a sub-genre, but I never knew what constituted the sub-genre. I have never heard calls for censorship of a crime novel even amid expressions of revulsion.

But "porn" is too easily invoked as a term of abuse for what a reader or viewer doesn't like for me to feel entirely comfortable with its casual use. And no, the current commenters are not guilty of using the term carelessly.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

Ellroy did a very funny co-commentary, with Eddie Muller, - on a recent film noir DVD box-set release: I think Andre De Toth's 'Crime Wave' was the particular film among the 8 or so in the set


That could be well worth a look. I have enjoyed Muller's commentary on a number of noir DVDs, and Ellroy is a hoot.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

The Steig Larsson phenomenon is quite interesting to me, and as he's doing wonders for the sales in my section right now, I probably shouldn't criticise him too harshly. But I'm kind of amazed at what a wide cross-section of readership he has, since I do think he's essentially humorless, even if there are a few 'gotcha!' moments that might seem funny to some.

I think where he hooks people in is that people do accept his idealism, as he reports the evils that lurk beneath the social surface, as valid. I have no idea how common the Vanger family, with its Nazi past, is in Sweden, though I assume it's one of the indictments against his own society that Larsson was trying to get across. Ditto the abuse of girls and women.

It's difficult, because violence itself tends to be titillating or at least arresting. And all that much more so when it involves violence against women, particularly sexual violence against women. It can be hard to discern a writer's motives in including it, and infinitely harder to discover a reader's motives for reading it.

I too thought that Blomqvists's appeal to women was a bit of wish fulfillment on Larsson's part, but I have to say that in the movie he did seem pretty appealing.

My own disappointment with the first novel, which I seem to get no backing for anywhere at all, is that I thought the mystery aspect was really disappointing.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Oh, yeah--and I would definitely count Ellroy among the comic novelists. The polar opposite of Larsson, actually.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty has ...

... David Fincher has been tapped to direct the American film version of the book.


I hadn't realized Fincher was the Seven guy. That does nothing to protect Larsson from arguments that his books (or parts thereof) are torture porn.

There is some humour in Larsson - the fact that 17 year old girls, lesbians, spinsters, married women and divorcees all find Blomqvist irresistible is - to me - pretty funny.

I have found curiously little examination of why the books have such massive appeal. My favorite part of the first one was Blomqvist's rant against financial journalists.

OK, so are all the good, respectable arguments for the books' appeal really guilty attempts to make torture porn respectable?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

Peter and TCG, I think crime writers first got ambitious around 1920 -- coinciding (but not coincidental) with the end of the First World War at the end of 1918 (the beginning of the "modern" world) and the enforcement of Prohibition in the US in early 1920. By the end of the 1920s crime fiction authors like Dashiell Hammett and W.R. Burnett were getting critical recognition in reviews in mainstream newspapers and magazines.


Horrors of war opening eyes turning crime writers', readers' and critics' attention to the ugliness and corruption of the world?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Seana

The only part of book 1 that I really enjoyed was the prison. Man I'd love to do six weeks in a Swedish prison if they're really like that.

But still I am pretty baffled by their universal appeal, although I thought the movie was pretty good. When the book ended there was frustratingly still another 70 or 80 pages of filler to go, but the movie ended at the end.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

I'm just about to do a search for Bill James' books in the Dublin library system


Look for a bibliography of the Harpur & Iles books, such as the one on fantasticfiction.co.uk. Some of the later books are not as strong as the early and middle ones, but even the weakest have some gorgeous writing. The only one I might avoid as a beginning is In the Absence of Iles only because it is atypical of the series in a number of ways.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

Peter, I only meant "hero" in the Oxford English Dictionary definition #4 sense: "the chief male personage in a ... story; he in whom the interest of the story or plot is centred."

Guthrie's anti-heroes = OED's "a chief character in ... story who is totally unlike a conventional hero."


Elisabeth, what we don't have is a failure to communicate; I understood what you meant. Your remark merely sparked the thought that the old notion of the anti-hero had lost its subversive punch. The term just lacks the old electricity it once must have had.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, of course you don't need to read "Boulevard." Nobody does. Neither you nor I nor most (all?) of the commenters here seek out what we are calling for convenience's sake "torture porn." My use of "need" in quotes in my original comment was meant as a counterpoint to your comment that "I don't think much of it [torture porn] is in crime novels." From what I read and hear there is apparently plenty of it out there. We're just not the audience for it.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I actually ask people all the time about the appeal (preferably as I'm ringing up the sale for next one). It's somewhat comforting that the real appeal seems to be the incredible feistiness of the heroine, and not her subjugation. That said, though, as I've said on several occasions, all I have to do is walk out the front door of the bookstore and I'll run into three Lizbeths on the way to the coffeeshop. I'm only mildly exaggerating. I assume most of Santa Cruz is familiar with the type by now. Especially the tattoos, the black and the boots made for damage. Oh, and the motorcycle. I mean by now it's pretty much a Santa Cruz cliche.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...:

Adran, re your comment that "there's something more than a little creepy about constantly upping the ante in a genre where the helpless female victim is slowly tortured to death in ever more exotic ways over pages and pages of text or minutes (sometimes hours of film)."

Absolutely. Especially in a film -- when one considers the amount of time and money spent and number of people it takes to get those images on film.


I remember your having raised the point before. As was the case then, I'm just not attracted enough to movies (or books) that depict torture to have been drawn into the debate.

And, dammit, you are not "too prissy" or "have lived too long" by saying so.

I should hope he hasn't live too long; he's younger than we are.
Have you read Adrian's books? I didn't steer you wrong on Declan Hughes, did I?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty has ...

Seana

The only part of book 1 that I really enjoyed was the prison. Man I'd love to do six weeks in a Swedish prison if they're really like that.


Yeah, if the worst effect of the prospect of a Swedish prison sentence is a lingering angst, things could be worse. Not quite Mexico or Cuba, is it?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

After a few weeks of functioning well, Blogger is now eating comments again. My apologies if your comments don't appear. I'll try to hunt them down and post them again, though that may have to wait until tomorrow.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Re the Stieg Larsson phenomenon... I "love" how reviewers contort themselves into the most convoluted positions imaginable in order to justify the over-the-top graphic violence and sex in the novels so that they can claim the books are "important" and "significant" works of fiction.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I just finished Larsson's third book ("Hornet's Nest") last night. Unless my memory has completely failed me there's very little violence in it. Certainly there's far less than there was in the second book.

I don't know whether I'm jaded or callous or what, but I find I go right past the methods serial killers use in most of the psychological thrillers I seem to be reading lately. Karen Rose writes books which are nearly all of that sort (they're billed as romantic suspense, which is nonsense. Yes, there's a male/female relationship in each of her 11 books, but it's hardly the main item on the menu in any of them).

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

Peter, of course you don't need to read "Boulevard."


Ah, I know. I just wanted to avoid any suggestion that this debate is so important that I absolutely had to read all the books in question.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has ...

I actually ask people all the time about the appeal (preferably as I'm ringing up the sale for next one). It's somewhat comforting that the real appeal seems to be the incredible feistiness of the heroine


This is what people say, that she's a kind of latter-day, butt-kicking Modesty Blaise.

all I have to do is walk out the front door of the bookstore and I'll run into three Lizbeths on the way to the coffeeshop. I'm only mildly exaggerating. I assume most of Santa Cruz is familiar with the type by now. Especially the tattoos, the black and the boots made for damage. Oh, and the motorcycle.

The mathematical facility is a little harder to attain, I take it.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has ...

I think where he hooks people in is that people do accept his idealism, as he reports the evils that lurk beneath the social surface, as valid.


That's an interesting comment. Larsson life as a crusader is well known, but I;m not sure how often it's discussed.

It's difficult, because violence itself tends to be titillating or at least arresting. And all that much more so when it involves violence against women, particularly sexual violence against women. It can be hard to discern a writer's motives in including it, and infinitely harder to discover a reader's motives for reading it.

Hard for a reader to discover his own motives, too, perhaps.

in the movie he did seem pretty appealing.

The producers of the American movie seem ready to address this. I read somewhere that Daniel Craig was close to signing for the role and that Brad Pitt was among others who had expressed interest.

My own disappointment with the first novel, which I seem to get no backing for anywhere at all, is that I thought the mystery aspect was really disappointing.

I thought the mystery was ... not terrible.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

I "love" how reviewers contort themselves into the most convoluted positions imaginable in order to justify the over-the-top graphic violence and sex in the novels so that they can claim the books are "important" and "significant" works of fiction.


I wonder how over-the-top it gets. Well, no, I don't, really. But it does appear that subsequent books may be more graphically violent than the first.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

adrian, I felt the same way about the ending of Book 1 that you did. My review here mentioned that. I have no idea why he decided to solve the two mysteries sequentially like that.

Peter, if all the Lisbeths in Santa Cruz have the hacking skills that the fictional Salander does, I know where DOD should be recruiting to staff up for the future cyber wars.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister has ...

I just finished Larsson's third book ("Hornet's Nest") last night. Unless my memory has completely failed me there's very little violence in it. Certainly there's far less than there was in the second book.

I don't know whether I'm jaded or callous or what, but I find I go right past the methods serial killers use in most of the psychological thrillers I seem to be reading lately.


Jaded? Callous? Or the authors can't write graphically enough to horrify you. Or they're so good that the ki9llers' methods don't matter the way they would in mere torture porn.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister has ...

Peter, if all the Lisbeths in Santa Cruz have the hacking skills that the fictional Salander does, I know where DOD should be recruiting to staff up for the future cyber wars.


Yes, one can only hope the Lisbeths use their powers for the forces of good, rather than ee-vil.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

There are so many topics here.

First, on humor in mysteries. I have read and enjoyed humor in these books since I first started reading Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books when a teenager.

And have found so many books over the years where I laugh out loud. Used to happen with Robert Parker's Spenser novels, very witty dialogue.

Many legal mysteries have witty courtroom dialogue, including Steve Martini's series, but many more.

Today, many books are funny. Take "Bad Things Happen," by Harry Dolan. Hilarious. One line about why writers might kill their publishers is very funny.

Second, I do not understand the appeal of "torture porn." Never did. Why is there even gratuitous violence? It doesn't help present the mystery puzzle nor help solve a crime.

I often think this is a substitute simply for good, thought-provoking writing.

I can't read this stuff and even in Stieg Larsson's first two books (didn't read the third yet), which I liked due to characters, social issues, plotting, pace, continual revelations of conspiracies, etc., I had to skip some of the violence.

A friend thinks that Larsson had to show this violence against women to show why Lizbeth Salander acted the way she did.
And she had nowhere to turn, noone to help her.

Also, in book promotions: Sarah Weinman's blog had a piece awhile ago about a woman book editor who got sick of reviewing books with covers of mutilated women on them, and she refused to do this.
She said that covers show women tortured in every way, and that's what publishers want--even if the murder victim is a man or a child!

I personally think (at the risk of jangling some nerves here) that anyone who likes this stuff needs at least a year with a good psychiatrist.

Don't get it. It's not good writing, it's not a puzzle, it has nothing to do with a resolution.

There are lots of good books--no, great books, without it.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger colin bateman said...

Hi folks, thanks for all the reaction to the blog. First, the most important point - is Declan Burke really Irish? Yes, obviously, he has a passport and brogue - but having studied in Northern Ireland, and having admitted to playing football for Northern Irish representative team, he can under international law, be claimed as British. Otherwise I would have to admit to a basic sub-editing error, which clearly is not going to happen.
As to the blog itself: of course I could have mentioned Hiaasen, Brookmyre etc. but with limited space my preference was to give some extra attention to those who are perhaps not so well known. Humour - hell, everything - is subjective. There's a long debate to be had about crime fiction, and whether people actually prefer it absolutely straight or whether that is because publishers only put money into serious crime and people don't get the choice. Publishers will say humour doesn't sell. My inclination is to believe that EVERYTHING sells if you put the big bucks behind it, but there are only so many bucks to go around. But an interesting debate! By the way, you're all welcome to join me on Facebook.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Colin probably doesn't remember this but last summer he, me, Ger Brennan and Stuart Neville had precisely this conversation about violence in crime fiction and the use of humour as counterpoint. I imagine that we solved the equation and that it was all a little like the Algonquin Round Table. I can only imagine that however because everyone was quite drunk.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Colin, thanks for bringing us back round to the topic of discussion. We got so absorbed in porn that we forgot about humor.

I'd figured you were concentrating on authors from your part of the world at the expense of Americans and Australians. It hadn't occurred to me that you were focusing on newer or lesser-known writers. I've read Tyler, Price, Ewan and Burke, and I guess I didn't think of them as lesser-known writers, but rather just as writers.

whether people actually prefer it absolutely straight or whether that is because publishers only put money into serious crime and people don't get the choice.

Do you think a Ken Bruen might sway publishers' thinking in this respect? He's got credibility on the crime side and the humor side, he has a track record, and his profile is shooting way up.

And thanks for the invitation.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

re the phenomenon of “…women at ringside jumping up and down, apparently with excitement, and apparently willing on the fighter to 'finish him off'. ... I think at its most elemental, instinctive base this is a manifestation of a woman’s subconscious but powerful biological urge to favor the most successful fighting male as a potential mate.


Do women howl and jump up and down at boxing matches more than men do?

the “beachmaster” – a male sea lion or fur seal who virtually starves himself while battling other males for control of prime landing spots where females come ashore to give birth and mate again.

"Yo, I'm the Bechmaster! Stay the **** away from my woman! (Damn, I wish I had a pizza!)"

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

kathy d. has ...

There are so many topics here.


Yep.

Why is there even gratuitous violence? It doesn't help present the mystery puzzle nor help solve a crime.

I often think this is a substitute simply for good, thought-provoking writing.


Why is there gratuitious anything? In the case of sex and violence, the answers can be disturbing. But non-gratuitious violence? I've quoted Allan Guthrie many times on this subject, but it's always worth repeating. He wants readers to wince at violence on the page, to feel the pain, because that's what violence does in real life. And that's thought-provoking, I'd say, liable to make a reader think about violence more seriously than he or she might otherwise do.

A friend thinks that Larsson had to show this violence against women to show why Lizbeth Salander acted the way she did.

In the first book, she gives as good as she gets, so that argument may hold water.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty has ...

Colin probably doesn't remember this but last summer he, me, Ger Brennan and Stuart Neville had precisely this conversation about violence in crime fiction and the use of humour as counterpoint. I imagine that we solved the equation and that it was all a little like the Algonquin Round Table. I can only imagine that however because everyone was quite drunk.


At last year's CrimeFest. Brian McGilloway cited Shakespeare among the writers he admires for using "gallows humor following a death." At an earlier panel, I'd cited Ken Bruen and Allan Guthrie for effective use of humor at dark moments. Some of the funniest lines in crime fiction come at such moments. I doubt my question sparkled with the alcohol=fueled brilliance that your neo-Algonquin probably did, though.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger colin bateman said...

I've met Adrian McKinty?

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I was going to comment, Peter, but after reading all the comments I'm worn out.

BTW, TCK must not have checked the Dublin Library System very closely. Lots of Bill James in there.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Adrian claims it's the case, Colin, but it might just be wishful thinking.

As to the hacking skills of the Santa Cruz Lisbeths, well, we are right over the hill from Silicon Valley so I wouldn't put it past them. The photographic memory part is probably more rare...

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

solo, typing in 'Bill James' in author search yielded no results, which, admittedly, I thought was odd.
I'll have another look, though, thanks
Perhaps the gremlins were working the overnight shift

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seans, the tattoo-sporting, black-clothes-and-boots-wearing women aren't really imitating Lizbeth Salander, are they? That sort of clothing and adornment was common even before the books hit, I think.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Do women howl and jump up and down at boxing matches more than men do?
Peter keep an eye out for ringside shots, - the camera tends to concentrate on the first four or so rows, - and when things are getting particularly hot and heavy inside the ring, - make a note of the sex of those those onlookers who are jumping up and down a lot!

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

solo has ...

TCK must not have checked the Dublin Library System very closely. Lots of Bill James in there.


My trouble when searching for "Bill James" is that the wise, entertaining baseball writer/thinker comes up. He is well worth reading, but I wish that the great baseball analyst and the great crime writer did not share a name.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

Peter keep an eye out for ringside shots, - the camera tends to concentrate on the first four or so rows, - and when things are getting particularly hot and heavy inside the ring, - make a note of the sex of those those onlookers who are jumping up and down a lot!


I should look for an opportunity to watch a fight. With the camera focusing on ringside seats, I'd have figured the jumpers and other spectators were handpicked stars and therefore not representative of the species, of whatever sex.

I wonder if women attend the local fights at Philadelphia's Blue Horizon in great numbers.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I have one of 'The Other Bill James' books, too: I wonder does the Dublin Library System have any of his books??
It would be interesting, though, if 'they' were one and the same person

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The crime-writing Bill James might not sell as well as he ought to, but I'd be surprised if the library system has none of his books. This must be a glitch or a mystery.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Oddly enough the first time I made a 'general' Bill James search it yielded over a hundred results, but then when I localised it to 'author name' it yielded 'no results'.
But it was too late for me to be 'shaking the online searcher' out of its stupor, particularly as I was aware of its erratic 'previous'

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

mystery solved: typing in 'James Bill' did the job! :)
(previous searches for Simenon, Chandler, Cain, etc, didn't require me to read the search requirements to type the surname, followed by the first name!)

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd try that, and I'd come up wit James Bill, who writes about international affairs. I'd find myself wishing that these guys' mothers had been more imaginativein bestowing names.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

"your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it.........."
I have now reserved a copy of 'Harpur and Iles, an omnibus', so will report back following my investigation: "this could be the start of a beautiful friendship"

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

At least he wasn't christened 'Sue'!

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

With the camera focusing on ringside seats, I'd have figured the jumpers and other spectators were handpicked stars and therefore not representative of the species, of whatever sex.
Well, if they can afford the ringside seats, they're probably at least moneyed representatives of whatever sex, but the males somehow manage to remain seated, in general

I wonder if women attend the local fights at Philadelphia's Blue Horizon in great numbers.
make sure that , if and when you do decide to go, you secure a seat close enough to observe closely the occupants of the first four rows 'encircling' the ring

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Why is it always the mothers that are blamed, when it's almost always the fathers wanting a namesake thats too blame.

Peter, what I was meaning is that I could see if someone in, say, an Amish community might the character of Lisbeth startlingly original. I'm just surprised that in Santa Cruz people don't just find her, well, derivative.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha ...

I have now reserved a copy of 'Harpur and Iles, an omnibus', so will report back following my investigation


That collection contains the first three novels, not a bad place to start. Among other things, James provides good material for discussion of humor in crime fiction, though often dark humor.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

At least he wasn't christened 'Sue'!


That would have made searches easier, I think.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah, I particularly wanted to read the first in the series, and now the second, also, when the partnership developed more fully.
I suspect I'll probably end up buying a few of them, though.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

That would have made searches easier, I think.

I wonder what effect it would have had on his psyche, though.
Perhaps you, as the resident Bill James expert, might care to extrapolate, thereon?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

if they can afford the ringside seats, they're probably at least moneyed representatives of whatever sex, but the males somehow manage to remain seated, in general


Posh women going nuts. This question takes on ever greater sociological as well as anthropological interest.

make sure that , if and when you do decide to go, you secure a seat close enough to observe closely the occupants of the first four rows 'encircling' the ring

That's interesting, too. Popular, though not always accurate, belief here would have it that it's the folks in the cheap seats whose behavior at games gets out of hand. Sounds like rich folks can behave without restraint as well.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

on a not-unrelated matter, women with ringside seats, etc, I recall a film, 'Naked Tango', where the female character looked overly excited at the prospect of the driver of her car killing somebody who had 'done her wrong'.
The expression on her face might be said to have been 'orgasm-induced'.

Somebody, somewhere needs to do a sociological study, methinks.
In the meantime, "a nation holds its collective breath!"
:)

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has ...

Why is it always the mothers that are blamed, when it's almost always the fathers wanting a namesake thats too blame.


Did I blame Mrs. James? I suppose her name could name been Wihelmina, and she could have insisted that her crimewriter-to-be offspring share her name.

Peter, what I was meaning is that I could see if someone in, say, an Amish community might the character of Lisbeth startlingly original. I'm just surprised that in Santa Cruz people don't just find her, well, derivative.

I know of one motorcycle-riding Mennonite crime novelist. And yes, one does expect that such a crime-fiction juggernaut as Lisbeth Salander will have derivative off-shoots.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

Somebody, somewhere needs to do a sociological study, methinks.


I'd wager that the matter has been written about, if not studied, already. Anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, students of sport and popular culture could all be interested.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'd wager that the matter has been written about, if not studied, already. Anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, students of sport and popular culture could all be interested.
I'll get my friends at Dublin City Public Libraries on the case!
I'm not a betting man, though!

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has left a new comment on the post "What's so unfunny about crime fiction, and why?":

Yeah, I particularly wanted to read the first in the series, and now the second, also, when the partnership developed more fully.

The first three books are all outstanding, and all introduce themes that will be picked up later in the series. The Harpur & Iles partnership and rivalry takes a few books to get rolling as a focus of interest. (Early books bore the tag line "A DCI Colin Harpur investigation, for example. I don't think the series became known "Harpur and Iles" until a few books in.)

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That would have made searches easier, I think.

I wonder what effect it would have had on his psyche, though.
Perhaps you, as the resident Bill James expert, might care to extrapolate, thereon?


No, I won't do that, especially since his real name is James Tucker, and he's also written as David Craig and, for one book, I think, under another name as well.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Perhaps as much as the partnership, or even more so, I'm especially intrigued by his writing style and m.o., so the fact that the partnership might take a few books to gell won't put me off, per se.

But I plan to read 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They', though, before immersing myself in Bill James.

btw, that LofA crime set, in fact both volumes, look great sets.
I note that Jim Thompson's biographer is credited as editor on the first volume, and its got a gorgeous, 'Edward Hopper-esque' cover

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has …

Perhaps as much as the partnership, or even more so, I'm especially intrigued by his writing style and m.o., so the fact that the partnership might take a few books to gell won't put me off, per se.

But I plan to read 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They', though, before immersing myself in Bill James.


The writing style and some of the themes are there from the start. It’s not so much that it takes the partnership a while to gel, it’s that doesn’t begin to explore its possibilities until a few books in. But there is great stuff in those early books. James always explores as theme as he tells a story.

btw, that LofA crime set, in fact both volumes, look great sets.

Yep, I’ve had an eye on them for a while.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The writing style and some of the themes are there from the start. It’s not so much that it takes the partnership a while to gel, it’s that doesn’t begin to explore its possibilities until a few books in.
must have made it all the more interesting to watch the series develop, from inception

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, though I've read the books out of order. My introduction to the series was "Roses, Roses," the tenth book. I then read the novels as I could get them until I'd read all that had been published at the time: ninteteen books. I've since read the seven most recent in order, and I'll read "I Am Gold," book 27, when it's published next year.

By coincidence, considering my haphazard progress through the series, "Roses, Roses" relates its narrative in reverse chronological order. It opens with the killing (of Harpur's wife), then works its way backward. This is unique for the series.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

By coincidence, considering my haphazard progress through the series, "Roses, Roses" relates its narrative in reverse chronological order. It opens with the killing (of Harpur's wife)
so I will have nine, or perhaps ten books to enjoy reading about Harpur's marital relationship, then?
I'll make the most of it!

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marital infidelity runs through the books, but Harpur's wife has her biggest effect by her absence. Harpur's efforts as a single father figure prominently in the book, particularly the comic, domestic set pieces involving his daughters and his young girlfriend. But you have much reading todo first, if you plan to read in series order (though there is no reason for you to do that, if you don't want to).

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“Have you read Adrian's books? I didn't steer you wrong on Declan Hughes, did I?”

Peter, a) I have not, and b) you did not. I hope to rectify the former during a foraging expedition to the Beverly Hills Pub Lib this evening. Would you (or even Adrian, if he’s reading this) care to recommend one to start with? The BHPL has about 5 or 6 titles.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I'm reading the second Declan Hughes book, The Color of Blood right now as it happens, and would certainly include him in any discussion on humor and crime fiction. He reminds me rather uncannily sometimes of Ross MacDonald.

Not that anyone's asking, but I'd start with Dead I Well May Be, Elizabeth. Better not to do the other two Dead books out of order if you can help it. But Fifty Grand is also a stand alone and that would also be a fine place.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Great thread last night, Peter. Sorry, I wasn't there for all the fun.

I'm a bit cranky about having missed it, though, and am inclined to be a little peevish and indignant at some of the comments. Pure crankiness, of course, and I'll try not to be too offensive.

Larsson's and Patsy Cornwell's popularity leads me to the conclusion that the public has been conditioned to tolerate graphic acts of violence against women but humour jars them and makes them uncomfortable.
I find this to be a disturbing development.

Adrian McKinty

Adrian, I hope this doesn't come as too much of a shock to you, but you are actually a member of the public yourself (or the masses, as they used to be condescendlingly referred to in the past). If you find it a disturbing development, then you haven't been conditioned. And if a member of the public like you hasn't been conditioned, then there's no good reason for you to assume that any other member of the public has been conditioned. Unless, of course, you think you're a member of some impervious elite living in Olympian detachment from the rest of us humble beings. And if by any chance you are one of those remarkable creatures, then you have my humble apologies.

Maybe I'm too prissy or have lived too long but I find Cornwell, Thoms Harris, the Saw series etc. utterly repellant
Adrian McKinty, again

I don't wish to be cruel (well, Ok, only a little bit) but that comment reminded me of the great Frank Sinatra and his description of Rock and Roll: The most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear. But don't worry, Adrian, I'm sure it's just a phase you're going through.

I know you distrust Wikipedia, Peter, (I do myself) but allow me a couple of quotations from an article on Crime in the United States.

While the crime rate had risen sharply in the late 1960s and early 1970s, bringing it to a constant all-time high during much of the 1980s, it has drastically declined ever since 1993.

Overall, men, minorities, the young, and those in financially less favorable positions are more likely to be crime victims, as well as commit crimes. Crime in the US is also concentrated in certain areas.

If these facts are true, and I see no reason to doubt them, it means that at the very same time that graphic depictions of violence against women and others have gone mainstream, the crime rate has been dropping dramatically. This shows a very strong correlation (although no causal link) between rising amounts of graphic violence on our screens and a decreasing crime rate on our streets. Isn't that a cause for celebration?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I can't do better than Seana's recommendations for reading McKinty, including the order in which you read the "Dead" trilogy.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: your observation about Declan Hughes' stylistic debt to Ross Macdonald will gladden Elisabeth's heart. She is a huge Macdonald fan.

Elisabeth, the other second and third Dead books are The Dead Yard and The Bloomsday Dead.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Seana, thanks for the tip. Any suggestion is welcome! It's just that when these discussion threads get this long sometimes commenters fall by the wayside and I'm not sure who's still around when I have such questions.

Per your observation on Declan Hughes... "reminds me rather uncannily sometimes of Ross MacDonald." Yes, I noticed Hughes' debt to Macdonald immediately in "The Price of Blood" (the first DH novel I read). From what I've read, this was quite deliberate on Hughes' part. DH is my favorite "discovery" of 2010 to date.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to include him on a list of crime and humor, however. That seems a bit of a stretch. Just as I wouldn't include Macdonald on such a list -- even though there are laugh-out-loud lines/passages in both authors' books. But if we do stretch to include Hughes, then I think I'd add Ruth Rendell to that list. I laughed out loud at her description of a frightened man's expression in "End in Tears" (2005) this morning.

To paraphrase an earlier comment of Peter's, Where do we define the distinction between comedy/humor, comedic flourishes, a few amusing lines (and sly wit, malevolent humor, etc).

Ha! Just saw Peter's most recent comment while previewing my own. Yes, I do love Macdonald (had avoided him for years thinking he was just a Chandler imitator -- boy, what a dope I was, huh?) and am glad you, Seana, saw the similarity, too.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo

I dont really understand your point. If the majority of people like something that's bad, that means its actually good? Uh, what?

You dont believe that a large number of people can be conditioned by a trend, movement or charismatic personality? What then is your explanation for Sarah Palin?

Solo, my darling, you have a charming, old fashioned view of non conformity, one doesnt need to go to Mount Olympus to maintain a critical stance vis a vis trends in our culture, one merely needs a little bit of bottle to push against the dreary consensus.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, solo.

I'll let Adrian come after you if he so desires, but a few comments from me before the fists start flying:

If you find it a disturbing development, then you haven't been conditioned. And if a member of the public like you hasn't been conditioned, then there's no good reason for you to assume that any other member of the public has been conditioned.

Perhaps conditioned is too casual a use of a term from psychology, but I am well prepared to believe that the reading public may have fallen into the habit, let us say, of accepting objectionable portrayals of one kind or another. Look at the casual contempt toward members of minority groups in some earlyish American pulp fiction, for example, or the not so casual xenophobia in some English Golden Age mystery and adventure stories.

that comment reminded me of the great Frank Sinatra and his description of Rock and Roll: The most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.

That same Sinatra who was so harshly dismissive later called "Something" the greatest love song in fifty years, recorded it, and, in an act of poetic retribution, botched the ending.

I may convene a discussion on the ethical obligations attendent on depicting violence in crime fiction.

I know you distrust Wikipedia, Peter, (I do myself) but allow me a couple of quotations from an article on Crime in the United States.

Let's say that I'm wary or overreliance on it rather than that I distrust it.

This shows a very strong correlation (although no causal link) between rising amounts of graphic violence on our screens and a decreasing crime rate on our streets. Isn't that a cause for celebration?

Declining crime on the streets is cause for celebration, but there's no reason to assume that this has any causal relation to graphic violence going mainstream (and that's a nice formulation, by the way, "going mainstream.") It is possible to be revolted by graphic, consequenceless violence for reasons other it may drive crime rates up.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Linkmeister, re your comment: "I don't know whether I'm jaded or callous or what, but I find I go right past the methods serial killers use in most of the psychological thrillers I seem to be reading lately."

I'd probably describe myself as squeamish when it comes to these passages but I skip past them, too. Just as I fast-forward through the songs I don't like in a musical on DVD. Both instances "don't forward the narrative" as I once heard it jargonistically described.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Elizabeth, I wasn't feeling touchy about it, it's just that one has one's sources to go to for info and then one has, uh, me.

I don't think I would call Hughes a comic crime writer, exactly, but some of his lines are funnier than whole books of other people's attempts, so that should count for something. He does quote MacDonald in this book, so I knew he must have read him. It's just very cool how he has transplanted some of MacDonald's themes to Dublin, where they still seem to work.

I don't think I'd better jump into the other skirmish brewing here, other than to say that whatever Adrian's shortcomings, I don't think he would ever position himself as anything other than a member of the public or the masses. Whether he'd agree with everyone--or anyone--else is another matter. but it's not a mountaintop position. Pretty sure on that one.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Adrian, why do you talk about the public as them and not us? Are you not a member of the public?

The idea that some people can be conditioned but that others are immune from that is democratically offensive. By claiming that other people's views are conditioned as if they were mere oxen to be acted upon but your own views are the result of critical detachment is elitist. I can't stand Sarah Palin but my dislike for her is based on my own opinion and I would grant those people who like her the respect to assume that their like for her is their own opinion, formed in much the same way as my own.

I dont really understand your point. If the majority of people like something that's bad, that means its actually good? Uh, what?

That doesn't really bear much relationship to anything I said and is rather too incoherent to answer.

Solo, my darling

Thanks for the endearment, but do you really think it's appropriate at this early, slightly troubled stage of our relationship.

view of non conformity

So that's how you see yourself, is it? The lonely, brave non-conformist kicking against the pricks? The idea that your own views might be just as received or 'conditioned' as those dreary conformists you consider your opponents doesn't occur to you.

Well, fight on braveheart, and may no one spoil your illusions.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think Solo's use of the Sinatra quote was an attempt to show how tragically uncool Sinatra was when confronted with the ne plus ultra of humanity's musical evolution - rock and roll music. To hipsters everywhere the greatest crime of all is uncomformity in one's musical tastes.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, re violence on screen, one can object to it on grounds of taste, but unless one can show that it has real world consequences, and I don't see how anybody can, then there are no ethical or moral objections one can raise to it.

Look at the casual contempt toward members of minority groups in some earlyish American pulp fiction, for example, or the not so casual xenophobia in some English Golden Age mystery and adventure stories.

The past is a different country as someone once said. I don't think it's quite cricket or in any way useful to judge our ancestors from our own perspective.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, you asked “Do women howl and jump up and down at boxing matches more than men do?”

I don’t know, I was taking TCK’s word for it. When I think of women at boxing matches, I’m reminded of Myrna Loy in one of the “Thin Man” movies… All dolled up in hat and furs, Nora nibbles on a hot dog while some joker in the row behind her keeps hollering at the boxers and she is jostled around by other pals of Nick but never loses her poise. Whatta dame!

"Yo, I'm the Beachmaster! Stay the **** away from my woman! (Damn, I wish I had a pizza!)"

Well, actually it’s lots of women. Any female sea lion/fur seal that comes ashore on his little fiefdom is added to the harem, even if it means biting her and tossing her around (a sort of pinniped apache dance) or sitting on her to get her to stay put. Babies are often unknowingly squashed to death by the big males.

And that pizza better have anchovies on it!

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Ican tell this is a two man fight, but I have to say that,to use your example, Solo, I do not like Sarah Palin and I do look down on people who can't see through her a little. It doesn't mean that I wouldn't view them through other lenses or that I would tell them off for it, but it would form part of my larger judgement of them. I don't have any particular anti-Palin ax to grind here, but I do think that this is just what human beings do--judge things and each other. Prior to attaining enlightment, of course.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elizabeth said:
I’m reminded of Myrna Loy in one of the “Thin Man” movies… All dolled up in hat and furs, Nora nibbles on a hot dog while some joker in the row behind her keeps hollering at the boxers and she is jostled around by other pals of Nick but never loses her poise. Whatta dame!
Elizabeth, as a huge fan of Myrna Loy, and the Thin Man movies, I might be inclined to consider her an honorable exception to the rule to my 'Great Female Boxing Fan Theory', but, in view of reports I've heard of her 'Fah Lo See' character in 'The Mask of Fu Manchu', it might be only her Nora character that is the exception.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Was I picking on Adrian? Well, perhaps just a little. A man has to entertain himself somehow.

I'm sure Adrian and myself have similiar views on most things. My arguments could be put down perhaps to differences in semantic interpretation.

He does get provoked rather easily though, doesn't he?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo,

Me provoked by this? Perhaps when I was an undergraduate. But I do get what you're saying now. Its the Marcusian idea that, yawn, we are all conditioned by our evironment, circumstances etc. and that all opinions, ideas etc. are equally conditioned and therefore equally valid.

That is not my view. I believe that some values are better than others, just as some actions are better than others and some people are better than others. I understand that my ideas are a result of my background and circumstances but this is not why I hold these ideas, I hold them because they are right.

My belief that slavery is wrong I consider to be a transcendant, objective truth, demonstrable by evidence. As Wittgenstein showed in On Certainty objectivity itself only makes sense within this context i.e. the context of human subjectivity. There is no objectivity "out there" in the universe independent of a sentient agent. Surely this is obvious.

Perhaps someone will convince me that slavery is right and then I will think that slavery is objectively correct and when asked to prove it I will give my reasons.

No one says I'm sorry I'd tell you my opinion but whats the point, all our opinions are conditioned by society.

Your argument is tautological. If you think that all opinions are conditional and merely the end product of a set of circumstances then this opinion too is merely conditional with no claims to truth or objectivity. Furthermore, if your opinion and my opinion are equally conditioned why bother to make your argument at all. Neither of us is objectively right and the matter should be decided by a coin toss.

But you dont really believe that do you? You actually think you are right and I am wrong and by thinking this, I'm sorry sweetie, but you've proved my point.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

While it is entertaining to provoke him, I think the general etiquette is to offer him cakes and ale or something similar after...

June 08, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Adrian, I think we could convince you that slavery is right if we could just find you the right slave. And believe me, by now I've got my clues.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The women are out of their seats, already.
Looks like the ref might have to intervene!

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Conditioned to accept graphic violence against women? Who is conditioned?

Many women, including me, are not conditioned to accept this on screen or in books. We abhor it!
We won't see movies or read books which contain it.

My women friends won't read books which include this. A lot of mystery blogs which include primarily women, eschew violence against women in books. Some women only read "traditional mysteries" to avoid this.

As I said above, a woman editor posted an online essay where she explained her refusal to review mysteries with this type of writing and book covers which illustrate graphic violence against women (which publishers promote, even if the victim is a man or child.)

A lot of readers do not accept it.

As I said, I read Stieg Larsson's first two books and had to skip some of the violent scenes. But I appreciate his books anyway for other reasons.

People have different opinions, tolerances and tastes, including in what they read.

And many of us just do not accept this in writing, while others do.
I don't understand that at all.

And on violence in general in books, why do we have imaginations? I don't need to read of horrible torture in detail to know how the victim feels. I can figure it out and wince at the idea.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Me provoked by this?

Apologies for suggesting that a man of your great wisdom and intelligence could be provoked by anything.

But you have rather gone off at a tangent. My original point was a simple one. I distrust the views of people who describe the public as 'them.' Anybody who does that overrates themselves.

I'm sorry sweetie

What's with the endearments? Is this some weird Presbyterian thing?

These, of course, are rhetorical questions, not requiring an answer.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hi, everybody. I'm back.

Did you all play nicely while I was away?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think the term is 'spiralling out of control', Peter. :)

You know what happened Lot's wife when she looked back, don't you.
Keep your eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead!

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I was nice and I have a nice apple for you here but don't think I'm trying to be teacher's pet or anything.

I do check out Adrian's blog from time to time and although I haven't seen Breaking Bad I did see Malcolm in the Middle a few times back when I had a TV and like Adrian I think Bryan Cranston is a feckin' genius.

Since me and Adrian are now apparently on intimate terms and my mother said never to go to bed on an argument here's a link to some scenes
from Malcolm in the Middle. My favourite scene is where the dad bribes his kids to take the blame for something which he has done but is too afraid of his wife to admit it, but I couldn't find it on YouTube.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

Seana ... Yes, I noticed Hughes' debt to Macdonald immediately in "The Price of Blood" (the first DH novel I read). From what I've read, this was quite deliberate on Hughes' part.


And I have mentioned that Hughes expresses his admiration for Macdonald and his (Maddonald's) wife, Margaret Millar, so the stylistic similarity may well be an homage.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to include him on a list of crime and humor, however.

I'd number Hughes as a writer of crime with comic flourishes rather than a comic crime writer.

Yes, I do love Macdonald (had avoided him for years thinking he was just a Chandler imitator -- boy, what a dope I was, huh?) and am glad you, Seana, saw the similarity, too.

I must be a dope, too, then. I detected in a later Hughes novel what I thought were Chandler-like touches that more experienced readers have since suggested were derived from Macdonald.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

TCK, re your comment that the LOA "Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s" has "a gorgeous, 'Edward Hopper-esque' cover"... that painting is by Hopper; see the note on the dust jacket's back flap.

A number of Hopper paintings are suitable for crime/noir book covers; the ubiquitous use of his "Nighthawks" is a cliche by now.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty has ...

Solo

I dont really understand your point. If the majority of people like something that's bad, that means its actually good?


I take my usual dull middle course. I am not appalled by the Larsson books the way yoi [Adrian] are, possibly because I've read just one of them. But I don't get the reason for their astonishing success, which I may I have mentioned long ago in this thread.

you dont believe that a large number of people can be conditioned by a trend, movement or charismatic personality?

I wonder how many readers of, say, Larsson, Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling don't like the books but are embarrassed to say so.

Back to the dull middle course/ I'll rarely go so far as to say some massively successful book or movie is shite, because it's shite, I'll likely not have taken the time to read or see it. But I will say that the majority's taste is sometimes a mystery to me.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

well, you don't get more 'Edward Hopper-esque' than that, Peter!
I guess the 'jacket design by RD Scudellari' was referring to the non-pictorial elements, only.

And I've just read 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They' from that anthology.
If you haven't yet read it, do yourself a favo(u)r!
Next stop, 'Nightmare Alley'
"....down at the end of Lonely Street,....."

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

I'd probably describe myself as squeamish when it comes to these passages but I skip past them, too.


The most extravagant violence I can think of in a crime novel is that in Paul Johnston's "The Death List." It made me queasy, but its over-the-top theatricality and humor redeemed it in my eyes somewhat. The killer exacts revenge horrifically appropriate to abuse that had been inflicted on him as a child, and takes a kind of glee in letting the victims know why he does what he does.

I didn't find the scenes pleasant reading, but the humor, oddly enough, rendered them less disturbing than grim, straighforward depictions would have been.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

solo has ...

The idea that some people can be conditioned but that others are immune from that is democratically offensive.


I don't think so. I'm not presuming to read Adrian's mind, but I do believe that some of us may be less swayed than our fellow humans by public opinon in some areas.

Adrian may speak more bluntly than I do, but I'm not sure what he says is any more offensive than is my belief that his preference for Thin Lizzy's "Whiskey in the Jar" over "Luke Kelly's is incomprehensible to anyone with a discerning ear.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, re your comment "but the humor, oddly enough, rendered them less disturbing than grim, straightforward depictions would have been," I was reminded of this line in "Lawrence of Arabia": Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) to T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole): "It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun."

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has ...

It's just very cool how he has transplanted some of MacDonald's themes to Dublin, where they still seem to work.


His most recent, "City of Lost Girls," is Irish all the way but sets large portions of the story in Los Angeles.

Hughes' first novel opens with Ed Loy just having returned from L.A. to Ireland. I asked him if this marked a passing of the romantic, hard-boiled torch from Chandler and Macdonald to himself. He said no, it was just semiautobiographical. He himself had spent time in Los Angeles and was incorporating in his work the experience of returning home. So much for my psycho-biographico-literary theorizing.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty has ...

I think Solo's use of the Sinatra quote was an attempt to show how tragically uncool Sinatra was when confronted with the ne plus ultra of humanity's musical evolution - rock and roll music. To hipsters everywhere the greatest crime of all is uncomformity in one's musical tastes.


I'm no hipster, but I do like my gritty authenticity, and I still Luke Kelly was best.

I'd read the attribution to Sinatra before, and I'd always taken it as bitter and bitter and hate-filled.

June 08, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I do believe that some of us may be less swayed than our fellow humans by public opinon in some areas.

If that's true, Peter, who is it who decides who the ignoramuses (those more easily swayed) are, the Democrats or the Republicans? And if you can decide that, why should the ignoramuses get to vote?

You're opening a can of worms, Peter. Better be prepared to get covered in some real slime.

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

solo has ...

Peter, re violence on screen, one can object to it on grounds of taste, but unless one can show that it has real world consequences, and I don't see how anybody can, then there are no ethical or moral objections one can raise to it.


I'm not sure where taste stops, and morals and ethics begin, but I cannot believe that "real-workd consequences" are the only reason for objecting to violence or anything else. Think of the most appalling act imaginable. What would that be? Gratuitious torture? Sadistic sexual assault on a child with no apparent artistic reason? Then depict that act on film and exhibit it in a movie theater without incident for a week. On the eighth day, someone sees the movie and goes out and kill a child. Does the depiction then, and only then, become ethically and morally objectionable?

June 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

Any female sea lion/fur seal that comes ashore on his little fiefdom is added to the harem, even if it means biting her and tossing her around (a sort of pinniped apache dance) or sitting on her to get her to stay put. Babies are often unknowingly squashed to death by the big males.

And that pizza better have anchovies on it!


If anchovies are a survival mechanism, I'll just hae to go extinct.

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"'City of Lost Girls,' is Irish all the way but sets large portions of the story in Los Angeles."

I got all quivery when I peeked inside and saw a reference to Abbott Kinney Blvd. in Venice Beach. Neato! Doesn't take much to set off anticipatory thrills for me, huh? My auto mechanic is located on a street off Abbott Kinney. But am now reading them in order so I have to relax.

I think Macdonald's recurring theme of the dysfunctional family and his deep understanding of human nature and the human condition are elements that can be explored by any writer over and over again. Hughes is just more sensitive and perceptive than most at exploring these themes. And his writing is gorgeous.

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"If anchovies are a survival mechanism, I'll just have to go extinct."

Not those dried out salty slivers. Yuk is right! But what about fresh anchovies a la Montalbano? Baked in lemon juice and dressed with a little olive oil. Skip the lemon and olive oil for a true sea lion treat.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...
Elizabeth, as a huge fan of Myrna Loy, and the Thin Man movies, I might be inclined to consider her an honorable exception to the rule to my 'Great Female Boxing Fan Theory', but, in view of reports I've heard of her 'Fah Lo See' character in 'The Mask of Fu Manchu', it might be only her Nora character that is the exception.


Hmm, is this perhaps a reason to give the disreputable Fu Manchu a look?

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

On the eighth day, someone sees the movie and goes out and kill a child. Does the depiction then, and only then, become ethically and morally objectionable?

Peter, please don't tell me you think child killing began in the age of TV and movies. I know you're much too intelligent to believe that.

Let's face it, no matter how depraved we think our own society is, it can't hold a candle to earlier societies in terms of what we would call depravity.

This post was about humour in crime fiction, right? Oh, Lord, please forgive us our sins for how far we have strayed. And please forgive me as the worst sinner of all.

BTW, have you ever read Kyril Bonfiglioli? I've been told, by someone whose opinion I trust,that his novel, Don't Point That Thing At Me, is one of the great comic novels. I do trust your opinion, Peter, so any heads up on this question would be welcome.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

The women are out of their seats, already.
Looks like the ref might have to intervene!


Pounding their keyboards in an ecstatic frenzy, they are.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha

You know what happened Lot's wife when she looked back, don't you.
Keep your eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead!


I think it's more what happened when the teacher left the room.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

the LOA "Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s" has "a gorgeous, 'Edward Hopper-esque' cover"... that painting is by Hopper ...

ubiquitous use of his "Nighthawks" is a cliche by now.


Hell, even Tom Waits recorded a song called "Nighthawks at the Diner."

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...is this perhaps a reason to give the disreputable Fu Manchu a look?"

TCK and Peter, it's yours for the viewing on YouTube... Google: fu manchu myrna loy

Remember, she was typecast as an "exotic" female -- gypsy, Asian,etc. -- early in her career.

Speaking of Myrna Loy reminds me of Declan Hughes' Ed Loy reminds me of DH's latest novel with a Venice (CA) setting... Did you know that Myrna Loy attended Venice High School and that there is a statue (newly restored) of her on campus? She modeled for it when she was a student at VHS.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

Peter, re your comment "but the humor, oddly enough, rendered them less disturbing than grim, straightforward depictions would have been," I was reminded of this line in "Lawrence of Arabia": Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) to T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole): "It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun."


It is an odd reaction on my part, isn't it? I wonder if the humor made the violence seem less real and therefore less horrible.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

solo has left a new comment ...

I do believe that some of us may be less swayed than our fellow humans by public opinon in some areas.

If that's true, Peter, who is it who decides who the ignoramuses (those more easily swayed) are, the Democrats or the Republicans? And if you can decide that, why should the ignoramuses get to vote?

You're opening a can of worms, Peter. Better be prepared to get covered in some real slime.


I opened up no can of worms. I merely suggested that one person may be more easily swayed in matters of political allegiance, another in choice of reading matter, a third in musical or clothing tastes, and so on.

The diversity that I implied ("in some areas") would tend to militate against the crude possibility of Democrats or Republicans or some cabal or star chamber deciding who the ignoramuses are.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has left ...

I think Macdonald's recurring theme of the dysfunctional family and his deep understanding of human nature and the human condition are elements that can be explored by any writer over and over again.

Hughes is just more sensitive and perceptive than most at exploring these themes. And his writing is gorgeous.


You'd likely know more about this than I do, but family secrets were a recurrent theme in Black Mask-era writing. And the folks who wrote the Bible had a thing abotu family conflict, too.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

Not those dried out salty slivers. Yuk is right! But what about fresh anchovies a la Montalbano? Baked in lemon juice and dressed with a little olive oil. Skip the lemon and olive oil for a true sea lion treat.


No, I'm proud to be human; I'll keep the lemon and olive oil. I've never had anchovies prepared that way. They sound delicious.

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"..family secrets were a recurrent theme in Black Mask-era writing."

You betcha. About half a dozen Continental Op short stories come immediately to mind for starters... "It was a wandering daughter job" is the first line in Hammett's "Fly Paper," 1929. God, that guy was good!

June 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Uh, I think the women were actually either trying to tone the clamor down, or failing that, go there own separate ways. I guess you could peg me as not a big fan of either boxing or blood sports.

I actually spent an early part of my childhood in Venice Beach so that gives me a lot of incentive to get to that book! But like Elizabeth, I will try to read Hughes in sequence.

I think the very fact that Solo values Peter's opinion over others both shows him to be a wise man and also undermines his own argument. Why Peter more than anyone else? The fact that we rate and rank the opinions of others is part of how we survive.

I got away too for awhile and guess what I did? I saw (and heard) the first National Poet of Wales, Gwyneth Lewis. She was good, too.

v word=forev. Faithlessness built into the very heart of that word, I'm thinking.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

solo has left ...

Peter, please don't tell me you think child killing began in the age of TV and movies.


I'm not sure what led you to say that; you were the one who raised the issues of acts depicted on screen, and real-world consequences. Or did you posit "real world consequences" and "artistic depictions" as mutually exclusive opposites?

Let's face it, no matter how depraved we think our own society is, it can't hold a candle to earlier societies in terms of what we would call depravity.

No one would disagree, but I'm don't see how that is relevant to the issue under discussion here, which is artistic depictions. Adrian finds Stieg Larsson disturbing, but I suspect he would not find Larsson or his readers as depraved as were practitioners of depravity in those earlier societies to which you allude.

This post was about humour in crime fiction, right? Oh, Lord, please forgive us our sins for how far we have strayed. And please forgive me as the worst sinner of all.

Colin Bateman's post did mention torture porn, so blame him.

BTW, have you ever read Kyril Bonfiglioli? I've been told, by someone whose opinion I trust,that his novel, Don't Point That Thing At Me, is one of the great comic novels. I do trust your opinion, Peter, so any heads up on this question would be welcome.

My opinion is no better than anyone else's on this matter. In fact, it's considerably worse, since I have no basis on which to form an opinion. I have not read the marvelously named author, though his work has been recommended to me.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

TCK and Peter, it's yours for the viewing on YouTube... Google: fu manchu myrna loy


Thanks.

She modeled for it when she was a student at VHS.

That sounds like a school that ought to be defunct.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Oh, I forgot to say one thing. What's incredibly tricky about the decision to write about violence against women is that there is in fact, a lot of violence against women. Still. So, if you're someone like Larsson, who, from all accounts was an activist when it came to social justice, how do you deal with that? How do you stay on the right side of the line when you decide to write about it? I don't know that Larsson entirely succeeded at his attempt to get his point across, but I still believe in the integrity of his effort.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

"..family secrets were a recurrent theme in Black Mask-era writing."

You betcha. About half a dozen Continental Op short stories come immediately to mind for starters... "It was a wandering daughter job" is the first line in Hammett's "Fly Paper," 1929.


I seem to recall "The Scorched Face" involved family secrets in a way, too. Is that the story in which incriminating photographs and a tactful decision avert embarrassment for a police officer's wife?

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has ...

Uh, I think the women were actually either trying to tone the clamor down


Or defuse inflamed passions with good humor and gentle diversion.

I got away too for awhile and guess what I did? I saw (and heard) the first National Poet of Wales, Gwyneth Lewis. She was good, too.

I know nothing of Welsh poetry except that it probably has lots of w's, ll's, y's and n's in it.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

She actually only read a little bit in Welsh, though the audience was urging her to read more. But she did have a good piece on "Who murdered the Welsh language?" Guess what? It was the poets.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's quite the cliffhanger. How did the poets do the murder?

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, please don't tell me you think child killing began in the age of TV and movies.

I'm not sure what led you to say that.

Refresher course, Peter:

Think of the most appalling act imaginable. What would that be? Gratuitious torture? Sadistic sexual assault on a child with no apparent artistic reason? Then depict that act on film and exhibit it in a movie theater without incident for a week. On the eighth day, someone sees the movie and goes out and kill a child. Does the depiction then, and only then, become ethically and morally objectionable?

Not sure I understand that, Peter, or want to.

I've always liked the word amen. Such a concise word for 'so be it'. And concision is everything in my book.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

They are seduced away by the siren's lure of other tongues. Dick Francis has a lot to answer for, but then so does Simenon. She has a light, deft touch, does Gwyneth.

I wish I'd had time to stay and buy her book but I had to dash.

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I agree with Seana about the integrity of Larsson's writing. I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, although what he wrote is extremely disturbing. But it is based on real violence against women, which goes on all of the time, and in its worst forms.

A friend said that she thought that Larsson had to describe the violence to explain why Lizbeth Salander was the way she was.

I don't know. I had to skip some of it when I read his first two books.

I do not think everyone is swayed by public opinion, i.e., people who opposed slavery in the U.S., those who oppose war, and so on.

And even within Germany, those who opposed the Nazis. There were so many who heroically did that.

And talking about extreme violence in the worst sense; I think I'd put WWII in that category which wasn't so recent.
And other wars weren't exactly pleasant.

And on my vote, I'll pick the Dubliners on "Whiskey in the Jar," the traditional method.

Now how did we go from humor to all of this? Humor in mysteries--YES! I'm for it.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has ...

So, if you're someone like Larsson, who, from all accounts was an activist when it came to social justice, how do you deal with that? How do you stay on the right side of the line when you decide to write about it? I don't know that Larsson entirely succeeded at his attempt to get his point across, but I still believe in the integrity of his effort.


I've read few discussions of Larsson that took into account those two basic facts of his life: He was a crusading journalist, and he was a debut novelist. Perhaps he'd have got his point across in a more nuanced way had he lived to write more novels.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has left a new comment ...

They are seduced away by the siren's lure of other tongues. Dick Francis has a lot to answer for, but then so does Simenon.


I have just now learned that Dick Francis was Welsh, but Simenon? Was it he who lured generations of potential Welsh poets to write crime stories instead?

Incidentally, I have written about at least three Welsh crime writers on this site, about one of whom in particular I have had more than a kind word or two to say.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

kathy d. has left a new comment ...

I agree with Seana about the integrity of Larsson's writing. I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, although what he wrote is extremely disturbing. But it is based on real violence against women, which goes on all of the time, and in its worst forms.

A friend said that she thought that Larsson had to describe the violence to explain why Lizbeth Salander was the way she was.


I speculated just now that had he lived longer, perhaps Larsson might have grown to depict violence in ways just as horrifying without seeming exploitatve.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I didn't know that Francis was Welsh either. I thought it was more the lure of popular fiction.


Oddly enough, Gwyneth Lewis is writing a mystery novel herself.

I think you'd better post the links to those authors, Peter. And let's hope to God they at least have a sense of humor...

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of those authors is Bill James, and you know what I think of him. Another is Malcolm Pryce, one of the authors Colin Bateman puts in the vanguard of humorous crime writers. A third is Matt Beynon Rees, who has less humor in his books, but is a pleasant chap nonetheless. But all of that is just my opinion, of course.

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

As I said earlier, I've found humor in mysteries since I was a teenager reading Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books.

I try to switch off and read humorous books in between reading heavier tomes, or at least books in which humor is a minor character, at least.

I don't know if others read "Bad Things Happen," by Harry Dolan, but it has much to laugh about.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elizabeth and Peter: check out Katherine Bigelow's early, co-directorial, feature film, 'The Loveless', which has a gorgeous, 'Edward Hopper-esque look'.

Elisabeth: interestingly enough, I have a VHS recording of that Myrna film; I still haven't gotten around to watching it yet, though.
And I take it you know Orson Welles great 'Touch of Evil' was largely filmed at Venice Beach

June 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Thanks. Malcolm Pryce is the one I hadn't heard of, but I didn't know the others were Welsh either.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I wrote about Malcome Pryce's Aberystwyth, Mon Amour here and here, and I bought Last Tango in Aberystwyth at this year's Crimefest.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

kathy d. has left a new comment ...

I try to switch off and read humorous books in between reading heavier tomes, or at least books in which humor is a minor character, at least.

I don't know if others read "Bad Things Happen," by Harry Dolan, but it has much to laugh about.


I will occasionally carry around and even read two books at a time, one crime fiction and one not, or one humorous and one heavier.

I'll look into the Harry Dolan. Thanks.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Er, Seana, make that Malcolm Pryce.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

And I take it you know Orson Welles great 'Touch of Evil' was largely filmed at Venice Beach


I did not know this. Would the famous walk down the street, with waves of sound washing out from successive bars, have been among the scenes filmed there?

June 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Would the famous walk down the street, with waves of sound washing out from successive bars, have been among the scenes filmed there
Yes, and it hadn't changed very much by the time I re-created that walk, in 1989
(there's also a wonderful scene driving down a Venice back-street, which itself hadn't changed much, either)

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"I seem to recall 'The Scorched Face' involved family secrets in a way, too. Is that the story in which incriminating photographs and a tactful decision avert embarrassment for a police officer's wife?"

It was indeed. A wonderful O. Henry-like final paragraph. And one of my favorite DH short stories.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As I searched for references last night to make sure I had the correct title, I found an opinion that the story had not aged well, in part because of that final twist. That was fine testimony to the diversity of human judgment. I love the story, and the twist is both wonderfully plausible, and surprising.

The story is available in one of the big anthologies, I think "Hard Boiled," edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian.

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“'Touch of Evil' was largely filmed at Venice Beach.’”

That wonderful, long tracking shot at the beginning was a view of Venice Beach not much different than it had been in the neighborhood’s 1910s heyday. Only a very few buildings along that walk survived the dreaded “urban renewal” demolition projects of the 1960s, however. Replaced now, as you saw, TCK, with equally (if not as charming) cheesy storefronts.

Quite a lot of gentrification has gone on over the last 10-15 years in that area. Even the cheap waterfront hotel at the N end of Venice Beach that Raymond Chandler used as the model for the one in which Philip Marlowe waits for it to get dark in “Farewell, My Lovely” (“Outside cars honked along the alley they called the Speedway”) has undergone a fancy remodeling/refurbishing. Marlowe couldn’t afford to stay there now. But then he probably wouldn’t want to.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elisabeth said...
Quite a lot of gentrification has gone on over the last 10-15 years in that area.

Elisabeth, is either of the building where the 'planting of the incriminating evidence' or the blind woman's shop where Chuck made his phone call still standing
(I'm only going from memory, and we might only have seen interiors of the latter, and the 'interior' of the former building may well have been a studio)

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

That wonderful, long tracking shot at the beginning was a view of Venice Beach not much different than it had been in the neighborhood’s 1910s heyday. Only a very few buildings along that walk survived the dreaded “urban renewal” demolition projects of the 1960s, however. ...


The initial excitement about urban renewal is starting to wear off, isn't it?

Even the cheap waterfront hotel at the N end of Venice Beach that Raymond Chandler used as the model for the one in which Philip Marlowe waits for it to get dark in “Farewell, My Lovely” (“Outside cars honked along the alley they called the Speedway”) has undergone a fancy remodeling/refurbishing. Marlowe couldn’t afford to stay there now. But then he probably wouldn’t want to.

Hmm, that's a good scene in the book and in at least one of the movies. There something alluring about waiting for the dark. But allure, obviously, gets expensive.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

Elisabeth, is either of the building where the 'planting of the incriminating evidence' or the blind woman's shop where Chuck made his phone call still standing
(I'm only going from memory, and we might only have seen interiors of the latter, and the 'interior' of the former building may well have been a studio)


My memory may work like yours. I recall just the interiors in those scenes.

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

TCK and Peter, Golly! Your memories are better than mine. I'm fairly certain most, if not all, of the interiors were shot at the studio. Can't bring to mind the 2 bldgs you mentioned, TCK.

TCK, if you saw Venice Beach in 1989, that storefront area around Ocean Front Walk (the US-Mexico border in the film) has not changed all that much since then. A few of the arcade/columned bldgs in that immediate area (that date to the 1910s/20s) are still there.

In another link to Venice Beach... TCK you mentioned that you just finished reading McCoy's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"... I believe this novel was based on a real-life murder of a dance marathon contestant under the Ocean Park Pier. Ocean Park is a neighborhood of Santa Monica that borders Venice Beach (which is a neighborhood of L.A.). It's a bit confusing what belongs in Venice and what belong in Ocean Park. The 1969 film version's interiors were shot in the old Aragon Ballroom on Venice's Lick Pier (later, Ocean Park Pier).

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“I found an opinion that the story had not aged well, in part because of that final twist. That was fine testimony to the diversity of human judgment. I love the story, and the twist is both wonderfully plausible, and surprising.”

“Not aged well” – bah! I agree with your assessment of the story. It’s a fine demonstration of the Op’s essential decency and humanity – he’s not the two-dimensional character some critics have tried to make of him—and that final twist serves as a perfect counterpoint to the violent shootout that immediately precedes it. I wish the Op had teamed up with that cop again.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Speaking of Venice (California), has anyone here read Ray Bradbury's mystery novel, Death is a Lonely Business, which is set in early 1950s Venice. I remember thoroughly enjoying it when I read it some years ago, though I didn't go on to read the follow ups.

Bleak v word: noughtis

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has left a new comment ...

“Not aged well” – bah! I agree with your assessment of the story. It’s a fine demonstration of the Op’s essential decency and humanity – he’s not the two-dimensional character some critics have tried to make of him—and that final twist serves as a perfect counterpoint to the violent shootout that immediately precedes it. I wish the Op had teamed up with that cop again.


It's one of the most noble, decent acts any crime protagonist commits, and Hammett manages the considerable feat of making it funny without detracting from its nobility. I think the critic was expressing the modern distaste for twist endings. But this one is brilliant.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana has ...

Speaking of Venice (California), has anyone here read Ray Bradbury's mystery novel, Death is a Lonely Business ...


I started it a while back, but I found it too atmospheric. There was so much rich description that I kept wondering when the story was going to get started.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

TCK, if you saw Venice Beach in 1989, that storefront area around Ocean Front Walk (the US-Mexico border in the film) has not changed all that much since then. A few of the arcade/columned bldgs in that immediate area (that date to the 1910s/20s) are still there.


The arcades are what I remember most about the exterior shots.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elisabeth, I seem to recall both an exterior for the suspect's apartment, and a view of exterior buildings taken from inside the shop, although both could have been, of course, studio structures.

As regards the novel of 'They Shoot Horses...', I was somewhat disappointed that the MC, Rocky (memorably played by Gig Young in the movie), never used the catchphrase 'Yowsah' in the book: this was both a title of a 'Chic' song, -perhaps the title was inspired by the book or film, - and also a catchphrase of a popular Irish radio personality of the 70s and 80s
(when reading the book I was recalling Santa Monica Pier although I wouldn't have been familiar enough with all of the LA area piers to make distinctions)

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ,,,

As regards the novel of 'They Shoot Horses...', I was somewhat disappointed that the MC, Rocky (memorably played by Gig Young in the movie), never used the catchphrase 'Yowsah' in the book


That could be nice example of a movie making its own artistic contribution, and not simply transcribing a book -- provided people really did say "Yowsah" at the time the story was set.

June 10, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

So what are the movie recommendations here? I just picked up "Get Carter" from the library as well as "The Maltese Falcon"; that one I have seen many times but since I just read the book, I want to see it again.

June 10, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“…when reading the book I was recalling Santa Monica Pier although I wouldn't have been familiar enough with all of the LA area piers to make distinctions.”

TCK, Santa Monica Pier is the only one remaining along that immediate stretch of coastline (there’s one farther north in Malibu, a pathetic remnant of its former self) so that’s a perfectly good site to bring to mind when reading SoCal period fiction. SMP has been restored and is now very much like a 1910s SoCal pleasure pier – with amusement park rides, cafes, souvenir shops, etc. These elements were still in the planning stages when you were here in ’89. More movie trivia… the 1922 merry-go-round at the beginning of “The Sting” is the one on the Santa Monica Pier.

The SMP is also the official end (or beginning) of historic Route 66.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

kathy d. has left a new comment ...

So what are the movie recommendations here?


Look for any of the film noir classics that have commentary by Eddie Muller.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

kathy,and Elizabeth: since we're talking movies, and 'Touch of Evil', there's a great 50th Anniversary Special Edition Region 1 DVD of TofE featuring the three versions of the film, with 3 very insightful and enthusiastic commentaries on each, and a printed copy of Orson Welles memo to the studio regarding his suggested changes.

Elizabeth, I got snowed in in Williams, Arizona, in 1994, which I recall was on Route 66
(had to divert off the main road due to freak blizzard conditions)
I never did the full route though.
And I'm glad to know that my picturing of the Santa Monica pier was a good choice while reading 'They Shoot Horses...'

June 10, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, I seem to recall Eddie M. doing a particularly entertaining commentary with Dana Andrews daughter, for, I think, the Otto Preminger noir, 'Fallen Angel'

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

there's a great 50th Anniversary Special Edition Region 1 DVD of TofE featuring the three versions of the film, with 3 very insightful and enthusiastic commentaries on each, and a printed copy of Orson Welles memo to the studio regarding his suggested changes.


I have vague memories of hearing about the Welles memo. I'm not sure I knew there were three versions of the movie, though. Thanks.

June 11, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

Peter, I seem to recall Eddie M. doing a particularly entertaining commentary with Dana Andrews daughter, for, I think, the Otto Preminger noir, 'Fallen Angel'


He's also a nice guy and, as befits a fan, he loves to talk about movies and noir. I was part of a small group that shut down the bar with him the last night of Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore, one of the convention's highlights for me.

June 11, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, I picked up that Bill James Omnibus last night.
It looks like its been the victim of a number of old-fashioned police interview room 'sessions', to be fair, which, I suppose, is perhaps fitting, given the subject matter.

I was interested to see that most of its borrowings were taken out from July 97 through September 2000, and the previous one was May 2002
(you could draw all types of 'Celtic Tiger' conclusions from that).
But the back cover is full of glowing reviews from all the right newspapers.

It may have to take something of a backseat for the duration of the World Cup, though, but I'll let you know what I think in due course.
I'd be surprised, though, if I don't become a fan.

June 11, 2010  

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