Monday, October 04, 2010

Happily married P.I.s and other mold-breakers

Patti Abbott asks "What are some overused character traits found in the typical police or private detective?" and receives a list of entertaining and largely accurate answers, everything from cynicism, marital trouble and excessive drinking to a dubious diet and contempt for authority.

But about fictional P.I.s and cops who go the other way? Who breaks the mold? And how?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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105 Comments:

Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Doona Leon's Guido Brunetti is the most happily married cop in crime fiction. His intelligent wife Paola is also a wonderful cook, and also has influential relatives, highly necessary in Italy.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, is he any more happily married than Stuart M. Kaminsky's Abe Lieberman or Michael Stanley's David "Kubu" Bengu?

October 04, 2010  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

And Maigret, of course. He goes home to that dinner every night. But maybe police detectives stand a bit apart from private PIs.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have cited the meals Mme. Maigret prepares as instances of domestic felicity in crime fiction, but some naysayer called them examples more of mother fixation than of happy marriage.

But happily married P.I.'s? Well, there's ...

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Well, there's WJ Burley's Superintendent Wycliffe and Caroline Graham's Chief Inspector Barnaby.

Both Wycliffe and Barnaby are happily married men with intelligent wives who have interests of their own and children who aren't candidates for reform school. They have their disagreements now and then, but they work them out. Mrs Barnaby is a terrible cook, but she's also very understanding when Barnaby's mobile phone goes off in the middle of dinner and so on and so forth.

I was just thinking about this when I finished a Wycliffe mystery a few days ago--it's a real treat to find a cop who's a decent human being and not some skirt-chasing, tormented alcoholic who sees nothing wrong with bashing a suspect around for a confession, or executing one found not guilty by a jury (Finished that one just prior to reading the Wycliffe mystery).

Are PI's even allowed to be married?

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tormented or maladjusted protagonists seem less a feature of English than of continental or American crime writing, or am I imagining things?

I wonder when crime protagonists first started being anti-social and messed up. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and the Continental Op may have been solitary, but they weren't sociopathic or alcoholic (though Spade had a bit of Satan in him).

P.I.s have to be married, if only so they can be divorced by the time their creator takes an interest in them.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

You may be right for I've been trying to come up with some American police officers who are happily married and so far, I can't come up with anybody except for that TV sitcom called _MacMillan and Wife_.

I have seen more "flawed" English cops in the TV shows, especially those that aren't based on novels.
Different audiences?

As for PI's and the talented amateurs, I can't think of any that are happily married. I'm sure there are many, but not being very well-read in the field, I just don't know any.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If Blogger doesn't swallow this comment, too, I was trying to say that I think the flawed detective is more recent in English crime writing, and that you may be right about TV shows not based on novels. Is "Prime Suspect" based on books?

Kaminsky's Abe Lieberman, a Chicago cop mentioned above, is happily married. Unlike Mme. and Commissaire Maigret's marriage, his includes physical affection. Not only that, he and his wife are grandparents, and they take in their mixed-up daughter's son in at least one book.

Lieberman is Jewish, a rarity among fictional detectives, and violent when he has to be, a real stereotype breaker when combined with his religion.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Elizabeth Linington's cops (Lt. Luis Mendoza, Sgt. Ivor Maddox) and lawyers (Jesse Falkenstein) were happily married.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Second try, as Blogger's server is failing again:

I had not heard of Elizabeth Linington before, and now I see she was prolific and won awards.

Contrary to what one might believe from excessive focus on voguish phenomena, not all Nordic crime-fiction detectives are morose, drunken misfits. Helene Tursten's Irene Huss enjoys a harried but ordinary domestic life, and some of Van Veeteren's collegues in Hakan Nesser's books manage to get some fun out of their marriages.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Another one: Scobie Malone, Aussie police inspector. I grant you the only one I've read is the very first one (the High Commissioner), but he's married and stayed so to the woman he met in that book, as far as I can tell.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

I suggest Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee. Great creations, outside of the mold.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I had only the vaguest familiarity with Scobie Malone, but that first book looks worth reading. And the author, Jon Cleary, appears to have enjoyed the kind of career I should know about. Thanks.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Frank, they're probably a good choice. Their location is obviously unusual and, from what little I know about them, they don't fall into old-young or good-bad opposition typical of protagonist teams. So thanks.

As someone else noted above, it appears easier to find exceptions among fictional police detectives than among P.I.s.

I've read a couple of Declan Hughes' novels in recent months. He does not go against P.I. conventions as much as embrace them and sometimes take them over the top, with good results.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Solea said...

Gregory Mcdonald's Inspector Flynn was both a great family man and a great husband. Flynn was also the best cop on the force, but not always well liked by other cops (or superiors). I would say he was a bit like Montalbano.
I should add that I do like the "functioning addict" noir characters (perhaps because I know so many of them in real life?), which is how so many PI characters are written.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps there ought to be subcategories of the "typical" private eye. Look at Montalbano: He doesn't drink to excess (but then, detectives from countries where wine is a part of everyday life rarely do), which is uncharacteristic of Patti's list, but he scorns stupidity among his superiors, which might make him a part of the anti-authoritarian class. He's sort of single and can't quite get his relationship with Livia together, but he's not haunted, doomed, or obsessed. And I don't think he listens to jazz.I was actually going to include him on my list of mold-breakers.

With respect to functioning addicts, I enjoyed seeing Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder drop into AA meetings at all hours, and I thought it effective when Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor would torture himself by lining up drinks, and then not drinking them. And Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole is about as far down in the hole of alcoholism as one can be, yet never descends into self-pity. And he does suffer the consequences of his drinking.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Parnell Hall's New York P.I. Stanley Hastings, is happily married. Jeff Cohen's Aaron Tucker, not a P.I. but a magazine writer who solves crimes (don't they all?) is happily married. Anne Perry's Inspector Thomas Pitt of Scotland Yard is happily married. Earl Emerson's Portland private eye Thomas Black is now happily married. Nicholas Kilmer's Fred Taylor, bodyguard, art expert and mystery solver is in a happy, committed relationship. Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell are happily married in Laurie R. King's outstanding series. Off the top of my head, that's about all I can think of. ;)

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Forgot the most famous detective of them all: Robert Parker and Boston's Spenser who has been in a happy relationship with that awful Susan Silverman for years and years. AND he doesn't have a drinking problem.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I tried tp read Parnell Hall a few years ago and found the yuck-it-up laughs too relentless for my taste. They're worth another shot, perhaps.

Laurie King's novels would make an interesting contrast with the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie, with its brawling, dissipated Holmes. I wonder if fans of both should even be allowed in the same room.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Solea said...

That jazz crack was amusing! (I can’t help but think of Montale & Thelonious Monk).
I agree that Montalbano is a mold-breaker (from both a cop and an Italian male perspective), especially since I don’t usually like stories from a cop’s perspective. I think Ellroy tends to overdo his “functioning addict” characters. But isn’t the most used stereotype that cops don’t like peepers and vice versa? Did you see the recent neo-noir Australian thriller “Animal Kingdom”? It really brought to life the “hardboiled” woman/mother character you don’t see too much of anymore.
Also you have a double “about” typo in the red sentence -- I only point it out because I know you’re a stickler for typos.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Spenser the most famous of them all? Hmm, are you from Boston?

I lived in Boston when he Robert B. Parker was just starting to make a splash, and I read some of his early novels. One, in particular, showed an unexpectedly sensitive touch.

October 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solea:

One of the abouts has been removed. Thanks.

I don't so much think of Ellroy's functional addicts as I do of his addicted fictional world, where everyone is messed up. And I have not seen Animal Kingdom, but I'll add it to my list.

Montale and Izzo get a pass because the music in the books is so rich and varied and interesting: jazz, rai, and one of my favorite examples from the novel that shares your name:

"When I came in, Léo Ferré was singing:

"`I sense the arrival
of trains full of Brownings,
Berettas and black flowers
And florists preparing bloodbaths
For the news on color TV ... '"

October 04, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Not so related, but I finally had a chance to get to the post office today, where my copy of Following the Detectives was waiting for me. Haven't had a chance to read the articles yet, but it looks really, really fun.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You received reasonably speedy service, I'd say. I was floored by the amount of work that must have gone into the book -- the production and all the extras. I have not been able to bring myself to do anything but glance at my own stuff, and I will sit down and give the book a good read once I get my Bouchercon preparations out of the way. Maybe I'll read it on the plane to San Francisco next week.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

It may have been even faster as I haven't even been in town for a week. It's a very visual book, but I don't that does a disservice to the essays.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No reason it should do a disservice to the essays. If readers use the book as a travel guide, real or virtual, perhaps they'll find the writing better than in most such guides.

By extras, I don't mean only the visuals. There are little features and inserts about authors not dealt with in the main essays. I'm always impressed with the efficiency of any reference book that does that.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Other than acute fussiness, Poirot was undistinguished. Lord Peter Wimsey was lovelorn for quite a while, but he didn't overindulge. Anthony Gethryn was "normal."

October 05, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

To change this topic for a moment, what about Kenneth Branaugh on Sunday night in the new Wallender series? Great job.

Quite an interesting decor to exacerbate his depression to have a room in his house with black walls. What a touch.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Maxine said...

Irene Huss (Helene Tursten) is happily married and (as reminded by Kerrie) Reg Wexford (Ruth Rendell).

Ted Stratton in Stratton's War by Laura Wilson.

Even Harry Bosch was happily married for a couple of books, though it did not last long.

Nick and Nora Charles (but they are probably mentioned here already).

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

As far as I can find out, _Prime Suspect_ was not based on any novels. However, several of the scripts were by Lynda La Plante, who is a novelist.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Peter, I'm not from Boston (though I wouldn't mind it if I were)but I admit I love the Spenser books. Well, most of them. His two classics, well worth checking out if you never read any of the others: EARLY AUTUMN and LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE. Two early titles. Though he wrote some terrific books later on as well, at least in my opinion.

EARLY AUTUMN is a detective mystery novel, of course, but in many special ways, it is also a primer on how to raise a healthy male child. I kid you not.

It had a sequel, a few years later, PAST TIME, which I am also very fond of.

Too bad you didn't like Stanley Hastings, Peter. I loved the series from the opening sentence of the first book, DETECTIVE, which to my mind, has one of the funniest opening paragraphs of any book I've EVER read. To each his own. ;) (I don't read Hall's later series, the Puzzle Lady books, though. Those I don't like.)

October 05, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Early Autumn is one of the few Robert Parkers I've read and yes, it "transcends its genre", as they say. I am happy to know there was a sequel, and will look for it, though I might have to do an Early Autumn reread first.

October 05, 2010  
Anonymous BV Lawson said...

I suppose I *do* notice the cliches when I'm reading crime fiction (of any sub-genre, including private eye), but I don't really mind, as long as the writing is good and the characters and setting are engaging. I'm not sure if that makes me a less-discerning reader than most, or I just enjoy being drawn into that particular writer's worldview for a time.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister has ...

Other than acute fussiness, Poirot was undistinguished.


That's a pretty big "other than," I'd say. He was also a foreigner, which would have made him an object of special interest to English audiences, at least at the beginning -- a kind of eccentric.

I haven't read Philip MacDonald (though I have a copy of The List of Adrian Messenger lying around), so I can't weigh in on Anthony Gethryn. What was his class background? I ask because, Lord Peter Wimsey's relative sanity in matters of love notwithstanding, I don't think a lord can ever be quite a normal person. The necessity of earning a living goes a long way toward conveying an impression of normality.

In fact, the gentleman sleuth, like Wimsey, sometimes with quirks, like Poirot's, is arguably the English counterpart to the hard-drinking American of the type Patti posted about. It's the stereotype by which people only casually interested in the genre identify the entire range of its production.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

kathy d. has left a new comment ...

To change this topic for a moment, what about Kenneth Branaugh on Sunday night in the new Wallender series? Great job.


Kathy, I copy-edited a story in my newspaper last week about the show, and the article made the show sound worth a look. I knew I'd be working Sunday night, so I thought about making arrangements to have the show recorded -- and then forgot to do so. I hope I'll have another opportunity.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxine, I mentioned Helene Tursten's Irene Huss in a previous comment. She has a convincingly normal marriage, and the author portrays in well.

I have not seen Nick and Nora Charles mentioned, but if one's marriage is an endless party with a partner one loves, how could it not be happy?

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, that's right. I knew I'd read about some connection between Prime Suspect and a novelist. Thanks.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Peter, thanks for recommending J.F. Englert, by the way. I did some looking around and posted about the books on my blog. Yes, I can tell I'm going to like them.

As for Hercule Poirot, I don't know what it says about me, but as a teenager I fell in love with both Poirot and Nero Wolfe and I never fell out. They were not (nor was Whimsey) 'stereotypes' when they were first invented. If I'm not entirely mistaken, they were the first of their kind. Well, after the eccentric Sherlock Holmes, of course. My favorite fictional character of all.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Gethryn was an upper-crust Brit.

You really should read "The List of Adrian Messenger," as long as you've already got it in house. It's pretty good, hinging as it does on the commonality of a group of men who basically had nothing in common but one thing.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, the Robert B. Parker novel I’m thinking of has Spenser assigned to guard a lesbian activist who’s on a book tour. The woman is shattered that one radio interiewer in particular wants to talk about nothing but sex. I thought that a sensitive portrayal of the author, and a (relatively) early jab at idiot interviewers.

I will have to take a look at Detective after your endorsement.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'm glad you put "transcends its genre" between inverted commas. That expression is best reserved for such ironic use.

I should make a post about fictional detectives who raise children. I could cross-index it with my discussions of families and alternative families in crime writing (Bill James, for instance), if I could only find them.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

BV, that doesn’t make you any less discerning a reader, and there is nothing wrong with adhering to conventions and doing it well, or with combining old conventions in new ways.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, you're right: Poirot, Wolfe and Wimsey were not stereotypes, they became the model for stereotypes. Someone once suggested that Rex Stout combined the Engoish eccentric-detective tradition (in the person of Wolfe) with the Ameican hard-boiled tradition, in the person of Archie Goodwin. That's an interesting proposition and suggestive of Stout's originality.

I am not a fan of animal books the way you are, but Englert's novels are entertaining and serious explorations of consciousness, believe it or not.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I guess that makes them prototypes rather than stereotypes.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I guessed that Gethryn might be upper-crust when I saw that he was a former British "secret service" agent. As far as I know, the British intelligence has not traditionally recruited its members in London's East End.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Peter, it may be Englert's exploration of consciousness, but I'm betting it's more likely Randolph's.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Linmeister, I've read THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER and of course, I've seen the film. The ending of the book disappoints, the ending of the film does not. But the wretched make-up excesses - heaven only knows whose idea it was to disguise well-known American actors as Brits with heavy make-up that wouldn't fool a fly - makes the film an utter failure. Still, there's something about it that I find alluring. George C. Scott and the French actor make up for the rest of the promulgated crap. :)

Peter, the Spenser book you're thinking of is: LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE. One of Parker's classics.
I say: read EARLY AUTUMN, see if you don't agree with Seana and me.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Attempt #2 (This time it's Blogger's server that's eating comments):

Seans, you know that and I know that, but for reason publishers won't make out a check to a dog, so Englert fronts for Randolph.

Yes, his books are speculations about canine consciousness, and the canine in question is Randolph.

Englert has made at least one post on his blog about the human brain, so I think he really is interested in such matters.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Some interesting criticism of the movie, Yvette. You and Linkmeister are welcome to debate the endings of the book and the movie here, and if you can do so without plot spoilers, so much the better.

Looking for Rachel Wallace must have made an impression. It has to be twenty-five years since I read it.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Can't do it. Haven't seen the movie, and it's been a long time since I've re-read the book. ;)

The idea of George C. Scott (Patton? PATTON?) playing Gethryn is intriguing.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not to mention Gen. Buck Turgidson (Oh, those devilishly witty names in Dr. Strangelove!) playing an upper-crust Brit.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Linkmeister and Peter: George C. Scott is quite wonderful in ADRIAN MESSENGER. No English accent, but I forgive him. There's NOTHING Scott can't/couldn't do. But the French actor Jacques Roux practically steals the show, as well as the marvelous Clive Brook as the Marquis of Gleneyre. If you can overlook the hideous make-up blunders, the film is watchable.As I said, there's just something alluring about it.

The different endings? Well, all I'll say is that one takes place in California (if I'm remembering correctly) and one takes place in England. The one in England is not only preferable but makes more sense.

October 05, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

To agree with Yvette on this: When I was a teen-ager my first mysteries starred Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe, and Hercule Poirot--and, of course, the forerunner of it all, Sherlock Holmes.

I kind of moved past them, but will watch a Poirot show on PBS. Tried to watch the original Perry Mason shows on dvd, but it didn't click.

I've been thinking of rereading some Nero Wolfe books, but then again, there are so many, I could read some for the first time.

Nothing is as good as it was when I was first reading mysteries in my teens and everything was new and fresh, even if it--in the case of Holmes--was decades old.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, bad accents have been a subject of discussion here on occasion. Maybe George C. Scott is a reminder that actors should forget about accents and concentrate on acting.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, you might try reading some of the Parry Mason stories. I've read just one, but it was surprisingly good, though rushed at the end.

I've read just a few of the Nero Wolfe stories but have always found them enjoyable.

I don't look back on mysteries with quite the nostalgia you do because I have been reading them in a big way only the last few years.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

Readers have to accept some of the blame. I tried to write a series about a relatively normal PI. Yes he was divorced, and his friend was a badass, but he didn't drink worth mentioning, wasn't devastating to women, got along reasonably well with his ex, and was gradually being worn down by the violence he kept experiencing. The primary point raised when the books were rejected was that he wasn't damaged enough. So I'm hardening him up, and giving a darker past. Not by choice, though.

October 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, this ought to be easy to find out, but I wonder when and why the vogue for damaged detectives started. Commentators generally trace the solitary P.I. to his predecessors in the Western, but when did he start drinking to excess, being unable to maintain relationships with women, and start listening to jazz or opera?

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Kathy: I reread almost all the Nero Wolfe books every few years. Rex Stout created a world from which I do not want to remain exiled for too long. I've read the entire series, but of course I have my favorites. I recently reread all the Ngaio Marsh books and found them as good as the first time around, many MANY years ago. For me, books are a way of 'going home again'.

Peter: almost the first books I loved as a kid, were mysteries, so my sense of nostalgia runs deep.

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

Yvette:

Rex Stout wrote a lot of Nero Wolfe mysteries. I'm impressed that you reread all of them.

There are so many international and U.S. mysteries I want to explore that I haven't gone back to them. But I will reread some of them.

Any favorites?

I have never read Ngaio Marsha.
I found some old movies at the library based on four of her books and I'm waiting for them.

I will try a few.

It's just that the world of global fiction has hit me and I can't stop finding and reading new authors (to me) and enjoying them.

I guess my first mysteries at 11 and 12 were Nancy Drews, which I liked. That got this reading enjoyment of mysteries going.

Then Perry Mason shows were on tv so I liked the books, and then Wolfe, Holmes and Poirot.

My father was a mystery buff so he brought books home and I read some of them, although he liked John Dickson Carr locked-room mysteries, which I have to read, too.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, I agree with Kathy in being impressed by your having read and reread the Nero Wolfe catalogue, or most of it.

Come to think of it, after Dr. Seuss, the first great literary love that I remember was the Hardy Boys. I read all the books and eagerly awaited each new one. So maybe my roots in mystery do run deep.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

I too started out with Hardy Boys mysteries and was soon deep into everything ERB wrote, which led to more SciFi like Andre Norton, Bradbury. Crime came to me via my mother's interests which lay in Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mary Stewart, Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt.

Though I knew about Nero Wolfe back then, I didn't read any of those books until i saw the TV series with Timothy Hutton a decade or so ago. That lead me to the books and I quickly digested a dozen or so. Fun reads.

I have not read any Perry Masons, though I've been told the early ones are rather hardboiled, not at all like the TV series. I have read a dozen or so ESG's A.A. Fair COOL AND LAM books. They are terrific fun. What great dialogue. The plots can get a bit complicated, but the dialogue alone makes them fun reads.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Oh well, guys, it's no big deal to reread Nero Wolfe - it's a joy for me. I zip right through them. Plus I'm probably quite a bit older than you both, so I've been reading far longer. Ha!

Kathy: Ngaio Marsh (born in New Zealand) was one of the Grande Dames of the Golden Age of Mysteries. She's always compared to Agatha Christie since she was writing about the same time. Marsh's books are deeper in characterization (though not always) and the murders are generally more gruesome. I love both Christie and Marsh, so I can't say who is better. They are both equally wonderful to me. Some Marsh books for you to consider beginning with:
ARTISTS IN CRIME, A CLUTCH OF CONSTABLES, SINGING IN THE SHROUDS,
KILLER DOLPHIN, NIGHT AT THE VULCAN, DEATH OF A PEER and DIED IN THE WOOL. Can't go wrong with any of these.

I, too, read the Perry Masons (most all of them) and some Ellery Queens about a hundred years ago. But those I don't reread. I am a big fan of John Dickson Carr also. Read all his books when I was in my twenties. You know, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Oh, meant to mention, a few favorite Nero Wolfe books:

THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN,
PLOT IT YOURSELF,
MURDER BY THE BOOK,
THE RUBBER BAND,
THE MOTHER HUNT,
THE FATHER HUNT,
THE DOORBELL RANG,
DEATH OF A DOXY,
WHERE THERE'S A WILL,
THE GOLDEN SPIDERS.

Sorry, Peter, we seem to be taking over your blog. Ha!

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Frank, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote for Black Mask, which may surprise viewers who remember the TV series. I read my ESG story in an anthology of hard-boiled stories, as a matter of fact.

Any recommendations among the Cool and Lam books?

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, I've read just a few of the Nero Wolfe stories, but I always enjoy the set pieces. That's a neat trick, to repeat the same essential situations -- the confronations with Cramer, the sparring with Archie -- and still keep them enjoyable. One has to have clear, strong characters to do that.

And Rex Stout did have a knack for coming up with odd, imaginative settings, such as a World Series between the Red Sox(!) and the Giants.

No need to apologize for taking over. I can use your comments as a Nero Wolfe resource.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

Re Cool and Lam, I haven't read a bad one. Two that i recall as a being "a cut above": YOU CAN DIE LAUGHING, and BEDROOMS HAVE WINDOWS. The whole series has been reprinted so many times that copies of all the books are pretty easy to find.

A few years ago, Hard Case Crime reissued one - TOP OF THE HEAP - so it may even be on the shelf at your local bookstore, waiting for you. It is good, if overly complicated in the plot. But, as i said earlier, it's the characters and the dialogue that make them so much fun to read. The story is just a platform.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't realize Hard Case had reissued one of the titles. And there is a good secondhand mystery bookshop here in Philadelphia. I bet I could find some of the books there. Thanks.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

Probably so. The early editions and some of the reprints had some great covers, too. Some of the later reprints, lousy covers. All things being equal, I like a copy with good artwork. But in the end, it's the inside that matters. If you read one, let me know if you liked it.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm on my way to pick up my copy of the Library of America edition of Hammett's short stories. The secondhand shop is nearby. Maybe I'll look for some Lam and Cool for my post-Bouchercon reading.

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

Yvette, thanks so much for your suggested list of Ngaio Marsh mysteries and some of your favorite Nero Wolfes.

I did read some of the Nero Wolfes that you mention, but I will reread them at some point, after finishing my informal global reading challenge and catching up with my library reserves--which include a set of old movies of some Ngaio Marsha mysteries.

I do know who Marsh is and have a friend who is an avid reader of her books. But I haven't read them.

I hate to be sacrireligious but I'm not a big fan of Agatha Chrystie's, although I liked the Hercule Poirot mysteries also years ago in my teens.

But the Miss Marples just are not "my cup of tea," so to speak, too rich people in an English village with a few problems, like murder. They just don't interest me.

Now put on some Kurt Wallender programs on PBS and I'm there, or Inspector Lynley & Sgt. Haver.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"But the Miss Marples just are not "my cup of tea," so to speak, too rich people in an English village with a few problems, like murder. They just don't interest me."

Kathy, you remind me of what Raymond Chandler famously wrote about Dashiell Hammett:

“Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.”

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

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Great quote by Chandler about Hammett, and the part about "with the means at hand, not wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish."

This is somewhat why I am not too much into English mysteries in general, although I do like Jim Kelly's police procedurals and a few others, the down-to-earth with real suspects, murder methods and investigators or cops.

Are there even any English private detectives? Private detectives add so much to the crime fiction world here.

Do I care about rich people in villages? With the mysteries solved by lords?

Do I care about the life in the cities, with all of the people who make everything go and happen? Yes.

Am I an urban snob? Probably.

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

Also, hope you see the Wallender on PBS and that others saw it, too. It was quite good, and has been noted here, Branaugh was more than fine.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, this gets at all kinds of interesting cultural questions about the differences between English and American crime writing. Even if I had the time, I'd be ill-qualified to take more than a cursory stab at answering them.

Suffice it to say that Peter Lovesey, Martin Edwards and Ruth Rendell are three contemporary English crime writers whose work we North American urban snobs might enjoy.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Branagh's performances in the first Wallander series were almost universally praised. The only criticism I've read was a comment that he was too good -- that he dominated the series in a way that Wallander does not dominate the novels.

October 06, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Well, having seen a few, my criticism is the same I have watching Michael Gambon play Maigret. It isn't the skill of these fantastic actors that's the problem. It's that the English move in wholesale and pretend to be Swedes or Parisians or whatever. They aren't. I've heard that Sweden has its own perfectly good Wallender. Is everyone that afraid of subtitles?

That said, though, Branagh is good and some of the cinematography--a lot of it, actually--is stunning.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Odd you should mention that. Or maybe not.

I enjoyed Gambon as Maigret, though the English pronunciation of his name ("MAY-gray") grated on me. Why the actors could manage the more difficult Janvier but not the main character's name puzzled me.

Maybe the English moving in wholesale did not bother me all that much in this case because they were moving in on a Budapest that was masquerading as Paris in productions based on novels by a Belgian who had moved in on France.

October 07, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I wonder where the Gambon/Maigret mysteries could be found. This is a project for a detective.

On Peter Lovesey, my uncle likes his books. I never got into them. I have Martin Edwards on my to be read list.

I read one of Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford and it didn't grab me. Maybe it was aloof in tone while I'd be looking for a different ambience.

I'll give Rendell another try though.

I think there was a discussion on this blog at some point about why no or few detectives in English mysteries. That would have added an element I would have liked.

Also, the mention of Ellery Queen--I do remember reading those magazines as a teen as my father would buy them.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

There's a trade association for real-life British private investigators. If that's the case, surely there are fictional British P.I.s.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, those are available for rental on DVD, and perhaps for borrowing from libraries as well.

I mentioned Peter Lovesey because his Peter Diamond is a detective who chafes at authority and even quits the force in disgust in the first book. This may seem more characteristic of American or continental detectives, but the novel is no less English in feeling for that. Maybe that's because Lovesey portrays the setting of Bath well.

(He also pulls off one of the most jaw-droppingly virtuosic feats of crime writing in Bertie and the Seven Bodies. He pokes fun at the English country-house mystery and at the foolish, wasteful lives of his aristocratic characters and at the same time produces a completely credible and enjoyable example of such a mystery.

(The Bertie in question is the future Edward VII, Prince of Wales and son of Queen Victoria. So Lovesey, writing in our own time, produces an enjoyable book written in the style of the 1930s and set probably in the 1880s or '90s.)

I've read just one Ruth Rendell novel and, while it was not one of my favorites, I could appreciate what a supremely talented writer she is. (In this case, she breaks off from the immediate discovery of the body in the novel's first chapter and offers an extended description of a suburban shopping mall parking garage -- and she pulls it off.)

Martin Edwards has surprised me with his gritty descriptions of cities -- not something I expected from an author of traditional mysteries.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Mark Billingham, author of a series of police procedurals featuring D.I. Tom Thorne, has an interesting essay on the evolution of fictional detectives in which he mentions a few British P.I.s, including some women.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, thanks for the practical tip. I'll save that link in case I move to the UK and change careers.

I don't know how many private investigators the UK has per head as compared to the United States. But, since the loan-wolf PI is widely regarded as a descendant of the lone-wolf Western hero, it may be no surprise that the type is more prominent in American than English crime writing.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the Billingham piece. It appears a bit breezy for my tastes, and underappreciative of Rex Stout, among others, and he leaves out vast swaths of crime fiction. But that's probably inevitable in a short article. I'll print it out and read it more carefully tomorrow.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

This has become quite the long thread, so i might have missed a post. If I am repeating some suggestions, forgive me. Re English PI's: Kate Atkinson's PI Jackson Brody series has garnered good press and reviews. I believe there are three or four books so far. Haven't read them myself so can't comment. Going into the way-back machine, PD James wrote two featuring female PI Cordelia Gray - AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN, and THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN. These I have read, and quite enjoyed.

For my taste, her Adam Dalgliesh series is the best of the British whodunits, IMO.

In the turf of hard edged police procedurals, Ken Bruen's THE WHITE TRILOGY and the half dozen follow-ups featuring Brandt and others are excellent, and as hard boiled as you could want.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

I'm not a big fan of so-called Hard-Edged crime novels. No Scottish or London noirs for me, thank you. I'm not interested in weepy men drowning their sorrows in drink and murder, nor do I like 'happy hitman' books. But I do read Peter Lovesey, Kate Atkinson, the sadly unheralded Jonathan Ross police procedurals (if I ever meet anyone else who's read these, I would be thrilled beyond measure - ha!), Dick Francis, P.D. James, Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series set in England, Elizabeth George, Christopher Fowler, and lots of others. Oh, I wonder if you've read any of the short-lived and VERY gritty London series featuring Dr. Clare Burtonall, by Jonathan Gash. (I haven't read his Lovejoy series.) A VERY unusual series.

Kathy, I must disagree. I LOVE the Jane Marple books by Christie. Began reading them as a kid, along with Hercule Poirot. I love the idea of genteel murder (not so genteel, in truth) in a village atmosphere. I do care about this sort of thing. I find it much more interesting, depending on the writing talent, of course, than big city brutality and bloodletting. The big city stuff is to be expected. Murder in a village, less so. There's an 'uniqueness' factor that I like.
Plus I am a sucker for a good old fashioned, eccentric, peer of the realm. (i.e. Lord Caterham in Christie's THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS.)
I am hopeless, I know. ;)

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Frank, I haven't read Kate Atkinson, but Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog published a review of her latest, Started Early, Took My Dog, that makes me eager to read the book. It's an unusual, mold-breaking novel in a number of ways, apparently.

The Brant and Roberts books, which are a hell of a lot of fun, don't break the mold as much as they exaggerate all kinds of police-procedural characteristics. It's no accident that Brant loves Ed McBain.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, my tastes run to a harder edge than yours, but I had not heard of Jonathan Ross and am intrigued because of this.

I love P.G. Wodehouse, so I don't discount the possibility that I might one day take an English village mystery full of eccentrics to my heart. A couple of my favorite crime novels have a darker mood even though they are set in villages: The Spoke by Friedrich Glauser; Death in the Truffle Wood and The Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnan.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

NO ONE's heard of Jonathan Ross. If I didn't have some of his hardcovers on my bookshelves I would begin to think I made him up.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That makes him all the more intriguing as a possible subject of investigation. What is his work like?

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Ross's bibliography at Fantastic Fiction. I'm intrigued too.

Detective Superintendent George Rogers is the principal character.

Ross himself was actually John Rossiter, a 30-year veteran of the British police force. Here's an interesting 1980 article discussing his work in, of all places, the British Medical Journal. I note that it's archived at the (U.S.) National Center for Biotechnology website in the National Library of Medicine at NIH. I wonder why.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

I'm not sure if he's still writing or even, still alive. (I doubt it, he was born in 1916 - but it's possible, of course.) Ross was writing in the 60's through the
90's. (He also wrote under the name of John Rossiter.) His books are hard-edged, well-written Brit. police procedurals featuring Detective Superintendent George Rogers (Abbottsburn CID and an acquired taste) and a rotating cast of characters. There are quite a few titles in the series. I only own five of because that's all I could find.
THE BURNING OF BILLY TOOBER, DARK BLUE & DANGEROUS, DAPHNE DEAD AND DONE FOR, THE BODY OF A WOMAN and MURDER! MURDER! BURNING BRIGHT.
I always recommend them, but people look at me like, who?

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

Hey Yvette ... Just checked Amazon and they have copies of DAPHNE, MURDER MURDER, and BILLY TOOBER, plus a half dozen or so other titles. Quite affordable, too. Many copies can be had for a penny plus shipping. You have sufficiently tweaked my curiosity, and i intend to order one tonight.

At risk of giving you info you already know, I suggest not entering a search for the author's name at Amazon because there are some other writers out there with the same name. But, if you sI search first a specific title, then click on the author's name at the top of the page, Amazon will bring up a page of just John Ross' books. I haven't checked the Fantastic Fiction web site, as Linkmeister did. It's also a great source for used books, as it links to a score of sellers.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the link, meister.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Thanks for the info, Frank. I'll check it out. If you order, pick an early book as the series does follow, sequentially, the lives of the cops involved. I read them originally in the best order of publication I could find. Let me know how you like Ross. I'm pleasantly amazed that the books are available.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Thrilling Detective Web site might be another good place to look for information, especially on fictional P.I.s. http://www.abebooks.com/ is a good place to look for used books, and you'll be doing the additional good of supporting independent bookstores when you order through ABE.

Yvette, be proud that you can recommend an author few people have heard of. You'll develop a reputation for wisdom that way.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

Yvette, I ordered THE RATTLING OF OLD BONES. An early one, but not the first.

Peter, I also buy thru ALIBRIS and BIBLIO, as well as ABE. Another interesting site is BookFinder:

http://www.bookfinder.com/?keywords

It searches the databases of ABE, BIBLIO, ALIBRIS, AMAZON, and others. You get a pretty comprehensive listing. You can then click on one that interests you and it takes you to that book at ABE or wherever. Saves lots of time over checking each place individually.

I punched in Jonathan Ross and MURDER MURDER BURNING BRIGHT and it came up with 146 copies, six new, the rest used.

October 07, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Re: Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brody books. I have read all of them and liked them, except for the newest which I await. He's a regular guy, with a complicated life, but a good detective.

And I saw dvd's of movies based on P.D. James' Cordelia Gray character, liked those.

I like Scottish writer Denise Mina's Garnethill trilogy, which features a former worker at a social services agency, who solves murders. And I liked her Paddy Meehan series, with a newspaper reporter amateur detective.

I think the Lovesey book mentioned above would be fascinating and I'll check it out.

But I not one for delicate, village mysteries about the wealthy. I don't care about them. And Jane Marple doesn't interest me. I'm not a reader of cozies either, even though I also don't like hard-core violence either.

But I'd rather watch Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson square off in "Key Largo," than watch a Miss Marple movie; that's just me.

I did like the Poirot books at a teenager--the semi-locked-room mysteries with a group of suspects sitting together while Poirot deduces the murderer and gives the evidence. Then I noticed some of Chrystie's social attitudes and I couldn't read any more. That is always a deal-breaker for me. I have tough criteria.

But there is also personal taste. I have a lot of friends who read crime fiction; they can agree on many things, but not always on mystery tastes. I have to be careful to whom I lend which books as fireworks can go off. Passions run high on this.

I just got the dvd's of Ngaio Marsh movies from the library, can't wait. And I'll check on the Maigret movies.

Thanks for all of the terrific suggestions and discussion. No matter how it goes, thinking and writing/talking about books is always good!

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had some problems with Alibris a few years ago. And I have used Bookfinder.

Everyone raves about Book Depository, which ships from the UK, but I have not had occasion to use them.

Thanks.

October 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, Denise Mina will be a guest of honor at Bouchercon. This should give me the opportunity to investigate her writing.

Writing, thinking, reading and talking about books is pleasant and instructive. It's one of the reasons I look forward to these conventions. And, now that many newspapers have reduced their books coverage to almost nothing, I like to think that book blogs have a more important role than they might otherwise have had.

October 07, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Definitely and agree with the above comment.

However, blogs are a big different from newspapers in that readers and the blogspot organizer can have discussions and react to each other's opinions. And also can give each other information and suggestions as well as views.

So, even though it is awful that newspapers have cut back on book coverage, including reviews, it is a bit different.

If I had any decision-making in this, I'd say both have assets and should be done. But the newspaper moguls are making their decisions, regardless of what the book reading community wants.

And--good that Denise Mina will be at Boucherson. Gosh, this convention is sounding better and better.

Wonder if any videos will be posted.

October 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Someone posted short video clips of author interviews at Bouchercon last year. I'm not sure there was video of the main sessions -- no surprise, really. It's not much fun to watch people sitting in a room for an hour if one is not there.

But it's always fun to write about the event, and I hope my reports make enjoyable reading.

October 08, 2010  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

Our Atlanta paper has been fading fast the past five years. Gone are the staff film critic and two TV critics. Instead, they carry syndicated columnists. Sports staff's been cut in half.

They still have a books section on Sunday, offering two in-depth book reviews and a NY TIMES Best Seller list, and on the second page shorter blurbs about a dozen other new releases. That said, i only find a handful of books a year from their reviews, whereas i find a couple books to buy each week from reading blogs. In fairness, i read mostly older and out-of-print books, so that type of information is only going to be found online. But, i am thankful they still offer two pages of book info every Sunday.

October 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many newspapers are nothing more than receptacles for syndicated columnists and wire-service reports when it comes to anything but local news. And book coverage is somewhere just barely above the status of what chess, bridge and bowling colums were about ten years ago: vestiges.

"A dozen other new releases." That's paradise compared to what some newspapers print. When I think of the number of good books just in the crime genre that get ignored, and I think of the shrinking space newspapers devote to books, I reach the obvious conclusion: Most papers simply do not take books seriously. Nor do they see any value in letting people know about books they might otherwise miss in their rush to download Stieg Larsson to their Kindles.

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

It's true.

The NY Times still runs a few book reviews during the week, and once in awhile a mystery is included.

And, thankfully, Marilyn Stasio writes her Crime column every two weeks in the NYTBR where she reviews 4-5 mysteries. And, well, too. Does more with a paragraph than most writes I know.

Then there are the hardcover and paperback (and mass market) bestsellers' lists. Some mysteries are included, not many.

I am befuddled as to who is reading the mass market list; none of the titles except Stieg Larsson's or occasionally John Grisham's even resonate with me.

It's either personal taste or those are books so highly publicized, advertised and pushed, that book buyers think of them.

But there is so much else to read and if people don't see book reviews in their newspapers (if they're reading print newspapers) or at their media-of-choice websites, how will they even know of good books, e.g., mysteries?

Not enough people then are reading international or U.S. mystery or other book blogs.

October 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The best crime-fiction blogs are superior to the crime-fiction coverage in most newspapers. The task is getting more readers to read those blogs.

It's either personal taste or those are books so highly publicized, advertised and pushed, that book buyers think of them.

I suspect the latter is the case. That makes the role of blogs all the more important.

October 08, 2010  

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