Thursday, December 02, 2010

The animals one meets in bars, and more Queen and Country

America's oldest press club hosted different varieties of animals Wednesday when the Philadelphia Zoo's president and CEO dropped by with a Zoomobile, an animal caretaker, and some feathered guests.

The creatures were adorable and impressive, the discussion informative, and the animal visitors quieter than and at least as well-behaved as the Pen and Pencil Club's usual clientele. The club's programs are off the record, but zoo CEO Vik Dewan had interesting things to say about running a zoo in a time of declining government support and greater sensitivity to animal welfare. Zoos in the future will not look like they do now, he suggested, and it sounds as if interesting thinking is going on in the zoo world.
***
Back to books. I learned from the extras included in the "Definitive Edition Vol. 3" of the Queen and Country graphic novel, subjects of critical comment in this space yesterday, that author Greg Rucka's inspiration was a British television series called The Sandbaggers — "the best damned television show you never saw," according to a Web site devoted to the show. This may be worth a look.

Has anyone out there seen the show?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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28 Comments:

Blogger Janet Rudolph said...

What a wonderful event!

I miss the Philadelphia Zoo!

I'm going to have an Animal issue of Mystery Readers in 2011.. several crime fiction authors who set their book at the zoo because .. it's all happening at the zoo.

December 02, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Haven't seen the show, in fact, never heard of it. But your comment on zoos made me think of the only mystery I've ever read which used a zoo as a setting: ZERO AT THE BONE by Mary Willis Walker. Janet: what books - what zoos? I must be out of the loop.

December 02, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Janet, the only zoo mystery author (cozy/traditional) I know of is Ann Littlewood and only because she used to work at the Oregon Zoo and I have a friend in Portland who attended a reading/signing for one of her books.

December 02, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Oddly enough, The Sandbaggers was a Bay Area cult hit at our local PBS station, KTEH. I may have seen an episode or two, but I don't think I was in the area at the height of this. I do know it was always requested again on the Friday Night mystery and suspense pledge drives, but at that point there was some problem in getting it. I'm going to see whether Netflix has it.

The birds' visit sounds cool. I wonder about the zoo of the future as well...

December 02, 2010  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

Netflix has three seasons of the show. I watched about 1 1/2 seasons' worth. It stars Roy Marsdon (Dalgliesh in the PD James series) as the head of a British intelligence unit.

I found it tedious and predictable after awhile. Each show had a spying job for the the unit and a bureaucratic hassle of some sort.

Dealing with enemy spies was easier than dealing with the bureaucracy. I think Marsdon's character threatens to resign at least once in every episode (perhaps an exaggeration, but that's what I remember now).

I'm a great fan of Marsdon, but I had to give up on this one.

December 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, I can think of no zoo mysteries but several that involve animals in one way or another. J.F. Englert writes a wonderful series narrated by a god called Randolph. I never thought I would praise a dog mysteries, but these books are full of sympathetic observations and serious meditations on consciousness. And the Australian author David Owen writes a series about a prickly police detective called Franz Heineken, nicknamed Pufferfish, that often includes matters of ecological and animal interest. The author has written natural-history books about animals as well.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

the only zoo mystery author (cozy/traditional) I know of is Ann Littlewood and only because she used to work at the Oregon Zoo and I have a friend in Portland who attended a reading/signing for one of her books.

I should add that one of Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries makes especially effective use of a bear. I will be interested in Janet's animal/zoo issue, especially to see how far it reaches beyond the obvious cat cozies and Dick Francis horseracing mysteries.

Hmm, horses. I'm starting to see a place for Peter Temple in the issue.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Queen and Country has me curious about The Sandbaggers. I may browse the Web site to which I link in my post.

Thinking about zoos of the future tends away from cages and toward larger environments in which different animals can exist an interact, according to what I picked up from the P&P's discussion. From what little I've experienced of that sort of thing, such places can be exciting.

The bird visit was very cool. Several species of frog were included as well, but I missed that part. I arrived just in time for discussion of the extent to which various frog species are threatened with extinction. I should have asked the zoo people if a bar was among the odder places they had taken animals.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, the Queen and Country comics do a fine job of integrating adventure, bureaucratic hassles and personal drama, and I stress integrating. In only one story segment from 2 1/2 fat collections encompassing all 32 issues of the comic does a story line involving a character's personal life feel tacked-on.

The bureaucratic maneuvering in Queen and Country is compelling because the stakes are so high. An American official will ask British intelligence to carry out a mission that Americans cannot for political reasons carry out themselves. And some of the spying jobs are full of all kinds of blood-and-guts, high-tension excitement in exotic and highly dangerous places. Maybe the comic just has greater reach than the television series.

The bureaucratic maneuvering is no mere obstacle for our noble spy heroes to overcome, it's a constant theme, given prominence equal to the special-operations officers' adventures. The field agents fight against insurgents, soldiers and terrorists; the higher-ups confront, deal with, and evade diplomats, prime ministers, and each other.

One interesting sidelight: Queen and Country's author, Greg Rucka, has also written a few Queen and Country novels -- prose novels, not graphic novels. I'll want to investigate these.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Janet, one interesting bit of the program was a discussion of which animals' personalities are suited to life on the road with the Zoomobile. They need to be able to bear public scrutiny, crowds, flash photography and the like. The Greta Garbos have to stay in their cages.

I hope you make space for the excellent J.F. Englert in your animal issue.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I'll second the Englert rec, although so far I have only read the first one.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Peter, I happen to know that Santa (in the guise of my daughter) will be delivering the first J.F. Elglert book to me on Christmas morning. (Thanks to your recommendation.)I LOVE dog books. I love animal books - well written ones, of course. One you might like: LIVES OF THE MONSTER DOGS by Kirsten Bakis. It is FAR from the usual.
But animal books do not necessarily mean 'zoo' books. I was going more for zoos as setting.
As I mentioned, ZERO AT THE BONE is the only one I've read.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Englert can appeal to people who, if they were to be caught dead reading a dog book, would normally conceal it between the pages of something respectable, like the National Enquirer.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"A group of elegant monster dogs in top hats, tails, and bustle skirts become instant celebrities when they come to New York in 2008. Refugees from a town whose residents had been utterly isolated for a hundred years, the dogs retain the nineteenth-century Germanic culture of the humans who created them."

Yvette, that's from the beginning of an outline of Lives of the Monster Dogs, and it's quite an outline of what sounds like quite a book. Thanks.

Sounds to me as if the Mystery Readers Journal issue will be an animal issue with articles about a few zoo mysteries. If you know of one such mystery, that's one more than I do.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

It is NOT a cozy, Peter. Not what you'd expect at all, I promise you. The creator of these creatures was more like a Dr. Frankenstein than anything else. Hard to find a copy for whatever reason. I also don't think Bakis has written another book since then.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I believe it's no cozy. Here's the rest of the outline that I cited above:

"They are wealthy and glamorous and seem to lead charmed lives - but they find adjusting to the modern world difficult, and when a young woman, Cleo Pira, befriends them, she discovers that a strange, incurable illness threatens them all with extinction. When the dogs construct their dream home, a fantastic castle on the Lower East Side, and barricade themselves inside, Cleo finds herself one of the few human witnesses to a mad, lavish party that may prove to be the final act in the drama of the lives of the monster dogs."

December 03, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The Sandbaggers was ITV's response to the BBC's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I remember it being good but having VERY low production values. However it might have aged well because it will definitely have a grim 1970's feel about it.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Interesting you should single out The Sandbaggers' low production values. Queen and Country, confined as it was to paper, could move from ops room to office to foreign location in an instant and often does.

December 03, 2010  
Blogger Janet Rudolph said...

I know that Betty Webb writes the Gunn Zoo Mysteries, and she's planning to write an article for the Animal issue. I can't remember the name of the other person (not Ann Littlewood-although I'm sure she'll be included) who writes zoo mysteries. Need to check.
We will have the usual cozy cats and dogs, but other dog mysteries .. love the Spencer Quinn series.. the first one is a good solid detective story event if told by a dog. It's not 'cute'.

Here's a link to an article from World Animal Day that links to several issues Mystery Readers Journal has themed on Animal Mysteries in the past.. also an essay by Laura Lippman on this post.

http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2010/10/animals-in-crime-fiction-world-animal.html

December 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Janet, the Laura Lippman link is a sharp move. She could win some non-cozy readers over to animal mysteries.

December 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This reminds me that Andrew Vachss wrote a story with a dog at its center that is one of the harder-boiled pieces of crime writing I know -- no surprise, given the author.

In the story, a righter of wrongs (not Burke) takes fearsome revenge on some punks who assault an old man's dog -- and he uses a dog as an instrument of that revenge. The story was posted online as part of a Vachss collection. I don't know if it's still up.

December 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, I can think of no zoo mysteries but several that involve animals in one way or another. J.F. Englert writes a wonderful series narrated by a god called Randolph

For god read dog -- if you choose to do so.

December 05, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

"If you choose to"--yes, the qualification does seem important.

December 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Randolph may seem omniscient, but he's not omnipotent, which is part of his charm. Still, I felt I'd best allow readers with high respect for dogs to consider my slip something more than a mere typo.

December 05, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

The Spencer Quinn books are, as Janet says, NOT cozies, though the tales are told by a dog. Besides good mysteries, there's just something very touching about Chet's point of view, his admiration for his master: 'He is always the smartest human in the room.' The reader sees that this is not so, but Chet is blinded -well, most of the time - by devotion and yes, love. Dogs' short term memory lapses are included in these tales which is so very astute of the author. I love these books.

Another good dog series is Carol Lea Benjamin's underappreciated and often overlooked books featuring a dog names Dash (after Dashiell Hammett). Very New York stories with noir elements.
FALL GUY
WITHOUT A WORD
THE HARD WAY
are superb.

Just thought I'd mention it. Since we're talking a bit about dogs and such.

December 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Dogs' short term memory lapses are included in these tales which is so very astute of the author."

Englert's books also have much about canine consciousness and sensibility and the contrast of both with their human counterparts.

December 05, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, was it the encounter with the fellow (lady?) at the top of this page that prompted you to want to read The Maltese Falcon again?

Don't remember enough about my birds of prey to tell whether it's a falcon, kite, kestrel, small hawk, or ________ ?

Well, I do know it's not a bald eagle or a red-tailed hawk!

December 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, it wasn't. My inspiration was my purchase of the Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, which contains The Maltese Falcon as originally serialized. Unlike the Black Bird, this one is real. I forget which kind of hawk it is, though.

December 07, 2010  

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