Monday, August 30, 2010

The considerable appeal of Peeler

Kevin McCarthy's Peeler is like Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy (The Damned Season, Carte Blanche, Via delle Oche): a vivid, sometimes stunning evocation of a historical period through one police officer's life.

Here, the officer is Sgt. Seán O'Keefe of the newly despised Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence in 1920. (The novel's title refers to a popular term for English and Irish police, derived from Sir Robert Peel, creator of the RIC and, later, of London's Metropolitan Police.)

As in Lucarelli's books, competing military and police forces, not always in this case divided neatly along national or religious lines, complicate the protagonist's moral, personal and professional lives. O'Keefe and colleagues are called on to investigate the murder of a young woman mutilated and left on a hill wearing a misspelled "traitor" sign.

Some on the British side are eager to blame the IRA — which has, in the meantime, launched its own, parallel investigation and is just as eager to blame Auxiliaries or "Auxies," a feared group within the RIC.

Mostly, though, at least through its first two thirds, the novel offers affecting portraits of rural and urban poverty in West Cork, moral uncertainty, and aching nostalgia for a time very recently passed, before the shooting started, when life seemed much simpler.

I don't know who will solve the mystery or how the case will be resolved (I've just guessed at the killer's identity, though I have no great confidence my guess is right), but in its evocation of its period, of what a war that no one seems quite sure is a war can do to people, Peeler is already one of the top books I've read this year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bye Bye Baby: Fast, hard, cheap and good

"In the car, Erica said, `I don't know whether to laugh or cry.'"

Allan Guthrie's Bye Bye Baby is fast, hard, twisted and, thanks to a publishing quirk, cheap.

The novella's publication was pushed back to 2013 and, in the interim, Guthrie secured electronic publication rights. That's why you can read this affecting, ingenious kidnapping tale with a twist for $2.99.

Guthrie wrote Bye Bye Baby for Barrington Stoke's series of crime stories for adult reluctant readers. What does this mean for enthusiastic readers? A story that moves quickly, in short chapters of crisp prose, with plenty of plot turns to hold the attention, and characters you can love and others you can hate. And what's wrong with that?

Like Guthrie's full-length novels, Bye Bye Baby is sly, noir as all hell (more noir than some, actually), and it just might bring a tear of pity to your eyes. It's a police procedural filled with incident and back story, and man, what an ending.
Click here for a discussion of the challenges and, just maybe, the possibilities involved in publishing novellas and other short crime fiction.

G© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kevin McCarthy's "Peeler," or, sometimes the where is the what

When Clive James turned into Francis Fukuyama three years ago and as much as declared the end of crime fiction (“In most of the crime novels coming out now, it’s a matter not of what happens but of where. Essentially, they are guidebooks.”), I dissented.

For one thing, the where can constitute its own what, a setting so different from the reader's own that it offers fictional possibilities even Clive James never dreamed of.

I've just now opened Kevin McCarthy's novel Peeler, and its plot, its duelling epigraphs, and the note of uncertainty in its second sentence offer the promise of an exciting and maybe even morally serious work. And it's all because of where the story takes place: in Ireland, during the country's war of independence, the Royal Irish Constabulary and the IRA each investigating, unknown to the other, a young woman's killing.

I'll be back to tell you what's what about the where, though I'm not sure when.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Just a bit more Hammett, including the Continental Opera

I left the house without the non-American book I was going to write about, so I'll continue my Hammett holiday a bit longer.

1) Even the earliest Continental Op stories have that twist ending that casts into question all that has gone before, or comes as a comic anti-climax, or seems almost to be the beginning of a new story before the old one has ended.

2) The first great Op story was probably "Zigzags of Treachery" — and here I welcome comment from readers more up on their Hammett than I. I don't know how critical consensus ranks the Op stories. "The Golden Horseshoe" is the best of this batch I've read in recent days.

3) Hammett's experience as a private detective is often cited as contributing to the authenticity of his writing. It does this in the Op's convincing asides about detective work (good shadowing, the Op tells us, perhaps ironically, is not as hard as one would think), but also in observations like this:
"Little things, those, but a private detective on the witness stand—unless he is absolutely sure of every detail—has an unpleasant and ineffectual time of it."
4) Hammett's novel Red Harvest was made into an opera, which elicited the observation from the Thrilling Detective Web Site's Kevin Burton Smith that "I guess it won't be over until the Fat Man sings."

Go here for a compact but thorough discussion of Hammett's short fiction, including a typology of his plots.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arthur Penn's night movies, plus a note on the Internet and the decline of factual accuracy

I've finally got around to watching Night Moves and, while it does not move as slowly as one commenter here suggested, it hits the viewer over the head with references to its own antecedents — and then hits them over the head again with references to its own references.

So, we get Gene Hackman's Harry Moseby playing solo chess in his car as he lies in wait for his wife's lover. In case anyone misses the reference to Philip Marlowe, the lover then taunts him thus: "Come on, take a swing at me, Harry, the way Sam Spade would." And yes, Moseby plays a private investigator.

Or Moseby goes to interview a man on a movie set during the filming of a bi-plane flying low over a dusty country road. In case anyone doesn't get the North by Northwest reference, director Arthur Penn then has the stunt flyer buzz Moseby and the guy he's talking to, making them duck. In case anyone still doesn't get it, Hackman then says, "I'd say we saw the same movies."

Night Moves is thirty-five years old, and that sort of thing must have seemed a lot fresher in 1975 than it does today.

OK, that was the movie's first twenty minutes. Now, let's go watch the rest.

*** misquotes the line it singles out under "Quotes" on its main Night Moves page. The line as delivered by Jennifer Warren is

"When we all get liberated like Delly, there's going to be fighting in the streets."
and not, as the Amazon-owned, user-generated IMDb has it,

"When we're all as free as Delly there'll be rioting in the streets."
(By the way, Wikipedia has still not corrected at least one of the errors in its plot summary of Get Carter, errors I noted on Wiki's discussion forum at least six months ago. Factual accuracy is so pre-Wiki, so pre-digital, so pre-democratization-of-information a notion.)

N.B. IMDb has moved the quotation off its main Night Moves page, but it has not corrected its mistake. You now have to go "Quotes," then click "see more" and scroll down to find the inaccurately quoted line in question.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A gaffe that hoits, whether it's Hammett's or mine

In the absence of a real post, I’ll stick with the Hammett theme, specifically a gripe about the famous opening to Red Harvest. Here's the opening:

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn't think anything of what he had done to the city's name. Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.
Here's the gripe: Someone who called his shirt a shoit would not pronounce the first part of Personville poison, and that undercuts Hammett's whole point. Rather he would say poi-suhn, with an s sound rather than a z.

Unless Hammett referred to a regional pronunciation unknown to me, in which the pronunciations of s and z are much closer than in the English I know, he can’t have it both ways. The Personville/Poisonville pun works, or else the shirt/shoit dialect pronunciation joke works, but they can’t both work. Contrary to what he has the Continental Op tell us in that opening paragraph, the pun does not hinge on pronunciation of the r's, but rather of s and z.

This is not a trivial point; an opening, especially one as celebrated as this, ought to pull the reader right, and not distract him with minor inaccuracies. Comment from Hammett lovers and sociolinguists welcome.

Oh, geez, could the town's name be pronounced Per-zuhn-ville, in which case the jocose mispronunciation would make sense?

Hammett's linguistic slip, if it was such, did not stop Time magazine from naming Red Harvest one of the 1oo best English-language novels from 1923 to the present when it compiled a list five years ago.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Hammett: He's tough — and he's literature

I've taken a short holiday from international crime fiction to read some of the classic American variety.

My early report is that Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories may be the best crime fiction ever written. No shock there; I'm hardly the first to rank them that high. But what I had not noticed, even in stories I'd read before, was the affinity they have with the no-nonsense deadpan of some French writers after Sartre, or with the elaborate multiple narratives of Rashomon — serious stuff, in other words, in addition to being closer to normal Detectives Beyond Borders territory. (I am also delighted to note that the Rashomon article to which I link in the previous sentence calls the movie a "crime mystery film.")

Those multiple narratives, especially — the long stories the Op and the perps tell each other in, say. "The Golden Horseshoe" or "The Girl With the Silver Eyes" — are part of what I think Steven Marcus means when says Hammett transformed detective writing in the direction of literature.
Marcus is the editor of Hammett's Crime Stories and Other Writings and Complete Novels for the Library of America. Read his assessment of Hammett, including his conclusion that
"I read Hammett largely because of the marvelous living prose style that he achieved. The dialogue and some of the descriptive prose is as alive today as when it was written in the 1920s. That for me is proof of a real writer."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

The golden age of paranoia

Alan Glynn, author of Winterland, looks back at the golden age of paranoia in an article on the Mulholland Books Web site. He traces the era from a morally serious period of high paranoia in the early 1970s, marked by Klute, The Parallax View, All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor and The Conversation through a period of bloated, jokey weirdness (The X-Files), and on to a more recent revival.

These latter-day incarnations "take their nod from the golden age, and that's a good thing," Glynn writes. "Because at no time over the past thirty or forty years has that '70 sensibility seemed more relevant or, indeed, more necessary."

I was a bit surprised to read of Glynn's attraction to paranoia because, while Winterland impressed me greatly, I thought it more an amateur-gets-in-over-her-head adventure, albeit a violent, thoroughly contemporary one, than a paranoid nightmare. But what do I know? I can't read Glynn's mind — yet.

Glynn proposes an interesting division of post-1970s paranoia into the over-the-top school, whose representatives include James Ellroy's Underworld USA Trilogy, and more direct nods to the golden age (Peter Temple's Truth, Michael Clayton).

I'd have added Jean-Patrick Manchette to the roster of Golden Age paranoiacs and Dominque Manotti to the list of current practitioners, Manchette for how deeply power controls, warps and ruins the individual in his books, and Manotti for how widespread and ruthless the corruption is, and how high it rises, in hers.

What about you? Who are your masters of paranoia in crime and thriller fiction and movies?
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Philip Marlowe went to Mexico

Paco Ignacio Taibo II took him there, in Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, a 1988 collection of short stories by other crime writers in honor of Chandler and featuring his most famous character.

Taibo, whose own crime novels chronicle absurdity and brutality in Mexico, takes Marlowe south of the border as a kind of double, following a mysterious heir for reasons unspecified, and if that reminds you of The Long Goodbye and Terry Lennox, you're on the right track. Taibo pays tribute to that novel in a short afterword:

"The first Spanish edition of The Long Goodbye appeared in 1973. I read it three times. I added it to what I had learned from Simenon, Dürrenmatt, Hammett, and Le Carre, and was certain that crime literature offered me the best possible scenario for the stories I wanted to tell."
Taibo's own novels turned out quite different, he goes on,

"But no doubt Chandler was there; in stories built on dialogue and characters and atmospheres, rather than anecdotes, but which still managed to tell a story."
Taibo's story here, "The Deepest South," takes that aspect of Chandler and builds from it a travelogue full of Mexican vistas, odd encounters, and enigmatic dialogue. It reads a bit like a Wim Wenders road movie, full of pungent, wistful observations, of which this is just one:

"Mexicali at the time was a way station for refugees from all over Europe who were seeking permission to enter the United States. It had been, and probably still is, the trampoline for thousands of Mexicans who illegally cross the border to make themselves a few dollars in the north. Above all, it was a languid city; dirt was everywhere; clouds of dust tried to cover the poor tracks of progress and return the city to its ancient desert condition. It was a city where you heard songs in many languages, songs that were almost always melancholy."
Read more about Raymond Chandler's influence from Ireland to Bolivia, with an addendum here. And here's a bit about Marlowe himself.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Yes, Jasper Fforde does write crime fiction

The cover blurb for The Eyre Affair, first of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels, invokes Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; the Wall Street Journal's reviewer was obviously doing some dedicated zeitgeist mining.

Neither that blurb nor any of the ones on the back cover mentions one of the richly imaginative Fforde's many inspirations: crime fiction — strange, since Thursday Next is a Literary Detective.

But that's all right. Several reviews quoted inside, safely away from the prying eyes of impulse buyers, number crime, suspense, hard-boiled mystery and, in a wince-inducing allusion, James Bond among the ingredients in Fforde's fantastic stew.

Having read Fforde's Nursery Crime novels, The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear, I am willing to bet this book, first in a series that comprises five novels so far, will be just as much fun and just as inventive in its integration of fantasy and science fiction with its obvious crime elements.

Visit Jasper Fforde's Web site. Read what I had to say about The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Red Jade, or what diversity really means

The border the protagonist crosses in Henry Chang's Red Jade is domestic and invisible but nonetheless real:
"As soon as Jack Yu caught the address, he knew. Chinatown again. He was going back to the place he'd left behind when he moved to Brooklyn's Sunset Park, just across the river but a world away."
Professional courtesy prevents me from quoting further (My copy is an uncorrected proof), but that bit is nicely stark and economical, and the book looks set to be as rich with atmosphere and incident as Chang's previous novel, Year of the Dog.

Early in Red Jade, Yu, a New York police detective who has transferred out of Chinatown's Fifth Precinct only to find himself thrown right back to investigate an apparent murder-suicide, reflects bitterly on sensitivity, diversity and the pernicious misuses to which "people in command" put these once admirable concepts. As it happens, Chang's books are salutary lessons in what diversity was before the corporate sensitivity peddlers took the word over for that brief, embarrassing period in the 1990s.

The inhabitants of Yu's Chinatown have quite enough on their minds without worrying all the time about the city's other ethnic groups. Sure, there are racially tinged confrontations with whites and blacks; this is New York, after all.

But tension exists as well between longtime Chinatown residents and Fukienese newcomers. And in one marvelous observation, Yu attributes the new, slick decor of Chinese restaurants, so unlike the rambling old places of his youth, to Hong Kong influence.

Now, that's real diversity.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010


Monday, August 16, 2010

Andean Express: Bolivian not-exactly-noir

Juan de Recacoechea may indeed be "Bolivia's heir to the classic noir of Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler," as a blurb for his novel Andean Express proclaims. But this heir is more a second cousin than a direct descendant.

Andean Express, second of the author's novels published in English translation by Akashic Books, is more like 1940s American movies that are called film noir now but were referred to as melodramas when first released. It also feels like a road movie, with all the sense of discovery that implies, and, at times, like a coming-of-age tale.

Melodrama? The novel assembles a disparate collection of characters on a train from La Paz bound for Chile in 1952. Romantic yearning? Some of them dream of journey's end, when they will see the ocean for the first time. Road movie? The novel is full of glimpses out the train's windows and onto solitary herders, isolated villages, and the vast, lonely, windswept altiplano.

Since the journey takes place on a train, you know scores will be settled, burning passions acted upon, and a character cheated at cards. And, of course, one will die, a mystery to all but the killer.

"Are you on the run?"

"You don't need to be too smart to reach that conclusion. The mine bosses' political police have my number. If they catch me they'll take me straight to jail. I have to make it to Chile. I'll live in self-exile until things change. You don't know much about politics, do you?"

"I don't, unfortunately. I don't like politics."

"Whether or not you like it isn't the point. It's part of your life. In Bolivia, anyone who stays out of politics is despicable. ... things can't go on like this. Or do you think we're in the best of worlds?"

"I don't know."
Lest you think things are about to get polemical, here's how the above exchange ends:

"That's more like it. You and I will make a good team. I'll go to the dining car and have a cup of tea. Can you loan me ten pesos?"
Here's a bit of what I wrote about Recacoechea's novel American Visa. Like two other novels I had read recently, its "lively eye for its surroundings manages to keep it oddly upbeat despite the straitened or dangerous circumstances in which the protagonists find themselves." The same is true of Andean Express.

(Read an interview with Juan de Recacoechea, courtesy of solo.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

And then there were three ...

The finalists for the first Ngaio Marsh Award, for best crime novel by a New Zealand citizen or resident published in New Zealand in 2009, are:
  • Cut & Run by Alix Bosco (Penguin);
  • Burial by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster); and
  • Containment by Vanda Symon (Penguin)
Craig Sisterson, the driving force behind the awards and the man who kindly invited me to be one of the judges, sends along this note from Dame Ngaio's nephew:

I am delighted to hear of the progress of the Dame Ngaio Marsh Award, and congratulate the finalists for what sounds to be a very high standard of detective story writing. I know that Dame Ngaio would be so proud of all the entrants, and to know that her name is associated with the award. I hope you will extend my own congratulations to the writers, but also to those who have taken what will have been an enormous amount work, research and thought to create the awards very sincerely

John Dacres-Mannings

The winner will be announced Sept. 10 at The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival, and congratulations are in order for all the nominees and to Craig for his hard work in putting the awards together. Perhaps this enterprising promoter of New Zealand crime writing will have an award or a convention named for him one day. Hey, they did it for Anthony Boucher.
Here's a bit about Dame Ngaio, a pioneer in theater and an author whose novels and stories featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn made her one of the pillars of crime fiction's Golden Age. Here's a personal reminiscence from author Roy Vaughan.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rhyme and punishment

What was the deal with poets in mid-twentieth-century American hard-boiled writing?

First this, from Dashiell Hammett's story "Too Many Have Lived" (1932):
"`I'd want to talk to her,' Spade said. `Who is this Eli Haven?'

"`He's a bad egg. He doesn't do anything. Writes poetry or something.'"
Thirteen years later, Brett Halliday the author, Murder Is My Business the book, Mike Shayne the detective:
"She won't be married — unless Towne has changed a lot. That's the job I did for him. There was a chap named Lance Bayliss. A poet, Lucy, and a poet is lower than dirt to a two-fisted, self-made financier like Jefferson Towne."
So, just to be on the safe side, if you're a character in a hard-boiled book, try not to be a poet. Or at least get a real job, and write on the side.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, August 13, 2010

"The truth? Would you fuck off, would you?"

The blurbs for Alan Glynn's Winterland are full of words like powerhouse, resonant, memorable, classic and uncomfortable, but my favorite one is wit.

The line quoted in this post's title passes from a decayed but alert inmate of a retirement home for Irish politicians to a younger pol about to attain a lofty position and belatedly seeking the truth about a long-ago incident.

The old man's dismissive incredulity marks a sly, comic turn in the final hundred or so of the novel's 311 pages. In those pages, newspapers both sensationalist and somber speculate with great gravity and greater inaccuracy over the cause of a multiple killing.

In those pages, the protagonist, a woman seeking the reason for the deaths of her identically named brother and uncle, a woman who might reasonably have spent the final hundred pages being driven to hysteria or death, pauses to deliver a genre-tinged mission statement that must have had Glynn smiling as he wrote it:
"`I don't know,' she says, her voice a notch or two louder, `but I think I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing all along.'

"`What's that?'

"Closing one eye, Gina raises the gun and points it at the wall. `Asking questions.'"
Many a crime writer has used real estate development as a plot device and a vehicle for political corruption. Not many let corruption and the uncertainty created by its concealment seep into their characters' bones as deeply and drive so many to distraction, painkillers, alcohol, and painfully wrong — though sometimes grimly entertaining — guesses.
Alan Glynn talks about paranoia, money, crime writing (“I haven’t read a lot of it, really.”) and other interesting subjects in an interview with Crime Always Pays.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If you like X, you'll love Y

A colleague who knows I read crime fiction asked if I liked Guy Ritchie's slam-bang English gangster movies.

I did, I said, and I suggested that if he liked those movies, he might enjoy reading Allan Guthrie and Ken Bruen, his Brant and Roberts novels and his three collaborations with Jason Starr especially.

Then I thought, isn't this a fine way for authors and publishers to find new readers? Find out what people like to do, watch or think about, then suggest books to match. And you can help! Just fill in the blanks in this simple equation

If you like non-book X, you'll love book (or author) Y

Thanks, and have fun!

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What the hell does "literary" mean?

Someone called Alan Glynn's Winterland a "literary thriller," but I didn't let that stop me, and so far I'm not disappointed.

I'll get to the book later, but let's talk about that word literary first. I've never liked it, but I could never quite figure out why. It's a favorite of anti-genre snobs, of course, but one learns to tolerate idiots like that.

Then it hit me: literary as a label is a kind of intellectual Viagra, a confidence booster for book buyers so insecure about their own tastes that they need to be reassured of a book's respectability before they'll plunk down their $24.99.

I'm all for the qualities that I think marketers have in mind when they call a book literary. Call Winterland stylistically adventurous, and I'll agree with you. Say that it tests the boundaries of thriller and crime conventions, and I'll give a little cheer. But call it literary, and I'm liable to roll my eyes, think, "What the &*(*&*#$ does that mean?", and choose another book instead. I'd likely have done so with Winterland had I not heard good things about the novel from people I trust, none of whom called it literary.

So, what does literary mean to you? What do you think it means to publishers, publicists and reviewers, especially with respect to crime fiction?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Blogger's regular breakdown

Blogger had been functioning properly for almost a month, so it was due to start destroying comments again, and indeed it has. If your comments do not appear, be patient. I will repost them in the next hiatus between Blogger breakdowns.
Latest tally: 12 comments obliterated by Blogger.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Vintage crime, vintage cars

Yesterday I wrote about Dashiell Hammett. Today some cars from Hammett's time showed up at the DooWop Car Show & Street Festival in my neighborhood, though I heard no doo-wop, just three guys playing Credence Clearwater Revival and Stealers Wheel on acoustic guitar, drum machine and electric keyboard.

Nick and Nora Charles could have waved out of that first car's window to well-wishers in mid-town Manhattan. The Continental Op would have felt at home leaning out the same window firing shots, and Sam Spade might have rifled the interior for registration papers.

(John Huston's 1941 film of The Maltese Falcon has made such a strong impression that some people may forget Hammett wrote almost all his fiction in the 1920s and early '30s. The Ford Model A that I saw today and that you see at the top of this post rolled off the assembly line in 1929, the same year The Maltese Falcon began appearing in serial form in Black Mask.)

This little number at left takes us into late Raymond Chandler territory, and which fictional detective would have driven the humongous licorice-and-strawberry ice cream sundae on wheels that brings this post to a close? Travis McGee? James Garner's Philip Marlowe, perhaps?

Which cars (or other modes of transport) do you associate most closely with a favorite fictional detective, story or movie?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

The week's best bit

"Begg was a freckled heavyweight, as friendly as a Saint Bernard puppy, but less intelligent. Lanky detective sergeant Hacken, not so playful, carried the team's brains behind his worried hatchet face.

"`In a hurry?' I inquired.

"`Always in a hurry when we're quitting for the day,' Begg said, his freckles climbing up his face to make room for his grin.

"`What do you want?' Hacken asked."

— Dashiell Hammett, "The Main Death"
I could write lots about that selection, but I'll let you do my work for me. Why do you think the passage works?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, August 06, 2010

We are the world (of crime fiction)

My advance copy of Following The Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction (right) is on the way; you can pre-order yours at bookstores and computer terminals near you.

Maxim Jakubowski edited this collection of essays about fictional detectives and the cities and countries where they work and live. I contributed chapters on Andrea Camilleri's Sicily and Arnaldur Indriðason's Iceland, but I'm just a sixth-magnitude star in a coruscating firmament of crime-fiction luminaries that includes authors, critics, commentators and men and women about the international crime-fiction scene such as:
Only 140 shopping days until Christmas, should you wish to order the book here (free shipping!), from the publisher, here, here, or from an independent bookseller in the UK or Canada.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tested by fire

James Ellroy calls himself "The White Knight of the Far Right," and Dominique Manotti is a woman of intellectual heft on the left, a lecturer in economic history and the author of crime fiction that dissects French society high and low, with a cool eye for the ruthlessness of the former and the helplessness of the latter.

Sometimes, though, their concerns converge. Here's a bit from Ellroy's White Jazz, with the forewarning that this passage is written in the style of a 1958 Los Angeles scandal sheet, with the L.A. City Council about to uproot poor Mexicans to make room for the Dodgers' new baseball stadium:
"Diggsville: The California State Bureau of Land and Way is granting shack dwellers $10,500 per family relocation expenses, roughly 1/2 the cost of a slipshod, slapdash slum pad in such colorful locales as Watts, Willowbrook and Boyle Heights. The Bureau is also enterprisingly examining dervishly developed dump dives preferred by rapaciously rapid real estate developers: would-be Taco Terraces and Enchilada Estates where Burrito Bandits bounced from shamefully sheltered Chavez Ravine could live in jerry-rigged slum splendor, frolicking to fleabag firetrap fandangos!" (Boldface is mine.)
And here's a bit from Manotti's unsubtly titled short story "Ethnic Cleansing" from the Paris Noir collection published by Serpent's Tail:
"By 6 a.m., in the building where the fire's still smouldering, only a few bodies are left, along with the fire-fighters still battling the flames and drowning what's left of the squat under gallons of water. According to the police bulletin, 123 people were living in this squat, seven are dead and fifteen others injured ... 101 people are in the municipal sports centre where identity checks are being carried out. The plan is to escort any illegal immigrants to the border and rehouse those whose papers are in order. The investigation should establish whether the fire is of criminal or accidental origin.


"A twelve-story steel and glass structure hugs the curve of the A86 motorway slip road ... The tragedy that took place here two years ago is on everyone's mind, he was thinking. Granted, the police investigation concluded it was an accident following a fight between dealers who had broken into the basement of the squat ... Granted, the city council rehoused all the legal immigrants. But not locally, not together, a long way from Paris ... "

Not so different from the Ellroy, is it?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Westlake the wonderful

I've just taken a busman's holiday with two classics of American crime writing. One has some tantalizing parallels with a politically edged European author I've discussed here, and I may expound further in a future post. The other offers no such connection, but it's so good that I have to share its opening:
"I bet none of it would have happened if I wasn’t so eloquent. That’s always been my problem, eloquence, though some might claim my problem was something else again. But life’s a gamble, is what I say, and not all the eloquent people in this world are in Congress."
The narrator is a New York cabbie and man, can't you just hear him talking?

That's the beginning of Donald Westlake's Somebody Owes Me Money, and you can read the rest of its first chapter on Hard Case Crime's Web site.

The passage exemplifies a definition I once read of the difference between a comic and a comedian. A comic, a schlepper who stands up and mugs for laughs, says funny things, but a comedian, that acute observer of humanity, says things funny. Westlake was a comedian.

What other crime wrters say things funny rather than just saying funny things?

(Here are some of my posts upon Westlake's death in 2008.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Up with e-shorts!

I bought Allan Guthrie's novella Bye, Bye Baby last night, and I asked last week when someone was going to put out a collection of Scott Phillips' short stories.

I mention this because I bought the Guthrie as a downloaded e-book, and if electronic books are here to stay, we might as well take advantage of what the medium can do. I don't mean weird technological gimcrackery that in most cases adds up to nothing more than what a simple paperback does at a fraction of the cost, I mean the flexibility to publish narrative forms such as novellas and short stories that might be economically unfeasible as traditional books.

Bye, Bye Baby is about seventy pages; hard to imagine a publisher taking a chance on a traditional book that size (though Five Leaves Publishing Crime Express series does so with, among other novellas, Guthrie's Killing Mum, and Barrington Stoke with his Kill Clock). But lower production and distribution costs might encourage them to do so with books in electronic form.

And where is a reader to turn who loves an author's short fiction and would like it collected in one place, as I would with Phillips or Jean-Hugues Oppel or Dominique Manotti? (Ken Bruen, too, though he's popular enough that some publisher might be able to sell his collected shorts as a traditional book.)

Short-story collections by a single crime author are few and far between, and I suspect uncertainty about their sales prospects helps account for this. So why not sell collections as cheap e-books, or even let readers build their own books electronically out of the short stories they want to read?

What are the barriers to doing things this way? And which crime writers would you like to see come out with collections of short stories?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Jack Taylor trailers

The TV3 production based on Ken Bruen's novel The Guards starts in thirty-one minutes. If you're not in Ireland, watch some trailers here. (Hat tip to Noir Con.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Behind That Curtain: Number Three novel about Number One father

Behind That Curtain is the third book featuring what may be the most famous crime fiction character of whom I had not read a word of any work in which he appears: Charlie Chan.

Chan starred in six novels by Earl Derr Biggers between 1925 and 1932 and was a fixture in a long list of movies as well. Here are two excerpts from an unusually informative Wikipedia introduction to Charlie Chan, the latter of which justifies the character's inclusion on this site:

"Biggers conceived of the benevolent and heroic Chan as an alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes, such as villains like Fu Manchu."

"Chan is a detective of the Honolulu police, though many stories feature Chan traveling the world as he investigates mysteries and solves crimes."

Despite his origin as a counter to odious Asian stereotypes, Mystery Readers Journal's two issues on "The Ethnic Detective" in 2007 included articles called "Farewell Charlie Chan: A Selected History of the Asian American Detective" and "The Post-Charlie Chan Era."

What other fictional detectives were progressive for their time but seem less so now?


The opening pages of Behind That Curtain show that detective-story writers were already poking explicitly self-referential fun at detective-story conventions as early as 1928, with the rationalistic Holmes/Thorndyke-type stories a special target. ("Except for the fingerprint system and work in the chemical laboratory on stains, scientific research has furnished little assistance to crime detection.") The character who speaks those words is an English detective, by the way, which may be of interest.

The Black Mask era was kicking into high gear at the time. Perhaps Biggers in his own way shared the restlessness with the traditional detective story that drove Hammett, Chandler and others.

Me, I like the first full sentence on Behind That Curtain's second page:

"Even the copy desk was deserted."
(Academy Chicago has reissued all six Charlie Chan novels. Here's a bit about Behind That Curtain from the publisher's Web site.

(This just in: Read about "The Man Behind Chan" at The Rap Sheet.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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