Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Introspective detectives

Two books I pulled out of the pile more or less by chance this week share the quality of having an unusually introspective detective.

William McIlvanney's Laidlaw novels are extended meditations, digressions and observations punctuated occasionally by bits of action, and McIlvanney has the writing chops to pull it off.  Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's Rio de Janeiro police inspector protagonist also muses on the nature of his work — no surprise, perhaps, from a character named Spinosa.

Here's a bit of McIlvanney's Strange Loyalties:
"I've seen it go about its business all too often — all those trials in which you can watch the bemusement of the accused grow while the legal charade goes on around him. You can watch his eyes cloud, panic and finally silt up with surrender. He doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. He can no longer recognize what he's supposed to have done. Only they know what they're talking about. It's their game. He's just the ball."

And here's a passage from Garcia-Roza's Blackout:
"Neither the question not the possible replies were anything like a real investigation, but they did increase the number of conjectures that told him in his own head something was about to begin. He still couldn't call it an investigation: it was more like an intellectual stew combining very acute observations, subtle rationalizations, and delirious ideas. He considered it to be something like prethought."
Who's your favorite introspective detective?
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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28 Comments:

Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Arnaldur Indridason's Erlendur is right up there as one of my favourites.

I have a photo of you and Mr Indridason somewhere on the computer. You are asking him "What is the capital of Iceland?" And he replies "About $5.00" so you buy the next six rounds. Only kidding but my city council were foolish enough to invest in Icelandic Banks.

May 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This picture, probably, which has little of the introspective about it.

I am convinced that Erlendur's worries about the post-war migration of Iceland's population from the countryside to Reykjavík reflects Arnaldur's own thinking. (The character's name, after all, means foreign.)

I'd always thought of Erlendur as more ill at ease than introspective, but he does reflect at length upon his own uneasiness. So he qualifies for this post.

May 10, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I like all the introspective detectives. Akitada is introspective.

Morse was, too. And so is Camilleri.

I know Garcia-Roza's work and like it very much. Also like Indridason. Will read McIlvanny. Sounds good!

The secretive detectives are the old variety, the ones that wouldn't let on until the last, very public moment, the show-offs!

May 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., here's a bit from The Papers of Tony Veitch, the second Laidlaw book:

""He could recall giving up any belief in an overall meaning to living because any such meaning would have to be indivisible, unequivocally total, giving significance impartially to every drifting feather, every piece of paper blowing along a street."

May 10, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I've enjoyed Garcia-Roza as well. Haven't read McIlvanney, but he sounds worth getting to know.

For introspective detectives, I like Fred Vargas's Commissaire Adamsberg, and a new favorite, James Church's Inspector O.

May 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think of Adamsberg as a bit other-worldly rather than introspective, but I'll accept the entry. I haven't read Church. His setting is timely, that's for sure. I should excavate the book file to see if he's in it.

May 10, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I think in both cases, seeing things a bit differently than the powers that be tends to lend itself to introspection as the character tries to negotiate the gap between his or her own priorities and methods and what the official establishment is expecting.

Of course, if you're someone like Harry Bosch in Michael Connelly's series, introspection is out. You just listen to some jazz and then blow all opposition out of the water.

May 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Another thought occurred to me as I prepared the post, though it was perhaps too obvious to mention: introspection need not presuppose first-person narration. Strange Loyalties is in first person, but so are the Continental Op stories.

Even when he's not being intuitive, Adamsberg does go in for some old-fashioned moping now and then.

May 10, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'd say that Erlendur is very introspective. He ruminates about his current family troubles and his long-lost brother, whose loss consumes him. He reads and thinks about blizzards every night.

Also, I like Adamsberg quite a bit. He is somewhat introspective, mostly trying to figure out why he self-destructs in his personal relationships.

And I like Spinosa, having read book about him, and deciding to read more of Garcia-Roza's.

And Montalbano is introspective at times, the more so as he gets older and frustrated at what is harder for him to do.

And Brunetti of Donna Leon's books is somewhat introspective, but not so negative or despondent. He thinks about life every day -- tourism's impact on Venice and Italy, corruption, morality. He consults Greek and Roman histories and thinks about them.

I'd say one of the first, great introspective role models, so to speak was Martin Beck. He's not only consumed with his cases, but Swedish society and government (and all that goes with it), his deteriorating marriage and family relationships, his guilt about his mother being in a facility and not doing enough for her. He qualifies.

But, I ask what about women detectives or police officers who are introspective? I'd say that Liza Marklund's protagonist is introspective about her life, family and job -- and she's interesting and complex.

May 10, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Good question about the female protagonists, Kathy. I'm sure there are some, but most of the ones that spring to mind seem to be all caught up in just surviving the day to day. That and the odd dubious romantic relation every now and then.

May 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I'd forgotten that I began to like Camilleri's writing the older and more tender-hearted Montalbano got.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I was going to make a similar suggestion, that fictional female detectives seem to get caught up in daily matters.

I've just read a book with a fairly introspective female protagonist. That the author is male and the protagonist a thief may be of interest. The book is Wallace Stroby's Cold Shot to the Heart, and I recommend it.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I know there must be some that are written by women about women. I just can't think of any off the top of my head.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Ingrid Black's Saxon (female author and female character)

PD James' Dalgliesh

Henning Mankell's Wallander

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, what should I know about Ingrid Black and her protagonist?

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, while Fred ponders an answer to my question, I'll think of female authors who write female protagonists. Christa Faust's and Megan Abbott's female protagonists? I'd say they worry about surviving from day to day, all right. Either that, or just going along for the ride.

Helene Tursten's Irene Huss reflects on her position in the world, but the subject of that reflection is often day-to-day survival. The same is to some extent true of the very different heroine of Ariana Franklin's series.

Jassy Mackenzie's Jade de Jong wields a mean gun, so put her in the action/survival category.

OK, thats a start.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Saxon is an ex-FBI profiler. She burned out and left the FBI. She also wrote a book about the last case she was on and discussed the errors made by the FBI in its pursuit of a serial killer.

Since her book sold, she then went to Dublin to do a book on Dublin's first serial killer and stayed on.

She's now called in as a consultant on some cases by the Dublin Murder Squad. No doubt, it's purely coincidental that Saxon and the female head of the Murder Squad have a thing going.

And, no, I don't know what Saxon's first name is.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No one knows her first name, apparently -- an interesting touch for a female character.

I just found a critical comment about one Ingrid Black's books that "found the narrative too ruminative, too moody." The commenter does not say if Saxon herself is an introspective detective.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Here's a bit from her second novel, _The Dark Eye_.

Saxon gets a phone call from something who wants her help. Someone is trying to kill him. She says he should go to the police or hire a P.I. He says he tried, but they wouldn't listen. She says, "Why call me?"

He says she's a stranger here and also that "You know what it's like to see into the dark."

Part of her response to that is

"I had come to know murder intimately, in all its pallors and moods, in all its hiding places, until the sight was as familiar to me as my own reflection, and I knew that dark things were all that lasted in the end, that nothing else endured. Knew that there was no end to evil, and no matter how hard we fought it there would always be more of it to fight again.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Yes, I found that interesting also. I can't think of another female character known only by her last name.


"ruminative, moody." --Yes, that's Saxon alright.


"too"--that's a matter of taste. I like it. That commenter obviously doesn't.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, that bit could signal that introspection follows. Thanks.

May 11, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Don't care for total negativity myself. I prefer the character to be engaged in a struggle with the world and himself.

Vargas writes comic novels. That jars too badly for me with the subject of murder.

I could theorize that it is the protagonist's introspection that separates a novel from the mere traditional/hard-boiled/thriller genre and takes it closer to literary fiction.

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Unlike some theories, yours may have some empirical evidence behind it. McIlvanney's three Laidlaw novels are just part of his larger output of "literary" fiction.

May 11, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

“favorite introspective detective?”

Philip Marlowe, hands down. That bittersweet quality is almost infinitely appealing, witness his many imitations.

(The aging) Salvo Montalbano.

The unnamed cop in Derek Raymond’s “Factory” series. He married a madwoman who killed their daughter, which would have made most fictional detectives turn to drink, drugs, crime, what have you, until his life turns around with the help and love of a good woman. None of this happens to the Factory cop. He works on the edge of the UK law enforcement system, neither a maverick nor a renegade, while seeking justice (not vengeance) for victims whose brutal deaths never get front page coverage. He describes himself as “a man troubled by meanings, and look where it’s got me—being here, doing this. Still, I won’t settle for anything less than the exact truth.”

May 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mmm, can introspection veer into self-awareness in one direction and self-pity and complaining in the other?

This occurs to me because I think you agreed with a comment I'd made that The Little Sister seemed too much like a litany of Chandler's complaints about Los Angeles. At times the complaints took me out of the story.

Off the subject, I posted a clip from Seven Chances in the discussion that followed my car-chase post. Are those nascent L.A. subdivisions through which Keaton passes?

May 12, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"self-awareness in one direction and self-pity and complaining in the other?"

Well, perhaps I should have noted The Long Goodbye was the book I had in mind when I think of Marlowe's introspection, his self-awareness. There's very little introspection in The Big Sleep, for example, and perhaps too much in The Little Sister. Although knowing how unhappy Chandler was in his personal and professional life at the time he wrote it, I am inclined to cut him some slack for the woe-is-me in TLS. And perhaps because I feel now much the way he did then; my love affair with L.A. ended years ago.

Re "Are those nascent L.A. subdivisions through which Keaton passes?"

It's kind of funny one would think that, as most of the residential districts seen in Seven Chances were already fairly well-established at the time. The West Adams and Jefferson areas, including Exposition Park, are a couple of L.A.'s earliest and most desirable high-end residential areas. West Adams was a kind of precursor to Beverly Hills (before there was a BH). Keaton, along with a number of other Hollywood stars and other wealthy Angelenos, had a home in the West Adams area.

Although some of the residential areas in SC might be "nascent subdivisions," many were really just neighborhoods waiting to be filled in with more homes and other buildings. Olympic Blvd. and the surrounding area, used for some scenes in the film, is completely filled in with homes and commercial buildings today. These areas are unrecognizable as subdivisions today because the city has just filled in, blurring any original "empty" border areas.

If you're really interested in this subject, you might want to check out the book Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood
Through the Films of Buster Keaton
, by John Bengtson, 1999. It combines stills of locations where Keaton shot many of his silent films + photos of how those locations look today (well, in 1999).

May 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I raised the question about L.A. subdivisions because some of the terrain over which Keaton passes looks like conemporary subdivisions where rural areas are being converted to suburban.

May 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Other residential areas in that movie and others are obviously older.

May 12, 2011  

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