Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A school of crime?

Several crime novels I've read recently share certain features: yearning emotion, stories  at least as wistful as they are tragic, and empathy with characters whatever their orientation on the legal or even moral compass. Some of the books enhance the effect by alternating point of view among several characters.

Most notable to me has been that the emotion suffuses not just the characters but the social and physical landscapes as well. The books are The Wolves of Fairmount Park, by Dennis Tafoya (Philadelphia); Done for a Dime by David Corbett (San Francisco Bay Area); and Cold Shot to the Heart by Wallace Stroby, whose heister heroine ranges fairly widely.

Domenic Stansberry's The Big Booom (San Francisco) may belong on the list as well. Same with John McFetridge's novels (Toronto, Montreal, and those American cities just over the border from them).

Several of these books have publishers, editors, or both in common. So, how many crime writers does it take to make a school, anyhow?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Two of my favourites there: John McFetridge and David Corbett. I dont know if either of them quite buy into the whole sympathetic fallacy thing but both of them are supremely talented writers who convey the essence of a place or a character with a few well chosen words.

May 19, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

That is an interesting theory. Surely the concept came first and the editor/publisher second -- because he/she liked it well enough to find it in a number of writers.

I'm not altogether sure it's a new or uncommon thing, however, to have your characters wishful and your setting steeped in atmosphere.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., of course it's not a new thing. My deficiencies as a critic account for any failure to convey the similarities of these books and their differences form others. That, and that I wanted to keep this post short. And get readers curious about the books.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Surely the concept came first and the editor/publisher second -- because he/she liked it well enough to find it in a number of writers."

I.J., this all came to me when I was reading one of the books, found it reminded me of one of the others, and realized the author shared a publisher with two of the other authors on my little list. I mentioned a rudimentary version of my rudimentary theory to one of the authors, and he said he shared an editor with one of the other writers. That editor's taste, he said, likely accounted for why he and that other author wound up with the same publisher in the first place.

So we have a publishing version of the chicken-or-the-egg question on our hands. At least until the days of self-published e-books, it would have taken an editor or publisher with a vision to bring authors with a similar vision -- a school, in other words -- to anyone's attention.

This whole question of a school can be inconsequential at best and ludicrously reductive at worst. What matters is that this is a fine bunch of crime writers and that people should read them.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, ditto my comment to I.J. Given more space and time, I'd explore at greater length why I think of these writers as a group. Would the effort be worth it? Probably only if it got readers and potential readers thinking about t the books, especially if it got fans of one author to try works of another.

In re place and character, ever since I was asked to write a pair of essays about fictional detectives and their settings, I've come to realize how strongly character defines the sense of place. That's especially strong here.

Down to cases. The one Corbett novel I've read is Done for a Dime. Remember the scene toward the end where Long Walk Mooney and his two thugs confront Toby and Nadya at the old lady's house? Now, Mooney is a bad guy, a predator. But his account of himself is just about plausible. This reminded me of scenes where McFetridge will give the point of view to a big-shot biker. These guys are hardly admirable characters. but their lives do have a certain logic and coherence. They have reasons for what they do and who they are, and if the the reader can understand these, a degree of empathy is the result.

This is not to say that one reads a Corbett novel and thinks, "Wow, this is just like McFetridge!" or vice versa.

May 19, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Round characters. I prefer some of my killers to have been decent people once. More interesting. Of course, watching a thoroughly rotten person get it, is highly satisfying to readers.

I think when it comes to real people, the bad eggs all think they are good eggs. Point of view doesn't really help with that, except to challenge the reader to come to a different conclusion by forming his own judgement.

May 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right you are. I have heard it said, and I should probably know who said it first, that every villain is the hero of his own story. A couple of the authors on this list take that especially to heart.

"Point of view doesn't really help with that, except to challenge the reader to come to a different conclusion by forming his own judgement."

That's a pretty big exception. Challenging and engaging the reader that way is a big accomplishment.

May 19, 2011  

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