Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Delicious details

A detail in Jon Cleary's The High Commissioner made me cheer quietly. I neglected to note the passage, but its substance is that the protagonist, Scobie Malone, sees a subordinate police officer smile sardonically at a superior's remark and can tell from that smile that the subordinate will not advance far in the force.

I thought that a humorous insight into organizational behavior and one with which I have particular sympathy. Without having anything to so with the main action, it nonetheless told me something about where Malone's sympathies lie and enhanced the pleasure of reading.

What are your favorite delicious details? What do such details add to a story?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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9 Comments:

Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Frost is forever attacking his superior, stealing his cigarettes, making gross jokes behind the man's back, grinding out his butts on the super's carpet, lying about not getting urgent messages to see him,and reading the super's mail upside down while being given another reprimand. The jokes are especially funny. Frost does not accept authority ever. But he is kind to ordinary people.
I also liked the polite squabble between Mma Ramotswe and her assistant over who gets the larger teapot, the boss (Mma Ramotswe) who drinks bush tea, or the assistant who drinks regular tea which is also offered to visitors.
I love books with eccentric characters who become entangled in small details.

June 01, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

One of my favorites is Philip Marlowe working out chess problems. Obviously, nothing to do with the plot or any particular mystery, but it gives insight to his mood. I recall one I believe was from Farewell My Lovely where he plays with a knight combination, and then leaves it declaring this was not a game for knights.In that instance, it supplied a metaphor, but often it just added to the mood in his stories.

June 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a nice set of answers to this question. One thinks of eccentricities as the province of the British fictional detective, but Phillip Marlowe's affinity for chess may just be a quieter version of the same thing.

June 02, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

In several if not most of Robert Crais' Elvis Cole books, Elvis makes asides to the reader over, usually, inconsequentials. These are often very funny, very minor pauses in the story, a wink-wink moment which serve to cozy up to the reader and draw him or in my case - her - a bit closer to Elvis. It is a trick that Crais uses very well and it does absolutely nothing to slow down his stories. In my view, these little asides enhance Elvis' personality.

Elvis collects certain Disney artifacts which he keeps in his office (Jiminy Cricket figurines, a Pinochio clock, that sort of thing), items meant, I think, for the reader to use in deciphering Elvis' boyish personality. Boyish, yes, but let's not forget that this is a man who regularly packs a gun in a shoulder holster and will kill if necessary.

Jasper Fforde is great at 'delicious details' that often have nothing to do with anything except that they enrich the aura of Thursday Next, literary detective. For instance, she has a fairly eccentric pet - a dodo named Pickwick - who really does nothing in the books but make some little rumbling noises - and yet, this farfetched detail makes for visual interest - gives a hint of Thursday's eccentric family life by merely existing.

And of course there are all the rich and often inconsequential literary asides about books, genres, and their many and varied characters and plotlines that Fforde inserts (often at dizzying speed) whenever and wherever he gets a chance.

And what about Spenser's cooking skills? Nothing to do with moving the story forward, but still adding to it.

June 02, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, I remember well Elvis Cole's Disney figures. I remember thinking Crais was better than most at the tricky game of giving his protagonist memorably eccentric traits.

June 03, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hmm. That detail really turns me off. It raises all sorts of questions about the man.

June 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., the one Robert Crais novel I've read opens with Elvis Cole welcoming an attractive prospective female client to his office, as countless private-eye novels had done before, with the wrinkle that Cole is standing on his head. (It's part of his daily exercise.)

June 03, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

Elvis Cole is the sort of character any woman would instantly fall for. It's a great responsibility. HA!

I love the books.

The thing that amuses and intrigues me is that Elvis is self-aware enough to know that these little idiosyncratic notions of his do not hold off the dark.

June 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The thing that amuses and intrigues me is that Elvis is self-aware enough to know that these little idiosyncratic notions of his do not hold off the dark.

Yvette, I've read one Elvis Cole novel, Stalking the Angel. I enjoyed his eccentricities and, more to the point, Crais is skilled enough to intergrate them into the plot. They're no mere colorful character window-dressing, in other words. But I found all this an uneasy miz the the decidedly dark side of the novel. This could well be readerly narrowmindedness on my part, and I would definitely give him another chance. Any recommendations?

June 06, 2011  

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