Saturday, August 20, 2011

A book that takes death seriously

(R.J. Ellory picked from the
crowd at
convivial al-fresco
dinner, Bouchercon 2008
)
Lurking behind this week's question about comic crime fiction was the risk that authors run of appearing not to take death and murder seriously.

R.J. Ellory is unlikely to run such a risk. I don't know that I've read any crime novel that takes death more seriously than does Ellory's A Quiet Belief in Angels. The deaths mount: Nine (so far) girls murdered in rural Georgia. The protagonist's wife. His mother. A neighbor's daughter. The neighbor's apparent suicide in expiation of guilt over the killings.

Protagonist Joseph Vaughan is haunted from a young age by an unnatural guilt over the killings without, however, taking the easy way out of losing his mind. Rather, they become a driving force in his life, pushed aside by circumstances, but always flaring up again.

Redemption? I'll tell you tomorrow.
***
R.J. Ellory will be part of my “NEVER LET ME GO: PASSPORT TO MURDER” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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43 Comments:

Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Interested to hear what you think. I love that book.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's unlike most crime novels, that's for damn sure. Touching, serious subject, skillfully put together.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger Joe Barone said...

This book really sounds interesting. Thanks for pointing it out to me here.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Joe: I've since finished reading the novel, and the remaining chapters did nothing to change my mind. There's no easy way out for this protagonist, no avoiding the dead, but no setting aside his own life for them either.

I know that Ken Bruen blurbs just about every crime novel published these days, but his blurb of this one is especially appropriate.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Although I thought Ellory's writing was excellent, the dismembered bodies of the victims was too hard for me to read so vividly rendered, so I am sorry to say I gave up on this one.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can sympathize; some of those passages are not easy to read. But they are far less graphic than what is to be found in some contemporary crime writing, some of it Scandinavian. And no reasonable reader could accuse Ellory of peddling torture porn. (I don’t mean to suggest that you accuse Ellory of this. I just want to avoid scaring off potential readers.)

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

No, I don't accuse him of it. It was just that there were a lot of them.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A shocking number, yes. I thought the graphic descriptions, and Ellory's portrayal of characters' reactions to them, did a fine job of conveying the horror of the crimes without going over the top into torture porn or suggesting that the perpetrator was a moneter (which would, of course, make it easier to write off the crimes as acts that have nothing to do with us).

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Well, I don't know who the perpetrator is, so I can't comment on that part. Maybe I'll finish it. I have it here. But there are other things I will get to first.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I meant monster rather than moneter, which sounds like a striker of coins in ancient Rome.

Well, even before the reader or any of the characters know who the killer is, it would be easy for the author to portray said killer as a monster. The characters express shock and grief over the killings, and they wonder what manner of person could do such things. But they'll say, "What manner of man could do this?" and not "What kind of monster?"

August 21, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I'm unfamiliar with Ellory, but might take a look.

The number of bodies and the gruesome detail is a bit of a turn-off, though. "Moneter"? Freudian slip? Bodies and gore do translate into many sales. Just kidding.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., what I'll say about this novel is that it's a serious book. I don't think its violence is exploitative.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I first read the word as monitor and thought it was a clue to the plot...

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, the protagonist and his young friends do form a group called the Guardians to look out for the town's girls, and a guardian is arguably something like a monitor. But no, that was not a clue.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, I got to the Guardians part, which is why I thought for a second that it might be relating to our protagonist.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nope, no Freudian slip or clever clue, just sloppy typing.

I have yet another v-word that could be a medication advertised on late-night television: calmica

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

It would be nice if you could take a copyright out on the name. But I suppose somebody already has.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe whoever writes v-words for Google has.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

If it's as random as they say it is, you , might get a jump on them.

Speaking of v words, mine might be censored in Britain: hedshag.

In America, it's probably only a particular sort of retro carpet.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hedshag. "That works," as Bart Simpson once said, "on so many levels."

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

Seana, it's well worth giving it another go.

He also did a one of my daft interviews, BTW:

http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/crimefiction/2011/07/r-j-ellory-interview-by-paul-d-brazill/

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Thanks, Paul, I am getting convinced that I need to finish it. I'll check out the interview when I get home tonight.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, you may be daft, but I'm not sure you interviews are. I'll take a look.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just took a look. It's daft.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I suspect you'll find the book a rewarding, if harrowing, experience.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Peter, I found Paul's interview a rewarding, harrowing experience, so I can only imagine what I'll think of the book.

I am so pleased that Paul has helicopter, though. I was kind of wondering how he got around.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Did someone say helicopters?

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The interview does not quite capture the book's tone.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

You're right about the tone.

I think it's your humor post, though that's headed to helicopter stats.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A post I made about Colin Bateman's bold claims for comic crime fiction is second only to the Clive James/helicopter post on thisblog's traffic chart. The subject draws much lively interest.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I may have missed that Colin Bateman one, just as I failed to realize that you had a fine opening for the helicopter sequence here too...

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This is the Bateman post. I think I’ll bring it up at Bouchercon.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I apparently took part in that discussion, which doesn't speak well for my powers of retention.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I don't know. It takes a lot of blog comments to make up a person's life. It would be difficult to remember all of them.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I think if I went down through the thread a lot of it would come back to me.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember it because Bateman had for some reason listed Declan Burke as a British crime writer, which I mentioned, to which Bateman himself responded -- fairly good-naturedly, as I recall.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Bateman does seem to be goodnatured, except when he's slinging insults with McKinty.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

And actually, even then.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dour Ulster-Scots Presbyterians, my foot!

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Apparently you can be dour and still have a wicked sense of humor.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, and the compartive form is dourer, I suppose.

I don't know about his dourness, but Bateman's writing is not all fun and games.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

No, it wouldn't be.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not sure it's entirely due to the Troubles, either. Amid all the jokes, he has an eye for bleak situations.

August 23, 2011  

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