Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two authors of comic crime fiction and a question for readers

Crime isn't funny, but some crime fiction is. How do writers of comic crime fiction keep the laughs coming without trivializing the crime?

Chris Ewan's Good Thief's Guide to Vegas, a smooth and funny caper, has its protagonist witness a shocking act of violence. Ewan does not play the scene for laughs, and he manages at the same not to upset the novel's mood. How does he achieve this? Perhaps by staging the scene behind soundproof glass; neither we not the narrator hear it. It's a delicate balance, and I say it works.

Thomas Kaufman's Drink the Tea does it in part by giving protagonist Willis Gidney a past that includes a grim childhood spent in orphanages and foster homes and by a series of gracefully executed flashbacks to that past.

If you read comic crime fiction, how do your favorite authors maintain the balance between the comedy and the crime? 
***
Chris Ewan and Thomas Kaufman will be part of my “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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154 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

It doesn't seem strange to me that they would be in the same novel. I'm trying to think of a novel where the mix has been unacceptable, but it's late, and my memory is failing me on this one. I know I've read a few where the treatment has struck me as too callous, but not recently.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You mean it doesn't seem strange that laughs and violence would co-exist in the same novel? Of course not; we're all accustomed to comic crime, from movies and television, if not from books. But neither of these guys is Allan Guthrie or Ken Bruen. They don't write hard, bleak books with unexpected notes of grim or ironic laughter.

Kaufman's and, especially, Ewan's are generally far lighter in tone, so working in those reminders that crime is not all fun and games may be a more delicate task for them.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Donna said...

I've never read Kaufman (based on your comments, I should!) but I think Chris' books work because the humour is mostly directed by Charlie towards Charlie. He's not making fun of the terrible things that happen. He's just being himself. Raymond Chandler's plots aren't funny, but the books make me laugh. Chris (and others who do the humour/crime mix well) is saying that matters of life and death are deadly serious, but that both can also be absurd.

The emergency services are renowned for the black humour which keeps them sane, but they don't bring it out in front of the victim's family and friends. They respect the victim, just as the best humourous crime fiction does, and that's what Chris Ewan does well.

Shakespeare used humour to lighten the dark moments (who, after all can forget the... errr... hilarious... porter in the Scottish play?

I don't spend my normal life surrounded by dour, moody, angst-ridden people - that would be just as tiring as spending it surrounded by people constantly cracking jokes and littering my path with fake dog shite - a nice mixture of both is what's called for (well, all apart from the fake dog shite) and that's what I look for in my crime fiction, too.

I think crime fiction lends itself to humour very well, and that ranges from the really light to the totally dark and heavy. A bit of humour gives you time to breathe. Sometimes it even underlines just how dark things are. It's actually some of the lighter, cosier end of comic crime that I tend to find can verge on the disrespectful. The type where Colonel Arbuthnot is found face down in the kedgeree, having been poisoned with the venom from the red-kneed Patagonian tarantula. Nobody seems to bother that Colonel Arbuthnot was once a living, breathing person, or that he might have had family and friends, because we are told that the Colonel was Not A Very Nice Man. So that's OK, now we can joke about him. However, there are also dark books without one iota of humour that trivialise murder and leave me with a bad taste. And there are books that take themselves too seriously. (And I don't mean they're serious books - it can be a serious book without taking itself too seriously).

I'll shut up now.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Donna said...

Actually, I won't stop - I forgot to mention some others who do it well:

Declan Burke, Charlie Williams (absurd and hilarious), Allan Guthrie (for dark, warped humour), Ken Bruen (the Brant series is particularly funny), Joe Lansdale (especially his Hap and Leonard series), Bill Fitzhugh, Charles Willeford, Helen Fitzgerald (dark and twisted), Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski, Christopher Brookmyre, Christopher Moore, Colin Cotterill (like Chris Ewan, someone else who does the lighter side really well, although his most recent Dr Siri had me crying - it's not a funny book at all), Colin Watson, Richard S Prather, Robert Lewis, Steve Brewer, Mark Haskell Smith, Donald Westlake...

I WILL shut up now :o)

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Donna is very good at it as well, but far too modest to mention herself.
Others that can make you cry and laugh sometimes on the same page are Hakan Nesser, and Philip Kerr. Kerr's books are definitely not amusing but Bernie Gunther's outright contempt for the Nazis provides a kind of dark humour that is almost a relief from the plots.
Humour alongside violence and tragedy was one of the main staples of the Martin Beck series, and that tradition has been continued by Hakan Nesser. And of course the Montalbano series can be funny even while a Mafia victim's body is being retrieved; because alongside the fairly serious characters we have the almost Shakespearean fool Catarella, Sicily's answer to Sheridan's Mrs Malaprop.
Hope you have a great panel at Boucheron.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

I think it's wise for crime writers to add a bit of comedy. It's so important to break up the sad/depressing with some humor. I know I try to have a few funny characters or funny lines in my books.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

People are funny. Crime is not!

As long as the author remembers that, all is well.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Donna, we, unlike Charlie and Victoria, are not in a theatre. You may mention the Scottish play’s name

You’re quite right that Charlie is just being himself – just another guy going about a stressful job that he nonetheless likes (the lucky so-and-so), longing for a cigarette, and enjoying one when he gets it. I think that in this book, Chris is a comedian and not a mere comic, according to a definition I once read. That is, he doesn’t just say funny things, he says things funny.

In the scene to which I refer in my post, he decidedly respects the victim – and he does so without breaking the comic mood. This impressed me.

What’s with comic-crime writers who pair crime-writer protagonists with agent sidekicks? Chris Ewan, L.C. Tyler. Do crime writers and their agents plot capers in real life?

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Donna, Drink the Tea is Thomas Kaufman's first book. His second was published within the last few months. There's also a somber undertone to his writing, which I'll discuss in a future post.

You might add Joe Gores to your fine list. And a big-thumbs up on Colin Watson.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah: Thanks for the kind panel wishes and the trenchant analysis of humor and crime. The panelists' various brands of humor are different enough that I think a lively discussion could ensue.

I have to add my man Bill James to the list, for his dark humor, his hilarious portrayal of social pretentions, his outsize characters, and his mordant dialogue. As always, start with middle or earlier books in the series.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Clarissa: Thanks. I'll probably ask the panelists some varaiant of a "Life is funny; crime isn't" question.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., as long as the crime writer remembers that and is deft anough to make his or her book reflect this, I would think. Or maybe incorporaitng humor nicely is easier to do than it is to talk about.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Now there are many ways of combining humour & crime, and while I have enjoyed e.g. Donna´s books, I began reading one by Jasper Fforde some time ago which I could not finish (The Big Over Easy). Not because of the humour, but because I could not really see the plot moving anywhere. So no matter how much & how excellent humour, I also want a proper story.

In my own cosy caper "The Cosy Knave" I have some scenes which are mainly fun, others that are mainly serious. When my readers assure me it is not just fun, but also an intriguing mystery with a protagonist they care about, I think ´mission accomplished´.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

There's nothing worse than a writer or anyone else trying to be funny and failing. I think its better to play it straight and avoid the funny if you can. If the characters are sarcastic or there's a flash of wit in the prose all to the good, but forced comedy or slapstick in a novel is just as bad as broad humour in a movie or TV show. You have to be really talented to get it right. And most people just aren't that talented. And nothing dates like humour either. Have you ever tried to watch an episode of Laugh In or one of those Dean Martin Roasts? Jesus. (You usually catch those things at three in the morning when you're feeling pretty vulnerable anyway - not good.)

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, I love Jasper Fforde's "Nursery Crimes' books. Utterly whacked-out surrealism is yet one more way to work humor into crime fiction. And thanks for the heads-up on your own book.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, nothing is worse than unfunny comedy. That's one reason I can't stand late-night American talk shows, except when Craig Ferguson has Stuart Neville on and, because he has taken out a movie option on Neville's book, talks to him for a length of time sure to test the average American attention span.

But my recent review of A Death in Summer does take John Banville to task for saying crime-fiction conventions do not lend themselves to humor.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hate Jasper Fforde. Unreadable. I decided he was having a private joke.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! Well, in the nursery crime books, he shared it with me. I liked this bit from The Fourth Bear, for instance:

"`Lovers,' repeated Bartholomew. `Goldilocks and I. For more than a year now.'

"`Wait, wait,' said Jack in a state of some confusion. `You were, to great fanfare, Westminster's first openly gay MP and have remained a vociferous mouthpiece for all kinds of minority-rights issues for the past twenty-five years, and now you're telling me ... you're straight?'

"Bartholomew covered his face with his hands, and his shoulders shook with a silent sob.

"`You don't know what it's like,' he said miserably, `living a lie.'"

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

People are funny. Crime is not!

I.J., I agree. Humor, OK. Comedy, no, when it comes to my crime fiction tastes.

Too many followers of Raymond Chandler opted for endless gags, one-liners, pointless and irrelevant similes, etc. They forgot that Chandler was about description and characterization, not comedy. His deft use of humor was employed with a light hand. And that's why his readers can bring to mind so many humorous quotes from his novels.

The use of comedy (rather than humor) is probably the main reason I don't care for most entries in the heist/caper subgenre. Too many characters are sketched so flimsily they end up looking like stereotypical Darwin Award finalists.

Generally, I guess I don't like to see crime pay. Ex = bandits making off with a stolen fortune in whatever. That crime can escape punishment certainly happens, especially in police procedurals. Here is where Chandler's "redemption" comes into play for the reader.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I wonder what you'd think of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder caper novels. Crime never pays there. At most, the gang gets away with some tiny fraction of the score it hoped for. Dortmunder is smart but luckless.

Same with the movie Big Deal on Madonna Street, which Westlake admired so much. The man who is said virtually to have invented the comic caper novel, in other words, never had crime pay the way the perps intended.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

I think humour works best as a side dish rather than the main course. But those who try it deserve our respect, and for some reason rarely get it.

When a writer tries to be funny and fails the failure is immediately apparent; when a writer tries to be serious and fails the failure can go undetected for years.

I think Chandler said somewhere that metaphors or similes have to be absolutely on the nose, or else they don't work. Philip Kerr and Roger Smith try to go toe to toe with Chandler in their use of metaphor, but end up on the floor with a fat man standing over them counting to ten. And what's true of metaphors is even more true of humour. It's damned hard to get it right.

There are a lot of writers on Donna's list I haven't read. Bruen deserves to be there, comedy being his only real virtue as a writer. Westlake and Prather, like most writers of comedy, are a bit hit and miss. One book may reduce you to tears of laughter, the next may bore you to tears.

But I was a little surprised to see Charles Willeford there. The three of his that I've read didn't strike me as humourous. What about you, Peter? Did you find The Shark Infested Custard a barrel of laughs?

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, you're quite right about humor as a side dish, at least in crime wrting, and about the horrible immediacy of failed humor.

Chandler's best metaphors were, in fact, quieter than the ones most widely quooted and imitated, and they are very often dead on. I don't think Roger Smith so much tries to go toe to toe with Chandler as he renders occasional explicit (and acknowledged) homage to him.

Prather's novels drive me nuts with their incessant wise-cracking, but his story "Dead Giveaway" works because of its surprisingly touching ending. Christa Faust's novel Money Shot, dedicated to Prather, contains two delicious comic Prather moments, but they work because they're just two moments in a novel of a couple of hundred pages.

The Shark-Infested Custard was no barrel of laughs, but it did contain its share of black humor. This old post of mine, which links to article that makes some large claims for comic crime fiction, drew one of my largest responses ever.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Donna said...

Solo - did I mention that I have a very warped sense of humour? :o) Probably more the Hoke Moseley books than the standalones, but I do find a lot of humour in those too.

Adrian - totally agree about forced humour - there's nothing more unfunny - whether in print or on screen. It's just painful.

Peter - Kaufmann sounds really interesting, I shall definitely check him out. Joe Gores - I've read and enjoyed one of his (32 Cadillacs?) And, in answer to your question "Do crime writers and their agents plot capers in real life?" Yes. Enjoy Bouchercon - I wish I could be there.

Humour's a funny thing, isn't it? Completely subjective.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Solea said...

I love the Italian comedy caper flic Big Deal on Madonna street!
Gregory McDonald's "Fletch" series (not the movie) is my favorite combo of crime and comedy. Most of the books are laugh out loud funny, absurd, and genius all at the same time.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Donna, 32 Cadillacs is one of Joe Gores' DKA Files books. Cons, Scams, and Grifts, which has wonderful cover art, is another. Like the best books that combine crime and humor, his stories have real heart, and they don't trivialize violence.

Donna: Bring your agent over to Bouchercon one year.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Elisabeth, I wonder what you'd think of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder caper novels.

I think I would loathe them. Not because of the crime paying / not paying angle but because the specter of spending 200 or so pp. of reading about the planning and inevitable bumbling of some heist would, to borrow solo's phrase, bore me to tears, no matter how well written. As Donna said, our individual responses to humor in crime fiction is subjective.

There are exceptions to my rules, however, and a recent re-viewing of Larceny, Inc., 1942, with Edw. G. Robinson, Edw. Brophy, Broderick Crawford and many other Warner Bros. contract players is a lot of fun. "Three ex-cons buy a luggage shop to tunnel into the bank vault next door. But despite all they can do, the shop prospers" (IMDB). The cast has so much fun with this flimsy premise that it's a pleasure to watch them go to town with terrific ensemble acting.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I definitely agree on Camilleri and Nesser writing humor in the midst of murder and crime solving.

With Camilleri's humor, sometimes I just laugh out loud and can't stop. And Nesser just blows me away. In the midst of a serious case and investigation, a phrase or thought pops in which is so unexpected and brilliant, first I'm stunned and then I laugh.

Also, for anyone who is a fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books, there is a lot of LOL humor in the midst of murder.

Robert Parker was good at writing witty dialogue.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I wouldn't want to say anything definitive about Willeford. I read him a long time ago but with no idea of how indirect he was. Possibly, I missed most of what he was trying to say. His book Cockfighter made the most impression on me, but it didn't make me laugh.

Elisabeth, I've never seen Larceny, Inc The trailer makes it look like a lot of fun. I'm a bit of a sucker for Edward G Robinson. He's one of those actors who lend a bit of class to whatever he's in. I think Gene Hackman in a later generation did the same thing.

I'm not as familiar with Westlake's Dortmunder novesl as Peter is but when I read the opening section of Bad News in my local library my laughter had everybody else in the library looking at me as if I was some kind of lunatic. Perhaps they were right.

Most, but unfortunately not all, of that opening is available on Amazon.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

solo, I did read what Google Books has of that first chapter and, nope, no laughs from me. A bumbling would-be thief, played for laughs, who has already stolen a car earlier in the evening, who is now destroying inventory in a home electronics store, making an ass of himself by getting trapped in the optician's shop (where he breaks more property). Just leaves me cold. I'm thinking of how much this jackass has cost the car owner, small business owner/store manager, and the taxpayers paying for the cops to come out and investigate the "merriment."

Theft and destruction of property used as a basis for a laugh. Bah. So I'm a wet blanket. Maybe it's funnier to people who haven't had their car stolen, and / or come home or entered their tack room and found most of the salable stuff missing. What a riot!

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solea, Big Deal on Madonna Street has a fine case, doesn't it? And an ending that's bittersweet at best. One could argue that the heisters get what's coming to them.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Willeford's New Hope for the Dead seemed very funny to me when I read it quite a few years ago, but I take it that some of his novels are quite a bit darker than that one.I think even the other one in the series that I read was a bit darker than this one.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Elisabeth, I only recommended Bad News in the hope you would like it. You didn't like it? Fair enough. I'll go back and read it. Maybe I'll see it in a different light. Or maybe I won't. You do know I'm a contrary fecker, don't you?

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, that blurb for Larceny, Inc. could well apply to Big Deal on Madonna Street, except that the gang digs from an apartment to a jeweler's, and the ensemble cast that has the fun includes Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, and Totò.

Many of Richard Stark's Parker novels involve lengthy planning for a heist, and I suspect Stark regarded this as a challenge. How could he make drama out of static scenes? He would fill them with human conflict and, at least once, a killing.Oh, and in one book, he someone say that he wants an island gutted, like Couffignal.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, one should be way of hasty generalizations, but I think it's safe to say that most humor in the Nordic crime fiction translated into English is of the deadpan variety.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo and Elisabeth, one thing I will say about the Dortmunder novels -- well, two things. They're not equally good. I could do without Jimmy the Kid, though its premise is clever. The other is that I don't remember off hand any killing in the books. Westlake does not make farcical sport out of death or serious injury, for example. He's just out to have some fun.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Often farcical fun!

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

or come home ... and found most of the salable stuff missing.

I have had those things happen to me, and I still like Dortmunder!

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

OT to solo... While you're here... Do you think Goldikova has one more BC Mile win in her after her defeat in the Prix Jacques Le Marois on Monday?

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I can't figure out where I'd put Willeford's Shark-Infested Custard on the dark/funny scale. Probably quite a bit closer to the dark side, though earlier chapters are full of touches that one thinks would belong in a funny a book.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I have had those things happen to me, and I still like Dortmunder!

Peter, you're clearly a much more resilient chap than I am; I'm an angry brooder and failed to see the humor -- or irony -- in those violations.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

There is a lot of what I guess you'd call domestic comedy in New Hope for the Dead, which I don't think you'd find in the earlier books.

Humor is one of those things, isn't it? You find something funny or not. You can't really talk someone in or out of their feelings about any particular example.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter, you're clearly a much more resilient chap than I am; I'm an angry brooder and failed to see the humor -- or irony -- in those violations.

I effing pick myself up, dust my effing self off, and start the eff all over again.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

What? Deadpan? Van Veeteren? You must be kidding!

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I effing pick myself up, dust my effing self off, and start the eff all over again.

Maybe it's a guy thing. Or maybe I'm just getting too old to pick, dust, and start all over again.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Willeford's titles are often funny: New Hope for the Dead, The Shark-Infested Custard, Burnt Orange Conspiracy.

I've read New Hope for the Dead, and your comment about domestic comedy reminded me of The Shark-Infested Custard as well. Teh situation is four men residing in a singles apartment complex in Florida, the way they live, and the things that happen to them because of the way they live.

August 17, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I thought this, from Borkmann's Point, was kind of deadpan:

"It was past eleven before the kids finally went to bed. They opened a bottle of wine and put on a Mostakis tape, and after several failed attempts, they finally managed to get a fire going. They spread the mattress out on the floor and undressed each other.

"`We'll wake them up,' said Münster .

"`No, we won't,' said Synn. She stroked his back and crept down under the blankets. `I put a bit of a sleeping pill into their hot chocolate.'

"`Sleeping pill?' he thundered, trying to sound outraged.

"`Only a little bit. Won't do them any lasting harm. Come here!'

"`OK,' said Münster, and restored relations with his wife."

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

OT to solo... While you're here... Do you think Goldikova has one more BC Mile win in her after her defeat in the Prix Jacques Le Marois on Monday?

Don't ask me that question, Elisabeth. I lost more on Midday today than I could afford. There's a great song by The Smiths called Hang The DJ. As far as I'm concerned, they should have called it Hang The Jockey.

It might be a bridge too far for Goldikova, but Midday is still only a five year old. The F&M Turf should be hers. Not that I care. Once I attach the rope and kick away the chair, I'll be just fine.

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Once I attach the rope and kick away the chair, I'll be just fine.

Ah, don't do that! Remember the immortal words of.. somebody: "A bad day at the track is better than a good day at work." And Twice Over has been good against males so no surprise she could best her girlie stablemate, huh?

August 17, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

A bad day at the track is better than a good day at work

Amen, sister.

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't want to appear to be making light of anyone's pain, but crime (and other) fiction must contains thousands of amusing lined from anguished bettors along the lines of solo's complaint: "If he was any slower, he could have run the next race," and so on.

Any favorites, you horse-racing-fans-cum-crime-readers?

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Hi, Peter and everyone.

I agree with those who've pointed out that humor is subjective. Humor tends to work in crime fiction because of how often crime fiction uses the subjective POVs first-person and limited third-person.

With these two POVs, stories can become more about following the protagonist than presenting the crime. In my opinion, this doesn't trivialize crime so much as make it a palatable subject for fiction. As realistic as we want our stories, we sometimes forget they are fiction, that we're meant to be able--even to enjoy--reading them beginning to end. As realistic as we want our stories, the crime element is often there to help authors make larger points.

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, I suppose an omniscient narrator would have trouble making a crime story humorous because he or she would always be aware of the dark side.

August 18, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

You told me he was a great horse and he is. It took 12 other horses to beat him!

Mickey Rooney tells this story: "Many years ago I went to the track and bet $2 to win on a horse and it lost. I've spent almost a million dollars trying to get that $2 back."

August 18, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to continue my negativity: I also dislike heist books and protagonists who are amusing criminals.

As for Bruen, his Jack Taylor novels are excellent in every way, not just the humor. I grant you, the rest doesn't come up to their quality. And and that includes the Brandt novels. Bruen can make Jack joke about his pain and thereby make it more vivid. We identify with Jack. My guess is that we would not care about him if he complained.

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're right about Jack Taylor's humor and its effect, I think. For some reason, I think real people are likelier than one might suspect to crack a rueful joke after getting the crap kicked out of them. Jack Taylor does this and, as you say, readers identiy with him.

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

It seems to me, and I'm late to the party as usual, that when a book sets out to be funny, the writer better know what he or she is doing and how to do it. Humor is no place for amateurs.

Examples of mysteries with humor that works:

The Toby Peters books by Stuart Kaminsky.

The Stanley Hastings books by Parnell Hall.

The Leo Waterman books by G.M. Ford.

The Chet and Bernie books by Spencer Quinn.

The Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters.

The Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde - also his Nursery Crime books.

The Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich which are really a sort of burlesque of the mystery genre.

The Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout in which Archie Goodwin's narration is often laugh out loud funny.

...and many, many more. I am a big fan of 'funny' mysteries. :)

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Janet Evanovich is just a funny writer, but the Stephanie Plum books may be burlesques of Evanovich's other genre, as well. I once complained that a psycho character on one of the books was menacing in a way that seemed out of character with the rest of the novel. Someone replied that a bad guy menacing the heroine was a convention of romance novels, which Evanovich used to write.

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

The 'funny' thing is, Peter, that I do not like it when Stephanie is actually menaced and threatened with 'real' death unless it's so preposterous you just shake your head.

That's why the first book in the series doesn't work for me as well as the rest, from the second book on. I believe my favorite of all is the third book though I'm not a hundred percent sure.

August 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yvette, that psychotic boxer is a genuinely scary, menacing character who seems out of place in the Plum books. His presence seemed calculated, as if Evanovich were trying to come up with a gimmick to keep readers reading. But it takes chops to create a character like that. As I've said before, the woman can write.

August 18, 2011  
Anonymous Chris said...

Hi Peter

Sorry to come late to this, but I've been journeying home from the States, and have only just had chance to read your post and the comment thread that follows. Already, I can see that we're going to have a great panel discussion...

I guess where I come out on the merging of funny with violence really synchs with what the ever-perceptive and generous Donna Moore says. To me, it's all about how my lead character, Charlie, perceives the events going on around him. I don't know that Charlie really thinks that the events he describes are funny in themselves (any more than I do), but he's the type of guy who views life as a game, or more accurately a fiction (given his other profession as a mystery writer). In this way, the humour becomes a survival tool, or a distancing device. If Charlie can make light of those uncomfortable events he faces as a burglar, then they become that bit less scary and more easy for him to cope with.

But on top of that, as you say, I tend not to crack funnies when something violent happens, or when Charlie stumbles upon a dead body. Seems to me this would be about the quickest way to alienate the reader I can think of, because it points too readily to the mechanics of the fiction we're both engaged in.

Looking forward to September...

Chris

August 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if any characters in comic crime fiction know that they're funny. That would be a real challenge for an author to pull off, I would think.

Yep, I like to think we'll have an entertaining and informative panel. I have some good questions in mind, not all of which you'll know about beforehand, of course.

August 19, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, your example of deadpan humor wasn't exactly what I was thinking of. In A Mind's Eye, Van Veetering has lightning-bolt thoughts or words, that fly out of his mouth, and even stun him. I look and think, was that funny? Then I'm yelling/laughing, saying "I can't believe this," as I try to resuscitate myself.

I'll agree on Rex Stout's books being laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes even hilarious, knee-slapping funny.

I find humor in Sara Paretsky's books sometimes.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll have to look up that scene. I like your description of how you enjoyed it.

I enjoy the characters' schtick in Rex Stout's books, Nero Wolfe exclaiming Pfui! especially.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Man, my mom was a huge Nero Wolfe fan, and I never got around to reading them. I started a few times, but didn't get going with them. I did see a TV series on them which was broadcast for awhile. I can picture the actor who played Archie more than I can picture the actor who played Wolfe.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I expect a half-pitying, half-scolding comment from "Linkmeister," who posts here from time to time and is the biggest Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout fan I know. He'd be better able than I to recommend some Wolfe you might stick with.

I can say from what I've read that Rex Stout struck an admirable balance between offering readers what was familiar, and keeping things fresh in his long-running series.

August 20, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I don't think it was a a fault of the books. If I have time, I'm sure I'll get to some of them eventually.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An assessment that I've quoted several times may help explain Rex Stout's appeal. The assessment said that Stout combined the American hard-boiled tradition, in the person of Archie Goodwin, with the English eccentric-detective tradition, in the person of Nero Wolfe.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

My mom had pretty good taste when it came to mysteries, I think. I imagine that when I was younger I just had an unconscious rebellion to following her suggestions, and then when I got older, it was more the sheer number of books in the series that seemed a little daunting.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think the series began in the 1930s and may have continued in the 1970s. Some of the books mention the New York Mets, who did not come into existence until 1962.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I was thinking it was Darren McGavin who played Archie Goodwin to William Conrad's Wolfe. But I have that totally wrong. He did appear in at least one episode, but as a totally different character.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! William Conrad had the size.

Am I hallucinating, or did some major movie actor, Timothy Bottoms, maybe, figure in one of the Wolfe television productions?

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Timothy Hutton.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I knew it wasn't Tim Robbins.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I only knew because I saw his picture.

August 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Some of the Rex Stout books are funnier than others.

I started reading about Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin when I was in high school because my father, who had good taste in mysteries, read them.

Then I moved away from them and rediscovered them because a pre-eminent blogger whose posts I faithfully follow daily loves that series and posted so many hilarious segments on her blog that I had to read the books recommended.

The Doorbell Rang, which involves the FBI, is very good. Fer-de-Lance, the first from the early 1930s is good, and so is The League of Frightened Men.

When the dialogue is good between Wolfe and Goodwin, it sings -- and is hilarious and brilliantly written.

One line I remember is Wolfe saying, "Archie, I am a genius, not a god."

This is a paraphrase: Archie, with your investigative work and my "feel for phenomena," we've solved the case.

Feel for phenomena? Kind of has a ring to it.

It's pleasant and well-written, with wit.

Stout could write. He wrote anti-Nazi tracts as chairperson of the War Writers' Board during WWII. I'll bet it was darn good, too.

According to a nearby independent mystery bookstore, which keeps Stout's books well-stocked, this series is always popular, yet is having a resurgence now.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, it seems to me I've read or heard some good things about that series. If it's available on DVD, and if I can find a place to rent or borrow it, I'd consider doing so.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, Rex Stout sounds like an American classic: Never going out of style.

And this is a wonderfil line: "Archie, I am a genius, not a god."

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy: Who's the blogger who posted all the Rex Stout extracts?

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Thanks, for the recs, Kathy. You were apparently a better daughter than I was.

Peter, the series sounds like it was pretty well done, but it just didn't catch on for some reason.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm occasionally surprised by the revival of classics from previous decades, such as that Wolfe series. What about an older book makes a producer think it might work as a new movie or television series? (I assume the Wolfe-makers did not take the easy way out and make everything ironic and humorously self-mocking and self-referential.)

August 21, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Well, I assume it's something to do with endless appeal of the great detective and his sidekick archetype.

If read it correctly, the TV series didn't rely much on the original stories for its plots.

August 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd be curious about the extent to which the series recaptures the book's atmosphere. Also, given the wide chronological reach of the series, the period in which the TV series set its stories.

August 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

In So Many Words, the website belonging to Yvette, is chock full of dialogue and comments between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

And she also has a list of recommended books in the series, which I'm utilizing for my own reading.

Also, Stout's books send me to the dictionary. A recent visit was to look up "rodomontade," which Wolfe calls one particular murder.

And to Seana, I did follow my father's book suggestions, on fiction, including mysteries, and only once did I read a book he told me not to read, and I agreed with his assessment, but being a teen-ager, I had to find out why he disparaged it.

The one author I haven't tried, which he liked much, was John Dickson Carr, due to the locked-room theme.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

My father had the somewhat irritating but in retrospect endearing habit of grabbing up the books I had brought home from a library or a booksale and reading them before I got a chance to.

My mom was the fiction reader though, and if I didn't always take her up on her suggestions, she certainly did not always take me up on mine either.

August 22, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

My mother read history, biographies, and books about art and music. She only liked a few fiction writers, like Thomas Hardy and Emile Zola.

I did read Nana when I was in high school, but nothing else by either author.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Sounds like kind of a reverse image of my parents' marriage. My dad liked Dostoyevsky, but in general he liked politics, history and philophical essays better.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy: Thanks. I should have thought of Yvette. She has mentioned Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe here from time to time.

I'm sure Yvette could supply the answer in this case, too, but it's no surprise Rex Stout would send readers to the dictionary. I think he was a crossword puzzle or spelling-bee champion in his youth.

August 22, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Actually, Seana, my father read all kinds of books. He would have five books going at once.

I remember one particular batch on the coffee table that he was working on: a book on Japanese history, one on the Chinese language (which he began learning later in life), a book on sailing, one of math puzzles and a mystery.

And he read the New York Times daily, and also wrote letters to them and to Scientific American, which he read regularly, too.

But he definitely didn't want his children to read books of questionable character.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that is an endearing habit for a parent, as long as he didn't mutter about his daughter not needing any damn-fool book learnin' as he filched the volumes she brought home from the library.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I don't know what your father read when you weren't around, but his reading in your presence was of the highest character.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

My main gripe was that he would start citing them before I'd even had a chance to open them.

Kathy, my dad was also a kind of multitrack player. He would read, say, the New Yorker, and have the Tv and radio on at the same time. And he somehow could keep track of all of it. I definitely did not inherit this trait.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He was a walking "SPOILER ALERT."

August 22, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

My father would read a book or the New York Times and glance over at the tv. However, we were limited on the tv watching, so he didn't have too many occasions in which to do that.

Yee, my father was a great reader, as well as doer in many efforts, including sports and puzzles of all kinds.

When I was in high school and trying my hand at double crostics, I'd just yell the questions to him and he'd tell me the answers, then get tired of that, but by then I had enough answers to solve the puzzles.

He took me to the library all of the time and I'd come home with an armful of books, and dutifully stay up late reading them, and be late for school, but Steinbeck or Maugham or Upton Sinclair Conan Doyle or Stout or Sayers, or Tey were not bad reasons for this habit.

I have yet to read anything by Thomas Mann or Thomas Wolfe, his favorite writers, but I will.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I think I jumped straight from Dr. Seuss to comic books to baseball to wherever I am now.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I just realized that if the internet had blossomed while my dad was still alive, we wouldn't have been able to tear him away.

I've read some Mann and some Hardy. Both worth reading, though Hardy is more depressing I think.

I love Mann's multivolume set Joseph and His Brothers. Or did when I read it some years ago.

v word is 'hiplogon', which is fantastic in its nonsensical appearance of meaningfulness.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps he'd have alternated between plumbing the Internet for information and railing against it as a waste of time.

A hiplogon is a very cool word one uses to sign on to one's computer. Either that, or an obscure term in neo-Platonic philosophy.

August 23, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Did anyone read anything by Thomas Wolfe?

I want to read The Magic Mountain, my Dad's favorite Mann book. And I remember him reading Buddenbrooks, which I was interesting in trying, but a friend said the translation from German is very dry and tedious.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I tried to read something by Wolfe in my unambitious youth, possibly shortly after my Kerouac period. I did not get far.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I haven't read Wolfe, but I did see play on television of Look Homeward Angel starring Timothy Bottoms, which I remember liking quite a lot.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're sure that was Timothy Bottoms, now, and not Timothy Hutton?

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I am, but I can see why you would wonder.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

Peter, Rex Stout has certainly had a resurgence at our house. Or maybe I should say he's just never stopped being read. The series, to my mind, has a very magnetic quality about it. I guess I'll be re-reading it until I drop. Ha.

What an interesting discussion you and Kathy and Seana are having.

I'm sorry to say that I come from a family who didn't read. My father read the paper and that was about it. My mom occasionally read Spanish language romances, but that was about it as well.

Where me and my brother got the reading bug, I don't know. I'm just glad we did.

If you hit the Vintage badge on my left sideboard - scroll down a bit - you should be able to find all the Nero Wolfe posts. I hope.

Peter, you would love THE DOORBELL RANG. Read it.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

P.S. Thanks Kathy for the plug and the mention. :)

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, we had books all the time -- all credit to my mother and Dr. Seuss. And thanks for the pointer to the Nero Wolfe posts.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Speaking of reading or not reading in the family, I had an interesting discussion with a guy who works in the burrito place where I frequently have lunch. he asked me after I ordered, How many books do you think you have read? I guess because he always sees me bring a book along for lunch. I didn't really have an answer, so he said, a lot right? I said yeah, I guess, or something like that, and he said, I've read four books in my whole life. He said, reading just isn't that big a part of the Mexican culture. He said that in school, it had been more about math. I don't know if he was right about the whole culture, but obviously it was true for him. Now this is a guy I've known slightly for awhile, and he's obviously bright, observant and thoughtful. I knew he had kids so I asked him if they read and he said, oh, yeah. He told me they were in Mexico right now and were always pestering him to send books in English, but that the postage made this too expensive for him.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If nothing else, that sounds like a salutary lesson against thinking someone is stupid just because he or she does not read books -- and an exhortation to getting books to people who want them, comic books, paperback books, any kind of books.

August 23, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Gosh, maybe we should collect some funds for this guy so he can send his children books.

That's kind of sad.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I thought about it, but I think he would be too proud. I'm hoping the kids are just in Mexico for the summer, as I know they went to school here last year.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, this could be a good excuse for you to visit Mexico -- Books Across Borders!

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, should you have wondered, yes, I did feel today's earthquake. It gave my house a good jolt while I was sitting at my computer.

August 23, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Wow, you felt the earthquake!

I, in New York, didn't feel it. What time did the jolt happen? (I had taken a nap given I was up all night reading an Australian mystery by Katherine Howell, a bad habit, but mine nevertheless.)

August 24, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

That earthquake was a bit weird for me. I was off today and didn't really hear any news, but in the afternoon, it popped up on Slate or something. There was a bit of lag in the uptake and then I realized that my sister and nephew were back in Washington DC, where my nephew is starting into college. One of the things I did not expect them to encounter on leaving California was another earthquake.

I called my sister to see how they were taking it, and she said she had been walking on the Washington Mall with another mom and hadn't even felt it. But for her the weird experience was getting on the subway and seeing how freaked out people were. My nephew said that the college buildings were evacuated, and the Californians exited in an orderly way but a lot of other people were running.

August 24, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

That is funny but probably understandable, given that Californians are somewhat used to these acts of nature.

A friend emailed that he felt the earthquake in Baltimore, but not a big deal.

Maybe it's the gods who are telling Congress to leave alone Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I, in New York, didn't feel it. What time did the jolt happen?

(I had taken a nap given I was up all night reading an Australian mystery by Katherine Howell, a bad habit, but mine nevertheless.)


Kathy, I would never criticize anyone for indulging in a habit I share.

The tremor happened here a little before 2 p.m. I was doing just what I’m doing now: Sitting at the computer. I felt a jolt, and at first I thought I must have knocked a leg of my chair off a book or a pile of papers. Then I thought, “Oh, hell, my house is falling apart.”

Then I heard men’s voices from the street, and I figured they were part of a construction crew that had been the source of the shaking. A little later, when I left for work, I heard some neighbors talking about an earthquake, and that’s when I found out what had happened.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, your sister and nephew enjoyed a bit of a busman's holiday.

Washington was a lot closer to the epicenter than Philadelphia was, and I read that all the Smithsonian museums were shut. In Philadelphia, at least one of the two subway lines closed down, which was why I took the bus to work.

I like the idea of Californians keeping their heads while everyone around them went nuts. It has been quite a week for local news here in Philadelphia.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, a few of us (well, me) made jokes about the Republicans blaming Obama for the earthquake or the religious right saying it was punishment for the godless East Coast's sins.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Yeah, it's the vices that always get blamed for natural disasters first.

I am not sure how the Californian sang froid will hold up in the face of the hurricane looming off the East Coast. I remember when my sister was in the hospital in New Orleans for some elective surgery a couple of years ago, and there was a tornado warning, which freaked both her and my other sister out. But the hospital staff treated it as no big deal, even though it was big enough to knock out a generator near the French Quarter, where my other sister was staying.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's the Battle of the Natural Disasters!

August 24, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, We here in CA may snigger at East Coasters going all Chicken Little over a mild earthquake but I, for one, have an absolute horror of snow. Any hint of snowfall in the forecast for a trip destination has me paralyzed with trepidation.

One New Year's Eve in Seattle, a girlfriend and I were wondering if we should go out night-clubbing when there was a predicted 2 inches of snow overnight. We asked her older sister, a long-time resident of Denver, if she thought we'd be OK. She couldn't stop laughing...

Seana, I want Congress to tinker with Medicare; that is I want it to rescind the zillion dollar corporate giveaway (aka Medicare Pt. D) to pharmaceutical and insurance companies !!!

...Republicans blaming Obama for the earthquake...

Peter, this reminds me of a recent headline in The Onion: "Obama Turns 50 Despite Republican Opposition."

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wow, I could write a crime story with a character based on you being kidnapped and held in a ski chalet on Mammoth Mountain.

I had seen that headline. The Onion may be the funniest and most timely American humor since Mark Twain.

August 24, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Oh, I wouldn't mind being in the ski chalet; it's being outside in the snow, traveling in the snow, that I wouldn't like! I am on record as saying my idea of fun-in-the-snow is being curled up with a book on the sofa in front of the fire at Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, sipping Johnnie Walker Black (then hot cocoa before bedtime), and reading a good book--and watching the snow fall outside the big picture windows.

I want to spend a snowy Christmas at one of the "great camps" in the Adirondacks some day, too.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mmm, you might not have liked Jack London's "To Build a Fire," a high school staple in my parts.

August 24, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

...might not have liked Jack London's "To Build a Fire"...

Au contraire! I love TBAF -- and almost everything else by Jack London. And the other American Naturalist writers.

I've read that death by freezing is one of the best ways to go; so maybe one day, when it all gets to be too much, I'll just walk outside the Lake Quinault Lodge on a snowy, freezing night...

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, don't go out right after hopping out of a spa bath. You'll catch a cold.

August 24, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Let's hear three cheers for the godless East Coast!

August 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hell, yes! Hip-hip for hedonists and secular humanists.

A new report by the Census Bureau finds that divorce rates are low in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and much of the Northeastern United States. And how does God reward us? With an earthquake.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

It's not God, it's Mother Earth that's wreaking revenge. Always a scarier prospect.

I lived in snow in Colorado when I was a kid, so it's not that scary to me, but it does seem like a pain in the neck getting around in.

I don't know what I said about Medicare, Elizabeth, but I'm totally with you on corporate giveaways. I still don't get the whole corporation as person fiction having such legal status.

August 25, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Whoops! Seana, that was Kathy D.'s comment, a comment from you was nearby and I got you two confused when I copied-and-pasted the quote.

My primary care doctor, a goddess in my book, has a photocopy of a news article about "health insurers post record profits in 2010" at the check-in desk. She is fed up! Insurance companies constantly try to interfere with her practice on several levels (want her to see more patients per hour; want her to see patient multiple times if patient has multiple, unrelated problems, etc.) Insurance co.'s are beholden to their stockholders, not my doctor and her patients. That they received preference over patients makes a mockery of the word "affordable" in the Affordable Care Act.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I grew up in Montreal when snowfall was greater than it is now (at least until the past two years). I laugh in the face of snow.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I know virtually nothing about health-care policy, but I, too, am wary of giving insurance companies that great a say in medicine. The problem, in other words, is not what I think tea partiers and the like would have you believe: that the act gives government too great a role in our lives. Rather, it's that it gives the private sector too great a role.

I don't know what sort of fighting and controversy surrounded the birth of Medicare and its counterparts in Canada, but in their mature forms, I don't think one has anything like the messy public private hybrid that exists here.

August 25, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

...the act gives government too great a role in our lives. Rather, it's that it gives the private sector too great a role.

Peter, you’ll have to count me among "the like" as I believe the PPACA does give government too great a micromanaging role, while also giving the private (i.e. corporate, for-profit sector) too great a role. My doctor is both furious and frightened about the "devils in the details" in this 2,000-plus page act that are trickling out. An entirely new bureaucracy of appointed, not elected, wonks is being constructed to enforce, and provide the inevitable exemptions and waivers for, the hundreds of elements in the act. Neither she nor I want policymakers in DC deciding what this 58-years-old, overweight, degenerative disk "sufferer", etc. woman should or should not get in health care.

I lived in England in the late 1970s and I remember a boyfriend not receiving a particular treatment because he "wasn’t old enough" – he'd have to wait until the backlog ahead of him got shorter, or he got older. He took out a loan from his parents and got the treatment from a private doctor. My mother had colon cancer in the late 1980s and survived, partly because she was given an innovative (now standard) chemotherapy after surgery. What if DC bureaucrats had said: “Hmm, she's 55 years old, about ready to retire, let's save this limited stuff for a woman in her child-bearing years." (Or whatever.) The problem with Americans is that they think "universal health care" means they will get any health treatment they want or need on demand for not much money. My doctor knows this is not the case and she says she's planning some big changes in her practice that will allow her to continue treating her patients as she, and collaborating specialists, deem necessary.

If the PPACA had stipulated some kind of "catastrophic" health care provisions (pick a figure, say if one's medical bills exceed $X), for all Americans, I would have been behind it 100%. But what we have now is a lobbyist- and policy-wonk devised act cobbled together with every special interest group putting in its 2 cents worth seeking exemptions and waivers.

The news today reports that a "surprising" number of companies have said they will stop offering health care coverage to employees; they think it will be cheaper to face fines and other gov't strictures and throw employees to the rest of the taxpayers. Not surprising to us here at my multi-billion-dollar NON-profit company. We talked about this possibility 2 years ago and won’t be surprised if mgmt. does this, once the PPACA is a firmly rooted bureaucracy. Heck, we can afford the fines—cheaper than health insurance!

August 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe something sensible will emerge after we're gone. Charles Krauthammer, a prickly, doctinatire conservative who, nonetheless, has a brain in his head, wrote during the health-care "debate" that the the nexus between companies and health insurance was unnecessary and unworkable, especially in a time of great occupational mobility.

Of course, being a conservative, he could not suggest that government be the provider, but I thought his thinking was progressive or at least unexpected.

My anecdote is of being on a bus a few months ago when a young man rode his bicycle smack into the side of a bus. He was able to get up and walk, but he told the driver not to call an ambulance because, "I have no health insurance."

August 25, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

In the matter of healthcare, I guess I'd rank as a conservative of some kind; not of the stripe of Republicans who voted en masse against the PPACA—without offering any kind of alternative! But I'm wary and cynical about government's (any government's, any administration's) ability to manage such intimate decisions as are normally just between patient and doctor. Do I believe DC bureaucrats "care" about me and my own? Not really. They just want my vote. After all, who is "the government"? Isn't it the people in our democratic republic? When we say "let's just let the government pay for it" we're really saying let's make our neighbors pay for it.

The example of your anecdote is certainly one of the reasons we need some kind of national pool of coverage. However, where I'm torn is that I don't want people forced to have to pay for health insurance ("Heck, I'm young and healthy, I don't need health insurance") while at the same time I kinda feel like the Little Red Hen—I don’t want to pay for these folks when they do need care if they didn’t “help me bake my bread” to begin with.

For the sake of argument, I have to wonder if the bicyclist wanted, but couldn’t get, health insurance or if he, like a number of the 20-somethings (of course, I don’t know the age of your bicyclist) I’ve come across still feel invincible and don’t want to spend money on health insurance—they’d rather impress their friends with expensive bottles of wine at restaurants.

Here's my anecdote. A few years ago, my then co-worker (2 of us worked with no health insurance at a small nonprofit) was bitten by a dog while breaking up a dogfight on the property. I drove him to the Emergency Room at a hospital in Hollywood where he waited nearly 45 minutes on a quiet, weekday afternoon to see the doctor after first proving his ability to pay by giving them a credit card. Accepted ahead of him were two men, also with non-life threatening injuries, who had arrived after him. When my friend asked why they got to go first, he was told that the men qualified for Medi-Cal -- CA's version of Medicaid. Thus the hospital was sure of receiving reimbursement (this was several years ago, reimbursement is more dicey now) for whatever inflated sum they billed the state while my friend could only pay to the max on his credit card. Fortunately, the bill "only" came to $700—swabbing and bandaging a dog bite... As long as insurance companies are still calling the shots “the cost of healthcare” (ha!) will always be skewed.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I'm for some kind of single payer system, but I always thought the current package's demand that everyone pay for insurance was dicey, given the corruption of the insurance industry. I am actually kind of glad that this part didn't hold up--it assumes a benign aspect to the insurers that seems wholly unwarranted.

I think the fact that health insurance tends to be connected to a job if you are above the poverty level is actually a great problem in terms of innovation. Anyway who has health insurance even mediocre health insurance is reluctant to leave a job if they have any assets at all, even if another job might be more interesting and better for your career in the long run.

v word is pretty good: restscru. You can do what you want with that, but I think of it as what happens after a rest cure when the bill comes due and you realize that your insurance doesn't fund it.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anyway who has health insurance even mediocre health insurance is reluctant to leave a job if they have any assets at all, even if another job might be more interesting and better for your career in the long run.

Seana, that was one of Krauthemmer's objections to the current system that attaches insurance to work.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I am rarely in the position of agreeing with the man, but I do here.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He has grown more strident over the course of Obama's presidency, but he still will surprise readers from time to time. That's one reason I respect him.

August 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, yes, Elisabeth. But he may also have been able to afford insurance. That and your guess are not mutually exclusive, of course. He could be a young, impecunious punk with an inflated sense of his own mortality.

We all seem to agree that insurance companies have too much power, so what's the alternative?

August 25, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Medicare for all with a public option! No health insurance or pharmaceutical companies or their lobbyists involved in writing the legislation.

Listen to Paul Krugman on this. He explained how Medicare is much less costly for the bureauctats who administer, no one is paid to deny people care.

I would say a single-payer system like in Canada. Everyone gets health care. It's not denied.
No incentives by insurance companies to deny care.

August 25, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

...insurance companies have too much power, so what's the alternative?

God, Peter, I wish I knew. Ban all lobbying from the halls of Congress? Never happen. I don't recall hearing any one person during the lead-up to the PPACA who had some kind of vigorous, rigorous idea, let alone a well thought out plan to accomplish it. I just know that if gov't bureaucrats manage the PPACA the inefficiency and costs boggle my mind.

When it comes to health insurance in the workplace, I would be willing to pay more for health care at my advanced middle-age, including expensive medicines and treatments. Others who might want to opt for less coverage should be given the option to pay less. I'm pretty sure the way the system operates now is that everyone in my sex/age group costs the co. the same. I don't think the healthier, fewer-prescriptions folks should be tabbed for my overuse of the system. Fine-tuning of the "one size fits all" might be one way to deal with this. Its viability? I don't know.

How did we get to this juncture? After this discussion, I'm now rather interested in looking at the history of the health care insurer. Crikey, when I watch old movies, read period fiction, I see people writing out checks directly to hospitals in the tens or hundreds, rather than thousands. of dollars. And the indigent receive care without hospital checking with the gov't or the insurance co. before providing it. Subsidized by wealthier patients? I honestly don't know. But now I want to find out.

...health insurance even mediocre health insurance is reluctant to leave a job if they have any assets at all, even if another job might be more interesting and better for your career in the long run.

Seana, you're absolutely right. A colleague across the aisle from me, a PhD working below her knowledge and ability and unhappy in her job, remains here in order to keep her freelance husband with a neurological disease on her spousal/partner health benefits.

Until we changed ins. carriers a couple of months ago, I was paying 90% out-of-pocket to see my PCP; she did not accept our carrier because, among other things, they wanted her to bill for the slightest intervention. File a callous, cha-ching. Examine a funny-looking freckle, cha-ching. You should have seen the contortions she would go through when writing up my office visit sheet!

I don't know what the answer is, I'm just pretty sure the PPACA, as it stands now, isn't it. I suppose where I part ways from you and Peter is that I don't believe government bureaucrats are much more "benign" than the insurance companies. 2,000 pages?! It's frightening to me to think of the fraud, loopholes, etc. that such a document invites. Let alone where the money's going to come from if more companies than originally expected decide to stop providing insurance and if the economy continues to languish (i.e. ever-diminishing tax revenue). Sheesh! Even the barely-above-minimum-wage attendant at my day spa currently gets some health coverage from the co. I can picture the co. dumping her and other on the gov't plan.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I'm not opposed to government intervention on this one. I think there's probably always going to be private treatment for those who can afford to pay, but some kind of broad protection of the public health seems to be to be well within the government's mandate.

Yeah, call me liberal. It won't hurt my feelings.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In some ways, the current situation seems to be the worst of all possible worlds. Compelling private individuals to buy insurance from a private company is just... Well, does any other country in the world do this? I find more reasons to object to this than I would to a single-payer system. It's unbweieldy. It's philosophically objectionable to conservatives (that is to say, liberals in the classical sense). Liberals in the modern sense have reason to be wary. And I don't know that it results in better care for anyone.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I, too, have found myself wondering about the history of how we came to this pass. Back in our own time, does any other country, believing public health is a public good worth preserving, publicly (that is, via legislation) mandate health insurance -- but have private companies pay for it?

I'm not sure I ascribe especial goodness to government, as much as I'm astonished at the idea of medical care as just one more article of commerce. I don't mean just the health-insurance debate, I mean hospitals advertising their services, corporate and mergers and acquitions in the hospital industry, even the phrase "hospital industry." This is a surprising spectacle to someone who grew up in Canada.

Maybe we just need a couple of good health-care quangos.

August 26, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

...some kind of broad protection of the public health seems to be to be well within the government's mandate.

Seana, the US already has this in place in the form of the 100+ year old Food and Drug Administration, 1930 (Pure Food and Drugs Act, 1906 iteration). Also requirements for immunization, vaccination, etc.

I would argue that personal health care choices that do not affect directly the broader population (Typhoid Mary stuff) are not within the government's "mandate".

Everyone gets health care. It's not denied.

Kathy, that's been true for the US for quite some time, as well. The "devils in the details" include: How much health care? Do only the wealthiest and poorest (ex. of latter is Children's Hospital of Los Angeles) get platinum care? Who decides how much or how little care? Who decides the drug and / or treatment the patient is to receive? Who decides "that's enough, pull the plug"? Etc., etc.

And I'm the one who ought to mention hurt feelings, Seana; offhand I can't think of a single person among my work colleagues who thinks the way I do on this topic, for example. And I guess I don't care if liberals want to think of me as some kind of cryptofascist, incorrigible reactionary, etc. because I don't believe the federal government will manage health care wisely, prudently, and efficiently. Let alone sustainably and transparently to borrow a few current adverbs.

Heck, fiscal conservatives like myself are pretty thin on the ground here in SoCal; we're far outranked by fiscal liberals who've gotten pretty used to talking to themselves and shaking their heads in pity or disgust when some ignoramus like myself enters the conversation.

Peter, do I get fries with my quango?

August 26, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I don't think people should be required by law to buy private health insurance. That mandate is wild and unfair.

I again say there should be Medicare for all and a public option. Or a system where everyone gets care like Canada's.

I have so many friends who do not get health care because they do not have insurance and they can't afford it.

There are nearly 50 million people without health insurance in the U.S. now, most of whom go without care.

People have died of cancer because they haven't been able to pay for care and aren't yet eligible for Medicare. I have read so many articles about this. That is just morally wrong. No one should die because they don't have insurance. No one should be denied care because they can't afford it. (Bob Herbert wrote many heart-breaking columns about this in the NYT.)

Bureaucrats in private insurance companies are PAID to deny care, to find reasons to deny it. This has come up in Congressional hearings. Or bogus pre-existing conditions are deterrents to care.

A doctor who worked for a big insurance company testified before Congress and was a whistle-blower about how companies deny health care. She did it and felt so guilty that she was responsible for people dying that she changed her life, quit that job and publicly criticized those policies.

There are just tons of examples of this.

To me it's the highest level of morality to make sure everyone gets health care.

I once broke my ankle. It took a week for a surgeon to be found to repair that because others wanted a "ransom"-size payment to do it. Finally, someone agreed.

In my city more and more doctors won't accept Medicare -- never mind Medicaid -- because they are repaid less and less. And many on Medicaid can't find care. Or, as the NYT pointed out in a recent study, children have to wait months to be seen for conditions like diabetes, if they have Medicaid.

August 26, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I'm astonished at the idea of medical care as just one more article of commerce. I don't mean just the health-insurance debate, I mean hospitals advertising their services, corporate and mergers and acquitions in the hospital industry, even the phrase "hospital industry."

Yes, Peter, it's beyond creepy. I subscribe to Arthritis Today for my Ma (who's got OA worse than I do, and she then sends the mag on to me) and I can't believe the number of effin' ads for pharmaceuticals in it; I think the mag would be 1/3 the size without them. That co's are permitted to advertise prescription drugs is, well, of course, another result of lobbying in Congress. My PCP and my OB/GYN have told me that this is one of the worst things to ever come down the pike--patients demand stuff they saw on TV ("You know, that cute ad with the Golden Retriever?") and dr. then has to waste time explaining why that magic elixir isn't appropriate for them.

Then we have the hospitals here in L.A. competing in some kind of contest: "Come to Cedars-Sinai! Best plastic surgery dept.!" (Or oncology, or whatever.) When healthcare became an "industry" is when the patient became nothing more than another pest to be controlled or eradicated (dropped from rolls).

That we are all complicit in accepting this, rather than "thinking outside the box" to try to come up with some viable alternative not based on Canada's, the UK's, Norway's etc. systems--devised for those particular nations--for the US's enormous and heterogeneous population is awfully frustrating.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I think that if we're lucky here, models that are already being tried in the states will slowly leak out as workable.

I'm not expecting miracles from the government, but I would expect that everyone gets to see a doctor.

I know that we all have examples, but I was in England with a friend when he died. He had a terminal cancer but the death was still unexpected. He had had some private care over there during the course of his illness, and that was better, and dying in a public ward was probably not what you would call a best case scenario. But the nurses were kind and compassionate, and there was a woman from the hospice movement who came and helped him through some of the last moments and she was amazing. I don't know that the whole situation was 'better' than it would have been here, but it was certainly not worse.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, lobbying and pharmaceutical advertising are free speech, some would argue.

Philadelphia is far-famed for its medical care, and I see big hospital billboard advertising any number of specialties every day including, and I’m not making this up, one advertising transplants of one kind or another.

As for patients demanding what they saw on TV, all men (and women) may be created equal, but some turn out stupider than others.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll have a burger, fries, and a quango smoothie.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

seana said...
I think that if we're lucky here, models that are already being tried in the states will slowly leak out as workable.


That's good, old-fashioned American optimism at its best, and that's one commodity in especially short supply these days.

August 26, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I'm not really an optimist, I just think that on the federal level things are pretty much exhausted and in stasis, but the states seem to be experimenting.

Not that all their experiments are good ones...

August 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, that's optimism by the standards of most public discourse these days. I don't mind optimism, actually, but I've heard too much fear, up-suckery, fatuity, and bullshit disguised as optimism not to be surprised when a bit of the real thing crosses my path.

August 26, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, no matter how smart or not, or rich or poor, or employed or unemployed, everyone should have the right to health care, as a basic human, moral tenet. It shouldn't be based on ability to pay. Or soon few will have it at all.

So many people go to hospitals, the first question is what's your insurance or how will you pay, not what's wrong.

Things are awfully skewed here if health care is solely a commodity for those with money. It's not like buying a fancy car or expensive shoes. It's life and death, a necessity.

And even Medicare, by the time Congress and others get through with it, it'll barely cover anything. Everyone can see how hard this will be.

I already have to fight for my quite-elderly mother to get covered for some necessary health care.

August 26, 2011  
Anonymous C. Martin Stepp said...

As an author, I struggle to balance humor and drama in a crime novel. So far, I've managed to avoid murder as a plot element. It's a little hard to find anything very funny about death.

-C. Martin Stepp

April 21, 2013  

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