Friday, October 28, 2011

Delta force and other stray crime-fiction thoughts

Clearing my mental warehouse to make way for new ideas. Everything must go!!!

1) I asked Eoin Colfer at Bouchercon 2011 why the characters in his "young adult" Artemis Fowl books, even the non-human characters, were achievers — rich geniuses, elite police officers, and so on  — while the characters in his "adult" crime fiction — the story "Taking on P.J.," the new novel Plugged — are lower on the social ladder: bouncers, shady doctors, low-level hoods. Simple, Colfer said: The Fowl stories are fantasy, the crime stories meant to be believable. What do you think of his answer? Are gritty characters synonymous with greater believability?

2) Colin Cotterill, a fellow member with Colfer of my WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel at Bouchercon, mentioned off-stage that he'd been part of a crime-fiction event in Germany staged in an operating theater — appropriate for the author of a series whose protagonist is the chief and only coroner in Laos. What's the oddest setting for a reading or lecture that you know of?

3) Mickey Spillane's 2007 novel Dead Street, discussed here yesterday, is full of amusing references to the sexual, social, and political mores of Spillane's 1950s:
"Bettie just stood there smiling in her see-through nightie, her untrimmed delta a refreshing pleasure in these days of bizarre pubic buzz cuts."
Who but Spillane could make pubic hair an object of nostalgia?

 © Peter Rozovsky 2011

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26 Comments:

Blogger Gerald So said...

Hi, Peter. I'm not sure what you mean by "gritty", but I don't think characters have to be tough, street-smart, or criminal to be believable. To me, a world or town or workplace where everyone is successful is obvious fantasy. On the other hand, if a story is populated by more flawed characters who haven't always gotten what they wanted, I know I'm in for a more down-to-earth story.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

A world consisting solely of "gritty"
characters is as much a fantasy as a world where everyone is a high achiever.

A world of mixed characters is far more believable to me.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

I don't know if you remember but the last time you were over and Jeff VanderMeer was here he made some comment. Something like fantasy is upper class fiction and crime fiction is working class fiction. Or maybe that's what each was about.

It was awhile ago and I can'yt fully remember.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I have always been puzzled by the idea that realism has to be gritty.

This probably started in the
mid-20th century when "hard-boiled" became so fashionable.

Now I find I cannot answer the question in hand...

Much thought needed....

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerald, I meant by "gritty" what I meant when I asked Eoin Colfer the question. I think it might be more interesting to approach this question from the fantasy angle. From fairy princesses to rich kids who plot to take over the world, maybe a healthy dose of non-realism helps readers suspend their disbelief.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, the Artemis Fowl books do offer one considerably lowlife character who is brilliant comic relief and a fine contrast to the high-achieving elves, dwarves, trolls, fairies, and humans who surround him.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, I don't remember that comment, bit it's thought-provoking. It fits nicely with what Adrian McKinty has to say about the Harry Potter books, as well.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P a D, much thought needed, indeed. American hard-boiled crime writing is popular and fashionable to the point of parody, a fact that troubles some people who love it and wonder what it can do to remain vital.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Peter, I think you're right about the non-realism; I believe readers find murder palatable when it takes place in a fictional world. Oddly, though, they don't seem as accepting of fictional profanity.

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I wonder if the Harry Potter books contain much in the way of profanity. The Artemis Fowl novels certainly do not.

October 28, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Peter, you haven't read Harry Potter?

October 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No. Years ago I bought one of the books and tried it. It did not hold my attention.

October 28, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hmm. The first one is magical, literally. It pulls out all the stops to carry you off into makebelief. Mind you, they are children's books, but they draw on a wealth of fairytales, myths, and archetypes. I was incredibly impressed, but I haven't read them all.

October 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know of other adults who read and liked the books. I don't remember which book I had tried to read or why it didn't hold my attention, though.

October 29, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I know of other adults who read and liked the books.

Yes; including people whose reading often intersects with my own in many other ways. It's generally considered more hip to say something like: "Oh, yeah, I've read them but Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy is so much better/important/whatever."

I didn't care for HP. I read the first one because it was de rigueur at the time and I worked at an indie bookstore where it was all the rage. But it was a struggle. As a pre- and early teen I gobbled up a lot of fantasy novels but I can't read that genre now.

"Gritty." That word always raises a red flag when I see it on a dust jacket blurb. (Every other film on the Sundance Channel is gritty; the ones that aren't are "quirky," another red-flag warning word.)

October 31, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I believe readers find murder palatable when it takes place in a fictional world.

Yes, when that world is the type found in novels that Raymond Chandler so neatly described in the famous quote: "Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare and tropical fish." The cozy or whodunit where "there is a murder but no one gets hurt." Bah! These readers don't want any descriptions of violence, sex, or the use of profanity.

As for the palatability of fictional profanity... Hmmm, depends. On how used, on how often used. As a substitute for every other adverb and adjective to demonstrate the writer's capture of "gritty urban reality"? = Tiresome. Of course there are people who talk like that; I just don't want to read about them.

Profanity as a calculated verbal device to jab or shock the reader? Also tiresome.

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Profanity as a calculated verbal device to jab or shock the reader? Also tiresome."

I'm fuckin' sick of it.

October 31, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I'm fuckin' sick of it.

Ah, but that line isn't intended to jab or shock me (and other readers) but to make me/us laugh. That's an entirely different use of profanity.

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But it was still childish.

Bruen may qup and joke excessively, but I don't think he uses profanity to shock. Such profanity as he does include -- lots of fooks -- are intended more for humorous effect, I think.

October 31, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I agree; I just thought the thread was unraveling and heading into a discussion about murder and profanity in fiction in general.

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Quirky is the effing worst, and I don't say that just to shock you.

Say, how about calling Deek Raymond "yearningly romantic" just to see how his current readers react and how many new ones he might true. That the description is accurate is beside the point.

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Harry Potter was de riguer, and I still didn't read it. I'll take my childlike fun from Eoin Colfer, thank you.

October 31, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I'll take my childlike fun from Eoin Colfer

Once a bookseller, always a bookseller... If you like Eoin Colfer you might like the Daniel Handler /Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events .

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe, even though I hate the name Leomony Snicket. I like "A Series of Unfortunate Events," though.

On the other hand, after I'd read all the Artemis Fowl books, I tried a book that always got mentioned in the same breath -- author Horowitz, character Alex Rider, I think -- and it did not compare. It read to me like the work of an adult writing down to kids, which Colfer never does.

October 31, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I think you might like the dark, sardonic humor in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Check out the ASOUE Wikipedia site for details on Handler and the (funny) titles of the individual books.

Finally, a v-word I can understand: birds

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Artemis Fowl ... birds ... serendipitous!

Did I tell you I came upon the Artemsi Fowl books? I first heard of Colfer through his story "Taking on P.J.," which was accorded the honor of being the first story in Akashic Books' Dublin Noir collection. I loved the story, looked for more by him, and discovered with a sinking feeling that he had written only young adult fiction. In some desperation, I tried the Artemis Fowl books, and very much enjoyed them.

October 31, 2011  

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