Monday, October 31, 2011

Rilke on Black (Ken Bruen on humor)

Ken Bruen's early novel Rilke on Black is funny and dark (though not as dark as it might have seemed a few weeks ago, before I read Derek Raymond.)  Still, it's full of quotable laugh lines and, perhaps more impressive, trenchant pop-music references. A few samples:

I didn’t wish him luck. As it wasn’t that kind of business. Plus, I didn’t want to. I watched him join the crowds. Thing was, he did look like Mickey Rourke. But late-night Brixton, most do, even the women.
***
A cheap walkman as music would pass the time for him. Then a new dilemma.


What tapes would he like? From the sublime to the ridiculous. I got Aretha and Whitney Houston. I drew the line at Stevie Wonder. Not even a hostage would endure that torture.
***
She’d a lush body that summoned up jail sentences.
***
Remember it, one of those songs you heard all the time, you’d no idea what it meant. In fact, if pressed, you couldn’t even say if you liked it. But you knew it and, worse, it clung. One of those songs that hung out with, “me and you/and a dog named boo”.
***
I walked towards the Oval. Just pick any pub. I did, on the Stockwell side. This is where they mug Rottweilers.
***
I met her in the Rose and Crown on Clapham Common. A pub that still merits the name. The requirement was only to be a drinker.


You didn’t have to play pool.


Munch Hawaiian crisps.


Play lotteries.


Be yuppified.


Flaunt on sexual prowess.


A pub.
===========
And, because I just found this clip of a song I've long liked, here, for reasons that have nothing to do with this post, is Maria Bethania.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

You slay me!, or Overheard at a high-level summit

Summit
Two journalistic usages that have always bothered me are summit (for summit meeting) and slay.

I remember hearing about summit meetings in the 1970s, and the term made sense, even if it catered to the vanity of those involved in the meetings and the self-importance of the reporters who covered them. A summit meeting was a meeting of leaders at the very tops, or summits, of their countries. Then journalists (and maybe politicians) started abbreviating the term to summit, and, about a year ago, some reporter referred to (I am not making this up) a high-level summit.

To slay means, according to my desk dictionary, "to kill violently, wantonly, or in great numbers." To use it as if it meant simply "to kill" is to rob the language of a useful word. A few weeks ago, I read a newspaper story that said a police officer killed in a car crash while on the job had been "slain on duty."

The writers in question were, of course, ignorant of the meanings of the words they used. But does it serve a useful purpose to call them dopes? One man's illiterate mistake is another's linguistic evolution. Best to go home and read a good book.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cast your vote for a cool book

Read!

An author matches wits and wills with a character who won't leave him alone. Author and character clash over the latter's plan to blow up a hospital. Character starts out as nihilistic, dope-smoking hospital porter. comes more to the fore, and turns into something more interesting.

Author and character together and individually ponder and confront the very biggest moral and ethical questions in ways occasionally touching and always hugely entertaining.

That metaphysical game of character meets author is an old one, but Burke pulls it off with panache. Not once, even when the possibility looms that the character may be writing the author, does it seem forced.
Vote! 

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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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Thursday, October 27, 2011

New venture offers classic crime e-books

Otto Penzler, the man behind Mysterious Press and the Mysterious Bookshop, has started MysteriousPress.com, a "21st-century publishing house is digitizing classic works of crime, mystery, and suspense fiction by the most distinguished crime writers in the world."

The new enterprise offers an impressive list in a number of e-book formats, and one lucky reader can win three of the titles by becoming a follower of its Twitter account. The Twitter address is @eMysteries, the prize will be awarded Nov. 2, and the books are:

The City When It Rains by Thomas H. Cook

Rilke on Black by Ken Bruen

The Mordida Man by Ross Thomas

Other authors available or soon to be include James Ellroy, James Grady, Ellery Queen, Donald E. Westlake, Christianna Brand, George Harmon Coxe, Andrew Klavan, Wendy Hornsby, Jack O’Connell, T.J. English, David Stout, Charles McCarry, David Housewright, John Harvey, James Carlos Blake and Joseph Wambaugh.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Meet the new Spillane, same as ...

When you want to unwind with some relaxing reading while crossing Delaware Bay, the only choice is Mickey Spillane.

Dead Street, published by Hard Case Crime, brought near completion by Spillane, and finished by Max Allan Collins based on Spillane's notes, is Spillane's final crime novel.

It's a non-Mike Hammer book set in our time (People think of Spillane as a 1950s author, but he wrote almost to the end of his life, in 2006). Despite the contemporary setting, Spillane and his retired cop protagonist yearn for their Hammeresque past as hard as the book's central figure yearns to recapture the memory she had lost in a car crash twenty years before.

Thus the protagonist, Jack Stang, as he hears the unlikely tale of the woman's survival:
"My hand was on the .45 now. My thumb flipped off the leather snap fastener and eased the hammer back. If this was a pathetic jokester he was about to die at this last punch line."
Stang finds a pipe, "the sort rich little slobs liked to tote around to puff on weed or hash."   There's even a reference to "what used to be called un-American activities." Coming from Spillane, that sounds positively nostalgic.

Cape May Welcome Center
So,  if the book is full of Spillane's well-ripened political and cultural views, how do we know that the story takes place in our time rather than Mike Hammer's? How's this for a zinger:
"`I hear fancy apartments are going in.'
"`Yeah. And guess who's behind it?'
"Another stupid little surprise, I supposed. `Tell me.' 
"`A Saudi investment group.' 
"`Only seems fair.'
"`Yeah?'
 "`They took down two buildings, didn't they? Ought to put up a few.'"
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Death on the beach

(Photos by your humble blogkeeper)

Rehoboth being a beach town, land around it, much of it only recently developed, is in great demand for housing. Er, make that luxury living only minutes from the beach.

I spent the day on delightful bicycle trails that passed through fields, along abandoned railway track beds, across moody dunes and spreading salt marshes,  through a state park, and past new residential "communities" with names like Grande Canal Pointe and -- I am not making this up -- Wolfe Runne. What kind of people would spend $100,000 more for a house just for a couple of superfluous e's?

Had a pleasant and informative chat with an archaeological illustrator at work at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, and witnessed what looked like a haunting, ironic death on the beach -- of a horseshoe crab, I should add, not a human.

I'd got myself hopelessly lost in Cape Henlopen State Park, and I finally abandoned the road in favor of walking and riding back along the beach to Rehoboth. It was late, the beach was empty, and I saw the creature -- call it Gregor -- on its back, its sand-crusted limbs still.

I made it home. He didn't.

I flipped it onto its front, figuring that a species that's been around for 350 million years deserves some dignity, and I felt like Schweitzer when its tail started moving. Then the tide lapped up, swept around Gregor, and he died again.

Stupid arthropod. They're supposed to like water.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, October 24, 2011

All along the Delaware watchtower

World War II watchtower, Fort
 Miles Historical Area, Cape
Henlopen State Park, Delaware
A more recent sentinel
(Photos by your humble blogkeeper, 2011)

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'll shut up about Derek Raymond one day ...

 ... but not just yet. I mentioned that The Devil's Home on Leave sticks somewhat more closely to outward forms of the police procedural than did I Was Dora Suarez, the one previous novel of Raymond's that I'd read.

There's also more than a bit of the serial-killer novel to the book, which makes me wonder what role Raymond played in the development of that subgenre. (The Devil's Home on Leave, second of Raymond's "Factory" novels, appeared in 1985.)

The nameless detective sergeant's interrogation of the killer, conducted on visits to the killer's home, are informal, (verbally) harsh, full of mutual goading, and punctuated in at least one case by a beer break in which both take part. That's not just a good way for the investigator to get inside the villain's head, but also for the villain to do the same to his questioner.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Friday, October 21, 2011

In Derek Raymond's world

The Devil's Home on Leave, second of Derek Raymond's Factory novels, is talkier than the previous Raymond I'd read, a kind of travelogue through Raymond's and his protagonist's moral, social, professional, political, and emotional worlds:
"The listed name of the Factory is Poland Street police station, London W1, but it'll never shake off the name of the Factory. The name sticks to the men and women who work there, also to the people who get worked over there, downstairs."
or
"I got up and tried to read, to shake off my memories and dreams. I picked up a book. But it made no difference; the book lasted far too long, like a government." 
Raymond sticks a bit closer to conventional detective-story-style investigation here (Odd in Raymond to see two officers dicussing crime without insulting one another or musing on the state of the world, for example.) Still, it's a funny and harrowing trip so far, and I shall send back further bulletins.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hear Derek Raymond read!

He died in 1994, but you can hear Derek Raymond read from his novel He Died With His Eyes Open in a clip on the Melville House Web site.

And here's a Raymond site that includes lots of covers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Derek Raymond, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett

He was a latter-day Hammett, I thought when I read Derek Raymond's I Was Dora Suarez. He was a new Chandler, I thought when I read the opening chapters of Raymond's The Devil's Home on Leave.

With one novel-plus of Raymond under my belt, I say he's a bit of both. His nameless detective-sergeant protagonist is as dedicated to his job as was Sam Spade or the Continental Op, and he yearns like Philip Marlowe, only there's not a trace of nostalgia about him. He's as hard and as heart-breaking as the best of the dark crime writers who followed him and who invoke his name as reverently as they do Hammett's and Chandler's.

Visit the Melville House Books web site to see what Raymond had to say about his predecessors and what some of today's finest dark crime writers say about him.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Adjustment: Scott Phillips says things funny

It may not be kosher to cite an author's personal inscription when discussing his book, but in this case the message is very much in the style of the novel that follows:
"To Peter `Fuck Peter Rozovsky' Rozovsky — the real father of NOIR@ the BAR
from your pal,
Scott Phillips"
The profanity is an allusion to the equally earthy thanks Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres sent my way in their Noir at the Bar anthology, and the repetition of the names is typical Phillips: He writes things funny rather than merely writing funny things. And that's why his new novel, The Adjustment, an increasingly dark tale of a Wichita man's involvement in addiction, infidelity, blackmail and killing, is laugh-out-loud funny even when the action is not particularly so:
"`Shut your noisemaker,' Red said. `You don't determine what gets discussed.' He gestured to her. `Wayne, this here's my wife, Betty.'"
Sorry, but I horselaughed when I read that, just as I did at:
"I had made a nice illicit bundle off of Uncle Sam. In the little safe in the basement that contained among other things my discharge papers and my Purple Heart — probably the only one ever awarded for getting stabbed by a rival pimp — was a whole lot of illicit cash I'd managed to smuggle back from Europe."
The book reminds me a bit of Charles Willeford's The Shark-Infested Custard. Each is the story of an everyday working man, or men, who get  involved in criminal matters, and each uses its characters to create a vivid sense of place, Florida in Willeford's book, post-World War II Wichita, Kansas, in Phillips'. But The Adjustment is darker and funnier and maybe sadder, and I like it better.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, October 17, 2011

I enter the Reginald Marsh flash-fiction challenge


(Junkyard Scene by Reginald Marsh,
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
)
Patti Abbott has created a flash fiction challenge for a good cause. She asked readers to create stories inspired by the American painter Reginald Marsh, and she promises to donate five dollars to Union Settlement for each entry. (Union Settlement is where her daughter Megan works. Yep, that Megan Abbott.) Here's my story.

============

"Smithers Should Have Listened"

by Peter Rozovsky

 You'll drive."

“Like fuck, I will,” Cappy said. "I’m—“

Smithers put his mug down hard. “You’ll drive, or you’ll stay the fuck home. Now, here’s what we’ll do…"
***
The job went off without a hitch. Cappy pulled up to the bank's side entrance. Smithers and Ben slipped in the front and mingled with the customers. Ben queued up to see the business manager, his hat in hand, with a story about the men's haberdashery he could open with just a $2,000 loan.

At 10:06 two guards accompanied the bank president to the vault, and Smithers nodded to Ben. The president clicked the dial, the guards turned a massive steel wheel, and Smithers pulled a shotgun from his long coat. Ben brought his hand down on the business manager's wrist and said, "Don't."

Smithers stepped into the vault and raked up the cash — $175,000, the papers said. Gus stood by the front door, keeping the way clear, while Ben covered the business manager and the tellers with a revolver, making sure no one went for an alarm. In the meantime, Cappy pulled the car around the front and collected Smithers, Ben, and Gus as smoothly as if they'd been heading out for a drive in the countryside.

At least, that's what I read in the papers the next day. I sat out the job because of a hunting accident. Me, the shooter in the gang, and laid up with a keister full of buckshot!

It seemed that the boys had made it clear to the last traffic light in town, a big brewery truck bearing down from the right, Cappy laughing like a madman behind the wheel, Ben and Smithers going crazy in the back seat, the truck bearing down, Gus throwing himself from the car just as the truck hit.

None of the boys made it out alive, of course, and there wasn't much left of that fine black sedan of theirs, either. Gus's body was torn clean in half at the waist, and the traffic signal, knocked from its post but still blinking from red to green every thirty seconds, lay in a pool of gasoline, brain tissue and beer next to what was left of Cappy.

Poor kid. I knew him better than I'd known the others, known him since he was a boy, in fact. That's how I knew what he'd been trying to say when Smithers ordered him to drive: "Like fuck, I will. I'm color blind!"

Smithers should have listened.
==============
(This is the second story I've written for a flash-fiction challenge. Read the first one, "Down the Shore," here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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"Innovation": Breaking ground in buzzwords

He did not
produce innovation
I really do have a crime-fiction post lined up, but first a bit about a buzzword so pervasive that many people may not recognize it as such: Innovation.

I mean innovation as a product, not as a process, as an end rather than a means. What do I mean by this? In researching a recent post about Alan Glynn's Bloodland, I found that the author of a relevant statement worked for the Center for Innovation in something or other, and I thought, now there's a name tailor-made to capture the attention of deep-pocketed charitable foundations. What does a center for innovation produce? Innovation, I suppose.

On the other hand, there was Steve Jobs, who produced products. Yes, Jobs was an innovator (Thanks to him, millions of people can call up computer programs by swiping their fingers across a touch pad rather than clicking a button), but innovation for him was a means rather than an end. When innovation becomes a goal in itself, it's time to roll your eyes and watch millions of dollars being seduced out of millions of pockets.

(See "new and improved.")

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Alan Glynn, plus "interactive discussion"

Where was I? Oh, yes: buzzwords, privatizationthe evils of corporate control.

Alan Glynn's new Bloodland sparked much of that discussion, and the concerns in that book are a neat bookend to those in Glynn's  2001 novel The Dark Fields (also published as Limitless, title of the movie based on it).

That novel follows a New York semi-slacker on a journey through Manhattan's financial stratosphere fueled by a magical drug that lets him do just about anything, includings things he can't always remember. Here are three favorite quotation from the book which, though ten years old, is possibly more pertinent today than ever:
"The military superpower was a thing of the past, a dinosaur, and the only structure that counted in the world today was the ‘hyperpower’, the digitalized, globalized English-language based entertainment culture that controlled the hearts, minds and disposable incomes of successive generations of 18- to 24-year-olds."

"She worked as the production co-ordinator of a small cable TV guide, but I’d always pictured her moving on to bigger and better things, editing a daily newspaper, directing movies, running for the Senate."

"Hank Atwood, the Chairman of MCL-Parnassus, was routinely described as one of the ‘architects of the entertainment-industrial complex.’"
Back on my personal newspaper front, a story about young civic activists had one touting "sustainable models" and another talking about a conference that sought to encourage "interactive discussion."

"Interactive discussion." That takes redundancy to the next level.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Is privatization the new murder?

Well, no, but it has come in for some caustic remarks in a pair of crime novels discussed here recently: Bloodland, by Alan Glynn, and Three Seconds, by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström.

In the former, a private soldier placed on leave after witnessing a massacre remarks that going on leave has a different meaning for private military contractors (PMC). Unlike in the army, he says, being told to take leave for a PMC means get the hell out, and don't come back.

In Three Seconds, a thriller that meditates on the ethical pitfalls of using police informants, a character remarks caustically that informants are cheap ways of outsourcing intelligence-gathering.

What other crime novels cast an eye, skeptical or otherwise, on privatization?
***
Some of you will know that I work as a newspaper copy editor to earn Bouchercon money. Tonight at work I read a column about a gathering of investors and dealmakers pessimistic about business prospects.

The speakers included Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who rattled off a list of foreign-policy hot spots, according to our columnist, before wrapping up with "a bit of manager-speak: `None of these are problems to be solved,' Hayden said. `They are conditions to be managed.'"

"By government-funded security contractors, no doubt," our columnist added. "One of the few growth sectors."

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ray Banks, or, Who are your favorite supporting characters?

Ray Banks' series about a Manchester private investigator is known as the Cal Innes series, after its protagonist, yet its most recent entry, Beast of Burden, divides the narrative voice between Innes and a police detective sergeant named Donkin.

Donkin is a greedy, uncouth, small-time screw-up, but he becomes sympathetic when, in moments of enlightenment, he realizes, without self-pity, what a screw-up he is. Here he narrates his confrontation with an unexpectedly bold superior:
"He didn't back down. He was supposed to. Everyone else did when I got this close, this aggro."
And here he is, carrying on with his work even though he's under suspension:
"Then, course, there'd be the chance that Goines would carve us the fuck up, or else expect to be arrested. Because who the fuck was I but a fat bloke with a temper right now?"
This is my first Banks novel; I don't know if Donkin appears in the earlier books or if Banks is in the habit of dividing narrative chores or giving Innes such a doppelganger. Donkin is, among other things, an amusing lampoon of the heroically principled renegade cop who can't be constrained by his superiors.

Who are your favorite supporting characters?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More on Alan Glynn; plus What's your favorite thriller?

I've finished Alan Glynn's Bloodland, and I'm ready to seek out more thrillers, first among them Glynn's own The Dark Fields (also published as Limitless, title of the movie based on it).

Can a good conspiracy thriller really wrap all the loose ends? I think not; that would leave readers too comfortable. Bloodland does not quite tie everything up, and Glynn promises in an interview that accompanies the advance reader's edition of Bloodland that a major character who appears in that book and in Winterland will return.

Here's a bit more from the interview, Glynn on the difference between the thrillers of the 1970s and their present-day successors:

"Back then it was genuinely shocking for people to realize that their government was lying to them. But you can't lose you innocence twice, and now we're not surprised if our governments and corporations lie to us, we expect it even, and often expect them to do much worse, so the key feature we remember from back then — that creepy frisson, that dawning realization of the truth — is no longer what animates the conspiracy thriller. ... But these days, perhaps, it's a question of scale — corporate power, for example, has grown exponentially in the last thirty years. Perhaps it's a question of the inescapable and controlling nature of power in the modern world. These stories, consequently, are as relevant now, it not more so, than ever before."
Finally, here's a discussion of Glynn and the golden age of paranoia, with a link to Glynn's further thoughts on the subject.
***
If you read thrillers as well as crime fiction, what are your favorite examples of the genre? What makes a thriller memorable?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"This point in time" to "regime change": What are your favorite weasel words?

I wrote yesterday about Alan Glynn's recognition in his novel Bloodland of narrative as a contemporary weasel word. Two further examples from the book make the word's ominous associations clearer:
"In fact, since the entire Buenke operation is under his command, he'll be the one responsible for shaping and disseminating the official narrative of what happened here."
and
"Of course, the high-visibility brace on his hand leaves no one in any doubt about the narrative subtext that's being peddled here."
What's so ominous about narrative? Couldn't Glynn have substituted story with equal effect? I don't know. Narrative, especially as a noun, is a vogue word, and vogue words, especially ones with lots of syllables, are good for concealing an absence of thought or conveying an illusion of seriousness. I may have more to say on this subject going forward.

But Glynn's ear for contemporary Orwellianisms goes further:
"`...your best chance with these people will actually be down to something else entirely, something quite intangible.'

"Conway looks at him. `What's that?'

"`You. The Conway Holdings brand.'"
and
"I've got to take it to the next level, you know, keep the traction but change the conversation."
The speakers of the boldface word are, respectively, a lawyer advising a client on evading the consequences of a shady deal, and a politician trying to capitalize on a monstrous lie. Be very, very skeptical of people who talk or write like that.
***
Most Americans would likely associate Richard Nixon ("This point in time") and the second George Bush ("Regime change") with truth-deflecting political euphemisms, but the Bill Clinton years ushered their own creepy phrases into popular speech, "national conversation," to name one, a weirdly bogus attempt to create an illusion of community in a fragmented culture.  What euphemisms and evasions do you find especially nauseating? What authors have especially sharp eyes and ears for them? 

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Alan Glynn writes the best chapter I've read all year

On the one hand, you have the journalism professor who has been quoted as saying that "Anyone who is realistic will know that we will have printed paper products from now till eternity."

On the other, you have Alan Glynn, the first chapter of whose novel Bloodland has this to say:
"It's the unread paper.

"He bought it on the way here, in the SPAR on the corner, but the truth is he'd already read most of it online earlier in the day.

" ... He worries for the health of the printed newspaper.

"Unfortunately, his own direct experience of the business was cut short by an industry-wide epidemic of falling ad revenues. But even in the few years prior to that things had started feeling pretty thinned-out. Some of the senior reporters and specialist correspondents still had good sources and were out there on a regular basis gathering actual news, but as a recent hire Jimmy spent most of his days in front of a terminal recycling wire copy and PR material, a lot of it already second-hand and very little of it fact-checked."
I don't find eternal existence of "printed paper products" a reassuring prospect, nor do I find the declaration's smug, condescending tone endearing (though all I have is that brief quotation; I don't know the context.) Glynn is unprepared to accept the giddy assurances of boosters and innovators that online news heralds the path to a bright new world. His worries about the state of my profession are just a small part of a chilling, brilliant first chapter in which no one is sure of anything, so everyone is alert to everything, antennae twitching at the slightest whisper of disturbance:
"Jimmy stops in his tracks. A group of American tourists walks past him, one of them talking loudly, a big guy with a beard saying something about `this giant Ponzi scheme.'

"At the taxi rank to his left a young couple appear to be having an argument.

"`I told you, he's from
work.'

"Beyond them, are lights, colours, a kaleidoscope, traffic stopping and starting."
***
(Glynn, author of Winterland, is also properly scornful of the voguish use of the word narrative by political manipulators. He surrounds the word with inverted commas and exposes it for what it really means in its current incarnation: manipulation of events to say just what the teller (or the subject) wants.)
   
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

McBain around the world

I speculated idly four years ago that Ed McBain might be the most influential crime writer ever. I thought of that post again last month when preparing for Bouchercon 2011.

I'd read David Hewson's The Fallen Angel, then gone back to earlier books in the series and was surprised to see the nine books referred to as "the Costa series," after the young Roman police officer Nic Costa. The Fallen Angel is very much an ensemble piece starring Costa but also his colleagues on the Questura. "Almost like an Ed McBain novel," I said during my PASSPORT TO MURDER panel at Bouchercon, of which Hewson was a member. Yes, Hewson acknowledged, McBain was very much on his mind when he wrote the book.

Ken Bruen has one of his characters not just read McBain novels but try to write one, and Sweden's Kjell Eriksson pays tribute as well. Bill Crider's books work in mentions of McBain.  Anyone else?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Andrea Camilleri, heart and sole

Andrea Camilleri and his Inspector Salvo Montalbano have come to feel like old friends whom I am always happy to see and to report on to our mutual acquaintances.

In The Potter's Field, thirteenth novel in the series, Salvo goes to bed with Ingrid.  Out of bed, his choice of reading matter, always a delight to Camilleri's readers, is a special treat this time. (OK, I'll give it away: Salvo, whose reading in previous novels has included Georges Simenon and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, this time chooses a novel by Andrea Camilleri.) 

The political gibes, as barbed as ever, are delivered with greater concision even as they ripen into a kind of weariness at the state of the world, though the gibes are as funny as always.  Camilleri has deepened and mellowed his protagonist's view.

In previous books, this has taken the form of increasing tenderness in Salvo's regard for his distant lover, Livia. Here, he feels the pain of a friend's betrayal more sharply than a younger Salvo would have, and his kinship with his fellow creatures even turns him briefly off seafood after he admires the fish at an aquarium in Genoa. (Can I have veal milanese? he asks a waiter. "Sure," the waiter replies,  "if you go to Milan." Salvo settles for an excellent plate of fried sole.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Leave the gun, take the cannolo: Camilleri, Sartarelli, and good grammar

I’ve found several reasons to like The Potter’s Field, thirteenth of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels translated into English and newly out in the U.S. from Penguin.

For one, no one is better than Camilleri at saying things funny rather than just saying funny things. That is, Camilleri won’t just put a funny line in a character’s mouth, but his entire syntax, his way of building a sentence, is a delicious wink to the reader that something is up. One smiles well before one gets to the punch line.

But mainly I like the book because when Montalbano bursts into the pathologist Pasquano’s office and finds the doctor out and a box of cream-filled pastries left behind, “Having finished the first cannolo, he took another.”

That’s cannolo, singular, not cannoli, plural, and the translation gets it right. I seethe when a waiter or waitress at an Italian restaurant offers me bruSHetta, and when some fast-food place urges me to “Have a panini!” I curse the saints; panini, like cannoli, is plural.

So, thanks to Camilleri’s ever-excellent translator, Stephen Sartarelli, for respecting the rules of good grammar and for keeping my blood pressure down.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

What's so funny about noir?

While we're on the subject, noir and other dark crime fiction seems often to include humor (Derek Raymond, Allan Guthrie, Ken Bruen, Scalped). Why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, October 03, 2011

I meet Derek Raymond

While strolling the Boucheron book room last month, I stopped to chat with a fellow from Melville House Publishing. We gabbed for a few minutes and, when he found out that I was Detectives Beyond Borders, he said, "Here" and handed me a bagful of books including his company's reissue of Derek Raymond's Factory novels.

One chapter into I Was Dora Suarez, I find it hard to believe anyone has written noir better than Raymond. The chapter is shocking, violent, funny, and, perhaps most surprising, it gets inside the killer's head without getting melodramatic. (Or barely getting melodramatic, anyway. It flirts briefly with childhood trauma as an explanation for adult crimes, but happily drops the idea.)

But the chapter's neatest, most electrifyingly attention-grabbing tricks are the shifts from free-indirect speech, with the killer as point-of-view character, to first-person narration from the unnamed police protagonist, to quoted/direct speech for a second killing.

I'm not sure what this will all mean, but for now, it has grabbed my attention, especially when, almost without knowing it, I am in the cop's head rather than the killer's.

My favorite line so far:
"Bores and killers are much the same; dullness and despair explain most murders."
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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