Monday, April 09, 2012

Crime fiction and the power of myth

Declan Burke's forthcoming novel Slaughter's Hound is full of characters named Finn and Gráinne and Saoirse, and invocations of Queen Maeve, and a short prefatory note hints at wolf hounds' rich role in Irish mythology.

One need not recognize the allusions to enjoy and appreciate the dark, serious, and occasionally funny story (and I may well have missed more of them than I caught), but it doesn't hurt, either.

While waiting for Burke's book, why not dip into Mike Stone and Gerard Brennan's Requiems for the Departed,  a collection of short stories by seventeen contemporary Irish crime writers based on Irish myth?
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That's Ireland. What myths from other cultures have contemporary crime writers used? The Oedipus story? Cain and Abel? Which could they use? What ancient myths and tales would make good crime stories?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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20 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Can I just say that I loved Slaughter's Hound. Irish myths can often be pretty funny (The Tain for example is full of black humour) and Burke's tale is also extremely funny.

To me this seems to be an important strain in Irish crime fiction. It's the old "if I didnt laugh, I would cry" thing.

April 09, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I second the rec to warm up for this by reading Requiems for the Departed. Great introduction to a lot of Irish crime writers you might not yet be familiar with.

April 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I loved Slaughter's Hound, too. Like Requiems for the Departed, it accomplished the considerable feat of infusing the myths with life without descending into archaism. The modern and the ancient nourished one another to great mutual benefit.

I don't know if Irish myths are bloodier or more violent or funnier than any others, but contemporary Irish crime writers seem to make better use of those myths than writers from other countries do.

I am reading the book whose jacket is the illustration to the left on this post: Myths and Legends of the Celts by James MacKillop. I'm on the section about the Ulster Cycle now. Where can I find the best retelling to the myths available in English. the Tain especially?

April 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Requiems does fine double duty as an introduction to Irish crime writers and to Irish myth and triple duty in how old and new can work together. It's a hell of a collection.

April 09, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

For a long time I thought that Kinsella's The Tain could not be bettered but now I think I prefer Ciaran Carson's version.

April 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I happen to be near both a bookstore and a library, though I need to maintain the self-discipline to keep working a while longer.

April 09, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Self discipline sucks. I practice it occasionally, but oddly, I don't usually feel a whole lot better for doing so.

April 09, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seana, perhaps the secret is you would feel a whole lot worse for not doing so.

April 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An island of self-discipline can be an occasional welcome refuge in a vast sea of idleness.

April 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, the stick approach rather than the carrot!

April 10, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I'm sorry I can no longer hear that expression without thinking of this...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VReU7EgfPLc

April 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Damn me, they stole my idea. I was going to say that anyone sick of that expression can anyone who uses it where exactly he can stick the carrot.

April 10, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Anonymous, you may be right, but I don't usually feel the great satisfaction that everyone is always telling me I should feel upon completing hated tasks.

I did discover yesterday that I do really enjoy cleaning when I'm supposed to be doing my taxes.

Taxes were today though, which means I am not quite as much a practitioner of my philosophy as I am a preacher of it.

The Thick of It--good reminder. Maybe someday when I am not being self-disciplined, I will watch some more of it.

April 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I sometimes feel a surge of self-satisfaction when I get some job done. The rarity of the phenomenon sharpens the satisfaction, so perhaps it's best not to do so too often.

April 10, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Self-satisfaction is one thing, self-righteousness is another altogether. As long as you experience the first without overtones of the second, I'd say you should aim for them.

April 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall strive always to maintain a grin of quiet contentment -- except to those near and dear to me, to whom I'll shoot my damn fool mouth off.

April 11, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

"That's the ticket!"

April 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll try to look like the Buddha.

April 11, 2012  
Blogger Susan said...

So I've just added three books to get! lol I don't have any of these, and especially Requiems for the Departed, it looks so interesting. Irish myth and mysteries, it sounds like they were made for each other, doesn't it?

April 12, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

They may be made for each other, all right. I don't know if Irish myths are any richer with possibilities for contemporary authors than other myths are, but Irish crime writers, in this collection especially, take especially good advantage of the myths their native culture offers.

The stories in Requiems for the Departed are not all mist and bogs, either. Some are, of course. Others partake of myth in different ways. But the best of them are uncanny enough that they feel like myths themselves. (You should know that the Adrian McKinty who commented above wrote one of the collection's most chilling stories.)

April 12, 2012  

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