Friday, May 04, 2012

Into the '50s, with a stop in Japan first

I finished Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X last night, and I'm impressed by how Higashino built his story. The book offers not just rationality against emotion, but, among the characters governed by their rationality, mathematics against physics. The head investigator has not just a subordinate with whom he forms an amusing team, but a friend and semi-amateur sleuth who is the real force behind the investigation. All this forms a nice background for a tale of seething emotions and their consequences.

The clues all make sense at the end, and Higashino does a nice job planting details that let me flatter myself when I spotted their significance many pages later.
***
Speaking of emotions, they're spilling out all over the pages of my other recent reading, and not just of one book, either. I've stocked up on American paperback originals from the 1950s, as reissued by Wonder eBooks and Prologue Books, and all I can say is that all that liquor characters drank in the 1920s and '30s and '40s finally started to hit in the 1950s. If the '20s, '30s and '40s were the boozy party of American crime writing, the '50s were the morning after, with the hangover, the empty pockets, the strange bed, the gutter, the torn clothes, and the utter lack of prospects -- not that some American crime writing of the time wasn't pretty funny. Here are a few bits from some of the books I've been browsing trying to decide what to read next:
"She had been somewhere with someone, but she couldn’t quite remember the place or the person. As a matter of fact she had a feeling that she had been a number of places with a number of persons, but she couldn’t quite remember that for certain either."
Park Avenue Tramp, Fletcher Flora

"(I)t it was a small, sad, lovely face of fine structure in which sadness and loveliness would survive as a shadow of themselves after the erosions of gin and promiscuous love and nervous breakdowns."
ibid.

"She was tall, blackhaired, with creamy skin and what I thought of simply as `Mexican' eyes. Dark eyes, soft, big, shadowed eyes with both the question and the answer in them."
The Sleeper Caper, Richard S. Prather

Before you sneer at "Mexican eyes," think about the words that went before: "what I thought of simply as." Sure, Prather has his protagonist, Shell Scott, engage in what some might call ethnic stereotyping and objectification of women today, but by God, he's redeemed by his awareness of what he's doing and by Scott's enjoyment of this Elena's beauty. And who could resist the melodramatic appeal of a pair of eyes that contain not just answers but also questions? Damned efficient, I'd say.
"You never can tell what a big, tough Polish boy will do when he finds a nude blonde in his bathroom."
To Kiss, Or Kill, Day Keene
Goodnight!

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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11 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Of course David Hume said that reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them. By which he meant, I think, that rationality is only the appearance of disinterest but is simply the substitution for one emotive rationale for a different one. Even in Japan.

May 04, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

THe same David Hume called himself, in his capacity as essayist, an ambassdor between the world of learning and the world of conversation. I probably should be stripped of my diplomatic credentials, but I suspect that the author of The Devotion of Suspect X would agree with you, though perhaps ruefully.

May 04, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

So, what did you think of Park Avenue Tramp? I liked its moody, melancholic tone. Flora is not like anyone else I've read.

I couldn't figure out that Sleeper Caper cover you scanned. A crime fiction period novella set in the world of show jumping?! Then I realized it was the same story that appears in that "Manhunt" anthology that I have. The illustration accompanying the mag's story is (correctly) of a Thoroughbred flat-racer taking a nasty fall. Oh, well. I imagine to most people one horse sport is the same as another.

I rather like Prather's descriptions of the buxom broads that litter his novels. Scott's clearly a guy who has an appreciation for women and isn't inhibited by today's PC prohibitions from saying so. Women as sex objects? Sure, but the feeling is mutual. Both he and his lady friends are having a good time and the woman is as likely as Scott to initiate the encounter, which both enter with eyes wide open. Good, clean fun in the days before worrying about AIDS, etc. Ou sont les neiges d'antant, huh?

May 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And Shell Scott can be a pretty noble guy, too.

"Park Avenue Tramp" was part noir, part high melodrama, part exquisite psychological cruelty, and a more than adequate rejoinder to anyone who thinks that anyone named "Fletcher Flora" must be a wuss.

May 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Dictes moy où, n'en quel pays,
Est
Flora (!!!), la belle Romaine"

May 15, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, as humor in crime fiction is catnip for you, so I think "high melodrama" might be my catnip in the genre. I think it's a gene on the same chromosome that makes me weep during the high drama in the ballets "Giselle", "Swan Lake," "Manon", "Romeo and Juliet," etc. Or Romantic poetry. Do you know Alphonse de Lamartine's "Le Lac", 1820? I loved it so much when I first read it that I had to memorize it. Russians say translations of their poetry can't capture the essence of the original. I'd say the same about "Le Lac."

God, I love Villon! I'm pulling him off the shelf later tonight.

May 15, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Oh, and what did the "big, tough Polish boy . . . do when he [found] a nude blonde in his bathroom"?

May 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"High melodrama" may explain both why you like romance and 1950s hard-boiled. Learning that hard-boiled American movies retroactively called films noirs had been called melodramas upon original release was a real epiphany for me.

And no, I lack all knowlege of Lamartine. "Ou sont les neiges d'antan" does sound like a precursor to "Those Were the Days," though.

May 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I don't know what the big, tough Polish boy did when he found a nude blonde in his bathroom. I may find out soon, though. I finished reading one book on my dinner break, and I'll want to start reading another tonight to give myself a break from the three movies I've watched the past two nights.

May 15, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Melodrama" has taken on a somewhat negative connotation, but originally it simply meant (movie) plots with moral issues where good versus evil were the main focus.

I may have the romance/melodrama gene (where my love of Chandler is probably located) but I also have a Hammett/A Guthrie type gene in there somewhere, too!

May 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hadn't realized that melodrama was erspectable as recently as the 1940s or even that melodrama meant what you said it did. The Guthrie gene and the melodrama gene may not be all that different, though.

May 16, 2012  

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