Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Weather or not in crime stories

Valerio Varesi doesn't know enough to come in out of the fictional rain, and the opening pages of his novel River of Shadows are none the worse for it.

Those pages, in which a drenching rainstorm weighs heavily on the thoughts of a group of boatmen, are a good answer to anyone who insists a crime story should not begin with weather. Use weather to create suspense, let drumming rain or the wind-blown clatter of signs in a deserted square work their way under the characters' skins — or the reader's — and you'll pull the reader right in. Simenon did it in The Yellow Dog, and Varesi does it here.

(Photo by your humble blogkeeper)
(Varesi's The Dark Valley has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association International Dagger for translated crime fiction. The short list was announced at Crimefest 2012. Here are the shortlists for the six awards announced at Crimefest.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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32 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

A noir isn't a noir unless its raining.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He's not noir, but I still give props to Jo Nesbo for opening one his novels on a broiling day in Oslo.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And is it true that The Cold Cold Ground is now available in the U.S.?

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I wonder if it may be, Peter, that there has been an informal embargo on all novels that start not with action in rain, but with rain itself. Else, the author might seem a ripe candidate for the Edward Bulwer-Lytton Award.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I suspect you are quite right, as usual. This novel integrates the lashing rain beautifully with the characters and what presumably will be the beginning of the plot. At the very least, Varesi is author of considerable dexterity when it comes to putting description at work in the service of the story.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S. What part of Britain are you from? This is coming to you from a coffee shop on the Coppergate in York.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Apparently it'll be available in November. At least thats what it says on Amazon.

If I was Norwegian I wouldnt find crime fiction that escapist these days. I'd be reading space opera or high fantasy or history or just about anything else really.

May 30, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Bravo on starting with rain!

Crime fiction may be escapist in countries where there's a dearth of crime.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: I asked because of a Tweet to that effect from Declan Burke, who said it was or would be available on Amazon.

My table at the big Crimefest dinner included a pair of Norwegian crime writers in addition to Declan Burke. The Anders Breivik case came up in pre- and post-dinner conversations, I can assure you.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., my traveling has kept me from my reading, so I have not read beyond that chapter. But if you like weather in your crime stories, you'll like this.

There used to be a dearth of crime in Norway, but Brievik took care of that pretty quickly.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I'm a Londoner, Peter. Born and largely raised in the area of Isleworth in the S.W. of Greater London, then later lived and worked in Harrow, which is in the N.W. But my great-niece is presently a student at York University -- very fortunate to attend a fine university in a lovely town.

May 30, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Breivik committed murder on a mass scale but many crimes (with the exception of murder) have been on the upswing in Norway for the past 2 or so decades. Norway's "catching up" with much of the West in other ways.

Racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual harassment cases are way up. Tensions between different immigrant groups (immigrant on immigrant), native population on immigrant population, and immigrant population on native population, including physical threats, beatings, knifings, etc.; crimes that were extremely rare in Norway until the 1980s.

Sexual crimes against women, particularly among some immigrant groups, have increased enormously. (And that's just with the available statistics of women reporting such crimes. In Norway, as elsewhere in the world, women often feel even more threatened after reporting sex crimes.)

My relatives in Stavanger say that the cops pretty much hang around the police department. They do not tend to walk a beat or patrol on either bicycle or "prowl" car. So, as often happens these days in Stavanger, which is the main city for people coming in and going out to the oil rigs in the North Sea, there are plenty of waterfront drink-induced stabbings, beatings, etc. with very mild, almost timid, police reaction. In the US cops often seem to overreact while in Norway they underreact!

Norway is somewhat overwhelmed by these social changes and officials tend to play ostrich, hoping it will all go away.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth: Norway may be turning into a regular country. But, good god, what do Norwegian police officers do?

May 30, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, Elisabeth,

Norway may be very very rich, but ennui will always propel young men into violence. To change that you're going to have to change the Y chromosome.

War has always been a sort of answer to ennui, mass unemployment, economic crisis and general weltzschmerz but I dont think a European war is on the cards any time soon.

May 30, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

what do Norwegian police officers do?

Well, to hear my relatives tell it, the police tend to stay as far away as possible from any area where a possible crime might occur. Staying nice and warm at police headquarters. It's a very convoluted procedure to check out a firearm, for example. (Didn't Jo Nesbø use this to humorous effect in The Redbreast?)

Societal changes have come so fast to Norway that the cops seem to have been blindsided.

May 30, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

To change that you're going to have to change the Y chromosome.

Adrian, I wouldn't want to do that; I like men too much. Wars and all. I'm not part of the group of emasculating feminists who ponder the reverse of Henry Higgins: Why can't a man be more like a woman?

Ennui? OK, but also soft living. All that oil money allows Norwegians to maintain very short work hours, long vacations, subsidies for just about every cradle-to-grave activity.

I read an article the other day that noted that Sweden may reconsider at least some elements of its cushy welfare system (shocking, huh?) insofar as members of industry and academia claim there has been a dearth of innovation, of inventions, etc. under the all-inclusive welfare state.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Elisabeth

Ennui is going to be the death of all of us as we have less and less to do and more and more time to do it in.

I think Norway should take its 500 billion dollar trust fund and do something really interesting with it like colonise Mars or invade Sweden or something.

May 30, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

invade Sweden or something

Why not, Adrian?! Turnabout is fair play! Videre, Vikings!

From what I understand, Norway, unlike the US, is saving for a rainy day with that trust fund. They know the oil will run out and the fund will still fuel the welfare society, should they decide to maintain it.

Ennui, being one of them thar French words, somehow sounds more glamorous than pathetic. Unfortunately, there is no English equivalent. Like the wonderful French word, flâneur. Oh, to be a flâneuse, overcome by ennui in the Information Age.

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, to hear my relatives tell it, the police tend to stay as far away as possible from any area where a possible crime might occur.

Now, that sounds like a British-style television comedy or else a horribly tragic crime novel.

I wonder if Norway has a tradition of private detectives. You mentioned Nesbo; maybe he ought to have Harry quite the police, the way Peter Lovesey did with his Peter Diamond in Diamond Solitaire.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, has the Norwegian oil fund been around long enough to have sent the men of an entire nation into a maelstrom of destructive ennui? Is this why Jo Nesbo has taken in the lead in the Stieg Larsson Sweepstakes?

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

... do something really interesting with it like colonise Mars or invade Sweden or something.

Maybe Norseman have always been restless. I like the idea that Erik the Red set off to look for America because Iceland was too crowded.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, York can't ever have been much lovelier than it was the last three days. Your grand-niece may have been among the many strolling or sunning themselves among the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey. Sure, dissolution must have been painful for those involved, but the upside is a great place to get some sun.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To change that you're going to have to change the Y chromosome.

OI just got an idea for a story, a kind of comic version of The Children of Men. I'll call it Y Not.

May 31, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Maybe Norseman have always been restless. I like the idea that Erik the Red set off to look for America because Iceland was too crowded.

Always restless, yep. Like Pop, always ready to hop in the car and drive somewhere, anywhere.

And the Norwegian tradition, still going strong today, of families having a hytte (cabin or cottage) in the countryside or along a fjord is a visible manifestation of this biocultural trait.

And "studies show" Scandinavians require a fairly large personal space. I get anxious when people stand too close to me in a line, for example. Fortunately for a modern Viking, I live near an ocean and can sit facing it, stare at the horizon, and crowd anxiety dissipates.

After the Vikings had pretty much deforested Iceland and overgrazed and overcultivated its limited arable land, they had to seek new horizons. Erik was ahead of the curve.

May 31, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

You're right! There is always weather; that we can all agree on.

I think a dark, rainy night brings in readers. A hurricane, tornado, earthquake, snow storm would do it. Definitely a tsunami -- has any writer set a mystery against a tsunami, especially the tsunami which killed 1/4 million people in recent years?

In Jim Kelly's British police procedural Death Wore White, a fantastic blizzard has center stage. It allows for the set up of a complicated set of crimes.

P.S. I read the linked in article on the hieroglyphics under cover as blogger i.d.'s. Fine. Where does it leave middle-aged readers (or older) who are the majority of crime fiction fans? (Of course, this problem is rife throughout the blogosphere, not unique to mystery aficionados.)

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth: If Erik had stayed in Canada, I might have had lutefisk for lunch today instead of whitefish salad.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, that's a good question. I wonder how closely one has to approximate the correct verification word. It need not be exact.

Weather will work well as long as it's no mere information dump or pro-forma splash of color.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy: I met Jim Kelly briefly at Crimefest.

May 31, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I might have had lutefisk for lunch today instead of whitefish salad.

Well, maybe not, with the diminishing stocks of Atlantic cod... I love cod, but not lutefisk. Participation in one's authentic ethnic heritage traditions is all very well, but I draw the line at eating lutefisk. I'll have some of my mom's meatballs and gravy + boiled potatoes + creamed cabbage instead.

Actually, Norwegians are very likely to eat smoked or unsmoked whitefish (or any kind of fish!) at any meal; it's common in smörgåsbord. Me? I'll take salmon any day.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, did the Icelanders send Erik the Red off to Greenland with a hold full of lutefisk, and did they greet him with ill-concealed resentment when he came back with all of it?

May 31, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Oh, oh, Don't let this Squarehead get started with the lutefisk jokes!

But here's just one, with a kind of Erik the Red flavor... Maybe the one the landlubbers told when Erik came back with all that lutefisk...

Recipe for Dragon Ship Flavored Lutefisk

Start with 1 codfish and 1 slightly used dragon ship.
Carefully remove one strake from the dragon ship.
Filet the cod and salt it. Place the cod on the strake.
Fill a pot with a solution of water and lye. Place the strake and the cod in the pot overnight.
Drain the cod and the strake. Throw away the cod and eat the strake.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I heard a version of that joke, except involving a coot and a brick. And I read a thing or two the past couple of days about Parliamentarians, so I've gone from Roundheads to Squareheads.

York had both, I guess.

May 31, 2012  

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