Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Toddler died after crawling into Irish ghost estate

I don't write much about true crime, but this headline caught my eye at work Tuesday night:

 CHILD’S DEATH DRAWS ATTENTION TO IRELAND’S ‘GHOST’ TRACTS

The story concerns 2-year-old Liam Keogh, who crawled through a gap in a mesh fence at an unfinished "ghost" estate in Athlone, was found face down in a puddle near an open drain, and died, apparently of drowning. (The boy died last week; American newspapers are now reporting on reaction to the event. See some scary photos of the ghost estate in the Irish Independent.)

The ghost estates are housing developments started during Ireland's Celtic Tiger economic boom, then left unfinished when the money went away. Wikipedia, citing reports in the Guardian and in the BBC, says there are at least 600 ghost estates and 300,000 empty homes in Ireland. Here's what the Independent said about the estate where Liam was found:
 I'm haunted by, er, some haunting scenes set at vacant properties, I think in Alan Glynn's Bloodland, and saddened by this latest grim crime-fiction metaphor come to life.
"Described by estate agents as an exclusive development, Glenatore - which is close to Lough Ree - was granted planning permission for 66 terraced homes and apartments in 2005.

"Just five properties were occupied and 13 were vacant, according to the 2011 national house survey. Others were never started or were at various stages of construction when building work stopped."
I'm haunted by, er, some haunting scenes set at vacant properties, I think in Alan Glynn's Bloodland, and saddened by this latest grim crime-fiction metaphor come to life.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

#Blogger sucks

In addition to its new verification-word security feature, which is confusing, harder to read, and does not work, Blogger now apparently no longer allows commenters to be notified of further comments on a post. This, of course, will inhibit discussion by making it more difficult to follow and contribute to.

Is this the worst customer service since PayPal? Why is Blogger doing this?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Outlaw Album

The Ozarks, and poor white folks, are just as foreign to most crime-fiction readers as Botswana, Cape Town, Shanghai, and Stockholm, so Daniel Woodrell belongs here.

The Outlaw Album is an apt title because its dozen selections are more vignettes than stories, like snap shots in a photo album. (If you forget what a photo album is, look for a picture of one in your "Pictures" folder or on one of the popular search engines.)

The most heartbreaking sentence in the collection so far? This, from "Florianne," about a man whose daughter has disappeared years before:
"At the opening of each deer season I hope this time she’ll be found."
Look what Woodrell does with that sentence. He lets us know that the setting is rural and its people are hunters. He lets us know that the man has been looking for his daughter a long time, and that the futile hope has become as natural and as recurring as the seasons. It's like Beckett's "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on," but without the middle step.

(I write about Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy — which I read before Barack Obama let the world know that he had read it — here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Children of Men

Baroness James of Holland Park is probably best known for her novels about Adam Dalgliesh and Cordelia Gray and for the television series based on the former, but I chose her dystopian novel The Children of Men to begin my acquaintance with James.

I'd seen the 2006 movie based on the novel, and I begin the book curious about why the movie changed the cause of the impending end of human reproduction. (It's mass male infertility in the book, female infertility in the movie -- a commercially wise decision, perhaps, given that men are said not to read books anymore. Who wants to pick up a book and get blamed for the impending extinction of humanity?)

The novel's strength in its opening chapters is the matter-of-fact first-person narration by a historian named Theodore Faron, who begins a diary of his middle age with the news that the last known human being to have been born on Earth has died. Oddly enough, the world has managed to continue on its way for two decades after the end of human fertility, and Faron's diary is as personal and idiosyncratic as diaries are supposed to be, yet full of chilling details. I'll leave you with my two favorite, then go back to my reading:

"History, which interprets the past to understand the present and confront the future, is the least rewarding discipline for a dying species." 
and

"It was in that year, 2008, that the suicides increased. Not mainly among the old, but among my generation, the middle-aged, the generation who would have to bear the brunt of an ageing and decaying society’s humiliating but insistent needs."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Amateurish prose

I'm between books, browsing, reading a few pages, picking them up, putting them down, and I'm also busy with non-blog matters. So you'll have to bear with a few random observations for a day or two.

Among the book pick-ups is a Japanese crime novel that I put down quickly because of slack prose in the English translation, e.g., "The guy fell back and lay sprawled on the ground, motionless, like the letter X." At the very least, the letter was unnecessary. Readers don't need to be told X is a letter. And lay is the wrong verb for an action scene.

I know neither Japanese not any other works by the author, so I can't guess at the reason for lapses. But I'm reminded again that a translator is not just a translator but also a writer, with all the demands that entails. If the original lags, the translator should have made it better.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

JJ DeCeglie's downward spiral from Down Under

I don't know if Australia's JJ DeCeglie has been anywhere near Oklahoma, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or any of the other psychic nowheres of American noir, but he sure can channel their spirit well.

Drawing Dead is about a P.I. in Western Australia, a busted gambler and self-proclaimed asshole who goes drunkenly, lustfully, and violently to his own destruction, narrating his demise with amused detachment.  Jim Thompson might have produced something similar if he'd infused his stories with a bit more humor and his protagonists with a bit more violent action-hero flair.

Thompson is a presence in Drawing Dead, an object of the book's dedication and the source of its epigraph. Charles Willeford makes the scene both as dedicatee and as one of the authors the protagonist, Jack, thinks about reading on his doomed wanderings. John Fante makes that list, as do Louis-Ferdinand Céline and — no surprise — Charles Bukowski. And that, friends, ought to give you an idea of the ride you're in for in DeCeglie's book.
***
What makes some of our darker noir writers cite their literary idols so explicitly? Maybe it's just literary preciousness. But maybe writing about characters who embrace doom is so psychologically perilous that authors need to reach out for predecessors who lived close to the edge but still managed to hold themselves together long enough to write a few books.

DeCeglie pays looser homage to the hard-boiled but non-noir tradition. Though Drawing Dead is more a doomed road novel than a P.I. story, Jack is, nominally, a hard-luck private investigator. And the case that quickly degenates into his downward journey is — naturally — a wandering-daughter job.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Canada is funny; Ireland is cheap

Here's one of my favorite bits of humor from Tumblin' Dice:
“Gayle looked at him, slumped in the big leather chair, drinking beer at ten o’clock in the morning, watching himself on tv, the old days, and she was thinking pretty soon they’d have to take him out with a forklift, bury him in a piano box.

“She said, `We can’t have guys running around shooting people all over the place.'

“Danny said, no, sure, that’s right, `But once in a while it’s good.'”
Here's author John McFetridge on "The Hono(u)r Killing in Tumblin Dice."
***
is now $2.99 or £1.95 for Kindle! And, never mind this post's title; Absolute Zero Cool is funny, too. And hard-hitting. Mind-expanding, as well, and totally legal. Here, the novel's author, Declan Burke, holds forth on e-book pricing on the Irish Times website.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Tumblin' Dice rocks, rolls, and rules

A blurb for John McFetridge's new novel, Tumblin' Dice, invokes This is Spinal Tap and Elmore Leonard, but I'd add Return of the Secaucus 7 to the list of cultural referents.  Tumblin' Dice is even more about growing into middle age and facing change than it is about fast talking, violence, and life on the road, though it's about all those things, too.

And the change is nuanced;  there's no clear line between characters who accept and characters who reject it. Even the most decisive is plagued by occasional introspection, doubt, and reminiscence. Others act decisively (for good or ill) just when a reader is likely to write them off as hopelessly nostalgic or irredeemably stupid. That nuance makes this an unexpectedly moving book, as close a simulation of what I imagine real life is as I can remember in a crime novel.

Let's meet some of the characters:
  • There are The High, a 1980s rock band that reunites and hits the oldies-and-casino circuit, with larceny on its mind.
  • There are the Philadelphia mobsters.
  • There are the Saints of Hell, familiar to readers of McFetridge's previous books, bikers gone upscale and professionally stratified. The Saints challenge the Philadelphia mobsters for control of an Ontario casino, where The High are booked for a show (opening for Cheap Trick).
  • There are the cops from Toronto and elsewhere who try to contain the violence and who cope with a blood-chilling and culturally timely case of their own.
Each of those groups has its own drama and subplots, in addition to its role in the climax at the casino. That's a lot of characters and action for a medium-size crime novel, a lot of story lines interacting in any number of ways, expected and unexpected, kind of like life. But it's funny, it's moving, it works, and the worst thing I can say about McFetridge is that he appears to like Rush.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Meet Kevin McCarthy

The world's best crime fiction comes from Ireland, and one of the country's best new crime and historical-fiction writers has started a blog.

The author is Kevin McCarthy, his first novel was Peeler, (which no U.S. publisher has seen fit to pick up in a print edition; it is available as an e-book), and the blog is A Criminal History?  Here's a bit of what I wrote about Peeler in 2010:
“When Clive James turned into Francis Fukuyama three years ago and as much as declared the end of crime fiction (`In most of the crime novels coming out now, it’s a matter not of what happens but of where. Essentially, they are guidebooks.'), I dissented.

“For one thing, the where can constitute its own what, a setting so different from the reader's own that it offers fictional possibilities even Clive James never dreamed of.

“I've just now opened Kevin McCarthy's novel Peeler, and its plot, its dueling epigraphs, and the note of uncertainty in its second sentence offer the promise of an exciting and maybe even morally serious work. And it's all because of where the story takes place: in Ireland, during the country's war of independence, the Royal Irish Constabulary and the IRA each investigating, unknown to the other, a young woman's killing.”
The book fulfilled its promise, and it performed one of those acts of alchemy that always leave me in awe: It conveyed not just the facts of the novel's historical setting (the founding years of the Free State of Ireland), but also the feeling: the rural and urban poverty in West Cork, the moral uncertainty, and aching nostalgia for a time very recently passed, before the shooting started, when life seemed much simpler. (McCarthy talks about the history behind the novel and the Royal Irish Constabulary at Crime Always Pays.)

It's up there with Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels and Ronan Bennett's Havoc, in Its Third Year as the best historical (crime) I've read since this blog first saw the light of day.

Take it away, Kevin.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nights of Awe

The protagonist of Harri Nykänen's Nights of Awe is named Ariel Kafka, and he's one of two Jewish police officers in Helsinki.

Now, Finland's entire Jewish population is no bigger than a couple of good-sized Long Island bar-mitzvahs, so it's no shock that Jews would be somewhat exotic figures there. Nykänen has Kafka react with head-shaking amusement to well-meaning questions about Jews, and the deadpan humor is of a piece with what Nykänen did so well in Raid and the Blackest Sheep.

Kafka's Jewish identity figures also in the crimes that drive this story, a series of killings of Arabs that eventually involves drugs, trains, cars, Israeli diplomats, the Mossad intelligence service, and friends and others from Kafka's own past. To say too much more would risk spoilers, except that things, as in all good mysteries, are not what they seem, even when you think you've figured out what's what and who's who.

The novel's title refers to the Jewish high holidays, the Days of Awe, when observant Jews repent of their sins. Nykänen presumably intends moral weight, but a character named Kafka needs no help from the calendar to get introspective. The story could have been set any time in the year.
***
The book was smoothly translated into English by Kristian London, an American who lives in Helsinki. The fluency of the translation is especially noticeable in the novel's first half, which consists largely of routine police detail and dialogue, where the prose, and not the action, must hold readers' attention.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Eric Hoffer's labor pains

Around the time Ronald Reagan broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981, I noticed that some service and blue-collar businesses began to call their workers “associates,” at least in public.

Much more recently, a Starbucks in Philadelphia posted a notice that it was looking for “partners.” Since I doubt that Starbucks was offering a financial stake and a voice in running the company, at the very least the company was indulging in creative redefinition of partner.

What would Eric Hoffer have thought of this verbal trickery, if he took the words seriously? Here's another bit from The Ordeal of Change:
“Any doctrine which preaches the oneness of management and labor—whether it stresses their unity in a party, class, race, nation, or even religion—can be used to turn the worker into a compliant instrument in the hands of management.”
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Ordeal of Change

While I think about my next crime post, here's a quotation from Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman/philosopher, whom I discovered through the good offices of Seana Graham.

Any number of passages from Hoffer's 1963 book The Ordeal of Change are relevant to world history, and all are delivered with a plain-spokenness one might expect from a longshoreman (and migrant crop picker)/ philosopher, but I chose the following for its special relevance to, oh, just about everything.
"The simple fact that we can never be fit and ready for that which is wholly new has some peculiar results. It means that a population undergoing drastic change is a population of misfits, and misfits live and breathe in an atmosphere of passion."

Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Politics and new money in France

I read Dominique Manotti's Affairs of State again this week, and I'll begin this post with the continuation of a passage I quoted in June from the novel's afterword.

The passage called the 1980s in France "a time when entrepreneurs and financiers became the new heroes of modern times."

The immediately succeeding sentence tells us that
“The Socialists, who came to power with Mitterand when he became President of the Republic in 1981 – having been sidelined over a period of decades – assumed and practiced their new religion with the zeal of neophytes."
And that ought to demonstrate that a crime writer can be political without being partisan and remain amusing at the same time.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, February 13, 2012

"Another Perfect Crime"

This post is about an American crime story from 1925, though one that casts a disdainfully satirical eye at English crime stories of the time (and their American imitators).

The story is Dashiell Hammett's "Another Perfect Crime," published in Dashiell Hammett: Lost Stories, another in that valuable and informative Hammett library from Vince Emery Productions. Here's how the story ends:
"It came out later that this would-be sleuth whose salary the property holders were paying had never read a detective story in his life, and so had not even suspected that the evidence had been too solidly against me for me to be anything but innocent."
You can use you superior powers of deduction to figure out what went before. Or track the story down and read it. I think you'll like it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Herodotus, father of the gentleman thief

The Father of History may also be the father of the gentleman-thief story.

Herodotus turns up in Historical Whodunits, published first under the Mammoth name and later by Barnes and Noble, the only author from the fifth century BC in a collection of authors otherwise from the twentieth century.

Herodotus' story, a selection from the celebrated "Account of Egypt" section of his Histories, concerns a rogue who concocts with his brother an elaborate scheme to plunder the locked treasury of Rhampsinitos (Ramses III) and, when the brother winds up dead, an even cleverer plan to recover the body so their mother can mourn it properly. Except for the brother, all ends well, and the pharaoh so admires the thief's guile that he awards him his (the pharaoh's) daughter's hand in marriage,

Detractors called Herodotus the Father of Lies, though he was generally careful to specify when he was merely passing on stories he had heard.  His hedge ("This king, they said, got great wealth of silver...") only enhances the impression that he is telling a genial, amusing tale of wit rewarded (Read the excerpt from Herodotus here.)

Herodotus joins an honorable roster of proto-crime writers that stretches back almost 5,000 years. Read about some of history's great pre-Chandlers, Christies, and Hammetts here at Detectives Beyond Borders (click the link, then scroll down.)
***
Herodotus' selection is second in the Historical Whodunits  book, after Elizabeth Peters' story of an impossible grave robbery in ancient Egypt. Yes, the story is called "The Locked Tomb Mystery."

© Peter Rozovsky 2012 

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Maynard Soloman, American archetype

Maynard Soloman is an American archetype — solo man. Get it? — roaming the heartland alone, free of emotional commitments, fighting for the little guy, his only goals self-preservation and righting wrongs.

Except he and the stories in which he appears are funnier than all that. His steed is a decaying Winnebago motor home on which a vandal has spray-painted that Maynard Soloman Investigation Services SUKS!, and Soloman is on the run not from outlaws or marauding Comanches, but from unpaid medical bills.

The titles of the 4 Funny Detective Stories — Starring Maynard Soloman say much about author Benjamin Sobieck's targets: "Maynard Soloman Solves the War on Drugs," "Maynard Soloman Fixes Social Security and Eats a Pony," "Maynard Solomon & The Job-Nabbin' Illegal Immigrants," and, in a story that comes as close to heart-warming as the old cuss gets, "Maynard Soloman Proves Santa Claus is Real."

So, yes, the stories are sharply satirical, but even the villains are not all that threatening as individuals. They remind me of Bob and Ray's boobs and hapless schemers. So, what keeps the stories from veering over into mere spoofs? That Maynard, booted off the police Obscenities Division because of health problems and cheated of medical payments by "the arthritic bean counters on the force," opens his own mobile detective agency "to keep gas in the 'bago and the can opener turning." That they show a U.S. government aiming massive amounts of money at small problems while neglecting big ones. That Maynard will sneak in a mention of his stomach pains and his long-gone wife. There's is always the barest hint of grimness beneath the fun.

Mostly, though, Maynard is the philosopher-cum-man-of-action that we all wish we could be, the detective who solves mysteries by turning idiocy against itself. He knows about the state of customer service in America but, unlike most of us, he acts:
In my years, I’ve learned that customer service is a luxury that must be demanded. Asking for help nowadays is like organ donation. You’d better have a good reason. And nothing conveys reason better than a round of healthy cursing.

 “`Hey, you blasphemous pillock. If you’re done bogging off, I need some gal-damn service,' I say and kick the box a couple times.
If you don't know what a blasphemous pillock is, don't worry; neither does Maynard. But it sure sounds good.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, February 10, 2012

A quibble about The Golden Scales

I'd guessed that The Golden Scales, by Parker Bilal (nom de plume of Jamal Mahjoub), had been translated from Arabic and that tin-eared rendering was responsible for some of the clunky prose in the book's prologue. But I can find no translator's credits, and online biographies say Mahjoub was born in London, brought up in Khartoum, educated in Wales and Sheffield, and lives in Barcelona. Given that background, I now assume that he writes in English.

Whatever the original language, sentences like the following do nothing but get in the way:
Liz Markham reared back, completely stalled by the human mass that confronted her.”
What's the difference between stalled and completely stalled? What does completely add? What does it do except slow down what the author clearly intends as a heart-pounding opening?
Behind her she heard someone make a remark that she couldn’t understand.”
Why the extra words? Why not “she heard a remark” or “someone made a remark”?
“Glancing back, certain that someone was behind her, she moved away from the hotel, pushing impatiently through the crowd of tourists and tea boys...”
Pushing impatiently? How else would one push through a crowd? Yet again Bilal tells rather than shows and uses too many boring words doing it. That's apt to try a reader's patience, especially in an action scene.

My first guess was apparently wrong, but I'll try another: Mahjoub, described by some sources as an acclaimed author of “literary” novels, can't write action. I hope either that I'm wrong or that he chooses methods other than action scenes to tell his story, because I'm curious about what this writer of Arabic and African background can do with the Western crime-fiction tradition, a la Yasmina Khadra or Naguib Mahfouz.

Here's part of a blurb for the novel:
“Makana, a former Sudanese police inspector forced to flee to Cairo, is now struggling to make ends meet as a private detective. In need of money, he takes a case from the notoriously corrupt mogul Saad Hanafi, owner of a Cairo soccer team, whose star player, Adil Romario, has gone missing ..."
P.S. An author chooses Parker Bilal as a pseudonym for his first venture into crime fiction. What are the odds that he had Richard Stark or Robert B. Parker in mind?

P.P.S. Read my 2008 post on Who will be the next Samir Spade? ... (Crime fiction in the Arab world)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Ha!

I wrote in the discussion following yesterday's post that Philip Marlowe's tentative, fumbling attempts at psychoanalysis in The High Window are vastly more human, and hence easier to read, than Ross Macdonald's smug, wince-making, know-it-all amateur Freudianism in The Galton Case.

Imagine my delight, then, when I found the following as I read more from The High Window:
“`The old woman treats her like a rough parent treats a naughty child.'
“`I see. Regressive.' 
“`What’s that?' 
“`Emotional shock, and the subconscious attempt to escape back to childhood. If Mrs. Murdock scolds her a good deal, but not too much, that would increase the tendency. Identification of childhood subordination with childhood protection.' 
“`Do we have to go into that stuff?' I growled.”
Chandler puts the analysis in a supporting character's mouth (and that character is a doctor); Marlowe is skeptical of the diagnosis, but despite his gruff response, to which the doctor responds with good humor, he listens. In The Galton Case, the psychologist is the protagonist, Lew Archer, and the psychological pronouncements are offered with the humorless arrogance of the true-believing amateur. I know which I prefer.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Raymond Chandler on chauffeurs

Back along the side of the house a chauffeur was washing off a Cadillac.”
Raymond Chandler, The High Window
“There were French doors at the back of the hall, beyond them a wide sweep of emerald grass to a white garage, in front of which a slim dark young chauffeur in shiny black leggings was dusting a maroon Packard convertible.”
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep 

I don't know that to make of this similarity of motif, but I envision new possibilities for Chandler parodists.
***
I don't think The High Window is as strong a book as The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye and maybe not Farewell, My Lovely, either.  But I love how Chandler stops Philip Marlowe's introspection just before it veers into self-pity and instead turns it into a kind of wry celebration in this passage:

“I sat there holding the neck of the cool bottle and wondering how it would feel to be a homicide dick and find bodies lying around and not mind at all, not have to sneak out wiping doorknobs, not have to ponder how much I could tell without hurting a client and how little I could tell without too badly hurting myself. I decided I wouldn’t like it.”
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, February 06, 2012

The line king

My reading has been scattershot this week, so this post follows suit. Instead of my usual rigidly systematic thought, here are a few good lines from that reading:


“From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.”

Raymond Chandler, The High Window
***

“The scene would be an `execution-style' shooting. That meant a guy would get shot in the head. Morton figured that pretty much anytime a guy shoots another guy he’s trying to `execute' him. Not much style in it.”

John McFetridge, Scott Albert, Below the Line 
That line is moderately clever in its puncturing of a journalistic cliché, not side-splittingly funny, but it has special appeal for those of whose jobs include looking out for such clichés. (Other such well-worn expressions, beloved of well-worn journalists, are "blue-ribbon panel," "eleventh-hour vote," "impromptu roadside shrine," the star athlete who says it's the team that matters, the killing that leaves an anguished neighborhood asking "Why?", the local people who call the killer "A quiet man ... We never dreamed he could do anything like this.")
***
And, with apologies to two of this blog's more outspoken readers, a bit more from Claudio Magris, this time a passage that has much to say not about how we know or interpret history, but how we experience it:

“It seems to us impossible that what for us is still an arduous present is for our children already an irrevocable, unknown past. ... Anyone ten or fifteen years younger than I am cannot understand that the Istrian exodus after the Second World War is for me part of the present, just as I cannot really and truly understand that for him the dates 1968, 1977 and 1981 are milestones marking off different and distinct epochs; periods that for me are superimposed in spite of their considerable differences ...”

— Claudio MagrisDanube
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Down the Danube

I've taken a break from crime to read Danube, Claudio Magris' thrilling meditation on history, literature, time, national and personal identity, and just about everything else worth meditating upon.

Nothing much in it puts me in mind of crime fiction, as books outside the genre sometimes do.  But the following might interest people who think about or read ultra-violent crime fiction. It also sneers at a vogue word in arts criticism in a way you might enjoy:
"The rhetoric of transgression presents crime, maybe on account of the unhappiness which is assumed to accompany it, as carrying its own redemption, without the need for any further catharsis. Violence thereby appears as one and the same as redemption, and gives the impression of installing some kind of innocence among the psychic drives. The mystique of transgression, a word invested with edifying claptrap, deludes itself in exalting evil for evil’s sake, in contempt of all morality."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Dr. Seuss goes to Portugal

Saturday's post and the Twitter meme that gave rise to it testify to Dr. Seuss's literary influence.  A photo I took near São Bento train station in Porto, Portugal, in November suggests that his drawing style also has international reach:

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Rushdie on the state of writing

Yesterday's main reading was not crime fiction, though the author has notoriously had a price on his head.

Step Across This Line collects Rushdie's nonfiction from 1992-2002, and there's more to the man than his love of U2, a subject with which he deals frankly in an essay called "U2."

I especially liked what Rushdie had to say about the state of writing and not just because he says of his experience judging a competition that
"There was a group of son-of-Kelman Scottish novels in which people said `fuck' and `cunt' and recited the names of minor punk bands. There was, too, the Incredibly Badly Sub-Edited Novel. I remember one set in the sixties in which a Communist character couldn’t spell `Baader' or `Meinhof' (`Bader,' `Meinhoff”'. Many of the entries read as if no editor had ever looked at them."
More to the point, he wrote, publishers were publishing too many books because
"in house after house, good editors have been fired or not replaced, and an obsession with turnover has replaced the ability to distinguish good books from bad. Let the market decide, too many publishers seem to think. Let’s just put this stuff out there. Something’s bound to click. So out to the stores they go, into the valley of death go the five thousand, with publicity machines providing inadequate covering fire."
It may surprise you to learn that the essay from which these passages are taken is highly optimistic about the state of the novel. The creative, bold, skilled, and sensitive writers are there. The people whose task it is to get those writers to us, he says, were not doing their jobs.

How does this jibe with your view of the crime-fiction market, especially if you have trouble finding the kind of crime fiction you like to read?
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Good stuff from Canada

I am delighted to announce that John McFetridge's new novel, Tumblin' Dice, is on its way, with an interesting distribution offer from its publisher, ECW Press: Buy the book, get the e-book free.

Whatever the format, how can you resist an opening like:
"The High had been back together and on the road for a couple of months playing mostly casinos when the lead singer, Cliff Moore, got the idea to start robbing them."
Or this, part of which I've quoted before, but is worth quoting again:
"Cliff said, `What the fuck?' and the soccer mom looked up and said, you don’t like it?, and Cliff said, no, it’s good, honey, `Really good. I’m almost there.' When he finished, he signed another autograph, the mom saying the first time she saw the High was in Madison, must have been ’78 or ’79, her and her friends still in high school, sneaking into the show ..."
followed shortly by
"Cliff started to follow, felt a hand on his arm, and looked around to see two very hot chicks, had to be teenagers, but maybe legal, looked exactly the same — long blond hair, tight jeans, low-cut tees, like twins, same serious look on their faces — and he said, `Hey, ladies, looking for some fun?' 
"One of the girls said, `No, we’re looking for our mom. She was talking to you before.'”
Read the first chapter of what looks to be a funny, exciting, coming-of-middle-age crime story on the publisher's Web site. (If you're not in Canada, do what I did and order Tumblin' Dice from The Book Depository.)
***
Another landsman, Howard Shrier, weighs in with Boston Cream, his third novel about an ethical but tough Toronto private investigator named Jonah Geller. Shrier's first two books were called Buffalo Jump and High Chicago, and each won an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada.

In naming his novels for American cities close to the International Boundary between the United States and Canada, Shrier leaves himself 5,525 miles to prolong the series all the way from Port Angeles to Presque Isle. And, if the opening pages of Boston Cream are any indication, he continues to do a fine job of portraying the life of a P.I., who, in addition to using computers every day and killing if he absolutely must, is thoroughly secular yet aware at every moment of, and reasonably comfortable with, his Jewish identity.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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