Friday, November 30, 2012

Character names that carry meaning

Two of the books in Wednesday's year's-best-in-crime-reading post feature protagonists with especially resonant names: Benjamin Sobieck's 4 Funny Detective Stories — Starring Maynard Soloman (Solo man. Get it?) and Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. (What does the prototypical fictional detective do if not use her wits to make murky situations clear?)

Declan Burke's Slaughter's Hound has some names fraught with meaning, too, if you're up on your Irish. Sobieck, Gran, and Burke have a light touch with names, but this significant-name thing brings peril. Get too obvious, and you risk sounding like John Bunyan.

Here's your question: What are your favorite character names that bear a message? What character names go too far and hit you over the head with their significance?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The year's best crime-fiction reading

Here's my year's best in crime reading, a mix of new, old, and newly translated books, a stew of novels and short stories, rediscovered pulp classics, literary masterpieces, books and e-books from Ireland, Canada, Italy, Japan, South Africa, North Dakota, New Orleans, the American West and elsewhere, and one book that is only tangentially crime. But tough noogies; it's my list.

It's early for a year's-best post, but this way you'll have plenty of time to stock up on holiday gifts, and I get to make a best-of-December post in a few weeks.
  • Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles and Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, Vol. II by Edward A. Grainger (David Cramner)
  • Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty
  • The Walkaway by Scott Phillips
  • Tumblin’ Dice by John McFetridge
  • 4 Funny Detective Stories — Starring Maynard Soloman by Benjamin Sobieck
  • Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks
  • The Blood of an Englishman by James McClure
  • Johnny Porno, Shakedown, and Rough Riders by Charlie Stella
  • A Private Venus by Giorgio Scerbenenco
  • Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
  • The Name of the Game Is Death, One Endless Hour, and Vengeance Man by Dan J. Marlowe
  • Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
  • Pronto by Elmore Leonard
  • Slaughter’s Hound by Declan Burke
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or a Chinese Malcolm Tucker in the second century

I leapt from Enter the Dragon, pirouetted in slow motion through the air, silk robes swirling, then landed with one toe on Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame before catapulting high into the sky, turning an aerial somersault, and landing on John Woo's 2008 film Red Cliff.

I liked the latter so much that I've started reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the classic Chinese novel on which the film is based in part. It's a historical novel of high adventure, recounting battles and political maneuvering in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, the decades of shifting alliances and power struggles that accompanied the decline of the Han Dynasty.

Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei take the Oath of the Peach
 Garden in a 1591 edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Think a novel so concerned with power struggles can't be entertaining? Here's an adviser speaking boldly to a Han emperor so enfeebled that he has let the palace fall under the sway of eunuchs:
"All the Empire would eat the flesh of the eunuchs if they could, and yet, Sire, you respect them as if they were your parents."
Malcolm Tucker may talk that way, but I suspect few real political advisers do, and that's shame.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Detectives Beyond Borders looks at the Mediterranean

Photo by your humble blogkeeper
And here's that link in handy, one-click form:

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Magistrate Pao: Chinese crime fiction from the eleventh century

Connoisseurs of exotic crime stories may know of the Dutch author, scholar, diplomat and collector Robert Van Gulik and the stories he wrote about the real-life Tang Dynasty magistrate Di Renjie, or Judge Dee.

Van Gulik translated an eighteenth-century story about the seventh-century Dee, then went on to write a series of original novels and stories featuring Dee. The tales, along with Van Gulik's forthright and illuminating introductions, shed light on Chinese life in the period, on Chinese taste in crime stories, and on the profound differences between those tastes and their Western counterparts.

Dee was not the only magistrate who found his way into Chinese drama, folklore, opera and crime fiction down through the centuries. This week at Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto, I found The Strange Cases of Magistrate Pao: Chinese Tales of Crime and Detection, a book of stories about the Song Dynasty (960-1279) magistrate Bao Zheng.

Like Dee, Pao was a magistrate, a position in the Chinese imperial system that combined the roles of administrator, mayor or governor, detective, prosecutor, and judge. Like Dee he was so noted for his rectitude that his fame has lived on in popular art for more than a thousand years.

Leon Comber's rendering of the Pao stories offers a hero more interested than Dee in repairing the social fabric torn by crime. In particular, he delights in finding new mates for those bereft by crime (in accordance with the principle from the Chinese classic of Mencius that "Three things are unfilial, and of these the worst is to have no offspring.")

The Wikipedia article on Bao Zheng says that "In his lifetime, Bao was renowned for his filial piety, his stern demeanor, and his intolerance of injustice and corruption." Official corruption continues to be a problem in today's China, though the Dee and Pao stories suggest the problem has been around for centuries.  If murder is the defining crime in Western crime writing, does official corruption occupy a similar place in Chinese crime fiction? If so, I wonder how the old stories resonate in today's China.

Here's an interesting passage from Wikipedia's article on Chinese crime fiction (and isn't it interesting to see that term applied to popular literature so many centuries older than Poe and Conan Doyle?):
"In the Song dynasty, the growth of commerce and urban society created a demand for many new forms of popular entertainment. `Stories about criminal cases' were among the new types of vernacular fiction that developed from the Song to the Ming periods. ... they nearly always featured district magistrates or judges in the higher courts. ... The plots usually begin with a description of the crime (often including much realistic detail of contemporary life) and culminate in the exposure of the deed and the punishment of the guilty. Sometimes two solutions to a mystery are posited, but the correct solution is reached through a brilliant judge."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday at the American border

Arrived at U.S. border about 9:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night, have every expectation of still being here at midnight.

The approach to the U.S. border crossing over the Peace Bridge to Buffalo, N.Y., is packed with cars and trucks -- who else is crossing from Canada into the United States the night of Thanksgiving? -- and my bus has done nothing so far but make a circuit of the crossing's parking area. Two and a half days ago, we were delayed an hour or more at the crossing into Canada, and my far from full bus was one of only two or three vehicles waiting to cross. The profusion of buses and semis here, and the continual American ratcheting up of border security measures makes me suspect that I will be sitting on the bus in this parking lot for a good many hours yet.
• On the one hand, there's heat in the bus. On the other, there is no Internet connection despite Megabus' claim that WiFi is available on its vehicles.

• On the one hand, I have in my carry-on bag three of the ten books I bought at Farley's in New Hope, Pa,; Mysterious Book Shop in New York, and Nicholas Hoare and Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto on this trip. On the other, I doubt I have enough battery life in my reading light to last as long as it will take to get through this understaffed and rule-burdened border station. (It's going to take me longer to get into the U.S. than it took to get through airport security in Tel Aviv.) On yet another, I have just found that the reading lights on the bus work.

• On the one hand, my otherwise pleasant neighbor is talking loudly on her cell phone, probably trying to explain her predicament. (I can't tell for sure; she's speaking Russian. She just started laughing, so maybe her hard life has inured her to petty annoyances.) On the other, I have a set of ear plugs.
I'll be back later with more news from the U.S.-Canada border.


Just heard a long, loud expulsion of air, and I thought we might be about to move. Alas, I think the driver was just shutting the bus's doors.


We're moving...which means the inspection may finally be about to begin.

about 11 p.m.

One of two officers assigned to question and to process the documents of two busloads and one parking lot full of border crossers leaves the office and steps out in the lot, leaving his single colleague behind to do all the work.


I ask my inspector "How are you?"

He says, "I'll tell you in--" and he looks at the clock-- "thirty-five minutes."

"You get off then?"


"You short-staffed for Thanksgiving?"

Second inspector, now returned, rolls his eyes and says "And we weren't expecting two carriages."

It's good to know that no matter how miserable I am, someone else is worse off.


Megabus sends an e-mail blaming the delay on problems at the Canadian border.)


Back on the bus. One of my fellow riders, an old Chinese woman, looks like she wants to stick acupuncture needles in her head.


Still not moving. Beginning to fear my prediction of a midnight departure may come true.

Bus driver, bringing supplies to the lavatory: "Soap, and you're home!" to much laughter.

"I look at you," he says, indicating a woman wrapped from the neck down in an improvised blanket, "and I look at him," indicating me in my T-shirt, and he shakes his head, to more laughter.


We're on our way!

(Post illustrated with selections from my Toronto haul.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Subway ads, psychojargon through the generations, crime fiction that tries to have it both ways

If one can judge a city by the advertisements on its buses and subway cars, Toronto is the city of education and Philadelphia the city of personal-injury lawyers.

Much was made after the recent presidential election about the increasing power and prominence of Latinos in U.S. politics. But I knew Latinos had arrived a few years ago when I saw a big ad for a personal-injury lawyer on the side of a Philadelphia bus in Spanish, a companion to similar ads in English that had for years urged riders to seek the compensation they deserved. In Toronto, meanwhile, the subway cars are lined with ads not just for career and vocational schools, but for traditional universities as well.

Elsewhere in Toronto, I saw a handbill for a kids' computer class that read thus: "Our class is a safe place to learn, have fun, make mistakes, and build relationships." (Italics mine.) Once upon a time, kids made friends rather than build relationships. But then, there will soon be and maybe already is in America an entire generation that sees nothing wrong with "reaching out" rather just "calling" or "writing to," so what do I know? (The notion that the promoters felt it necessary to emphasize that a computer class is safe is another interesting idea.)
Now, for the question: I'm reading a crime novel that tries to have it both ways on crossing a line that a number of crime writers won't cross. I'm sorry for being so elliptical, but to say more would risk a spoiler, and I don't want to do that, especially since there is much to like about the novel in question. What crime novels or stories that you've read try to have things both ways? How do they do this?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hammett and Hollywood

Waded into a sea of wankers at Toronto's Eaton Centre this afternoon, including one who talked and looked like Oliver Reeder from The Thick of It. Of course, we were at an espresso bar called Aroma, so what does that make me?
My favorite part of Richard Layman's introduction to Return of the Thin Man is its reference to Hammett during his time in Hollywood as a "stylish moneymaker."

The volume's two stories, After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man, are not novels but rather Hammett's screen stories for what became the movies of the same names (for which Hammett did not write the screenplays). Indeed, the beginning of the former reads like directions from a screenplay:
"A train whistle sounds as the Chief arrives slowly in the Santa Fe Station in San Francisco. A stateroom in the train is stacked high with hatboxes, and suitcases, books, flowers, magazines, half-empty boxes of fruit. Although it is afternoon, the stateroom is not yet made up."
And that reminds me of Lawrence Block's comment during his interview with Duane Swierczynski at Noircon 2012 in Philadelphia about Hammett as a seminal figure in the influence of the movies on novel writing. Said Block:
"I think it started the most obviously with Dashiell Hammett. He wanted to write screenplays."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Violence: A question for readers

Or, as Mott the Hoople sang, "Violence, violence. It's the only thing that'll make you see sense."  The man who sang those lyrics, Ian Hunter, will perform here in New Hope, Pa., this weekend—for $50 in advance, $55 the day of the show. Why, in my day— But that's not why violence is on my mind.

I picked up Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: Stories of Crime, Love, and Rebellion at Farley's Bookshop yesterday. I've read stories by co-editor Gary Phillips, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and Barry Graham so far, two of which contain acts of extreme violence. In both cases the violence makes perfect sense and occurs offstage. This is not always the case on crime stories.

So today's question is: What makes some violence acceptable in crime fiction and other violence not?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Enter the Quentin

Near the end of Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee chases the villain Han through the latter's island paradise as Han flees a terraced arena/garden.  Had Quentin Tarantino shot the scene, Lee would have run right up the stone wall in slow motion, his legs windmilling.

Instead, he leaps onto a piece of furniture and propels himself over the wall, the way you or I would if chasing a sadistic, renegade megalomaniac. Given the aestheticized technical gimcrackery that has since become so closely associated with Hong Kong martial arts movies, Lee's act was endearingly human.

What has changed in moviemaking since Enter the Dragon's release in 1973, and who or what is to blame? Tarantino? The martial arts movies that influenced him? Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?
(Read this blog's discussion of a Hong Kong martial arts movie that followed Enter the Dragon by twenty years and is already full of slow-motion flying. When did that sort of thing become a part of cinematic language?)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, November 16, 2012

What I got at Noircon

Here's what I bought, won, otherwise acquired, got hold of in preparation for, or added to my list after hearing about it at Noircon. Thanks are due to the discerning and opinionated folks from Farley's Bookshop, purveyor of fine books to Noircon since 2010.

  • Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, adapted by Jacques Tardi from the novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette
  • 23 Shades of Black by Kenneth Wishnia
  • The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia
  • Dirty Work by Larry Brown
  • Dark Ride by Kent Harrington
  • The Rat Machine by Kent Harrington
  • Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace
  • The Heartbreak Lounge by Wallace Stroby
  • Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem by Jonathan Woods
  • Hell by Robert Olen Butler
  • Line of Sight by David Whish-Wilson
  • Time to Murder and Create by Lawrence Block
  • Afterthoughts by Lawrence Block
  • Crime Factory: Hard Labour
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lawrence Block at Noircon; Vicki Hendricks on noir; a question for readers

Ace chronicler (hmm, note to self: Write story about bruising, colorfully ethnic detective called Ace Kronicler) Cullen Gallagher posts video of Lawrence Block's acceptance speech upon receiving the David L. Goodis Award at Noircon 2012.

And visit Vicki Hendricks' blog post Noircon 2012 — the best!, where she says, among other things, that
"The definition of noir has broadened in the last several years with writers of any dark villain or alcoholic detective laying claim to the sophisticated French film term, but real noir devotees, as well as expert Otto Penzler, anchor the meaning with classic writers of the 40s and 50s, such as James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith. For a novel to fall into the noir category, the narrator or point of view character has to be the criminal. Most often these people are undereducated, born into lower economic groups, and demonstrate warped psychology that winds them deeper into the dirt, from start to finish. No happy endings, no series possibilities."
That last point — that noir and series are irreconcilable — came up during a panel discussion at Bouchercon this year. I suggested Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor as a PI who comes close to being a noir character. What do you think? Can a crime series, PI or otherwise, be noir?
My noir songs program at Noircon happened at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art. Here's why the exhibit/performance space bears that name:

(Photo by Lou Boxer)
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What they said at Noircon

Your humble blogkeeper talking
 about noir songs at the
Philadelphia  Mausoleum
 of Contemporary Art
 during Noircon. Photo courtesy
 of Cullen Gallagher.
More wise, entertaining, and interesting things that people said at Noircon 2012:

"It's like modern folklore, really."
Alison Gaylin, on true crime

"It's increasingly impossible to tell an American noir story."
 Kent Harrington, on the globalization of crime

"Noir is "the beating heart of yearning. It's not about `problems.'"

Fellow Noircon attendee: "Are you a dog person or a cat person?"

Me: "Neither. I'm a vegetarian."
— Exchange at hotel bar Saturday night
  © Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Noircon 2012: More Block, Kent Harrington, ratlines in crime fiction

I don't remember how the subject came up, but Lawrence Block turned the talk to crime-fiction conferences during Saturday's keynote Noircon interview. During a panel at one such convention, Block told interviewer Duane Swierczynski, someone asked him:
"How are you going to spend eternity? I thought, `On a fucking panel.'"
Later, Block was asked about the genesis of his early paperback book about a successful assassination plot against Fidel Castro (republished decades later by Hard Case Crime as Killing Castro). In 1961, Block said, a third-rate paperback publisher ("He aspired to be second-rate") commissioned a quickie biography of Elizabeth Taylor from Donald Westlake, figuring Taylor was not long for the world. Then he asked Block for a similar book about Castro, figuring to capitalize on Castro's inevitable and imminent ouster.
"I never met" the publisher, Block said, "and I've always been grateful for that. ... alav ha-shalom, he's been dead for years, Elizabeth Taylor hung on until recently, and Castro, God love him, is still alive."
Kent Harrington, making it through his Sunday morning Noircon session in shape no better or worse than most of his audience, said he wanted his new novel, The Rat Machine, “to be a big novel but in the High Pulp style.”

The novel takes its title from ratlines, the escape routes set up for Nazis fleeing Europe at the end of World War II. Harrington described the book as a thriller about the importation of Nazis into the United States, the role allocated to the Sicilian Mafia in the international heroin trade in return for its cooperation in stamping out Communists and socialists, and the reverberations to this day of those decisions.

Stuart Neville’s next novel will be called Ratlines, and its story includes the Irish government’s embrace of Nazis after the war and its ripple effect in the present day. Asked if he thought more crime writers might take up the theme, Harrington, who called himself a moral if not a political crime novelist, said, “I hope so.”

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lawrence Block's joyous Noircon elegy

I had about a month's worth of experiences yesterday alone at Noircon 2012, which has just ended, but I'll need some sleep, a good meal, and some fresh air before I can post comprehensively on this eccentric, variegated, highly enjoyable yet intellectually intense conference.

For now, a bit about the convention's highlight: Duane Swierczynski's keynote interview with Lawrence Block. Block was a fount of entertaining and instructive stories from a writing career that has spanned at least fifty-four years, and Swierczynski combined a fan boy’s enthusiasm, an archivist’s knowledge, and a Borscht Belt comic's flair for showing off.

I’ll likely have more to say about the interview in future posts, but what I found most moving was Block’s recognition that the end of his writing career may be near, that it will likely come on his own terms, and that he seems to look back with great satisfaction on his prolific and highly accomplished output. I’d call what he had to say a joyous elegy, if there’s such a thing.

He did say once, “I’m tired,” but mainly he said things like this, in reply to a question about whether he had more novels planned beyond the hundred or so he’s already written:
”Anything I’ve wanted to share with the world, I’ve long since committed, so, while I wouldn’t rule [it] out…
”If I’d had stellar success early on, I’m sure I would have written a lot less. I’m happy with the way things turned out”
So, I’m sure, are crime readers everywhere.
Cullen Gallagher offers a chronicle in words and pictures of Friday's Noircon panels.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Noircon 2012, Evening I

I was second on the bill at the kick-off for Noircon 2012 at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art Thursday evening, after the German artist Heide Hatry and before short films and commentary by filmmakers Oren Shai and Ed Holub and a set of music by Philadelphia's Scovilles.

My talk was short, sweet, and simple: ten minutes on noir music people might not think of as noir music, with examples from Brazil, Peru, Ireland, from jazz, country, symphony, opera, and flamenco, and a smashing conclusion with a recording of this song, from right here in America.

The presentation went well, I think, with a couple of hosanas and a huzzah flung my way afterward, including one from Robert Polito, editor of the Library of America's volumes of David Goodis and of American noir from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s.

Two highlights of the evening were contrasting views of Quentin Tarantino from the two filmmakers, and a surprising remark from Hatry about her choice of Wagner's Tannhäuser as a soundtrack for part of her presentation.

If I understood him correctly, Oren Shai cited Tarantino's self-referential genre storytelling as a vital response to exhausted genre conventions. Ed Holub, on the other hand, said it was fine for "Mr. Quentin Tarantino" to engage in "revisionist history, making sure all the parts line up, but there's more than that. I think he's missing the core." For Holub, the core of the original noir was postwar angst. Today, in neo-noir, he said, that emotional core has to be personal. 

The remarks on Tarantino caught my ear because I'd said in my talk that Nick Cave's music struck me as mannered and too aware of itself, "a musical equivalent of the Coen brothers or Quentin Tarantino."

And Heide Hatry, whose work is intensely political, surely chose Wagner as an acid commentary on Germany and the hellish dangers of a nation gone wild? Nah, she said, she just liked Tannhäuser. Sometimes a piece of music is just a piece of music.

(Read Cullen Gallagher's behind-the-scenes account of Noircon, Day I at Pulp Serenade.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

A little noir music

Noir and Crime Songs – Noircon 2012
presented by
 Peter Rozovsky/Detectives Beyond Borders
 1. “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”-Richard Thompson
2. “A Pair of Brown Eyes”-The Pogues
3. “A Thing Well Made”-The Mutton Birds
4. “Alabama”-John Coltrane
5. “Alice’s Restaurant”-Arlo Guthrie
6. “Alto Songo”-Afro-Cuban All Stars, many others
7. “Angelina”-Bob Dylan
8. “Atlantic City”-Bruce Springsteen
9. “B-Movie Boxcar Blues”-Delbert McClinton
10. “Bad As Me”-Tom Waits
11. “Bad News From Home”-Randy Newman
12. “Ballad of a Lonely Man”-Mike Ness
13. “Bang Bang”-Cher
14. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
15. “Black-eyed Susan”-The Triffids
16. “Blues in the Night”-Rosemary Clooney, Louis Armstrong, many others
17. “Only the Lonely”
18. “Bonnie and Clyde”
19. “Boston”
20. “Bright Lights, Big City”-Jimmy Reed
21. “Bright Lights, Big City”-The Triffids
22. “Burn”
23. “Calling Out to Carol”-Stan Ridgway
24. “Carmelita”-Warren Zevon
25.   Carmen-Georges Bizet (composer)
26. “Charlie’s Medicine”-Warren Zevon
27. “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”-Tom Waits
28. “Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice”-Hamish Imlach
29. “Cold Kisses”
30. “Criminal Mind”
31. “Deep in the Woods”-Nick Cave
32. “Delia’s Gone”-Johnny Cash
33. “Delilah”-Tom Jones
34. “Diggin' Up Bones”-Randy Travis
35. “Dominion Road”-The Mutton Birds
36. “Douce dame jolie”- Guillaume de Machaut composer (France, 14th century)
37. “Down by the River”-Neil Young
38. “Down in the Willow Garden”
39. “Down Into Mexico”-Delbert McClinton
40. “Every Breath You Take”-The Police
41. “Excitable Boy”-Warren Zevon
42. “Face to the Highway”-Tom Waits
43.  Field of Glass-The Triffids
44. "Film Noir Love”-Jukebox Zeroes

Luke Kelly
45. “Frankie Teardrop”-Suicide
46. “Galveston Bay”-Bruce Springsteen
47. “Germany Before the War”-Randy Newman
48. “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”
49. “Hazard”-Richard Marx
50. “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)”-The Crystals
51. “Heartbreak Hotel”-Elvis Presley
52. “Hell Broke Luce”-Tom Waits
53. “Hey Joe”-Jimi Hendrix, many others
54. “Hometown Farewell Kiss”
55. “How High the Moon”-many versions
56. “Hurricane”-Bob Dylan
57. “I Don’t Like Mondays”-The Boomtown Rats
58. “I Feel So Good”-Richard Thompson
59. “I Fought the Law”-The Bobby Fuller Four, the Clash, et al.
60. “I Hung My Head”-Johnny Cash
61. “I’m Dyin’ As Fast as I Can”
62. “It’s a Fine Day for a Reunion”
63. “Jacob Green”-Johnny Cash
64. “Jailbreak”
65. “Jeannie Needs a Shooter”-Warren Zevon
66. “Kelly’s Blues”
67.   Kindertotenlieder-Gustav Mahler (composer)
68. “L’affaire DuMoutier (Say to Me)”-The Box
69. “Life of Crime”
70. “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts”-Bob Dylan
71. “Lone Star Blues”
72. “Long Black Veil”-The Band, others
73. “Love in a Faithless Country”-Richard Thompson
74. “Love Me Tender”-Elvis Presley
75. “Love You) Till the End of the World”
76. “Mack the Knife”-Brecht/Weill; Bobby Darin, many others
77. “MacPherson’s Lament”-traditional, fine version by Hamish Imlach
78. “Maria Lando”-Susana Baca
79. “Matty Groves”-Fairport Convention

Camarón de la Isla
80. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”-The Beatles
81. “Mercy Seat”-Nick Cave
82. “Merritville”-Dream Syndicate
83. “Mi Sangre Grita”- Camarón de la Isla
84. “Miriam”-Norah Jones
85. “Miss Otis Regrets”-by Cole Porter, many versions
86. “Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park”-The Cowboy Junkies
87. “Nancy Whiskey”-traditional
88. “Ocultei”-Elizeth Cardoso 
89. “Ode to Billy Joe”-Bobbie Gentry
90. “Oh, Darlin’, What Have I Done?”
91. “One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)”-Frank Sinatra, many others
92. “One Mechanic Town”-The Triffids
93. “Paint It, Black”-The Rolling Stones
94. “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”
95. “Pay Me”-Tom Waits
96. “Peg and Pete and Me”-Stan Ridgway
97. “Philby”-Rory Gallagher
98. “Psycho”-Puddle of Mudd
99. “Psycho Killer”-Talking Heads
100. “Rain Street”-The Pogues
101. “Red Right Hand”-Nick Cave
102. “Robbery, Assault and Battery”-Genesis
103. “Rocky Road to Dublin”-1976 live version by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners  
104. “Sam Hall”-Johnny Cash, others
105. “Seminole Bingo”-Warren Zevon
106. “She’s Hit”-The Birthday Party
107. “She’s Not There”-The Zombies
108. “Stagger Lee”/”Stack-O’Lee,” etc.-Lloyd Price, many others
109. “Stan”-Eminem
110. “Strange Fruit”-Billie Holiday
111. “Stranger Than Kindness”-Nick Cave
112. “Sunny Came Home”-Shawn Colvin
113. “Swamplands”
114.  Symphonie Fantastique-Hector Berlioz (composer)
115. “Teen Angel”-Mark Dinning
116. “That Georgia Sun Was Blood Red And Goin' Down"-Tanya Tucker
117. “The Ballad of Robert Moore and Betty Coltrane”-Nick Cave
118. “The Carny”-Nick Cave
119. “The Continental Op”-Rory Gallagher
120. “The Curse of Millhaven”-Nick Cave
121. “The Friend Catcher”-The Birthday Party
122. “The Heater”-The Mutton Birds
123. “The Loading”-Tom Cochrane
124. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia-Vicki Lawrence
125. “The Perfect Crime #2”-The Decembrists
126. “The Road Goes on Forever”-Robert Earl Keen
127. “The Rub”-Delbert McClinton
128. “The Shape I’m In”-The Band
129. “The Theme to Chinatown”
130. “Tom and Annie”-Deric Ruttan
131. “Tom Dooley”-traditional
132. “Too Much of Nothing”-Bob Dylan and the Band
133. “Trick of the Light”-The Who
134. “Unmade Love”-The Triffids
135. “Vagabond Holes”-The Triffids
136. “Walkin’ After Midnight”-Patsy Cline
137. “Watching the Detectives”-Elvis Costello
138. “Weila, Weila, Weila”-The Dubliners
139. “What’s Her Name Today?”-Elvis Costello
140. “Whiskey in the Jar”-The Dubliners, Thin Lizzy, others
141. “White City”-The Pogues
142. “Woods of Darney”-Richard Thompson
143. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”-Patty Loveless
144. “Zoo-Music Girl”-The Birthday Party
145. "Killing Floor"-Howlin' Wolf

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

In the tweet of the night

Wallace Stroby ‏Just realized this is the first presidential election night since 1986 I haven't spent in a newsroom. Miss it. Sort of.

DBeyondBorders @wallacestroby Nah, who needs all that congealed pizza?

Wallace Stroby @DBeyondBorders: Stale newsroom pizza = the smell of democracy in action.

DBeyondBorders @wallacestroby: Hunks of that democracy rancidifying in the pit of my digestive system now. You coming to Noircon? I can save you a slice.

Wallace Stroby @DBeyondBorders I'll be there. Enjoy that pizza. It's what makes America great.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Ross Thomas on politics and other absurd subjects

In honor of the day's events, I'm bringing back two posts I made way back at the beginning of the campaign season about Ross Thomas, a great political satirist, humorist, and Edgar Award-winning crime writer.
Thumbs up to Ross Thomas' The Seersucker Whipsaw for its title, its subject, and its humor.

The political strategists at the Pen & Pencil Club here in Philadelphia are almost as bad as the cigar smokers and the lawyers, but Thomas' operatives, plotting a campaign for the first election in the newly independent fictional African nation of Albertia, make the profession sound like delightful fun without being more cynical than thou:
"I'm going to call him Chief," Shartelle said firmly. "It’s the first time I’ve ever worked for anybody who was a real chief and I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to address him by his rightful title.”
The book is also full of amusing social observations about its time (it appeared in 1967):
“English lit—right?”

“Wrong. Letters.”


“As close to a classical education as Minnesota got that year. It was an experiment. A little Latin, and less Greek. It was to produce the well-rounded man. I think they abandoned it in favor of something called communications shortly after I was graduated.”
How good a writer was Thomas? He won two Edgar Awards, but I'm two-thirds of the way through the novel, no crime has been committed, and the book still works as highly entertaining political comedy.

With an American presidential election campaign on, the book will make especially entertaining reading. (Of course, there's almost always an American presidential campaign on.)
Speaking of American presidential campaigns, did I mention that, in a burst of serendipity Thomas could hardly have envisioned when he wrote the novel forty-five years ago, one of its characters is the Ile of Obahma? © Peter Rozovsky 2011

It's a strange land, where normal rules don't apply, where shifting tribal loyalties make life dangerous for the unwary, where even the most careful and idealistic visitors may soon get sucked into the intrigue and become indistinguishable from those whom they had previously affected to deplore.

It's Washington, D.C., and it's the setting for Ross Thomas's 1967 international thriller Cast a Yellow Shadow. Less overtly a satire of politics than the two Thomas novels I'd read previously (The Seersucker Whipsaw and The Fools in Town Are on Our Side), the book is nonetheless full of snippets of dialogue and nuggets of description evocative of their place and time in politics:
“The call came while I was trying to persuade a lameduck Congressman to settle his tab before he burned his American Express card. The tab was $18.35 and the Congressman was drunk and had already made a pyre of the cards he held from Carte Blanche, Standard Oil, and the Diner’s Club. He had used a lot of matches as he sat there at the bar drinking Scotch and burning the cards in an ashtray. `Two votes a precinct,' he said for the dozenth time. `Just two lousy votes a precinct.' “`When they make you an ambassador, you’ll need all the credit you can get,' I said as Karl handed me the phone.”
“He had watched it evolve from a virtually unexplored territory into a private preserve of the British South Africa Company, then into a colony, and finally into a self-governing country. Now he claimed it was independent, but Britain said it wasn’t and that its declaration of independence was tantamount to treason. Because of the chromium, the U.S. had made only gruff warnings about not recognizing the declaration.”
“It sounds like a typical American intelligence plot,” he said. “Only 2,032 things could go wrong—and probably will.”
Here are some notes about Ross Thomas and a Thomas bibliography. While you browse them, ponder these questions: What is your favorite Washington crime novel? Your favorite political crime novel?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Münster's Case, my review

My review of Münster's Case, sixth of Håkan Nesser's Van Veeteren novels to be published in English, appears in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
"Håkan Nesser has long disproved the stereotype that Scandinavian crime writers aren't funny," the review begins. "His humor is observational and quiet, however, rather than slapstick or outrageous.

"In Münster's Case, Nesser carries the quiet amusement further than ever before, at least in his novels available in English, making of it a major plot point that I won't give away here. But you'll get it as soon as you come to it."
(Read all my blog posts about Håkan Nesser, including an interview with him from 2008.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Sour on Swedes plus more on NoirCon

The wise and discerning keeper of the Crime Scraps Review blog, long a champion of Scandinavian crime fiction, asks after reading Autumn Killing by Mons Kallentoft: "Are we now getting the average Swedish crime novel translated simply because it is Swedish?"
Back in Philadelphia, Jeremiah Healy is the latest NoirCon 2012 attendee to weigh in with his thoughts on the conference: 
"This will be my third NoirCon, and I attended the first two. I think my favorite story from the conference/convention was learning that David Goodis didn't just write noir: He also lived it, and probably more from desperation than enjoyment. ...

"NoirCon is different from most other conferences/conventions in that it is dedicated to a sub-genre of crime writing, something like the EyeCons (focusing on private-investigator fiction) sponsored by Gary Niebuhr and Ted Hertel in Milwaukee and Robert Randisi and Christine Matthews in St. Louis. As a result, it's like a wine-tasting dedicated to one varietal, say Pinot Noir (sorry), and therefore an event in which all the attendees have a common, if narrower, interest."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Why they're coming to NoirCon, part II

It's a commonplace at crime conventions that the darker the writing, the more generous and gregarious the writer. Or maybe that's just the good vibes at NoirCon, the crime conference I'm proud to say takes place in Philadelphia every two years. NoirCon 2012 begins Thursday, and here's what a few more NoirCon panelists have to say about the event and its director. (Read previous huzzahs for NoirCon here.)
"Favorite NoirCon story — 2 a.m., some bar in Philly, drinking beers with Ken Bruen. And if I could remember it, I'm sure the conversation was brilliant.

"What's so different — Nobody's there to sell anything, nobody's slugging their latest book or their new series. We're there to talk about what we love to read.

"How's that?"

"Noircon 2012 is my second Noircon. From my experience at Noircon 2010, I can say that Lou Boxer is one of the great and most generous of conference organizers and hosts. When I first contacted him in 2010, it was too late for me to be on a panel or to write something for the Noircon 2010 program book. In the end Lou said, `Send me a one-page ad for your book (Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem).'

"I did, and it appeared at no charge in the back of the Noircon 2010 program book, notwithstanding that I was a new, unknown writer. Neato!

"The Noircon 2010 program book was a thing of beauty in and of itself, designed to look like a used 1950's pulp paperback collector's item. It even came in a plastic sleeve with a sticker showing the condition and price: VG 100--. It was intended to look like the paperback editions of the pulp novels of Jim Thompson, David Goodis and others of that period, with faux creases, rubbings, dirt stains, etc. on the cover.

"Unlike the hugeness of Bouchercon (which is fun in its own right), Noircon is a very intimate gathering of crime-story writers and fans, held in a vibrant inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood where there are great restaurants and bars for the overflow from the conference. Overall the quality of the presentations and panels in 2010 was excellent and more intellectually focused than Bouchercon.

"Without a doubt, Noircon is THE crime fiction writers' and fans' conference to attend."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Saturday, November 03, 2012

Why they're coming to NoirCon

NoirCon 2012 happens in Philadelphia next week. Here's what some of the panelists and honorees have to say about previous NoirCons and about why they'll be at this one. (Read more hosannas for NoirCon here.)
My favorite moment was [2010], when Christa Faust ran into the theater a few minutes late for her panel, Butch — her dog — scampering beside her on his leash. She was wearing a red skirt that matched his jacket and had gone to dark hair with a stripe of white to match Butch's coloring. It was the best entrance I've ever seen.

“There were several hilarious moments involving goat fornication, but I'll let someone else tell that story.

“This is my third Noircon. The intimacy of the venue and closeness of the group are what mainly bring me back, as well as the strict focus on noir and quality panels. Also, this year I came to pay my respect to two of my favorite writers, Harry Crews and Larry Brown.”

At the last, lovely NoirCon, I was the Keynote Speaker. The keynote speech, for reasons which only people who love Noir could forgive, was scheduled at an unusually early morning hour. The audience and I had been up late the night before imbibing freely at the sumptuous banquet. In the morning, we were all enveloped in that atmospheric swirl of dislocation and loss of identity by which the art of Noir lives, breathes and propagates. I scarcely had to lift my voice.

“This year, I am stranded in my apartment in Paris (no hardship at all, by the way) by Hurricane Sandy, and will fly in Saturday night to a Greenwich Village which is without electricity, heat, water or phone service. Once again, Noir form is following Noir function. And my four days in New York will be a fine preparation for this year's NoirCon.

“What makes NoirCon different from all other conferences is the genius, enthusiasm, the solid sweat equity, and the real love of Noir its wonderful director and co-founder Lou Boxer has exhibited for the genre, the conference, and all of NoirCon's participants. Our native American art form of Noir – it's the black backside of the American Dream – owes a great deal to this conference.”

This is my first Noircon. What attracted me is that I was asked to be the Guest of Honor, and no one could resist that.”

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, November 02, 2012

The Cold Cold Ground comes to America

I've been asked where I acquired this jones I have for Irish crime writing, and my answer is simple: from Irish crime writers.

Adrian McKinty is among those writers whose books have taught me so much and entertained me so well. Now, thanks to the excellent folks at Seventh Street Books, American readers can easily get their hands on his latest novel.

The Cold Cold Ground is hard-hitting and funny and very human, and it paints a plausible picture of what it must really have been like for ordinary folks to live through Northern Ireland's Troubles, circa the early 1980s.

The book is very possibly the best crime novel published in English in 2012, no shock from an author long a favorite here at DBB, and it lands in America just in time for holiday gift-giving. (And yep, the publishing company is named for the street where Edgar Allan Poe lived in Philadelphia. How cool is that?)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

What, besides the words, makes a noir song a noir song?

Previous posts about noir and crime songs (click the link, then scroll down) elicited suggestions based mostly on what a song says — its lyrics.

But what about how it says what it says — its vocal inflections, its instrumental breaks, its production, its orchestration if you've chosen a piece of classical music? (Yes, classical, perhaps opera especially, can be noir. Think of Carmen.)

What does Shane MacGowan add when he drops his voice on the line "There ain't much else for kids to do" on "Rain Street"? What about the ghostly refrain of "Maria Lando," at first a chorus, separate from Susana Baca's lead voice, joining with her on the words solo trabaja ... Maria only works and never has time to raise her eyes toward the sky?

Think of those noir and crime songs that make you shiver, and tell me what, besides the words, makes you feel the way you do: the arrangement? A chilling flatness or an emotional catch in the singer's voice? Just to make things difficult, what are the literary equivalents of those tools? How does an author produce the effect in a reader that Billie Holiday's voice does in a listener?
I'll be talking about crime and noir songs next week at NoirCon 2012 in Philadelphia. If you don't come to hear my Project Noir Songs, come and meet Lawrence Block, Joyce Carol Oates, Megan Abbott, Duane Swierczynski, Otto Penzler, Vicki Hendricks, and many more. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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