Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fred and Ed

I posted six years ago and again in 2011 about Ed McBain's far-flung influence on other crime writers, citing tributes from such authors as Ireland's Ken Bruen, Britain's David Hewson, and Sweden's Kjell Eriksson.

Still, I was gobsmacked when doing research for a review of Fred Vargas' latest novel to find that she, too, reveres the author of the 87th Precinct mysteries. "I am reading him for the third time," she told L'Express two years ago. McBain, she said, would "write a novel with five intersecting stories, and there was no relationship between them."

Quirky, fey Fred Vargas? I thought. Tough, gritty, Ed McBain? But by God, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, the novel that was the subject of my review and the occasion of Vargas' Express interview, juggles stories big and small, bringing them beautifully to the appropriate degree of conclusion, just as McBain did in Nocturne, the best of the few 87th Precinct books I've read.

And now readers, your question: What are your favorite examples of surprising literary influence?
*
(Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

Labels: , , ,

46 Comments:

Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

My favorite writer, Martin Amis, cites the pulp sci-fi novels of Bob Shaw as a favorite. I own a couple, but haven't dipped in yet.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I blush to admit that I've read neither of those guys, but Marin Amis citing a pulp sci-fi writer is exactly the sort of thing I have in mind. What does he like about Bob Shaw's writing?

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

He's said many great things about Shaw, especially 'Wreath of Stars', but among all the words he's written about him, this stood out to me: "... easily the most accomplished of the younger British stable, he has one insuperable advantage over his contemporaries: he can write." So it's that simple, maybe.

My favorite Amis is London Fields, but if you ever want to try him, you might read 'Night Train.' It's a quick one, and it's Amis' attempt at crime noir.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

I cannot speak of influence, but I was intrigued when I first learned about 2 residents of 7 Middagh Street (Brooklyn) in the 40s: W. H. Auden and Gypsy Rose Lee. Auden was a big fan of detective/crime fiction (which is surprising), and GRL (of all people) was a writer of crime fiction (with at least one published crime novel to her credit). BTW, other residents at the Brooklyn residence included--at various times in a several year period--George Davis (magazine editor), Richard Wright (novelist), Carson McCullers (novelist), and a few musicians/composers (including Leonard Bernstein). It would have been an education (in all sense of that word) to have been a fly on the wall of that Brooklyn brownstone.

Now, somewhere in all of that, is a response to your question. Well, sort of a response.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

BTW, on top of all of that, my memory now reminds me that a monkey--of all things--shared the house for a while.

And do not get me started on the bohemian sexual shenanigans of the residents! That in itself would be fodder for a crime novel.

BTW, Auden had a reputation for having the most disgusting personal hygiene. That alone should have been the catalyst for murder!

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: I'm not at all certain there's an answer to my question anywhere in there, but it was a most enjoyable reply, not least because one can't help wondering what it would cost to rent an apartment in a similar building today.

I do wonder how much those folks talked to their neighbors. And yes, I knew Gypsy Rose Lee had written as least one crime novel. I have not read it, but I have seen several favorable mentions of it.

I had heard nothing about Auden's hygiene until now. Was he kicked out of England because he refused to brush his teeth?

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Wikipedia article on Auden contains a picture of a memorial plaque at the house of his birth, in York. I wandered around York for a few days last year, but I missed that plaque.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, I think that more than reading Amis or Shaw, I'd like to read Amis' comments about Shaw, especially if he goes into some detail.

I enjoyed Vargas' comments about Ed McBain both because I would not otherwise have associated the two in any way and because her comments highlighted an aspect of her own work that I might not otherwise have thought of. More generally, in reinforced my respect for the possibility that good authors read more than just the type of books that they themselves write.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., in that company, I'd wager that the monkey was one of the million monkeys who wrote Shakespeare's plays on a million typewriters in a million years.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

And still on the subject of Ed McBain, yet another person he influenced was the Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, who made the movie High and Low from McBain's King's Ransom. I saw it a long time ago, and though at that time I was more interested in the samurai stuff, my sister gave me a DVD of it, and I am going to enjoy watching it again.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

First, there is this:
http://harpers.org/archive/1948/05/the-guilty-vicarage/

Then, I offer you this (again because Blogger devoured my previous attempt): I think Auden influenced GRL in her writing adventure, so perhaps my digression is somewhat responsive to your prompt.

Further, I offer you this: A number of years ago, I and a colleague were working on a book about the Brooklyn Heights household, so I did a lot of research into the whole circus. My colleague’s agent moved too slowly with the publishers, and we were beaten to the punch by another writer (see the book, February House). So, the book died, and the house no longer exists; it was razed to make room for an expanded expressway. My colleague (a Carson McCullers scholar) has gone on to other pastures (while I continue to languish in academia), and he recently joined up with S. J. Rozan to write and publish a thriller (under a joint pseudonym).

The monkey—no writer, as far as I recall—was owned by George Davis, a prominent magazine editor who got himself into difficulties (and got himself beat up a few times) when cruising for sailors in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Auden, notorious for horrible hygiene, left England because of politics (pacifism) rather than filth.

And the more you would learn about Auden, McCullers, GRL, and others in that household, you more you would be convinced that somewhere in all of that is a murder mystery waiting to be written.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Peter, you might be interested in digging through this article. I can't imagine the whole gargantuan thing would be of much interest to someone not an Amis fan. Amis used to review sci-fi novels under a pseudonym, and this article contains a lot of detail about his opinion on quite a lot of it. I do think it might be of at least some interest to you, because it's awfully rare for such an acclaimed literary writer who ISN'T a sci-fi writer to have so much to say about sci-fi.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

And I forgot to link it! http://www.strangehorizons.com/2009/20090622/davis-a.shtml

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

RT, I would say that the obvious solution is that you should write that mystery novel.

Kelly, I wonder if Martin might have BEEN a sci fi writer if he hadn't had to live up to Kingsley.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that's right. I've mentioned High and Low and its source, though I'm not sure I did so in one of my Ed McBain posts. Another Kurosawa movie you miight like is Stray Dog, which includes an early performance by Toshiro Mifune, maybe his first, and also Takashi Shimura, who may be the greatest movie actor ever.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: George Davis got beaten up cruising for sailors? By Bernstein and Auden claiming that they had seen the sailors first?

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, thanks for the article. I liked the epigraph. I saw Freaks when I was 12 years old, and a disquieting experience it was.

As for the photograph that accompanies the article, I know the 1970 may have been the worst decade in the history of fashion. Still, Martin Amis will have to account in the next world for his having dressed like that in this one.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, here is the link to the article in handy, one-click form. Readers who have a bad reaction to self-serious foppery might want to avoid looking at the photograph of Martin Amis, though.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ooh, and I just noticed that the caption misspells Kingsley Amis' name. This is fun!

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

No, Peter, Gypsy Rose had first dibs on the sailors.

Seana, I could not write such a novel. I would get hung up on choosing a victim and a murderer from that group. They are all much too loveable for words. (Well, perhaps Auden could have been eliminated--his personality would make him a likely candidate for homicide; however, he was the glue that held the group together.)

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., if you don't want to write that story as a mystery novel, make it a television situation comedy. You could call it "Twenty-three's Company." Or, if you prefer a crime story after all, given the sexual shenanigans that you speculate went on it that house, you could make your story an unlocked-room mystery.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

No, I couldn't write the book. I had put my energies into the earlier attempt but was trumped by February House.

Of course, perhaps you are onto something. As a tribute to Poe, the plot could have women stuffed up into the chimney. Reader would find out that the monkey did it (after it had been trained and prompted by one of Davis's sailors).

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My version would have to be far more snickering, insinuating, and lascivious than that. (Out of respect for your sensibilities, I avoided writing "snickeringly and insinuatingly lascivious.")

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

This adverbaphobe wholeheartedly thanks you.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The occasionally careless adverboaddict says, "You're welcome" with his whole heart.

May 19, 2013  
Anonymous Ellicia said...

One of the most surprising to me was the influence of Raymond Chandler on Dr. Seuss from one of the commenters on your blog sometime last year. I love that. I now look for hidden meanings when I read Dr. Seuss.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, I think I learned from that same commenter that the two had been neighbors. Dr. Seuss made me what I am today, so it may be no surprise that I have gravitated toward crime fiction.

Hmm, remember that opening scene of The Big Sleep, where Philip Marlowe arrives at Gen. Sternwood's house? The opening of The Cat in the Hat is obviously a thinly disguised rewrite.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

RT, none of them would die of course. It would be some outsider or maybe more. I'm sure the field was rife with possibilities.

It would be good to use all that research you did for something.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But I get credit for coining "unlocked-room mystery"!

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Maybe you could cowrite it, Peter.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I generally come up with the ideas and let others do the work, but I could make an exception.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Alas, there will be no book written by me. The muse does not speak to me. I can barely manage reviews anymore. I just finished one for America magazine, and it was agony. So, I take my short attention span mind, and focus only on teaching indefinitely (or until someone has to call 911 so that I can be carried feet first out of the classroom for one grand final exit).

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

All right R.T., but if the muse does speak, then you must obey.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., what I hear you saying is that this unlocked-room mystery about a passel of hygienically indifferent literary celebrities will be a short story.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Or flash fiction?

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Perish the thoughts of "flash" and the 7 Middagh Street crowd being uttered in the same breath.

Short story, huh? Perhaps.

I will see if the muse speaks in the near future. But I have my doubts.

Flash! Indeed!

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

It's a very popular form, though, perhaps because everyone's attention spat my is shrinking. Not my favorite, I have to admit, but I have read some good pieces at times.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Span. Not spat my.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

But "spat my" is much more intriguing!

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Very nice, R.T. You beat me to the punch on that. I was going to suggest that that randy bunch did more than just flash.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Ah, Peter, if you only knew half of what I discovered in my research, you would blush.

And here is the really ugly part of the whole story: the colleague had all of my notes (which I no longer have, and he isn't sharing), so I rely only upon my swiss-cheese memory to tell tales about Auden et al.

If you want the second-string version, check out the book February House (which BTW I could never bring myself to read since the author beat us to the punch).

Finally, I can never read an Auden poem without thinking about him holding court in the Brooklyn brownstone. The same goes for reading Carson McCullers and Richard Wright. And if I ever have a chance to see a video of one of those grand old Leonard Bernstein concerts for young people (from the 50s), I would not enjoy the experience (i.e., the Brooklyn Heights connection would taint the event).

Seana and Peter, I think the short story--if ever written--will include the monkey, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Auden as principal characters. The other folks were much less colorful (except for George Davis--and using him for a character would be like shooting fish in a barrel).

Now, let me see if the muse will speak!

May 19, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

"That monkey spat my ______ out the window this morning," Auden remarked to Gypsy Rose Lee over breakfast. "Something really ought to be done."

You take it from there.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"It's a very popular form, though, perhaps because everyone's attention spat ..."



I quite like "Attention Spat" as a title. I presume you mean flash fiction. I waver between thinking it an exhibitionistic game, on the one hand, and merely today's version of the old short-short on the other.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., you could make an urban-fantasy story in which the phenomenon of the reality TV show exists when that house is at its wildest and most literary.

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And here's your title: "The Monkey and the Stripper."

May 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Monkey spit!" Auden roared, throwing his arms skyward in a gesture clearly meant to convey exasperation.

"Er, Wystan," said Leonard Bernstein, windmilling his arms and wrinkling his nose.

May 19, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home