Saturday, September 07, 2013

Bouchercon 2013 panels: Keeping it fresh, the Dana King edition

Here's a recycled post about how one of my Bouchercon 2013 panelists keeps things fresh. Such a question may be especially relevant on a panel that will discuss the tradition-encrusted genres of noir and hard-boiled fiction. The author in question, Dana King, may well have such matters on his mind already; he'll also appear at one of Bouchercon's new Author's Choice sessions, discussing “Is Chandler' s Concept of the Ideal Hero Still Relevant?”
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I write occasionally about how crime writers keep established sub-genres such as P.I. or spy stories fresh (here, here, here).

Dana King's Wild Bill makes a running theme of one such example: FBI organized-crime agents' complaints that their resources are being depleted by another, more headline-grabbing priority:
“Rumor had it he had his eye on moving to an upcoming counterterrorism task force that could be a career maker, organized crime too Twentieth Century for him.”
*
“`Frank Ferraro might be the most dangerous criminal in the country. The only reason he’s not on the Most Wanted list is because he shaves and doesn’t wear a rag on his head.'”
*
“`About half our resources will be assigned to counterterrorism.'”
*
“`Careers are easier to make in counterterrorism than in OC.'”
That's some canny updating by King, a forceful case that gangster stories are still relevant, and another of the pleasures of this impressive book. Now I'll ask you once again: How do your favorite crime writers keep well-established sub-genres fresh, relevant, and contemporary?
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Dana King will be part of my "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany on Friday, Sept. 20, at 10:20 a.m. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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18 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Well, off the top of my head, the whole detective genre was revitalized back in the 80s by the advent of the female PI, particularly Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky.

James Church putting an Inspector into the sealed world of North Korea was a terrific idea.

Adrian McKinty's using the police procedural as a way to talk about wartorn Northern Ireland was another.

October 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's hard for me to appreciate what that first group of writers did because they were established big names by the time I came along.

I haven't read Church, I'm afraid -- no excuse. Nothing could be odder than trying to solve crimes in North Korea. Only reason I'd not have thought of "Cold Cold Ground" and its follow-up as rejuvenating the police procedural is that I don't think of them as police procedurals, I think of them as stories about Northern Ireland.

October 01, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

That's okay--we're supposed to be coming up with things you haven't thought of yet, right?

October 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, that's why you folks are here. Grafton, Muller, Paretsky et al. have probably created the biggest change in the P.I. novel in the last twenty-five years. I wonder what the popular and critical reaction was to their early books. Pretty good, I imagine; they kept writing, after all. But I wonder what sorts of things were said.

October 01, 2012  
Blogger seana graham said...

Here's one reaction.

October 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Very nice. Thanks.

October 01, 2012  
Blogger Charlieopera said...

Dana King is doing it right now. The Mob is dead? Maybe in real life, as a genre, it will always have fans. When the writing is as good as King's, the genre is assured a long distance run.

October 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Having mobsters reminiscing about the old days and fretting that things are not what they used to be would have been easy. Having FBI organized-crime agents as the worriers was wonderfully effective and novel, I thought.

October 11, 2012  
Blogger Gerald So said...

One technique that keeps things fresh for me as a reader is setting a traditional genre novel in contemporary times. The protagonist, antagonist, and other characters may be cut from the same cloth as always, but the changes that have occurred with time compel the characters to change in turn.

Robert B. Parker first succeeded by bringing a Philip Marlowe type into the 1970s, and while he ostensibly kept pace with time over thirty-nine books, many of them only mention the current year in passing while further details are made up or left out. In his Spenser continuation novels (ROBERT B. PARKER'S LULLABY, ROBERT B. PARKER'S WONDERLAND), Ace Atkins genuinely moves the characters into the 2010s, aging them a bit, and referring to current events, places, and technology. These specific details no doubt date the work, but they also make the characters more sympathetic overall because they seem to live in the same world we do--not a world of indefinite time, made-up places, and less detail.

Atkins does similar updating in his own Quinn Colson series (THE RANGER, THE LOST ONES, THE BROKEN PLACES) Colson is cut from the cloth of Old Western heroes, but he is also a 29-year-old Army veteran of the war on terror who moved back to his Mississippi hometown.

September 08, 2013  
Anonymous JJ Stick said...

George Pelecanos freshened the PiI novel with The Cut. He brought both an update in attitude and technology.

September 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerald: Does Ace Atkins age the characters in his Spenser novels? For that matter, did Parker? (I've read only a few early books in the series, and that years ago.)

One of the makers of Sherlock said some interesting things at Crimefest: The show's contemporary setting is faithful to the original because its gadgets and technology are what Holmes would be using today. Doyle wrote Holmes not as Victorian curiosity, but as a character using the technology available to him, so the new series does the same.

September 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerald: I see that you mentioned Atkins does age the characters. I should have paid better attention before replying.

September 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

JJ: Talk me into reading The Cut. What does Pelecanos so in the way up updating and fresh-keeping (other than just writing well!)?

September 08, 2013  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Peter: Parker aged Spenser for the first few books, but as the series became a sure, yearly thing, he understandably slowed or even stopped Spenser's aging.

Spenser's age is only explicitly given in the first book (THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT - 1973): 37 years old. Since then, Parker (and now Atkins) have alluded to the effects of aging without giving a definite number.

September 08, 2013  
Anonymous Mike Dennis said...

Put me on the list that likes Dana King's writing. I did a favorable review of WILD BILL on Amazon some time back, and he has lived up to his promise.

September 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerald: I was in Boston when Parker's career was just getting started. I read one or two of the early books, but that was well before I started reading crime fiction in a big way.

I remember thinking Spenser seemed like a regular guy. I did not realize at the time what a big deal that was.

September 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mike, did you post that review under your own name?

September 09, 2013  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Peter: I also thought Spenser seemed like a regular guy, not a Holmesian genius two steps ahead of everyone else. Early on, he didn't say much about the code of behavior with which he would become synonymous.

I wouldn't go so far as to say Spenser came to rest on his laurels. Parker wrote book after book, not meticulous about continuity between them; however, it's difficult for me--as a longtime fan--to read a middle or late Spenser book and not give Spenser a reputation based on the previous books. With previous books in mind, he can seem to be growing smug or complacent in later books.

September 10, 2013  

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