Sunday, February 23, 2014

Not that it really matters, but I was just thinking that when I'm king of the world ...

Today I play newspaper columnist again and delight you with random observations disguised as work.

1) Based on the open chapters of Irregulars, Kevin McCarthy would have made a splendid member of my wartime and its aftermath panel at Bouchercon 2013.

2) Dashiell Hammett is popularly thought of as the antithesis of the old-style, rationalist, traditional mystery, and he made great fun of, say, S.S. Van Dyne. But an old-fashioned mystery-type solution lies at the heart of the mystery in Hammett's splendid 1924 story "Women, Politics and Murder." That solution takes up maybe a single paragraph, though. Rather than steamroll or satirize or eradicate the tradition, Hammett's early stories build around it, in the manner of a great city growing up around a settlement of rude huts.

3) Moshe Halbertal's book Maimonides: Life and Thought, discussed in this space Tuesday, suggests that Maimonides in some ways anticipated 20th-century ideas about the limits of language. I reflected on my own experience, and I thought, "Some people reach those limits earlier than Halbertal, Maimonides, and Wittgenstein thought." 

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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14 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Still haven't gotten to The Irregulars, even though I won it here.

I read a biography of Maimonides at some point, and I'm thinking it was the one by Abraham Heschel, though why I think it and what I have retained are big mysteries.

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Dana King said...

Even in THE MALTESE FALCON, Hammett lays out the solution to a problem at the end of the book, not too dissimilar from the traditionalists, when Spade tells Brigid he's sending her over, and how he figured it out. More than a paragraph, though probably less than a page. Hammett's greatness--in addition to the style he pioneered--was how he put into the story exactly what was needed; no less, but also no more. He needed to wrap up Archer's death, which was, after all, the inciting incident. A vestigial bit of traditional mystery convention served the purpose, so he used it.

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, those opening pages of Irregulars not only are rich with atmosphere, but with atmosphere that seems plausible for the time McCarthy portrays. You're probably read a book or two about the hard lives of ordinary people during war; McCarthy does a fine job with that part of the story. This hits home especially as the characters have just been through a war of independence and now find themselves in a horrible civil war.

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I hadn't thought of the Maltese Falcon speech that way. I have heard it said that Chandler's style was easier to imitate and parody than Hammett's, but the long, end-of-novel speech that wraps it all up has been imitated many times.

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Maimonides will tell you it's all right to contemplate mysteries, once you've mastered your logic, mathematics, and physics first.

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I'll also have to pay attention to the presence of those traditional-mystery elements is stronger in his earlier stories than his later ones. It occupies an interesting place in "Women, Politics and Murder." On the one hand, it is essential to the solution of the crime. On the other, it's probably not the most essential part of the story.

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I'm reading some Hammett short stories right now, and I'm afraid to say that I'm not loving them. Maybe I'm so married to noir these days that the hardboiled style is too pat for me. I can't put my finger on it yet, but maybe I will by the time I finish the collection.

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're a brave woman to speak against orthodox opinion. What stories have you read? Some of his stories feel hastily brought to a conclusion, as if Hammett did not know how to wrap the superb material that had gone before. "The Whosis Kid" fits that bill, and so, some readers have said, does "The Gutting of Couffignal."

February 24, 2014  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I'm reading a collection on my e-reader, WHO KILLED BOB TEAL & OTHER STORIES.

The title story has been the most interesting so far. I don't know that I'm brave so much as I'm just too old to care much what people think of me. I like what I like. I expected to like these more, but maybe they're just not great stories.

March 01, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, i found one collection under that title that includes a number of stories that are not among Hammett's best. But that collection does include "Arson Plus," which is pretty good, and I probably like the title story better than you do.

My favorite Hammett stories include "The House on Turk Street," "The Girl With the Silver Eyes," (the second is a sequel to the first)"Creeping Siamese", "Women, Politics and Murder" (also published as "Death on Pine Street"), the sequence of "The Big Knockover" and "$106,000 Blood Money," and "The Scorches Face." You might like those better, or else maybe Hammett's short fiction is not your cup of tea, a refreshing reminder of the infinite variety of human taste.

March 01, 2014  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

If I'd done a business degree and not an arts degree, been a banker and not a teacher/novelist...I'd a been there, Peter! (Next year, deffo, next year!)

By the by, I'm reading Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr at the moment. Witty, profound and v well written. You'd love it and very relevent to anyone who loves words, books and bullshit!

March 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kevin, many thanks for being that book to my attention. The topic of swearing pops up from time to time, as you would expect, in discussions of hard-boiled and crime writing, and the discussion would not surprise youl. Pro-swearers say oaths are gritty and authentic. The anti-cursing camp insists that swearing is a crutch and has gone too far.

Both sides are right. Swearing, like anything else in writing, is done poorly often and, rarely, well. I've cited examples of good swearing here at Detectives Beyond Borders. (One of my favorite vehicles for swearing is The Thick of It.) It's interesting to think that such a subject has a history.

I would also like to see the book reviewed in American newspapers. You may know that American media are highly puritanical about swearing. A reviewer for my newspaper had great fun writing about a fine little book called On Bullshit.

March 06, 2014  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

The Thick of It rules for swearing. AS do Dec Burke's books. There's actually a lot in the book about specifically American attitudes to swearing. Distance to taboo object etc. Peace!

March 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peace, my ass!

Remember the scene in The Thick of It where Malcolm Tucker tells Phil Smith exactly what he'll do to him if he says anything about Nicola Murray's daughter's problems in school (all while Ollie Reeder hides behind a door giggling?) I memorized the scene and for a while went around reciting it, though I had to choose my audiences carefully.

March 08, 2014  

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