Saturday, April 05, 2014

Trevanian and the slice o' life, or McFetridge, Montreal, Toronto, and Hamilton

I'm not sure I'd have compared Trevanian's 1976 novel The Main with John McFetridge's novels had McFetridge not written about it in Books to Die For.  Knowing of McFetridge's love for the novel, and having just finished reading it myself, though, I recognize The Main as an earlyish example of a kind of crime writing at which McFetridge excels: that in which the protagonist's life is at least as integral to the story as are the crimes he solves or commits.

The Main's Lt. Claude LaPointe has a problematic domestic situation and trouble with his boss, as do a million other fictional cops. But Trevanian delves so deeply into LaPointe's inner life, and he so efficiently but fully fleshes that boss out as a character, that the conflicts seem fresh and deeply felt. The same goes for a number of the novel's other minor characters. They may be minor, but they feel like more than just plot devices. Like McFetridge's Toronto novels, The Main offers an affectionate, unsentimental look at the city where it is set. As in McFetridge's Black Rock, that city is Montreal. Unlike Black Rock, The Main lacks a police photographer named Rozovsky,

In what other crime novels is the protagonist's life as important as the crimes he or she solves? In which novels are the alcoholism, troubled relationships, and clashes with authority more than mere window dressing?

 *
Here's a bit of my recent non-crime reading that is ripe with potential for a dark crime story:
"For it is a truth, which the experience of ages has attested, that the people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion."
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 25
© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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14 Comments:

Blogger RT said...

In a classic murder tale, the backstory for Cain and Abel deserves special attention; their circumstances are more than mere window dressing.

How is that for a too simple response to your question which deserves a more thoughtful response?

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is often cited as the first murder story in our literary tradition, but your comment sparks an additional insight: It may also be the first mystery story involving a family, which may put it first in a line that would later include Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Thanks for that thoughtful and thought-provoking comment.

April 06, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trevanian sounds like the name of a character in an episode of Star Trek. One word noms de plume always sound ridiculous and phoney and this one is no different. No great harm, though. It's the book that matters, not the name of the author.

If you haven't seen the movie version of The Eiger Sanction you haven't missed anything. It's probably the worst thing Eastwood ever directed. I haven't read Trevanian so I can't say if the movie is faithful to the novel but rather damningly one of the screenwriters was Rod Whitaker himself.

The quote from Alexander Hamilton contains so many circumlocutions that if said circumlocutions were introduced into the Large Hadron Collider they would throw the said Collider into such a tizzy that it would probably blow up Switzerland. Since Switzerland's primary cultural innovation seems to have been the cuckoo clock, perhaps, this would be no great harm.

But I'm curious. Did Hamilton support his rather insubstantial abstractions with concrete examples?

April 06, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

I'm not sure if Hamilton is speaking to our times. We do know what groups are injuring our rights, but we don't seem to be able to do very much about it.

I haven't read Trevanian, but Shibumi is the one that has often been recommended to me.

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: I was reading the Federalist Papers on an e-reader, but I just this afternoon found my old paperback copy. I'll see if the introduction or notes contain anything on that point. In the meantime, I think one can read Hamilton's declaration as a statement of that old injunction to beware of one who gets too close to you, familiar to viewers of gangster movies or readers of Jeremiah 9:4:

"Everyone, be on guard against your neighbor, don't trust even a brother; for every brother is out to trick you, and every neighbor goes around gossiping."

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My recent reading about Trevanian has turned up raves for Shibumi. It would be interesting for purposes of comparison to read one of his thrillers.

Whether because he was writing about a city not his own (though he had relatives from Montreal), or whether because he was stepping out of his accustomed genre, or for some other reason, he lays he research on heavily in this book. It almost always works, but I'd be curious to see if his thrillers show the same tendency.

April 06, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Funny, but Hamilton's mistrust of his fellow men seems very much in the spirit of those Pascal quotes that Ken Bruen's Priest is laced with. I am not really used to thinking of the world as a place of such misanthropy.

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marc (if that is indeed you): I have read that Whitaker chose the name to honor his wife’s fondness for G.M. Trevelyan. So, while Trevanian may be even more pompous than most one-word pen names, at least it’s a testament to domestic love. Besides, if you wanted to write tough, hard-hitting thrillers, and your name was Rodney, wound’t you choose an alias?

Thanks for the heads up on the filmed Eiger Sanction. I still may seek out the novel, though, because The Main is such a compelling, thoroughly professional production.

Circumlocution not just in political polemic, but in political polemic of the eighteen century? No! Maybe Hamilton did not benefit the sort of copy editing Thomas Jefferson received when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'm no expert in either the man or the period, but I suspect that his assertions stemmed at least in part from tactical considerations and rhetorical convention. His purpose in The Federalist Papers was not to set forth a view of human nature, and not even to argue that government was bad. Rather, he was doing what he could to persuade readers that one form of government (that proposed in the Constitution) was better suited to holding the stated together than another (the Confederation). I wonder to what extent his political thought was original, and to what extent it was a trope of the times.

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: I don't know enough about Pascal to judge whether he was a misanthrope. By coincidence, I was reading a short collection of the Pensées this week and, while I don't know if Pascal hated humanity, he seems not to have liked Montaigne much.

April 06, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

I'm not sure if it's his whole line of thought, but at any rate one of Bruen's quotes is Pensées 451:
"All men naturally hate each other."

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, if he's going to write a work that consists largely of epigrams and stray thoughts, too bad for Pascal if readers don't grasp the totality of his thinking.

April 06, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Besides, if you wanted to write tough, hard-hitting thrillers, and your name was Rodney, wound’t you choose an alias?

There's some truth in that. But not much. The Aussies are probably the most macho inclined males in the 'Western' world and they have given us Rod Laver, one of the best tennis players of the sixties, and Rod Taylor, not one of the best actors of the sixties.

Rodney in its shortened form is a slang term for the penis, and I can't see any male thriller writer thinking he'll sound soft if he's called Rod. Peter, for some reason that escapes me, is also a slang term for the penis. Perhaps, you're better versed on that than I am.

Hamilton's quote essentially says: History shows that people will be fucked by the rulers they trust the most.

That's fourteen words; Hamilton takes forty words to say the same thing. Let's withdraw the charge of circumlocution, if it bothers you. Let's just call him longwinded.

But I was more interested in the substance of his remark than in the quality of his prose. He makes a major claim and major claims require major evidence and I was curious to know if he provided any.

Somehow I doubt that he did. How can one tell if a society has more trust in its leaders than another society. Today we have Gallup polls that give us some objective data on how people feel about their government. But such things did not exist in Hamilton's day nor before.
And even if they had, what questions would the pollers have asked:

How do you feel about Vlad the Impaler's approach to law and order? What do you think of Attila the Hun's foreign policy? Do you approve of Genghis Khan's sex life?

Unless you can show otherwise, Hamilton was just bullshitting with that remark.

April 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know much about tennis, but I regard Rod Laver's winning two Grand Slams as the greatest accomplishment in the history of the game, if not in all of sports. But had he played as "Rodney" rather than "Rod," would his legacy have been as imposing as it is?

What isn't slang for penis? I hope you'll have heard of Peter Schmuck, who has long written about baseball for the Baltimore Sun. I presume his parents spoke German, and no Yiddish. I also wonder if he has a brother named Richard.

Pollsters might have asked whether Attila projected an image of leadership, and whether Timur ought to try to project a softer image.

Hamilton cited no historical evidence in that particular Federalist Paper; I'm not sure if he takes up the proposition elsewhere, so I'm not yet prepared to call him bullshitter. But if the commonsense component of his argument ("Be wary of those who are close to you") is valid but the historical precedent to which he alludes non-existent, is he still a bullshitter?

One must remember also that he was writing no treatise, but rather a
rapid-fire series of short pieces intended to persuade his readers.

April 06, 2014  

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