Friday, October 03, 2014

The books my Bouchercon panelists die for

Five members of panels I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach next month contributed to Books to Die For, John Connolly and Declan Burke's 2012 collection of essays by crime writers about their own favorite crime novels and stories. Here's some of what my panelist/contributors had to say about the writers who influenced them:
"Dexter's books are essentially puzzles. He once said that he was as anxious for the detective to manage without a pathology lab as he was for the crossword puzzler to manage without a dictionary."
-- Paul Charles on Colin Dexter 
"For all the talk of Hammett and Chandler as the founders of the hard-boiled feasts--and I revere them as much as the next guy or gal--it's Spillane and [James M.] Cain who were the most influential."
-- Max Allan Collins on Mickey Spillane 
"As she grew more successful and confident, the humanity began to drain from her books. Most of us would not act like the unruffled, aloof Tom Ripley, but every one of us could see himself falling into the abyss of cowardice and mendacity that finally drives poor Guy Haines to kill."
-- Adrian McKinty on Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train 
"The greatest thing I've gained from Ellroy is the will to take my characters farther and deeper into the dark places than I, or the reader, might be comfortable with."
-- Stuart Neville on James Ellroy 
"This was not literature that uplifted the race. Cooper wasn't profiled in the pages of Ebony or, I imagine, discussed much, if at all, among the self-identified arts and literature crowd. The Urban League wouldn't be inviting him to speak at their annual dinner."
-- Gary Phillips on Clarence Cooper Jr.'s The Scene
===========================================
Paul Charles, Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 on Friday, Nov. 14, at 11:30 a.m.  Max Allan Collins and Gary Phillips will be part of my Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras panel Friday at 3 p.m..

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

22 Comments:

Blogger RT said...

Paul Charles is clearly a genius. Anyone who admires Colin Dexter is a very smart fellow. As for the other contributors, well, they're alright (I suppose), but Charles sets the bar high.

October 03, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He doesn't just admire Colin Dexter; Dexter is what got him started as a writer, a story he tells in his essay. I also like what McKinty and Collins had to say, though Collins does not consider Hammett's and Chandler's possible influence on Spillane. Still, he (Collins) wrote a provocative and, I think, original piece. I hope he and I will have a chance to discuss this, on the panel or off.

October 03, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Who and where I cannot recollect, likely because I was so disgusted I instantly dismissed both as not worth storage space, but I read recently the comment that Colin Dexter's novels only get the attention they do because of the TV series, and are of no great merit in themselves. I should so much like BBC radio to have a programme on Radio 4 that begins with the intro, "Hello. My name is Philip and you are listening to the Apoplexy Hour". You get the general idea, I'm sure.

And thus, though I never took to his own novels, I appreciate muchly Paul Charles appreciation of Dexter and its seconding by RT. Indeed, the latter caused me to click on his initials, and so to his blog, Beyond Eastrod, which I swiftly bookmarked. I recommend it most highly, and would suggest to readers here that they check out especially his post of Sept. 25 headed, "The Sky is falling...". It reminded me vividly of an experience teaching an undergrad class in 1976 here in Canada and discovering the sky had already fallen.

May I say, returning to the Dexter point, that I would rank with him in this regard Reginald Hill, less happily televised, and the recipient of far less appreciation than his wondrous novels make clear he deserves. I think his Dalziel and Pascoe series, the later entries most notably, have about them a perfection.

I have a general sense that the lesser are crowding out the greater of late, and I'm going to end this ramble, lest Blogger end it for me, with just a sort of teaser, I suppose. If anyone should be game to make bold and look at two authors hugely acclaimed by cognoscenti but barely known otherwise, try Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series, especially if you want to learn much of the byways of my hometown of London. And even less known, Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins novels -- of these, perhaps start with The Remains of the Altar, especially if you like Elgar. In there and in all the series, you'll learn much about the magical part of England known as the Tricounties area. To forestall what I've already seen too often: no, they are not horror novels, nor do they have supernatural denouements. Watkins is a Church of England Deliverance Consultant (the contemporary term for 'exorcist') and the Tricounties area is rich in folklore, so there is a thread of the supernatural, but John Connolly calls the series "mysteries in the classic sense", which they surely are.

October 04, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Colin Dexter's tastes in crime diction range widely. I was surprised to find he had written this introduction.

And a search of the Detectives Beyond Borders archive turns up this tribute to Dexter from a fellow crime writer. The book is: L.C. Tyler's The Herring-Seller's Apprentice, and the narrator is himself an author:

"`I once tried to give Fairfax an interest in Berlioz (I must have been reading too much Colin Dexter). Elsie had the blue pencil through that before you could say `Morse'. `Don't bother to develop his character,' she said. `Your readers aren't interested in character.' "

October 04, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Question: Why did Colin Dexter stop writing crime fiction?

October 04, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No idea. And it has been something like 15 years since his last novel, I think.

October 04, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Colin Dexter stated that he came to feel that what began as interesting tropes -- Morse's addiction to single-malts and real ale, his tight-fistedness, his love of crosswords, etc. -- had become clichés and could not be refreshed. And Morse dies in the final novel, of course. Dexter has collaborated closely in the 'Endeavour' series, but he's also stipulated in his will that after that series comes to an end, no other actor is to portray Morse. Unlike Conan Doyle, when Colin Dexter kills characters off, they stay dead.

I have wondered what he might come up with if he decided to write some sort of stand-alone or create another series -- that really is an intriguing notion, but writing was never a full-time occupation for Dexter, any more than was it for Trollope. For all the success of the TV series and the novels, he remained with the Oxford examining board until he retired, and I just suspect that for him, writing the Morse novels was one thing he happened to do among not a few others.

There may be the germ of an idea in that, for I mentioned in my earlier comment British crime writers I think should be as highly acclaimed as Dexter, but are not. The term 'amateur' has never been a stigma in Britain -- some of the finest historians were such, to advert to a field I know well -- and I'm left wondering if it may not be true that those writers who, out of the spotlight, are the real torch-bearers of the tradition of great British crime-writing, such as those earlier mentioned, are people of considerable accomplishment, not easily categorized as 'professional writers'.

Is there a distinction between a professional writer and a full-time writer in certain cases, having in mind when monetary success allows the day job to be ditched, if one so wishes? On the historical front, Veronica Wedgwood had a private income -- note that surname -- and, though she made a substantial additional income from her first-class historical works, would always be deemed an amateur historian. 'Amateur' and 'dilettante' are not synonyms, and there are no 'mere' amateurs.

October 05, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, my respect for Colin Dexter grows. Crime writers announcing the end to a series tend to be about as reliable as boxers announcing their retirement and rock and roll stars making farewell tours. I especially admire his acknowledgment that quirks, a mark of "character-driven" crime fiction, can grow old.

In re amateur, I read the interesting suggestion, possibly in Colin Watson, that British crime fiction tended to embrace the amateur sleuth rather than the police procedural because the British imagination could not accommodate working-class policemen ordering evil-doing baronets around.

October 05, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

As this will be my last comment on your fine blog, Peter, I'll be a bigger nuisance than usual and make it a question. How many British crime fiction writers, Golden Agers included, actually embraced the amateur sleuth v. the police detective? If anyone ponders that for the two minutes or so it takes to come up with the answer, the next step would be to compare that number with the P.I. v. official police in American crime fiction.

Have a great time at Bouchercon!

October 05, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Does that imply analogies and comparisons between the British amateur sleuth and the American P.I.?

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Richard said...

Wonderful post and comments. Dexter is a personal favorite, and his books stand up to re-reading, at least for me and my memory. Have a wonderful Bouchercon.

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Richard. I've only read one of Dexter's novels. It might be worth my while to read another one or two before Bouchercon for insight into Paul Charles. Any recommendations?

October 06, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Reading Colin Dexter's Morse novels? Start with the first one. It only makes sense. Is it the best? Some readers will say so. Do not read the last one. It is too depressing. Spoiler Alert: Exit Morse.

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: Last Bus to Woodstock is the one Morse novel I've read. "Exit Morse" is not much of a spoiler, since Dexter's end to the series is so widely known. But yes, I would likely find such a book depressing.

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Richard said...

The third book, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn is a favorite of mine, as is The Way Through The Woods. That said, I have enjoyed them all.

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

No, Peter, not at all, for I think that would be a case of apples and pears. Rather to make the point, contra Colin Watson, that once you get past the Holmes imitations, few British crime writers employed the amateur sleuth. People naturally think of Christie, Sayers and Allingham, but Marsh didn't, nor Tey, nor Brand, Innes, Hare...and altogether very few compared with the number of American writers who employed the P.I. I think it important not to confuse British detectives who seem now to be remembered as amateurs, but were in fact private detectives, which would include Poirot, of course. After the War, there were very few amateurs at play, the procedural became the norm, with rather later a trend toward the professional P.I., though never that many. As to the gist of Watson's line, why were there those amateurs in the first place? Sherlock Holmes.

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To be fair to Colin Watson, my recollection is very likely incomplete. If, in fact, he made the observation to which I refer, he may have been referring only to crime fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, and not to subsequent periods.

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Richard, I've read recommendations for The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn. I may start there once Bouchercon is done. Thanks.

October 06, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I think you are quite right in your reference to Watson, Peter. My point was that he was wrong about the 20s and 30s, which I took to be his main target, and wrong in both the respects I mentioned. I enjoyed his Snobbery with Violence, but there wasn't a great deal in it that I agreed with - a very idiosyncratic work, if not a touch eccentric. Thinking of it now, I suspect it was much informed by politics primarily, but such is the complexity underlying the phenomenon of the so-called Golden Age mystery in what is deemed its classic incarnation, that I think an equally complex historical and sociological analysis is needed to properly understand it. Alison Light, an academic specializing in popular literature and culture, is, I think, much more on the mark in her Forever England: Literature, Femininity and Conservatism Between the Wars. No conservative she, her defence of Agatha Christie is especially striking.

October 07, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suspect you are right about Colin Watson. I have little knowledge of the period and the literature of which he wrote in Snobbery With Violence, but it's pretty to easy to see he was having fun twitting his targets. Easy, too, to see that the book was probably informed by politics, and that he had to twist himself into some knots to fit a sophisticated writer such as Christie into his cross-hairs.

The Alison Light book looks worth searching for. Thanks.

October 07, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

I am belatedly entering the conversation about the differences between British and American crime fiction, but I will throw in this obvious point: British culture -- with its definite class distinctions -- and American culture -- with its preference for no rigid class distinctions -- are naturally different petri dishes for the germs of detective/crime fiction.

October 07, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know if Colin Watson ever wrote about American crime fiction, but he would certainly agreed that class was an defining feature of British crime writing, as in my imperfectly remembered example of his explanation for the late development of the police procedural in English crime fiction.

October 07, 2014  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home