Monday, March 30, 2015

The partition of Ireland, ca. 999,997,987 BC

I have just begun reading The Origins of the Irish, which uses archaeology, geology, and linguistics to trace the beginnings of the people who would one day give the world Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew.

The author (J.P. Mallory) and publisher (Thames & Hudson) begin their narrative in the deepest geological past, but the editing displays a delightful awareness of recent politics and history. The sub-section on the billion-year-old split of the earth's then single land mass is headed "Partition," for instance.

The next subsection, about the coming together of the two land masses that now form roughly the island's northwestern and southeastern halves is headed "The unification of Ireland."

No other headings that I can find display similar cheek, though I suspect that some observers of the Ireland of recent decades could have fun with "Age of dinosaurs."

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

What do comics do better than, er, non-comics?

I read a few comics last week, which got me thinking about how comics tell stories. Here's an old post that asks a similar question.
I recently read a crime novel whose one distracting quirk was an occasional paragraph of dialogue or exposition that read like an editorial comment or an information dump.

I've also been reading Greg Rucka's Queen & Country, a comic set in the contemporary world of British intelligence, and it occurred to me that comics can sometimes convey information more efficiently than non-graphic books — verbal information, I mean.

Say an author decides the contents of a report about complex, high-level, multinational drug, arms and financial transactions are essential to his or her story. How is the author to convey that information without dragging the story to halt?

Queen & Country's characters spend good chunks of their time at their desks discussing intelligence and other data, but the discussion is never boring. One reason is that we can see their reactions.

A spy chief might slap a report on his desk in disgust or grit his teeth as a superior shoots down his plans. It's a lot easier on a reader to see a skilled graphic rendering of such reactions than it is to read: "He slapped the report on his desk in disgust, grinding his teeth as his superior shot down his plans."
What else can comics do better or more efficiently than traditional novels and stories? What can traditional stories do better? Have you ever read a scene in one medium that you thought would work better in another?

Rucka himself provides an opportunity to test these questions. He has written several novels based on the graphic-novel series. Read excerpts here and here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Black Hood, or how comics tell stories

(Clockwise from upper
left: Black Hood #1,
Black Hood #1, Black
Hood #1, and Black
Hood #1)
I almost never buy individual issues of comics because I don't like working myself into a state of excitement over something that will take me five minutes to read, then having to wait a month before I can resume the story. That's why I prefer trade paperbacks that compile five or six or eight issues. (Most recently I bought and read the two books that collect the 11 final issues of Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera's awesomely good Scalped.)

Philadelphia's own Duane Swierczynski and his artist collaborator Michael Gaydos compensate for the small number of pages in a typical comic by packing a whole lot of beautifully spare storytelling into those pages. The climax of the opening scene in their new Black Hood series, for example, is one panel, one color, and 19 words: "And as the dark came down over my head, I couldn't help but wonder: Would anyone give a shit?"

That's a lot of storytelling, mood-setting, and existential-doubt establishing for one little panel about two inches high and three inches wide, and Gaydos and the colorist didn't have to vary their palette much; the panel's all black, except for the two little white rectangles where the character's thoughts appear.

As often with good comics, I like the way the two media — words and pictures — play off one another, sometimes together, sometimes one (usually the picture) offering ironic commentary on the other. The Black Hood is something like a masked-avenger tale, the story of a guy, here a wounded police officer, who dons a mask and assumes a new identity before going out into the world to attack criminals, but the first glimpse of the protagonist in his hood is anything but heroic.

And Swierczynski is a hell of a technician and craftsman if he can get the hero to refer to "the 15-year-old inside my head" without even coming close to breaking the dark mood.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Talaash, India, and language(s)

The 2012 Indian suspense/noir/police movie Talaash includes too much supernatural wiffle and at least one crappy pop song. I’d have known the song was crappy even without the English subtitles – soaring bathos comes across just as well in Hindi as it does in English.

English also comes across in Hindi, the actors' lines sprinkled with please and thank you and investigation and case and Shut up! Just shut up! in a way that makes me not chauvinistic about the primacy of my language, but tickled by the flexibility of theirs.The mix of languages is beguiling. I love it as much as I love those multilingual, multigenerational conversations I hear in which the elders speak Chinese or Spanish, and their interlocutors answer in English, and everyone speaks in calm and perfect mutual comprehension.

I'm not sure what India's ruling Hindu nationalists think about such matters, but I like the headlines that accompanied an essay by the author Vikram Chandra some years ago: "The Cult of Authenticity: India’s cultural commissars worship `Indianness' instead of art." (Read about Chandra in these Detectives Beyond Borders posts about language and India.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Concrete Flamingo, a.k.a. All the Way, by Charles Williams

Nothing in Her Way remains the best of the five Charles Williams novels I've read in recent weeks, but each of the other four has impressed me. A Touch of Death, especially, is almost as good as Nothing ... . The Diamond Bikini wins points because it's not just a comedy, but one that manages not to condescend to its rural setting.

The Concrete Flamingo (1958), also published as All the Way, is not rural, and it's no comedy. But, like The Diamond Bikini, it demonstrates the author's versatility and sheer professionalism.

In bare outline, The Concrete Flamingo sounds like many mid-century paperback original novels: Down-on-his-luck but handsome man falls for woman who involves him in a plan to kill, steal, or both, and violent or tragic complications ensue.

The intricate plot works itself out nicely and with high suspense. No surprise there; Williams has to have been one of the better plotters who has ever written crime fiction. What impressed me most, though, was the plot's unexpected resolution. To avoid spoilers, I'll say no more. But I admire Williams for taking the chance that he did.
The Concrete Flamingo does, indeed, include a concrete flamingo, but All the Way is a more suitable title. I don't know why or when the title was changed, but it's hard not to suspect the publisher of trying to capitalize on Ross Macdonald's popularity. The Concrete Flamingo sounds as if it should be a Macdonald title. (The cover of the edition included here is unusually faithful to the novel's plot, though I don't recall that any of the book's cars were green. )

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Gil Brewer: Squalid, but funny

Some things that surprised me about Gil Brewer's 1961 novel A Taste of Sin:
1) The protagonist drinks too much, but his drinks are absinthe and Pernod. 
2) The morbid (and mordant) humor, as in the ending of the first chapter: 
"In my mind there was the sound of broken glass."  
and its segue into the beginning of the second: 
"I got in the Volks and sat there. 
"Well, a sane woman could be a bore." 
3) The virtuosic sarcasm of some of the best of that humor, as this observation about the cop who questions the protagonist: 
"He was very bright. He sighed brightly."
 4) That no one could write squalid, desperate sex like Gil Brewer could. Lots of books of the time tried, and their scenes often read like something out of a sex version of Reefer Madness. Not Brewer's
© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Shot in Philadelphia (and Long Beach)

And then there's this shot, with which Dietrich Kalteis illustrates his current discussion withSam Weibe and John McFetridge. That's John in the photo at lower right. His current novel and his next one include a photographer named Rozovsky.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Black Wings Has My Angel

Barry Gifford is right so far about Black Wings Has My Angel. The author of Wild at Heart called Elliott Chaze's 1953 lovers-on-the-run story "An astonishingly well-written literary novel that just happened to be about (or roundabout) a crime."

The novel is so well-written, and so diverting in its incident, that when Chaze injects not just a noir touch a few chapters in, but one of the must typical mid-twentieth-century noir touches, it seems entirely new and entirely right.  This is not what I think of when I think of Gold Medal Books, but that is precisely who first published the book.

Two more observations:  One is unlikely to read description much better than Chaze's of the waitress "who was hanging over the table like a fat starched cloud," and I'm hardly surprised Gifford loved this book, because in its story and in the relaxed, off-hand, humorous way of telling it, even at its grimmest, it seems a virtual blueprint for Wild at Heart and the rest of Gifford's Sailor and Lula novels.
Gifford is not just an author and screenwriter.. His Black Lizard Press launched the revival of interest in paperback-original writers from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, including Elliott Chaze.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Street of No Return: The David Goodis pilgrimage, 2015

Lou Boxer
Much of David Goodis' Philadelphia has disappeared, from the waterfront dives and cheap apartments of Cassidy's Girl to the house where he lived as child that was demolished because the neighborhood was sinking into a subterranean creek.

The house on North Eleventh Street
where Goodis lived and wrote after
he returned from Hollywood.
Cullen Gallagher
reading by Goodis'
graveside at Roosevelt
 Memorial Park in
Trevose, Pa.

Joe Samuel Starnes
Every year a gang of Goodis fans gathers to visit these forgotten places and others significant in the life of Philadelphia's greatest crime writer, and one of the most moving and compassionate writers anywhere, in any time.

Erik Arneson interviewing Andrew Kevorkian.
Kevorkian knew Goodis and attended his
funeral in 1967.
Eric Rice
Here's a record of this year's pilgrimage, which took place Saturday, photos by your humble blogkeeper.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015  

Lou Boxer, Jeff Wong

Foreground: Cullen Gallagher and your humble
blogkeeper/photographer. Background: David
Goodis' house on North 11th Street.
Joe Samuel Starnes, Erik Arneson, Cullen
Gallagher, Lou Boxer
The Street of No Return: Site of Goodis' childhood home
in Philadelphia's Logan section.

Friday, March 06, 2015

"Ace" Rozovsky, backstage photographer

This week I read two books and shot some actors.

The books were The Big Bite, by Charles Williams; and Wake Up to Murder, by Day Keene, but it appears you'll have to wait till tomorrow to hear about them.

The actors were the cast of Lafferty's Wake, at the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia. Deen Kogan, the theater's artistic director and also director of this production, is an acquaintance through Philadelphia's Noircon crime fiction convention, and she invited me to take photos at a run-through of the play, which opens this weekend.
By this stage, a show is virtually a finished product, and the cast, in full costume, ran through the entire show without interruption, but with a warm-up session, with discussion of lighting and music beforehand and a short presentation by the director afterward. This included a detailed — and I mean detailed — review of the rehearsal: a slurred line here, a suggestion for altering an entrance there. It was my first time behind a theater production, and I loved the interaction before and after, even the tiny occasional bit of testiness at the give and take.

During was pretty good, too. Lafferty's Wake includes four or five of the best-known Irish songs, including "The Rising of the Moon" and "Wild Rover" — a good thing, and as near as I could tell, the cast's accents were not shite.

The theater world was once a popular setting for crime fiction. Ngaio Marsh set mysteries there, as did Bill S. Ballinger. Theodore A. Tinsley's Jerry Tracy, celebrity reporter, moved amid the great and not so great of Broadway.

Theater no longer is as central to popular entertainment as it once was, though, and everyone who entered the rehearsal I attended left the building alive (though Lafferty's Wake does include a crime-fiction-like twist).). But I shot 574 photos, and I had a fabulous time, and the next time a director calls, I'll be there with my trusty shooter.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Multiple noir shots plus something that drives me nuts

I hate when reporters write that someone was shot "multiple" times. What does "multiple" times mean? Does it confer what the writers imagine is cachet that many does not? Does multiple even mean many, or does it simply mean more than once?

"Multiple times" is an ideal official expression. It's imprecise, it has lots of syllables, and it sounds vaguely impressive. Is that why impressionable reporters, easily seduced into taking on the jargon of the beats they cover, persist in using it? I've asked myself that question multiple times.

Meanwhile, here are four some a few a collection of more than one multiple recent noir shots by your humble blogkeeper. Interest from publishers welcome.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Hear Detectives Beyond Borders read, and celebrate David Goodis

(Photo by your
humble blogkeeper)
Erik Arneson (right) has posted a podcast of "Three Minutes of Terror" from Noircon 2014 in Philadelphia. I was one of about twenty authors who read from their work, three minutes maximum, or risk being attacked with a chainsaw.  Have a listen; I'm up at the 18:45 mark in this second part of the two-part podcast.

Then on Saturday, I'll join a few dozen Goodisheads to celebrate the life and work of David Goodis, Philadelphia's greatest crime writer and one of the best noir writers anywhere. This annual event has in part years included visits to sites associated with Goodis' work as well as to the cemetery where he was buried.

We'll discuss Goodis, we'll read from his writing, and a convivial meal is generally on the itinerary. Here's a favorite moment from the one year I attended the celebration previously.  Weather forecasts call for temperatures more comfortable than they were that year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, March 02, 2015

What's so great about Noir at the Bar?

Funny you should ask, because Dietrich Kalteis asks the same question over at his place in conjunction with a Noir at the Bar to be held in Vancouver March 24, and I don't mean Vancouver, Washington. That's a nice bunch of folks who'll be reading, mellow and cheerful, as befits their balmy and civilized setting, like Portland or Seattle, but without the hype. And they write some good books, too.

Here in Philadelphia, I chronicle the dying winter with more photos of rain, snow, sky, and slush, all photos by your humble blogkeeper/photographer.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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