Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Elisabeth Sanxay Holding fits an exciting pattern

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's story "The Stranger in the Car" is  the second reminder I've received in recent months that domestic in crime fiction need not mean cozy.  The first came when I read Dolores Hitchens and Charlotte Armstrong for a panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2015 on lesser-known writers of the pulp and paperback eras.

As part of that panel, I asked the estimable Sarah Weinman to what extent domestic subjects in mid-20th-century American crime writing were the property of female authors, and to what extent Armstrong, Hitchens, and other women drew from the same currents in American life that, say, Raymond Chandler did. (His novel The Big Sleep emphasized the Sternwood family as a locus for drama more than did the celebrated Hawks/Bogart/Vickers/Bacall movie version.)

"Bit of both," Weinman replied, and as nearly as I can tell, she's right. "The Stranger in the Car" is terrific, atmospheric mystery, and the only twists are of the narrative kind. A prosperous businessman is the story's narrator, his wife and daughter figure prominently, and the story includes a fine example of hard-boiled wit. Said prosperous businessman is being driven to silent madness by the family music teacher's piano playing, and then she finally stops:
"'Very nice,' Charleroy said. `Very--' He sought for a word. `Very soothing.' he said.

"It
tried to be nice!' said Miss Ewing. `It wanted to soothe you, Mr. Charleroy.' 
'`Ha!' he said, with a benevolent laugh."
 (Click on Holding's name at the beginning of this post to see why criminalelement.com called her the Godmother of Noir.)
============
Sarah Weinman will talk about Elisabeth Sanxay Holding as part of a panel all moderate at Bouchercon 2015 called called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald." The panel features authors, editors, and other experts discussing their favorite crime writers of the pulp and paperback-original eras. It happens Thursday, Oct. 8 at 2:30 p.m. There's still time to sign up for Bouchercon. See you!

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

Labels: , , , , ,

15 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

Peter, thank you for the reminder. The book you feature sits (ignored) on my shelf. Perhaps I need to crack it open and catch up to your discoveries.

But, I wonder, among the candidates, who is your favorite female writer of crime fiction? Or is that a moving target, evolving as your read more?

February 07, 2015  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

I went straight from that panel to the book room and picked up that book. It's a terrific collection and Sarah Weinman's introduction is an excellent essay.

I did find the domestic aspect of most of the stories to be the strong points and definitely noir (whatever that is).

February 07, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I wonder why domestic suspense seems to have lost its cachet. However much we may enjoy reading these stories, the idea seems old-fashioned. Humans haven't changed that much, I suppose, but maybe the family energies aren't so pent up. The domestic arrangement, whatever it is, seems to be more of a staging area for launching off to somewhere else.

February 07, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., the book is worth a look. Sarah Weinman has also edited a two-volume edition of mid-century female American crime writers for the Library of America that I think should be out in the fall. Between small presses and e-books, you should be able to find a fair number of books by these writers.

My target may be moving, but my clear favorite to date is Charlotte Armstrong's The Unsuspected, of which I wrote, in part:

"I won't pick a year's best yet, but I have read no more virtuoso authorial crime fiction performance this year, or maybe ever, than Charlotte Armstrong's 1947 novel The Unsuspected. The book is a masterfully told tale of suspense in which everything, everyone, is in doubt and knocked out of balance from the first scene to the last, a sort of Agatha Christie meets Georges Simenon meets Cornell Woolrich, with a few sly jabs thrown in. I thank panelist Sara J. Henry for choosing to discuss Armstrong"

February 07, 2015  
Blogger R.T. said...

Peter, I am on my way now to my regional e-library for a look at Charlotte Armstrong (and, of course, Amazon lurks as a contingent plan); and the anthology we've cited sits in front of me, waiting for my tired old eyes.

February 07, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, Sarah has done a service to humankind, or at least the part of it that reads crime stories, but bringing these writers to people's attention.

The domestic aspect of these stories is noir, I'd characters peer into abysses all the time. What I like about the domestic aspect of those stories is that they manage to avoid any hint of exploitation or pity-mongering, the way crime stories today tend to when they put women or children at risk. Why this is, I don't know. Maybe just because Armstrong, Sanxay Holding, Hitchens et al. were just better writers that their followers today.

February 07, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, speculation about your questions could fill several convention panels, if not an entire cultural studies syllabus. I speculated somewhere that the family as a situation for crime drama may reflect mid-century anxiety about the state of the nuclear family. By, say, the mid-1960s, in this theory, the nuclear family had either fallen apart or branched off into so many different forms that it lost some of its dramatic interest.

February 07, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I'll be discovering those authors along with you. This field is new to me, too.

February 07, 2015  
Blogger Sarah Weinman said...

If domestic suspense has "lost its cachet" then why is THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN the most popular novel of the moment?

Thanks for all the kind words. Interestingly enough I finally had occasion to read Catherine Ross Nickerson's THE WEB OF INIQUITY (1998) which discusses "domestic detective fiction" by Metta Fuller Victor, Anna Katherine Green, and Mary Roberts Rinehart, and it's also important to consider that parallel tradition to the male intellectual detective novels/Queens of Crime from the Golden Age.

February 08, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Because of the train?

No, you're the expert, Sarah, and I guess even Gone Girl could be considered domestic drama. It does feel different to me, though. The house no longer feels like the forcing house of crime to me, maybe because everyone can get out, literally and otherwise in too many ways.

Although I'm going to contradict myself and say that Alex Marwood's The Killer Next Door is very much of the atmosphere I'm thinking of, and it was written last year. On the other hand, it is a domesticity of strangers, which may be why I didn't think of it first.

February 08, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sarah, I just now realized that the title of The Girl on the Train has echoes of Patricia Highsmith in addition to the Stieg Larsson I'd noticed before. This increases the chances that I'll read it.

Last night's reading was "The Stranger in the Car," which I thought was excellent. I'd be interested in reading that discussion of domestic crime fiction, and also in knowing the history of when, why, and how the term first came into use. Did it at one time simply denote a setting, and then later take on cozy overtones? The mid-century domestic stuff I've read is reminiscent in some ways of English country house mysteries, but no less sharp and hard-boiled for that. It's different enough from what I had read before that I want to keep reading more of it.

Oh, yeah: I also read a few chapters of The Bamboo Blonde today--on a train, no less. That would have been a good book to discuss in Long Beach.

February 09, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I think after I've read more domestic crime writing from the middle of the last century, I made be ready for some its successors in this century.

February 09, 2015  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I bought this collection because of John's rec, Sarah's editorial choices and the fantastic cover which would make a great poster...

August 20, 2015  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

And also the rec of your own good self of course!!!

August 20, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: You might also like the brand new Library America editions of female crime writers of the 1940s and '50s, edited by Sarah, and with a colorful departure from the Library of America's customary jackets.

Here, by the way, is Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives in a post-Bouchercon photo from 2013: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-svYxCySGIXU/Uj9tb2knUKI/AAAAAAAAML8/IxZuw6AejxM/s1600/BCon%205%20After%20Bcon.jpg

August 21, 2015  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home