Monday, October 31, 2016

Why NoirCon is good for the soul

Woody Haut talks about David Goodis and Central Avenue, Los
Angeles. Photos by Peter Rozovsky unless otherwise noted.
Charles Ardai, Stona Fitch
You know what noir is about? Good fellowship, empathy, sharp wit and keen intelligence, subversion without destruction, doing good for others, working hard at work one loves, and communicating that passion, among other things. And it's about gin. Always gin.

Leigh Redhead
That's how it was at Philadelphia's NoirCon 2016, which ended Sunday. Ninety-nine percent of what we hear, read, see, or are told is trivial at best, arrant lies and bullshit at worst.  I thank Woody Haut, Charles Ardai, Stona Fitch, Barry Gifford, Aurélien Masson, Leigh Redhead, Buffy Hastings and others for reminding me that things don't always have to be that way. And I thank Vicki Hendricks for the gin — a Hendrick's and tonic, naturally.

Jonathan Woods, Annie Finnegan

Ed Pettit flanked by Eric Rice (left) and Cullen
Haut's presentation on David Goodis and Los Angeles' Central Avenue was the first time I had the feeling I was seeing something real about L.A. Ardai, who has enjoyed success in several fields, talked about how his Hard Case Crime imprint publishes the books he loves — even if these include no books by Harry Whittington — illustrated with cover art he loves just as much. Receiving a canvas by Robert McGinnis, Ardai said, is like getting a fresco by Giotto in the mail.

Aurélien Masson
Masson was passionate and voluble about the venerable French crime imprint he heads, Série noire, about what it's doing, about how French crime fiction has changed, and about authors all across that political spectrum can find a home there and still go out for a drink together.And Fitch shared the story of his Concord Free Press and its unusual "business" model.

Charlie Stella
Gifford, interviewed on stage by Wesley Stace, offered inspiring reminder that classic books don't just reappear; someone has to do the work to get them before the public. Gifford's Black Lizard press did that for many of the hard-boiled and noir classics that we take for granted today as part of our cultural landscape.

Mike Dennis assumes his Don
Donovan persona for Wednesday's
Noir at the Bar at the Pen & Pencil
Vicki Hendricks, Leigh Redhead
Redhead, who also read at Wednesday's pre-Noircon Noir at the Bar at Philadelphia's Pen & Pencil Club, gave the only conventional presentation on a "Masters of Suspense" panel, but her thoughts on Scott Smith were so sharply focused and her examples so well chosen that I want to read Smith. (The unconventional choices were by Lano Waiwaiole, who talked about Richard Stark as a suspense writer, and Radha Vatsal, who discussed adventure films of the 1910s directed by women and featuring women in prominent roles.)

Suzanne Solomon, Cullen Gallager,
Ed Pettit, Andrew Nette
Vicki Hendricks, Hendrick's and tonic, and me.
Photo by Lou Boxer
And how nice it is to be among people to whom books matter. Huzzahs and thanks to Lou Boxer and Deen Kogan for the best edition yet of this excellent festival. I'll be beck at NoirCon in 2018. You should be, too.

Richard Vine
Jay Gertzman, Jedidiah Ayres, Charles Ardai
Veteran Boxers Association, Ring 1, site
 of NoirCon's wind-down gathering
Radha Vatsal, Lano Waiwaiole, Leigh Redhead
Bob and Barbara's
Richard Edwards, Warren Moore
On the way to Port Richmond Books
The main NoirCon site
© Peter Rozovsky 2016


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Adrian McKinty and the fourth Sean Duffy novel: How to build a series

Here's a previous post about how an author can lay the groundwork for a series whether he wants to or not.  Once you've read McKinty's Sean Duffy books, why not try his other work? My favorite from a strong field there is probably Dead I Well May Be.  
 Adrian McKinty has expressed skepticism of series fiction, but he does a fine job writing it.  Gun Street Girl, fourth in his Troubles no-longer-a-Trilogy (following The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, and In the Morning I'll Be Gone), shows McKinty laying the groundwork for further books, whether consciously or not.

The novel lays down plots and subplots ripe for development in future books, and it continues at least one subplot (or is it a leitmotif?) from the previous novels. (This book is set against the background of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, and includes thinly disguised versions of other historical events of the time, including one that will be of especial interest to Americans.) Moreover, it proposes a vision of Northern Ireland's post-Troubles history as a long-range game, so a long-range series could well carry Detective Inspector Sean Duffy along with that history, reacting to it and commenting, sometimes acerbically, on his place in it.  In Gun Street Girl, that commentary includes McKinty's customary good jokes and one of the funniest Beatles references you'll read anywhere.

Most important, perhaps, for its long term-prospects, the trilogy series has, in Duffy, an engaging protagonist/narrator with personal and professional triumphs and defeats that never, however, get in the way of the story. So sorry. Adrian. You may be in this for the long haul.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Me and my English peeps at Bouchercon New Orleans

Passions have cooled since the Battle of New Orleans, and the British are now welcomed without being fired upon.  Here's me with two of them, Ali Karim and Mike Stotter, at Bouchercon 2016,  with thanks to the member of staff at the New Orleans Marriott who shot the photo.

And now, Noircon.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Shadow Man: Dashiell Hammett, his granddaughter, and me

"Shadow Man" by Peter Rozovsky
for Detectives Beyond Borders
Shadow Man is the title both of Richard Layman's 1981 biography of Dashiell Hammett and of the self-portrait at left, which I shot last night.

Today I had lunch with Hammett's granddaughter and editor Julie M. Rivett, who is visiting my part of the world to talk to high school students and other groups about Hammett and The Maltese Falcon.

Richard Layman, Julie M.
Rivett. Photo by your humble
Rivett, who joined Layman in a discussion I moderated at Bouchercon 2015,  talked Hammett, and we discussed one of last year's best non-fiction crime books, Nathan Ward's The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett.  I was also tickled to learn that Rivett is a big fan of James Lee Burke, whom I've begun to read as part of my recent but abiding love affair with New Orleans. We talked at some length about Burke and his writing, which Rivett knows a lot better than I do. The woman has good taste in crime writers, whether she is their lineal descendant or not.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

David Goodis: Best bar scene bar none? plus Noircon 2016!

If you're like me, your crime fiction reading has likely included a scene or two set in a bar. But has anyone ever written bar action as surprising and as funny (and that in the midst of a decidedly downbeat story) as this, from David Goodis' 1961 novel Night Squad:
"As Nellie collided with the falling chair, Carp started a circular route that took him swiftly in the direction of the bar., Knowing what was coming, the regulars at the bar reached quickly for their shot glasses and grimly held on. Others weren't quick enough. As Carp flashed past the bar, his arms functioned with the speed of a piston. Before he reached the far end of the bar, he'd snatched and downed a double rye and a single of California brandy. Then he headed for the front door and scampered out."
Speaking of Goodis, next week is time once again for Noircon, the best little biennial crime fiction convention in Philadelphia or anywhere else. See you there. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Charles G. Booth: What do you know about him?

Charles G. Booth is largely unread today, according to The Black Lizard Big of Pulps, where I have just read his story "Stag Party." Even the Thrilling Detective Web Site, my first source for posts like this.

That's all too bad, because "Stag Party"'s stripped-down toughness reminds me a bit of Paul Cain, the greatest of the hard-boiled writers who followed Dashiell Hammett at Black Mask, and one of the very few, perhaps the only one, whose writing qualifies as noir.

"Stag Party"  doesn't dig as deeply into the doom and resignation that make noir what it is, and its plotting is weaker, but it does contain such Cain-worthy bits as:
"I've been in pictures.' Her voice was husky. `That's where you've seen me.' 

"`No, it isn't,' McFee said. `Sit down.'"
"Cruikshank was careless with his eggs."
Booth also worked bits of social-realist type description into the story a good deal less obtrusively and to better narrative purpose than is often the case with such writing, and his bitter cops sound a good deal more like real people than such characters often do. So maybe Booth has a touch of Horace McCoy in him, too.

"Stag Party" has its protagonist, McFee of the Blue Shield Detective Agency, address one female character continually as "sister," and the story repeatedly mentions another by her last name only.  Each is reminiscent of Cain's referring to the protagonist's girlfriend in Fast One most often solely by her last name: Granquist.

Here's the most thorough discussion I've been able to find of Booth, on the Bear Alley blog. All right, readers: What should I know about Charles G. Booth? What should I read by him?

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, October 08, 2016

Bouchercon / (Me)con: Photos of me at Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans

My excellent panel called "Hank to Hendrix. Beyond Hammett 
and Chandler: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback
Original  Eras." From left: me, Martin Edwards, Gary Phillips,
Eric Beetner, Rick Ollerman. Thanks, guys.
In the French Quarter
Here's evidence that I did more than just take pictures of other people at Bouchercon; some of them took pictures of me, too. Thanks to Linda L. Richards, Ali Karim, Mike Stotter, Suzanne Solomon, Terrence McCauley, M'lou Greene, Nanci Kalanta, John Thomas Bychowski, and the waiters, waitresses, and passers-by of New Orleans who let themselves be wheedled into taking pictures with me in them.
Me and the Man on Canal Street

With Nanci Kalanta over breakfast at the Ruby
Slipper Cafe, Magazine Street, New Orleans
Lobby bar at the New Orleans Marriott, where the
staff and service were superb, and the elevators had
minds of their own.
Breakfast at the Ruby Slipper. Counterclockwise
from left: Daniel Palmer, Ali Karim, me, Mike Stotter,
J. Kingston Pierce, Joe Finder, Stuart Neville, Steve
Mike Stotter, Allison Leotta, me, and, in the
background, Tom Pitts, at Laura Lippman's house
If you don't know who this is by now, you haven't
been paying attention.
Hanging out before I checked in with, from left, Ali
Karim, Martin Edwards, Jacques Filippi, Mike
With Ali Karim, Mike Stotter, J. Kingston Pierce, and
Keith Raffel after our visit to the National World War
II Museum in New Orleans
Moderating the "Hank to Hendrix" panel, whose
members included Martin Edwards (right) discussing
Michael Gilbert
With J. Kingston Pierce, Ali Karim, and Nanci
Kalanta at the convention hotel
Doing my photo thing, fifth row, right
side, with my leg sticking into the
With J. Kingston "Jeff" Pierce, J.D. Allen. Mike
Stotter at the Shamus Awards dinner
Being checked for a pulse at the
convention hotel. That's what
happens at Bouchercons
© Peter Rozovsky 2016


Why you should read John Rector

John Rector, Voodoo Lounge,
New Orleans, September 2016.

 Photo by Peter Rozovsky
John's Rector 's 2015 novel Ruthless is a terrific noirish, wrong-man-in-the-wrong-place story, perhaps a bit more emotionally pitched and certainly elegantly written than most. Things get especially interesting when the third circle of hell into which the protagonist plunges threatens to veer off into another genre entirely. But Rector, in supreme control of his storytelling at all times, makes it work.

That paragraph is deliberately vague in order to avoid giving anything away. Suffice it to say that if the main storyline is reminiscent of Charles Williams, the surprising turn may put readers in mind of Alan Glynn. That's a high compliment to Rector on both counts.
John Rector first jumped onto my radar screen in a big way a couple of weeks ago when he read his story "In the Kitchen With Rachel Ray" at Jay Stringer's Noir at the Bar in New Orleans. The story is not only jam-packed with hilarious surprises, but rendered with fine control, and the author read it well. You should hear him read if you have the chance.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Farewells to New Orleans

Bayou country, Louisiana. Photos by Peter
Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond Borders
The last chapter (not counting an epilogue) of James Lee Burke's Neon Rain has Dave Robicheaux begin the novel's climactic, redemptive final confrontation with a ride along the St. Charles Streetcar Line through New Orleans' Garden District. And then he leaves the city.

St. Charles Streetcar Line, New Orleans
Which gave me a start because after the carousing of Bouchercon, after we'd left the alligators behind and some of my friends were safely home and others headed for the airport, I carried my memories of New Orleans with me on a ride along the St. Charles Streetcar Line through the Garden District. And then I left the city.

Burke ended his book the way I ended my visit, that is, which was a bit of an emotional punch. If you think this is just an excuse to talk about my time in Louisiana, you're right. And now, here's today's favorite Cajun music discovery: the Lost Bayou Ramblers doing a song you might recognize called "Ma Génération."

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Monday, October 03, 2016

James Lee Burke's two halves of the French Quarter

I'm enjoying James Lee Burke's first Dave Robicheaux novel, The Neon Rain, set back when Robicheaux was still a New Orleans police lieutenant.

Here are two of the things I've liked:
  1. The scene in which Robicheaux finds himself drinking with a troupe of circus performers whose transportation has broken down. They have no idea that they're hilarious, but you will.
  2. That Robicheaux seems like he'll be a more believable iteration of the recovering alcoholic cop who falls back off the wagon than are most examples of the type.
St. Louis Cathedral. Photo by Peter
Rozovsky/Detectives Beyond Borders
I especially like Burke's portrayal of New Orleans. He presents a gritty French Quarter populated by hustlers, transvestites, and other rough characters, which he contrasts with inhabitants of a gentrifying Jackson Square. He also takes a shot at fancified fake country bands playing in the street, and he makes sure the reader knows that the Garden District is where the better-off people live.

But Burke also makes certain to have Robicheaux talk about Café du Monde and look out at St. Louis Cathedral. He wanted to rip the veil of the gauzy, gaudy surface of the city, but also to give the punters (like me) what they want; I bought the book as part of my post-Bouchercon hangover, and I'm glad I did.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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