Monday, February 05, 2007

Deadline in Athens, Part II

How many countries have given the world disillusioned fictional male detectives with bad, sad or uncertain marital histories and quirkily solitary habits? Let me pose the question another way: How many countries are there in the U.N.?

Kurt Wallander from Sweden, John Rebus from Scotland, Franz Heineken and Jack Irish from Australia, Hector Belascoaran Shayne from Mexico, Pepe Carvalho from Spain, Inspector Espinosa from Brazil, Brahim Llob from Algeria and Sartaj Singh from India come to mind, along with a couple of Americans you may have heard of named Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

I’m sure that if Kosovo and New Caledonia attain independence one day, they, too, will eventually produce angst-ridden, divorced, alcohol-weakened fictional sleuths sickened by the senseless violence of Pristina and Nouméa. And if those sleuths are police officers, they will clash with their officious superiors as often as they clash with murderers, drug dealers and blackmailers.

Petros Markaris’ Costas Haritos, chief inspector of the Athens CID, is decidedly of the breed, though with slight differences. Twenty pages into Deadline in Athens, for example, he hasn’t taken a drink yet. He also may turn out to be a bit more arrogant than most, and I’ll be anxious to see if this figures in the plot or is merely an incidental aspect of his character.

Markaris offers some interesting observations about journalism in Greece -- no surprise, given the novel’s titles (it's called The Late-Night News in the U.K.). A flashy young reporter, he has Haritos tell us, is “A modern-day Robespierre with a camera and a microphone” who refuses to address Haritos by name: “He believed … that he represented the conscience of the people, and the conscience of the people treated everyone equally: no name or sign of respect, courtesies that only lead to distinctions between citizens.”

This interested me because it's American journalists who have traditionally taken themselves seriously and waxed somber about their responsibilities and principles, sometimes to the amusement of their British colleagues. (Haritos has a wonderful comeback for the reporter: “I ignored him and addressed myself to them all as a body. If he wanted equality, he’d have it.”)

Haritos also tells the reader something that ought to make any newspaper reader or employee nod in sad recognition: “Reporters are always on my back. … Once it was newspapermen and newspapers; now it’s reporters and cameras.”

Even at this early stage, Haritos shows signs of the idealism that lurks beneath the crusty surface of so many fictional detectives. He conforms to type in another way, as well. I alluded to the quirkily solitary habits of middle-aged fictional sleuths; Haritos’ habit may be weirder than most. He reads dictionaries for pleasure.

P.S. I would not want to create the impression that this interesting group of fictional detectives is nothing but a big bag of symptoms. Jack Irish and Franz Heinken, in particular, are low on angst. Must be the air in Australia.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Unknown said...

I just discovered your site....silly me, I should have found you before!


February 06, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind words. Now I think I'll head for a bookstore and look for novels about places I have stayed. I'll start with Murder in the 16ieme, Murder on the Rue Gay-Lussac, and Murder in a Fleabag Near the Gare de l'Est That Was Convenient For a Bus to Charles de Gaulle the Next Day.

February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should be pointed out that Jack Irish isn't a detective, has more friends than is natural, and is one of the most interesting and complex characters in the genre. Peter, I think you should read Dead Point and White Dog before you cram him into a pigeonhole.

February 06, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I may go through the comment now and substitute sleuth for detective to make clear that I don't restrict the field to police and private investigators and that it is open to lawyer/carpenter/horse players.

More to the point, not only to I like Jack Irish based on the one novel I've read, but I recognize that he rings fresh changes on the type. You'll see that in my comments on Bad Debts at: Take a look, and you'll see that's the first thing I noticed about the character, that's he's so well-adjusted for someone who's been through some very tough times.

February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, didn't have time to read your post. We just rented the house in North Carolina (the same one as last year) from July 1 to July 8. The kids really want you to come. We just want your money.

February 06, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I shall do everything I can to make sure you get it. Among the symptoms of the drastically reduced staff in the ******er's next great era in Philadelphia journalism is restricted availability of time off. The paper has taken so much away from me already. I shall do my best to make sure it does not take away time with my family. I'll keep you posted.

February 07, 2007  

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