Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Intro- and outrospection

I've just finished Karin Fossum's When the Devil Holds the Candle and started Seven Slayers by Paul Cain. The former is introspective even by the introspective standards of Nordic crime fiction. The latter is a collection of stories by a writer from the Black Mask era of the 1930s whose writing is "void of introspection, conjunctions and all but the most necessary exposition," according to the book's introduction.

I'll use the contrast as occasion for some stray remarks between more substantive posts. The first is that some of Cain's work has a streak of humor surprising in an author Bill Pronzini called the hardest boiled of the Black Mask writers. In "One, Two, Three," a trio of men wake up from unconsciousness, ruefully amused by how they wound up where they did:

"I was thinking about what suckers we had been. I'd popped Raines and Gard had popped me and Mrs. Healey had popped Gard — all of us. One, two, three. Tinker to Evers to Chance — only more so. ... The whole Healey play, what with one thing and another, cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a grand. I got a lame skull and about two bits' worth of fun out of it.

"I pass."


Back to Fossum. Her crime books are often referred to as the Sejer novels, after her lead investigator, the police Inspector Konrad Sejer, but Sejer appears less frequently than does the protagonist in any other crime fiction I can think of. (At least such is the case in He Who Fears the Wolf and When the Devil Holds the Candle, two of the six Sejer novels translated into English from Norwegian.)
In fact, protagonist is probably the wrong word to describe the tall, serious, compassionate and, yes, introspective Sejer. In the two from the series I've read, the readers learns more about the criminals, victims and suspects than about the people who investigate them. They are the real protagonists.

And here, readers, is your challenge: Can anyone think of crime fiction that features police or other investigators, but whose investigators are explored and portrayed less thoroughly than those they investigate?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Karen (Euro Crime) said...

In Olive Etchells' two crime books you spend a lot of time with the victim's family, so you get quite involved in their lives although not totally at the expense of the detectives but certainly I noticed it as being a different approach.

Fossum's Calling Out for You is more like Don't Look Back, in that it's a more tradional who-dunnit, but he still doesn't appear until p50 or so.

June 06, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

After I had read He Who Fears the Wolf, I read that that novel was exceptional among the Sejer books for its ensemble approach. Thus, I expected a more traditional police procedural, with a prominent lead investigator, in When the Devil Holds the Candle as Well. Instead, Sejer is on the scene surprisingly little in that book, just as in the earlier one.

I suspect that this is part of Fossum's way of doing things, however else her novels may differ from one another.

June 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One example I read recently is Red Leaves, by Thomas H Cook. This is told from the point of view of the father/husband in a family --- you see the police investigation through his eyes, but he doesn't know how the investigation is proceeding, can only surmise. As he doesn't know whether the chief suspect (a member of his family) is guilty either, this adds a nice sense of suspense to the whole.

June 06, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just looked at the opening pages of Red Leaves. It appears to be an interesting variation on how to tell a crime story. And there's a nice touch of creepiness in the narrator's discussion of his son in the opening chapter.

June 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a nice little creepy book altogether, I liked it a lot. Quite a nasty, claustrophobig air to the family and small-town interactions. And a good sense of tension and pace. I read it because Lizzy someone said it was the best crime novel she'd ever read, in that thread over on Revish. (And I happened to own it already.)
It turns out to be part of the Quercus success story.

June 07, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've certainly mentioned Quercus, if not in posts, then at least in comments, replies and discussions. I may have to get my act together and post a short article about them.

Incidentally, one of the reasons for my recent absence from Revish, in addition to my recent vacation, has been computer trouble. I've spent very little time on my ailing maching at home, and I've had to be sparing about blogging at work. (Who wants to spend any more time here than necessary?)

When I replace my computer at home, I should resume my Revish posting.

June 07, 2007  

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