Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Having been named a schmoozeworthy blog by Sandra Ruttan, I'll do the right thing and bestow a similar honor on:

Thought Experiments
Crime Always Pays
Journal d'une Amazone
Jazz al Nero (especially if he starts posting again!)
Aust Crime Fiction

Incidentally, I now have marginally more sympathy than before for folks who must scramble to avoid accusations of plagiarism. I thought of some clever headings for this post: Born to Schmooze, All the Schmooze That's Fit to Print, and so on. But quick searches revealed that others had thought of them first. One cannot copyright ideas or titles, but let my experience nonetheless be a word to the wisecrackers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007


Just for fun

A big tip of the fedora to Dave's Fiction Warehouse for posting the winners of the 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, especially this top entry in the detective category, from Bob Millar of Hässelby, Sweden:

"I'd been tailing this guy for over an hour while he tried every trick in the book to lose me: going down side streets, doubling back, suddenly veering into shop doorways, jumping out again, crossing the street, looking for somewhere to make the drop, and I was going to be there when he did it because his disguise as a postman didn't have me fooled for a minute."

Says Dave, "This winning entry shows that those Swedes are almost as good at crime fiction parody as they are at straight crime fiction."

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: ,

Monday, July 30, 2007

New Mystery Readers Journal

The summer 2007 issue is out, full table of contents and selected articles here. This is the second of two issues about ethnic detectives, with articles from Henry Chang, Nick Stone, Ken Kuhlken and more. Articles include "The African American Sleuth in Genre Fiction," "H.R.F. Keating's Inspector Ghote as an Ethnic Sleuth," and a personal favorite, "Writing Toronto—As Ethnic As It Gets!"

Editor Janet Rudolph always offers a wide-ranging package of articles and reviews on pertinent, provocative themes, and each issue's list of more than thirty articles is apt to contain a surprise or two. Unlike "The Ethnic Detective, Part I," this issue contains nothing by me, but I'll be baa-ack.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: ,

A guide to Irish crime

Ireland is the new Sweden when it comes to crime fiction. Or maybe it's the new Italy or the new France. In any case, its authors are producing lots of good crime writing these days, and here's a good Web site that will help you keep track of it all: Critical Mick.

Critical offers sharp, slap-your-thigh funny opinions on Irish crime fiction, Irish crime, and the people whose job it is to stop that crime, plus links to more information on all these topics. But most of all he offers "Reviews Free of Rules" that just might have you hightailing it to the local library or bookstore. (Hat tip to Crime Always Pays.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Errors that drive you nuts

Ken Bruen heads one chapter in Ammunition with a quotation from Marc Lepine, "before he massacred fourteen female students at Montreal University."

In fact, I believe Lepine killed thirteen students; one of the victims was a university employee. And the school's name is University of Montreal, not Montreal University. (Think the switch makes no difference? Tell a Princeton University graduate that he went to the University of Princeton, or a University of North Carolina alumna that she went to North Carolina University.)

On the plus side is Ammunition's argument between Brant and Porter Nash over who wrote "The First Cut is the Deepest":
"Know who wrote that song?"

Without hesitation, Porter said:

"Rod Stewart?"
Brant laughed, said:

"Fucking money from a baby, money for old rope ... it was Cat Stevens."

Porter felt he already had the twenty in his wallet ...
Cat Stevens ... yeah, right.
I loved this because I recently had the same discussion with someone, though in less colorful terms. Like Brant, I was right.

And now, readers, what errors, little slips in detail, drive you nuts?

P.S. Apparently I am not the only one with this question on my mind. It's a Crime! (or a mystery...) has just posted a dispatch about the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival that mentions a panel called Getting it Right, "about the need for accurate detail when setting novels in the past." It's important for novels set in the present, too!

© Peter Rozovsky

Labels: , ,

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I can't make it to Australia this weekend ...

... but if I could, I'd be at the 2007 Byron Bay Writers Festival. There's lots to interest crime-fiction fans on the program. Readers of this blog might be especially intrigued by the following:

Garry Disher will be taking part in a panel titled Home and away: what succeeds in a global market along with Nury Vittachi, Laksmi Pamuntjak and chaired by Deepika Shetty. This session will go from 10:30 - 11:30 am and is held in the Macquarie Marquee.

And here's another that might be even more interesting:

Over at the Maquarie Marquee Garry Disher and Alexis Wright (Carpentaria) will be telling us all about Everything in its place: how landscape, natural and built, informs writing.

A big hat tip to Damien at Crime Down Under, who I hope will report on the proceedings.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: ,

Great first lines in crime fiction

Dave's Fiction Warehouse holds forth on opening lines, including a good one from his upcoming story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Dave was inspired by this list from the American Book Review, headed — no surprise — by the first words of Moby Dick.

But what about crime stories? What opening line (or paragraph) gave you that frisson of excitement that made you keep reading? My candidate for the Moby Dick of crime-story first lines, the opening that everyone knows, is this, from Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind":

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
Here's the opener of the book I'm reading now, Ken Bruen's Ammunition: "Brant was on his third whisky, knocking it back like a good un."

And now, readers, you have the floor. What are your favorite crime-story opening lines?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ken Bruen hates violence

I've seen little violence in my life. From what I have seen, and from what I can guess and extrapolate, most violence happens fast, without slow motion, wisecracks, gratuitous sound effects or excessive time for reflection. You might not learn that from Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, but Ken Bruen sure seems to know it.

Ammunition, the seventh of Bruen's novels about Sgt. Brant, Chief Inspector Roberts, and their manic (and sometimes depressive) southeast London police colleagues, contains a scene of violence horrifying for who commits it and for the matter-of-fact relation, in simple, declarative sentences, of its immediate aftermath. No plot spoilers here, but I believe from now on that for all the violent acts in his books, Ken Bruen hates violence.

And geez, this in a Brant and Roberts book, part of Bruen's funny series. And sure, Ammunition has laughs so far, seventy-four pages in. But it also has greater emphasis on the officers as a kind of cracked, surrogate family than I remember from the earlier books, though that aspect was always present.

Bruen even appears to have thought more carefully about plotting than he did in the first six novels. Falls, newly promoted to sergeant through Brant's intervention, receives a note from a killer freshly out of prison who, in a previous book, stalked Falls and, for one night, became her lesbian lover:

"To say that she had ammunition on Falls was putting it mildly. Falls lit a cigarette, her hands a little steadier. The only person who could really deal with this type of psycho was Brant."
But Brant has just been shot; who will help Falls? Presto, instant subplot.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harrogate Festival reports

Euro Crime and It's a Crime! (or a mystery...) post copiously about the recent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in England, including a link to a BBC broadcast about the event that should be available for a few more days.

Readers of Detectives Beyond Borders might especially like It's a Crime!'s report on a panel about Crime in the City. There, David Hewson, author of the Nic Costa novels, set in Rome, reveals that, during a gray childhood in Bridlington (Yorkshire, I presume!), "I didn't see the colour yellow until seven years old," that he loved the Mediterranean, and that he considers himself better at writing about what he doesn't know than what he does.

Hewson, Paul Johnston, Michelle Spring and panel chair Paul Blezard engage in a deep and wide-ranging discussion of what authors think about when they create settings. I recommend it highly.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What makes a killer kill? (Fred Vargas, "Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand")

What drives a person to kill? The vast (I hope) majority of crime-fiction writers have never killed a person, and they ignore the question. Fred Vargas confronts it head on.

In Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, the protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, comes to believe he may be guilty of murder. He shares his doubts with a faithful colleague who, naturally, believes in him but, unlike most faithful colleagues, gives an explanation that goes beyond mere sentimentality and blind faith.

And you haven't any doubts?" [Adamsberg] asked.


"Why not? You don't like me, and there's a mountain of evidence stacked up against me. But you don't think I did it?"

"No. You're not the sort of man who would kill someone."

"How do you know?"

Retancourt pursed her lips slightly, seeming to hesitate.

"Well, let's just say that it wouldn't interest you enough."
Later, the colleague offers a fuller explanation to the abstracted, intuitive, brilliantly successful Adamsberg:

"I admired your flair of course, everyone did, but not the air of detachment it seemed to give you, the way you disregarded anything your deputies said, since you only half-listened to them anyway. I didn't like your isolation, your high-handed indifference. ... you ought to listen when I say you didn't murder anyone. To kill, you need to be emotionally involved with other people, you need to get drawn into their troubles and even be obsessed by what they represent. Killing means interfering with some kind of bond, an excessive reaction, a sort of mingling with someone else. So that the other person doesn't exist as themselves, but as something that belongs to you, that you can treat as a victim. I don't think you're remotely capable of that."

How that works as psychology, I don't much know or care, and neither does Vargas. Hers is no psychological crime novel. If anything, it's a philosophical one and is the better for that. I mean, haven't we all had enough narration from the point of view of the psychopath or the man or woman driven to kill by a traumatic childhood? Isn't it nice to have a bit of analysis by someone other than the killer? Isn't it especially nice when, as in this novel, the killer turns out to be an obsessed sociopath of a particularly extravagant kind, and all we know of him is what he says in his brief appearances and what others think about him?

That's just one way Vargas makes Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand so fresh and such a pleasure to read. Others are a sly wit, a sympathetic and just sentimental enough view of some elderly characters, and some delightful takes on the cultural conflict between French Canadians and French when Adamsberg and his colleagues fly to Quebec for a seminar on DNA profiling. Vargas, a medieval historian and archaeologist, also manages gracefully to work those interests into the story.

There was an outcry two years ago when Britain's Crime Writers’ Association split its main CWA Gold Dagger award into two prizes, one for English-language crime fiction and one for translated crime. One happy result is that the CWA this year was able to honor two superlatively good crime novels: Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand,with the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, and Peter Temple's The Broken Shore, with the Duncan Lawrie Dagger.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A simple question

More "Wash This Blood ... "

I'm still reading Fred Vargas' Dagger-winning Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, and I'm not at all embarrassed or disappointed to be reading a bit more slowly than usual. This is a book to be savored. Among the pleasures of its first 222 pages:

1) Vargas works her protagonist, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, into a predicament similar to those of a string of men later jailed for murder — wrongly jailed, Adamsberg believes. The similarities are so obvious that even I realized it, yet Adamsberg does not, at least not right away.

Weak plotting on Vargas' part? I thought so for about a tenth of a second. Then I realized that this is Vargas' small, subtle way of making a point that other writers would hit the reader over the head with: Her protagonist is not perfect. He has blind spots, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

2) She puts a forthright, touching declaration of self-knowledge into the mouth of an Adamsberg colleague, then turns it into a declaration of strength:

"You didn't seem to be taking any notice, just sitting in a corner, looking bored."

"That was an act," said Retancourt, pouring out two more cups of coffee. "Men pay no attention to a fat, plain woman."

"That's not at all what I meant,

"But it's exactly what I meant, sir," she said, waving away the objection. "They don't bother looking at her, she's just part of the furniture, and they actually forget she's there. I depend on that. Add a bored expression and hunched shoulders, and you're sure to be able to see everything without being seen. Not everyone can get away with it, and it's served me well in the past."

3) Vargas gets the distance between Montreal and Hull, Quebec right.

More later.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A fun Finn

Way back in this blog's very first post, I lamented the unavailability of Finland's Pentti Kirstilä in English translation, with the exception of one exceptional story. His work is no more available now than it was then, but I have found another funny Finnish writer. Tapani Bagge's Onni Syrjänen, a "not very successful lawyer, is too poor to hire a detective, so he does his own gumshoeing." That lets you know right away that something funny is going on.

Bagge's short story "The Face in the Concrete" is full of sharp description, endearing characters, clever twists on perennial P.I. motifs, and the intimate humor of a small town where everyone knows everyone else and where the possibility of tragedy always lurks. Best of all, the story has been available online for two years at the Thrilling Detective Web site.

Among my favorite snippets is this, from an exchange between Syrjänen and his two luckless cousins, Jampaa and Make, concerning a burglary that did not go as planned:

"The old man started boohooing right in the middle of cracking the safe, starting blubbering about how Granny used to send him Christmas trees we made outta paper."

"It was you?”

Jamppa nodded eagerly

“Granny did help Make a bit, he was only three, but I – ”

“I mean, was it you that broke into Riipinen's?” I specified.

“Ya think I'm lying?” Jamppa got upset.

“I didn't mean it like that. I was just wondering what you're still doing here, then.”

“Should we be off to the Canary Islands, then?” Make seemed exasperated. “Two fellas with nuthin' but stinkin' holes in our pockets?”

"I would think that a couple of million would fix just about any hole."

"Ya would, wouldn't ya?" Jamppa grumbled and swallowed what was left in his mug. “That's 'cactly why we gave ya a holler."

“Or I did," Make corrected. “Jamppa just gave me a fiver.”

“It was my last fiver," Jamppa said and looked at me gloomily, like a landlady who'd just served a sixth useless eviction notice. “We didn't get a friggin' penny outta that friggin' job.”
Finnish author and blogger Juri Nummelin reported earlier this year that he was working on a translation of one of Bagge's novels for publication by Point Blank Press. Here's hoping the project comes to a timely fruition.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Coroner's Lunch

I recently finished this novel, about which I had posted earlier here and here. The book, first in Colin Cotterill's series about Dr. Siri Paiboun, sole coroner in Laos, was a little cozier than I'd have liked. This was a surprise in a story that involves international politics and deaths possibly caused by torture. And supernatural elements are involved, though Cotterill manages to make them interesting.

Such elements play a greater role in the novel than do the politics. This is surprising, too, since the plot involves killings that could escalate into an international incident between Laos and Vietnam. I don't know; I just don't associate spirits and dreams with high-level diplomacy. Still, I'll likely read other novels in the series because Siri is such an appealing protagonist. He's smart, he improvises under circumstances of deprivation, he has compassion for his colleagues, and he's impatient with impediments to his work.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007


Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fred Vargas

Up until very recently, I'd never read a single chapter by this double Dagger winner. Now, I have read a single chapter, the first of Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, the novel for which Vargas and translator Siân Reynolds recently received their second succesive Duncan Lawrie International Dagger. This attention-grabbing opening begins with Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg contemplating a broken central-heating system. He hopes to have it repaired, of course, but mostly he thinks about himself, the heater, and the place they share in the universe.

Adamsberg shivers with his second-in-command, Capitaine Danglard, a precise, knowledgeable officer, perhaps too precise and knowledgeable for the apparently intuitive Adamsberg. The two share personal secrets, and they have opposing approaches to an upcoming police seminar in Quebec. And that, for all practical purposes, is the chapter. There is barely a hint, if any at all, of the cases that will constitute the novel. The chapter reads more like the opening scene of a two-man show, all the emphasis on contrasts between the two characters. I have never read an opening chapter like this before in a crime novel.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

And one more thing ...

When I posted about tributes from one crime-fiction author to another, I forgot this example, from Colin Cotterill's The Coroner's Lunch, which I was reading at the time:

"During his stay in Paris decades before, he'd taken his delight in the weekly serializations of one Monsieur Sim in the l'Oeuvre newspaper ... Siri had been able to solve most of the mysteries long before the inspector had a handle on them."
And, recalls Cotterill's protagonist, the proud Siri Paiboun, he solved the crimes without the benefit of the inspector's pipe. Back in Laos, Siri is delighted to find that Monsieur Sim now writes under his full name of Georges Simenon and that his books have filtered from Vietnam into Laos.

Cotterill thus offers a more elaborate tribute than most, spinning it out into an anecdote and giving his readers not just the information that Siri (and, presumably, Cotterill, too) reads Simenon's Maigret stories, but the historical nugget that Simenon once wrote under the name of Sim, and a plausible example of his phenomenal worldwide popularity.

All this gives me the opportunity to ask you another question, dear readers. How do you feel about such references and tributes? Do they add to the story's interest? One the one hand, if you and I read detective stories, there is no reason why a fictional detective should not do the same thing. On the other, this can serve as a mischievous (or intrusive) reminder that when you read a story, you are not entering a real world, you are just reading a story.

OK, I'm done being ponderous. Now it's your turn. Do your favorite fictional detectives read detective stories? How do you feel about this?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How does one crime author pay tribute to another?

A few minutes ago, I posted about Andrea Camilleri's having named his protagonist, Salvo Montalbano, in honor of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, author of the Pepe Carvalho novels. A few months ago, Håkan Nesser told me he named his protagonist, Inspector Van Veeteren, in honor of Janwillem van de Wetering, the humorous and philosophical author of the Grijpstra and de Gier ("Amsterdam Cops") stories.

What similar tributes can you think of? How do authors honor their own favorite authors?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , , , ,

Revelations about revolutions (Taibo, Marcos, Colin Cotterill)

I've found a few surprises in the opening pages of The Uncomfortable Dead and The Coroner's Lunch. The former is a product of an unusual collaboration, between Paco Ignacio Taibo II, author of the Héctor Belascoarán Shayne crime novels, and Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Mexico. The latter is the first in Collin Cotterill's series about Dr. Siri Paiboun, an accidental hero who solves crimes as the only coroner in Laos after the Communist takeover.

First, the Taibo/Marcos: The two authors purportedly wrote alternate chapters, Marcos the odd-numbered ones, Taibo the even. That would give Marcos the opening chapter, and the revolutionary spokesman/leader pulls it off with a flash of humor here and there – a pleasant surprise to this thorough-going son of the bourgeoisie. He also invokes Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and his protagonist Pepe Carvalho. That's another pleasant surprise and an argument for Vázquez Montalbán as a late entrant in the Most influential crime writer sweepstakes. In addition to the Marcos/Taibo tribute, after all, Andrea Camilleri named his protagonist, Salvo Montalbano, in Vázquez Montalbán's honor.

Colin Cotterill has spent much of his life traveling and teaching, for several years in Laos, scene of the Siri Paiboun series. That gives his books a kind of knowledgeable outsider's perspective, something like Michael Dibdin's in the Aurelio Zen novels. (Dibdin was also a teacher.) In one small example, Siri
"passed government women at the end of their day jobs. They wore khaki blouses and traditional black phasin that hung stiffly to their ankles. Each managed to make her uniform unique in some way: a brooch, a different collar, a fold in the skirt that was their own."
On the one hand, that's not an observation a Laotian would likely make, which raises the vexed question of what happens when an author sets a novel in a country other than his or her own. On the other hand, an attentive visitor would likely make such an observation, which establishes a bond between reader and author and – who knows? – may stir readers' interest in visiting Laos.

More (and this time I mean it) on Siri Paiboun later.

NB: The Uncomfortable Dead has been nominated for a 2007 Shamus Award in the Best Paperback Original category. (Hat tip to the Mystery File blog.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 16, 2007

How do authors keep interest alive in a long-running series?

How does a writer preserve continuity while avoiding stagnation?

Readers of Donald Westlake's comic Dortmunder novels know that Dortmunder and his gang begin planning each heist with a meeting at the O.J. Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue. We know the impassive bartender Rollo and the bathroom doors marked "Pointers" and "Setters." We also recognize the addled cast of regulars who bellow hilariously garbled questions and answers at one another.

The thirteenth Dortmunder novel, What's So Funny?, preserves the traditional opening by eliminating it:

"When John Dortmunder, relieved, walked out of Pointers and back to the main sales floor of the O.J. Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue a little after ten that Wednesday evening in November, the silence was unbelievable, particularly in contrast with the racket that had been going on when he'd left. But now, no. Not a word, not a peep, not a word. The regulars all hunched at the bar were clutching tight to their glasses as they practiced their thousand-yard stare ..."
That works for readers new to Dortmunder, who may wonder what the silence is all about, and it was delicious for me, letting me relive memories of previous trips to the O.J. Bar & Grill while jolting me with a delightful surprise.

This got me thinking of the things authors do to keep a long-running series new while preserving its best features. How do your favorite crime writers do this? Pick a series that's been around awhile, preferably for eight or more books, and tell me what the author does to keep it fresh.

(Click here and here for previous posts on how series change over time.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The revolution™ will be not be televised without express permission

Today's Philadelphia ******er offers a story about the controversy at Valley Forge, where neighbors are angry over a private company's plans for an American Revolution Center. The center would include a museum, a hotel, a conference facility, a restaurant and a campground, all within the boundaries of Valley Forge National Historical Park. Still, said a lawyer for the project, "This is not commercialization."

In the same story, however, the center's president says: "We believe this will be one of the foremost centers for study of the Revolutionary era. ... We are an aggressive marketing organization, and we will be branding the American Revolution."

A reader up on his or her history but unschooled in the ways of marketing might have thought that George Washington, Thomas Paine, the Battle of the Brandywine, the Declaration of Independence, et al. constituted sufficient "branding."

© Peter Rozovsky 2007


Saturday, July 14, 2007

The last of Zen

In the June 30 Guardian, Mark Lawson found Michael Dibdin's new End Games shot through with clues that Dibdin had turned his mind toward "last things," a poignant reminder of Dibdin's death in March at age 60:

Paradoxically, though, End Games is not obviously an acknowledged finale, though there is, for the reader particularly alert to clues, a rather circuitous inclusion of the word "tomb" in a climactic, and otherwise optimistic, paragraph, as well as an odd, brutal reference to a medical condition that seems to have no functional purpose within the book. Otherwise, it is energetically and meticulously written, and the longest novel in the [Aurelio] Zen series. There is, perhaps, one other subtle indication of a writer knowingly book-ending his career or, at least, one sequence of novels. In the last paragraph of Ratking, the 1988 story that introduced Aurelio Zen, the detective, walking home, notes that "the sky was clear and littered with stars". Almost 20 years on, as he enters the final pages of what we now know to be his last case, Zen looks to the heavens and regrets that light pollution has largely obliterated this natural illumination: "[Within] his lifetime that celestial array had been erased like a medieval fresco gaudily overpainted in a more enlightened era."
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,

Noble efforts that don't quite work

Sometimes an experiment is interesting even if it doesn't work. Colin Watson's Kissing Covens (also published as Broomsticks Over Flaxborough) includes a tasty send-up of advertising-speak. Some excerpts:

"So he's absolutely integral — but integral — so far as local product acceptance is concerned."
"In an above-the-line situation, Gordon."


"Hang on. We'll just kick that one around a bit, shall we? One — have we really lost him, disappearance-wise? Or is he just temporarily snarled up in a bottle situation?"

That's good stuff, but five pages of it is too much. Pompous abbreviations for the men's company and titles are funny on the scene's first page; on its fourth, "TEAK'S DCBV nodded" is tedious piling-on.

On second thought, perhaps length is not entirely to blame. Perhaps the scene, published in 1972, doesn't work in 2007 because so many people really do talk and write that way these days. Conversation-wise, that is.

OK, readers, now you weigh in. What crime-fiction scenes, tricks, devices or tactics have you read that are clever but don't quite work?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 13, 2007

Music to her ears

Something about music seems, er, to strike a chord. I just found Louise Ure's long, passionate post on Murderati about her musical education and crime fiction's continuing role in that education. A highlight is her checklist of fictional sleuths and their musical tastes.

My favorite is probably Ace Atkins, whose series features "sometime blues history teacher Nick Travers in New Orleans." That makes want to read Atkins, which I'm sure would please Louise.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Now, THAT'S how to mix fiction and music

Haruki Murakami's essay "Jazz Messenger" in the New York Times says all that needs to be said about fiction and music. Here's part of it:

Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. ... Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. ...

Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful.

Here's some of what I wrote last fall about Jean-Claude Izzo:

Izzo seems to have had music very much on his mind as he wrote Total Chaos. This shows not just in the frequent invocations of music to set mood and define character, but also in a small aspect of the book's construction. The protagonist and two friends who figure prominently are of Spanish or Neapolitan stock. The milieu of the novel is 1990s Marseilles, which has new minorities, some African but mostly Arab. Throughout the novel, the protagonist and narrator, Fabio Montale, compares and contrasts the older immigrants with their newer counterparts. These observations are commentaries on the main action, something like a secondary theme recurring in a symphony and responding to the main theme.

As in a symphony, the observations build to a climax. As Montale's world reels into total chaos (bodies pile up, killers and victims turn out to be connected in unexpected ways, and fascists of an especially evil kind turn up in high places — or dead), the comparison of poor white Italian and Spanish immigrants with poor dark-skinned Arabs intensifies into identification. In one of the novel's numerous flashbacks, Montale and friends comtemplate with grim amusement the situation of Spanish and Neapolitan immigrants to Marseilles. "What are we, after all?" one friend asks, to which the other responds "Arabs!" and all burst into laughter, the climax and the realization of all that had been implied first by comparison and then by identification.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More on music

Sandra Ruttan posts a detailed, thought-provoking reply to yesterday's post about Ian Rankin, rock and roll and crime fiction. She jumps all over the Telegraph article that criticized Rankin's radio show about music and crime fiction, and she makes a persuasive case that the article's author did not do his or her homework.

Sandra is a bigger Rankin fan than I am. She also uses music in her own fiction, so her words carry extra weight. "To me, anyway," she writes, "music is natural atmosphere." She's right, of course. The question is whether fiction — an artificial creation, after all — has a natural atmosphere.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Not-so-Sweet Jane

I've posted about mystery and music several times, occasionally chiding Ian Rankin for unimaginative use of the Rolling Stones as a character marker for John Rebus. But Rankin offered some amusing comments on rock music and crime fiction in the Guardian last month.

The article, Sgt Pepper must die!, asked musicians, producers and others to name "the supposedly great records they'd gladly never hear again." It says much about Rankin's popularity that he was the only non-music figure in the article. Here's part of what he had to say about The Velvet Underground and Nico:
"The back of the album says it was produced by Andy Warhol alongside the Velvets, so straight away I'm annoyed. ... And Nico's voice is flat throughout - she sings English the way I sing German. Talk about looks being everything: she was a supermodel trying to sing in a rock band, but she couldn't sing ... "

I also found a critical article in the Telegraph from 2006 about Rankin's radio series Music to Die For. In the series' three programs, Rankin talked about the role of music in his own writing and interviewed other crime writers who make music a part of their work. Here are some selections from the Telegraph piece:

'Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.' Sadly, this was not how Ian Rankin opened Music to Die For (Radio 4, yesterday), his series about the way crime writers are using music in their novels these days. He was rather more vainglorious.

... the harder questions, such as whether the use of music is not sometimes just lazy piggybacking, if not product placement, and whether or not resorting to it so readily further suggests that crime fiction as a genre is condemned never to be much more than mood music itself, were not raised.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , ,

A shite television interview with a fine writer (Craig Ferguson interviews Ken Bruen)

Once or twice during Craig Ferguson's interview with Ken Bruen on today's (OK, last night's) Late, Late Show, Ferguson stopped babbling and clowning long enough to let Bruen make an interesting observation. Ordinary people in Ireland love Jack Taylor, Bruen said, and they ask, in the wake of Taylor's having given up alcohol after sloshing his way through several novels: "Why won't you let the bastard drink?"

He also told Ferguson that Irish tourist officials "say I am singlehandedly destroying the Irish tourist industry." Kevin Burton Smith made a similar remark about Declan Hughes' fiction in his recent interview with Hughes, and the two quips point up the tendency of recent Irish crime fiction to look critically at Irish society. (Declan Burke speculated in a recent post on his Crime Always Pays blog that this new attitude may be a reaction to the 1996 murder of reporter Veronica Guerin.)

But that was about it. There was no mention of any Bruen novel other than Priest, a copy of which Ferguson held up to the camera. There was no discussion of Bruen's hellish spell in a Brazilian jail, and no mention of the Brant and Roberts novels or Bruen's collaborations with Jason Starr. Bruen came across as amiable, if slightly uncomfortable with Ferguson's antics, and if the interview introduces readers to his work, that's all for the good. But for anyone who knows Bruen's writing, there was no reason to stay up late.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 09, 2007

Carlo Lucarelli, "Carte Blanche"

If more historical crime fiction were like Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy (Carte Blanche, That Damned Season and Via delle Oche, the last of which is to be published in English translation next year), I might learn to like historical crime fiction.

What makes Lucarelli's brand different? For one thing, the De Luca books are compact and almost devoid of picturesque detail. Instead, Lucarelli gets at the heart of the scary and chaotic place that was late-Fascist Italy directly, and far more effectively, through brief, violent bursts of action, and through the thoughts and words and deeds of one man: De Luca.

That hard-working police officer has transferred from the Fascist political police to the regular force, but his past stays with him and is essential to his investigations. De Luca's pleas that he hates the politics, that he is just a policeman doing his job, are a sad, almost pathetic refrain throughout Carte Blanche.
More later, perhaps.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I'll be back to normal soon

I'm wrapping up a week at the beach with my brother, his wife, and my two nephews, Chum and Shark Food. I recommend North Carolina's Outer Banks heartily as a holiday destination, and I can offer some constructive advice: Don't wear your glasses into the ocean if the waves are over your head. Happily, I had brought a spare pair.

Until I resume my usual volume of reading, I point you toward an intriguing note on Crime Down Under about The Nelson Conspiracy: "As a bit of background to the story around which it is based, the Juanita Nielsen murder is one of Australia's most intriguing mysteries and all began when she went to an appointment at a Kings Cross nightclub and disappeared. She had been leading a vigorous campaign against a redevelopment in the Kings Cross area at the time of her disappearance."

The theme may well resonate with fans of Peter Temple, several of whose works involve shady property development deals. Author Barry Ward weighs in with a dissenting comment, and I'll take the liberty of adding the Nelson/Nielsen killing to my list of What real-life events have inspired waves of crime fiction?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A signpost to some Argentine and Argentine American mysteries

Bill Crider posted a comment about The Lady from Buenos Aires by John Lantigua. That got me thinking how little crime fiction I'd found from Argentina, which led me to this article by G.J. Demko on crime fiction from Argentina.

In The Lady From Buenos Aires, P.I. Willie Cuesta
"gets involved with the Argentine community in Miami. He's hired to find the daughter of a woman who was 'disappeared' twenty years ago in Argentina's 'dirty war.' In the course of his search, he runs into a diplomat, a realtor who isn't what he seems, a former CIA agent, a nightclub owner, a suspicious husband, and any number of ladies from Buenos Aires. It seems that nearly all of them have pasts they'd rather not have revealed. Murders ensue. Willie has a couple of very close calls himself."
I would be especially interested to see how well Lantigua can bring that grim period of Argentina's history to life, and also to see how he handles the challenge of making those events reverberate in an Argentine expatriate community.

The Demko article ought to interest readers of international crime fiction right from its opening sentences: "Argentine writers were among the earliest adopters and adapters of the crime fiction genre. The authors, many of whom were, and are, members of the mainstream literati, created a popular, respected, and uniquely Argentine form of mystery."

© Peter Rozovsky 2007


Friday, July 06, 2007

Son of 'What Drives You Nuts?'

Dave Knadler at Dave's Fiction Warehouse discusses A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson in a post titled "The worst book I've read this year ..."

"While I admire the author's ambition and research," he writes, " this is one of those yarns where meticulous geographic detail actually undermines the story." Dave's examples will interest readers of international crime fiction. His complaint echoes one of Clive James' broader gripes about international crime fiction, a comment with which I disagreed strongly here.

(If Dave's complaints about Wilson's book get you in a mood to vent your spleen about other crime-fiction subjects, the floor is still open here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Peter Temple wins the world's biggest crime-fiction prize

This just in: Peter Temple's The Broken Shore has won a highly deserved CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger, formerly known as the CWA Gold Dagger for Fiction, for best crime novel of the year. I've raved about The Broken Shore and Temple here. Other winners of awards from Britain's Crime Writers' Association include:

— Author Fred Vargas and translator Sian Reynolds, Duncan Lawrie International Dagger for Wash this Blood Clean from My Hand. This marks a repeat for the pair, who won last year for The Three Evangelists.

— Gillian Flynn and her novel Sharp Objects, winner of the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the CWA New Blood Dagger.

Find a complete list CWA winners here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Colin Watson for the holidays

What better way to honor America than by reading a classic British crime-fiction comedy? In Charity Ends at Home, Colin Watson again casts a satirical eye on the English village mystery. Here, in the fifth of his twelve Flaxborough Chronicles, he adds fierce rivalry within the world of pro-animal charities to a roster of targets that has included lechery, snobbery, sexual hypocrisy, blackmail and embezzlement.

But anyone who doubts that Watson loved his mythical eastern English setting should reads this little lyrical gem:

The streets were full of bicycles, clattering droves of them, bowling homeward from the docks and timber yards and factories. ... Timber men, packers, engineers, men from the wharves converged in speeding groups which then split at junctions and crossroads with banter and shouts of farewell. The older men, riding alone or in pairs, let the others pass while they sat in straight-backed dignity in their saddles and showed off skill at lighting pipes with one hand. They affected not to notice the antics of the boys who stood on their plunging pedals like rodeo performers or crouched, chin to handlebars, and furiously raced one another, with the squeals of the cannery girls as prizes.
When I left off my reading to watch the fireworks, an enthusiastic fund-raiser had just been found face-down in a well. I'll report back later on how she got there.

Click here for more about Colin Watson and the Flaxborough Chronicles.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Finnish crime fiction on U.S. TV

Yesterday's post about What German crime-fiction readers read lamented the unavailability in English translation of Finland's Harri Nykänen. It transpires that the television series based on Nykänen's comic novels about the hitman Raid was made available to at least a segment of the U.S. television-watching public.

Read some good things about the series Raid and Kai Lehtinen's performance in the title role here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,

Monday, July 02, 2007

A new crime-fiction blog

A former colleague of mine has started Dave's Fiction Warehouse, which I recommend for three reasons:

1) He's a nice guy.

2) He's a a hell of a prose stylist.

3) One of his first posts dovetails nicely with a post I made here yesterday. I asked Can authors and protagonists go home again? in a comment about Declan Hughes' The Wrong Kind of Blood and American Visa by Juan de Recacoechea. Dave holds forth on Martin Cruz Smith's Stalin's Ghost, in which:
The morose and laconic Arkady Renko returns for the sixth time since his debut in the brilliant Gorky Park of 1982.This time he's back in Moscow, which has changed a great deal in 25 years. It's a city where the excesses of capitalism and corruption have engendered an odd nostalgia for the days of Stalinist Russia — even as mass graves yield reminders of what those days were really like.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: ,

What German crime-fiction readers read

An article in English on the Goethe-Institut Web site calls Germany a Mystery Story Paradise in the Middle of Europe. The article is a year old, but, assuming it remains relatively current, it has much of interest to say about German readers' tastes and about the crime fiction available to them. A few highlights:

1) Every year 600 to 800 mystery stories are published in Germany, about two-thirds in translation. Of approximately 800 mystery stories that appeared in 2005, just under 200 were imports from Europe. An estimated 200 more come from the United States and Canada, and a small remainder from Asia, Africa, Australia and Oceania. (Since publication of the article, The Broken Shore, by the superb Australian Peter Temple, has won an award in its German translation as Kalter August. Read more in German about Temple at that wide ranging German crime-fiction site Krimi-Couch.)

2) The most influential present-day British author is Ian Rankin.

3) Germans have been reading crime fiction from the Nordic countries since the nineteenth century. The list of Nordic writers available in German includes some of the same authors availble in English, and some whose work I wish were available in English, including Finland's Harri Nykänen. (Quite apart from the article, I know that more than ten of Håkan Nesser's books are have been published in German translation, versus the two available in English. No wonder Nesser calls Germany "the door-opener to the rest of Europe.")

4) At least in 2006, Italian crime fiction was "(w)idely publicised, but unfortunately not very successful." The article cites Carlo Lucarelli, Andrea Camilleri and a writer I don't know: Giuseppe Genna.

5) Among French crime authors who have made a splash in Germany are Jean-Claude Izzo, Fred Vargas, and, again, one I don't know: "the mystic-adventurer Jean-Christophe Grangé."

6) Crime fiction is just beginning to stir in the countries of the former Soviet bloc: "In their homeland, Polina Daschkowa, Darja Donzowa, Alebxandra Marinina, Tatjana Ustinowa and Viktoria Platowa have enjoyed vast million editions. Their novels are entertaining, not particularly difficult, and in part written with an eye to a mass public which wants to experience history through children of the Tsar and heroes in the shape of nouveau riche capitalists. Often brilliantly written, fabulous froth of the day from a society that is seeking itself."

P.S. I forgot to add that the article shows special appreciation for my man Bill James: "Alas, only confirmed mystery story fans know the authors of the “Brit Noir” – Charles Lewis, Derek Raymond, Bill James, and Helen Zahavi ..."

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Can authors and protagonists go home again?

I've recently read two novels in which author or protagonist has returned home after decades abroad: The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes and American Visa by Juan de Recacoechea.

In each case, the return is important to what the novel tries to do. In Hughes', protagonist Ed Loy's time away from Ireland lets him take a sharper view of the changes that wealth, and the crime, drugs and corruption that follow, have brought to the country. (Hughes discusses this and other issues in an interview with Kevin Burton Smith in January Magazine.)

In American Visa, protagonist Mario Alvarez travels from his small town to La Paz, "a city I struggled to recognize; half a million hungry peasants had changed its face." This, I wrote in an earlier comment, may reflect Recacoechea's own impressions after he returned to Bolivia from two decades working in Europe.

The motif of returning home, of coping with changes, is obviously rich in opportunity for drama. Give me some of your favorite examples in crime fiction, or perhaps in other art forms as well.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

Technorati tags:

Labels: , , ,