Friday, October 31, 2008

Name a prize, win a prize: "The Spoke" – Now with a new, improved question!

Friedrich Glauser was one of the best and most distinctive crime writers ever: low-key, compassionate, witty, deadpan. Publishing this great Swiss author's work in English is Bitter Lemon Press' highest accomplishment and one that warrants the gratitude of crime readers everywhere. Now you can win one of his books and see what the fuss is about, if you haven't done so already.

Here's part of what I wrote about The Spoke, the fifth and, alas, final of Glauser's five novels about the stolid, humorous, empathetic Sgt. Studer to be translated:

"The delightful, sometimes low humor from the other four Studer books is here, as is the tender, almost heartbreaking empathy with downtrodden characters that was especially strong in The Chinaman and In Matto's Realm. The scorn for the predator/villains is especially righteous in this novel, and the denouement is especially merry. Troubled though he may have been, I suspect that Friedrich Glauser must always have been capable of a wry grin."
It appears that my original question was phrased ambiguously (Oh, hell, who am I kidding? It was a bad question.) So, with apologies to several of you who sent in answers, here is a new question:

The German Crime Writers’ Association, or Das Syndikat, awards one of the top prizes for German-language crime fiction. Name this prize.

The winner is: A reader from Colorado was the first with the correct answer that Das Syndikat awards the Friedrich-Glauser-Preis each year for the best German-language crime fiction. Congratulations, enjoy The Spoke, and when you're done with it, read the rest of Glauser.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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How Philadelphia celebrates the World Series

While sportswriters safe in warm press boxes wrote about joy, and public rela– I mean editorial cartoonists drew happy pictures of dancing fans, and sports columnists weighed in with deep thoughts about what it all means for the city and the region, here's what a World Series victory really means in Philadelphia.

More: See more Philadelphia fans showing their class here and here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The ghosts of Northern Ireland

Everyone from Crime Scene NI and Crime Always Pays to a couple of hacks named John Connolly and James Ellroy has been heaping hosannas on Stuart Neville's upcoming debut novel. That novel is The Ghosts of Belfast, and now you can read its first two chapters online.

The chapters make chilling and evocative use of both parts of the novel's title, which makes Neville the second Northern Ireland crime writer I've read recently to explore the dramatic possibilities of ghosts.

The first, oddly enough, is Garbhan Downey in a story from his Off Broadway collection – oddly, because it's hard to imagine two moods more different than Downey's and Neville's. (Don't be fooled by Neville's cheerful mien in the photo above. The man can write haunted, and the man can write driven, and he doesn't take many words to do it.)

What is a ghost but a troubling manifestation of the past? That two such different writers chose ghosts as a vehicle to explore Northern Ireland's recent past is a clue to the dramatic riches that past contains. I know that Northern Irish crime fiction has been gathering steam for twelve or fifteen years, but I get the feeling that the boom is starting now.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Draining Lake and the exceptional crime

I have a full review coming elsewhere of The Draining Lake, so for now I'll restrict myself to a wry observation that Arnaldur Indriðason makes in the book about his native Iceland.
Arnaldur lamented a few weeks ago at Bouchercon that "The biggest difficulty for an Icelandic crime writer is that we don't have much crime in the country." In The Draining Lake he has his narrator muse that the novel's three main police officers
"were more accustomed to dealing with simple, Icelandic crimes without mysterious devices or trade attachés who weren't trade attachés, without foreign embassies of the Cold War, just Icelandic reality: local, uneventful, mundane and infinitely removed from the battle zones of the world."
That passage comprehends both wistfulness and rueful, ironic observation. The novel itself reminds me a bit of Jo Nesbø's The Redbreast, with its excursions decades into the past for the roots of an event in the narrative present.

Is that sort of novelistic excavation more common in Nordic crime fiction than in crime writing from elsewhere? Does brutal crime so shock the placid, civilized surface of life in the Nordic nations that its crime writers are driven more than those elsewhere to probe the past for answers where, say, American authors might seek roots in the present?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Noir at the Bar with Jonathan Maberry this Sunday, Nov. 2

Jonathan Maberry, Stoker Award-winning author of Ghost Road Blues, Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead and many more, will read from his new novel Patient Zero this Sunday, Nov. 2, at Philadelphia's fifth Noir at the Bar reading.

"Jonathan Maberry writes in the grand poetic horror tradition of Poe and Robert McCammon."

– MWA grandmaster Stuart Kaminsky

"Every so often, you discover an author whose writing is so lyrical that it transcends mere storytelling. Jonathan Maberry is just such an author, and his writing is powerful enough to sing with poetry while simultaneously scaring the hell out of you."

– Best-selling author Tess Gerritsen

"A hell of a nice guy with a razor-sharp mind who will make you think about zombies in ways you have never done before."

– Detectives Beyond Borders' Peter Rozovsky

Where: Tritone
1508 South Street
Philadelphia, PA

When: Sunday, Nov. 2, 6:00 p.m.

"Noir at the Bar: A Philadelphia Tradition Since 2008"

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, October 27, 2008

The Draining Lake and its unique setting

Arnaldur Indriðason wrote this novel well before Iceland's financial crisis, but it shares concerns aroused by the bank crashes about Iceland's vulnerability as a small, isolated nation:

Kleifarvatn is both the name of a real lake in Iceland's Reykjanes peninsula and the novel's title in its original Icelandic. The lake is (or was), in fact, disappearing after an earthquake, and the book's stark, one-word title must have resonated strongly with readers in Iceland.
The vulnerability is not just physical. Iceland's small size also makes it harder for its people to hide, should they choose to do so. This quite naturally will play a large role in police investigations, perhaps complicating them:

I'd thought Arnaldur's Jar City (Tainted Blood in the U.K.) took better advantage of its setting than any other crime novel I'd read. Now I'll go one step further and say that Arnaldur has Iceland in his bones and that no crime novelist I can think of has ever written books so inextricably tied to their setting.
I'll also invite you to disagree with me, or at least to name your candidates for stories that could not have been set anywhere else.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008
"`Can you get away with bigamy in Iceland?' Sigurður Óli asked.
"`No,' Ellinborg said firmly. `There are too few of us.'"

"`You remember the big south Iceland earthquake on the seventeenth of June 2000?' she said, and they nodded. `About five seconds afterwards a large earthquake also struck Kleifarvatn, which doubled the natural rate of drainage from it. When the lake started to shrink people at first thought it was because of unusually low precipitation, but it turned out that the water was pouring down through fissures that run across the bed of the lake and have been there for ages. Apparently they opened up in the earthquake. The lake measured ten square kilometres but now it's only about eight. The water level has fallen by at least four metres.''

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fun with giallo, plus a book worth talking about

Giallo: (pronounced IPA: ['ʤallo], plural gialli) is an Italian 20th-century genre of literature and film, which in Italian indicates crime fiction and mystery.

Courtesy of Marco, who has posted numberous illuminating and stimulating comments here, and, if memory serves, Adrian McKinty comes news of the Do-It-Yourself-Giallo Kit. Click on that link, and you'll see the title, director and plot synopsis of a bogus giallo movie. Hit refresh, and you'll see another. Do it all day and all night, if you'd like, and you'll likely hit a plot or two that will remind you of something you've read or seen. (Click here for a discussion of giallo and its various definitions.)

And then tell me about it. What real books, stories and movies do the bogus gialli remind you of?


McKinty's novel The Bloomsday Dead, very much worth reading, is now officially one of Fifty Books to Talk About as well, and you can help make it one of ten and then the Book to Talk About in 2009. Cast your vote here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Word of mouth

One of the joys of a convention such as Bouchercon is learning about authors and books one had not read before and passing on one's own knowledge. Christa Faust got me interested in Martyn Waites. I have apparently turned Dana King on to Linda L. Richards.

What authors or books have you learned about by word of mouth? What writers or books have you passed on to others in the same way? I'd be especially interested if your discoveries were outside your normal area of reading.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Death Was the Other Woman and a question about alternative histories

This novel slips under the Detectives Beyond Borders wire because I mingled in good fellowship with author Linda L. Richards at Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore, because its protagonist has an interesting genesis, and because Richards is Canadian, which puts her beyond those borders that this blog likes to cross in its search for subjects.

Richards' inspiration was the opening scene of The Maltese Falcon, where Sam Spade's loyal secretary, Effie Perrine, opens the door to "Miss Wonderly," then sits and clacks away at her typewriter as the visitor spins out her yarn. What, wondered Richards, would someone like Effie do while the boss was off getting drunk or getting bashed in the head? Here's Richards, from an essay she wrote for Crimespree Magazine:
"(Q)uite often, these hard drinking PIs had a secretary. We seldom saw any of them do very much, but they were a solid presence in the stories in which they cropped up; gently esteemed by their bosses and treated with more respect than most of the women who appeared in the same tales.

"As I read – and read and read – I began to look for the female hands that were making the fruitful outcomes possible. You’d never see them straight on, of course. It’s possible even the authors responsible didn’t see these women at work. But the times dictated that these women do their stuff quietly, careful not to bruise the delicate larger egos of their often sodden bosses. I saw it all emerge. And I saw the reasons why.

"It was the Depression. Money was scarce and jobs difficult to come by. If you had a job, yet the job itself was imperfect, you wouldn’t just chuck it and get a new one, as we would in the 21st century. Jobs were precious, something to hold on to. You would do whatever you could – whatever you had to do – to make it work out, even if that meant doing the boss’s job for him when he wasn’t looking."
This gives Richards a perfect set-up for a kind of alternative history, and she follows through nicely. Her Kitty Pangborn is no mere vicarious fantasy of a woman stepping into a man's job. She does no shooting, for example, and she is never drugged, slugged or shot at. But the story is decidedly a mystery, and Kitty does her share of sleuthing, snooping and, above all, thinking and reflecting. The thinking, the reflecting, and her narration of the events that led her to the side of P.I. Dexter J. Theroux lend the story a wistful, coming-of-age air. Readers who liked Fredric Brown's great Fabulous Clipjoint might feel at home here.

Richards handles her other big narrative challenge nicely, too. She portrays the past – 1930s Los Angeles – without turning it into a museum piece. Kitty's back story helps here, too. She is the product of a once wealthy family that lost everything in the Depression. Thus she knows of the era's glitzy nightclubs but has fallen far enough from that world to be awed when she visits them. This gives Richards narrative license to paint word pictures of the scenes we know so well from movies set in the early 1930s. You know them, those vast rooms all in the best silver-and-cream that black-and-white movies could muster, all raised seating platforms and bold, curved modernist edges.

P.S. In another gender-based variation on a hard-boiled theme, Richards has an awkward, countrified young man turn up to look for his wayward sibling – a little brother, that is, rather than Chandler's Little Sister.
Death Was the Other Woman takes a familiar situation – hard-living P.I., loyal secretary – and tells the story from an unfamiliar point of view. What other crime writers have chosen alternate viewpoints for classic stories? What classic crime-fiction situations are ripe for such treatment?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why just "One Book"?

Once again it's time for One Book, One Philadelphia, and once again, Philadelphia has made a relentlessly high-minded choice.

I begrudge these highly praised books nothing, and I heartily endorse the program's goal of supporting literacy and building library usage. But I've never been entirely comfortable with the "One Book" concept, in part because slogans like "One Book, One Philadelphia" have uncomfortable historical overtones, in part because I question the value of having everyone read the same book.

But at least cities like Chicago alleviate the oppressive oneness by offering fall and spring "One Books" and the high-mindedness with such an enlightened selection as Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. And then there's the New York Mercantile Library's Big Read program, which this year celebrated The Maltese Falcon.

So I'll bring back a question from last spring and ask once again: Which crime books you would have everyone in your city or town read and why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Books from the bag – a contest

One of the delights of Bouchercon was the sturdy book bag each attendee received full of magazines and books from the likes of John Harvey, Peter Robinson and Sophie Hannah. Among the treats was Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance, a copy of which I'd bought just before the convention. You can win my extra copy if you're the first to answer a skill-testing question.

Since I've posted recently about music, sports and Oscar Wilde's native country of Ireland, today's question covers all three: Which two sports are mentioned in the classic Irish ballad "Whiskey in the Jar"?

We have a winner! Loren in Florida knew that:

"Now there's some take delight
in the carriages a rolling / and others take delight in the hurling and the bowling."

His book will be in the mail shortly. Congratulations.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Politics is the continuation of war by other means

Another example of Garbhan Downey's tendency to leaven Runyonesque nostalgia with the lurking possibility of violence in his story collection Off Broadway:

"`They're all found and surrender immediately – as does Teddy Badteeth. And they are all cuffed. Indeed, there is no shooting at all until Davey the Fuseman tries to bolt for it and is shot in the arm. Though it's nothing life-threatening and he's able to walk back into the room.'

"`But the gendarmes then line all four of the Boys up against the wall, and without any comment, the sergeant pulls out his revolver and shoots Jimmy, Teddy and Davey in the head. Dead as green meat. My father, Dom, who is fourth in line, is shaking and crying as he makes his Act of Contrition. But the sergeant, who, incidentally, is no connection whatsoever to Two Tuts, then re-holsters his gun and tells Dad to go home – and let that be a lesson to him.'

"`It's a move as old as war itself: always leave one alive to tell the tale.'"
The stories in Off Broadway are narrated as recollections. The recollections are often of the violent days of the Troubles, and they are narrated by and among characters who move in other circles: criminal, political, legal, journalistic. The slow bleeding of the recent past into the present is a constant dynamic of these stories, and before I start sounding like a sociologist, I'll shut up and say that they're a lot of fun to read.
A story called "First to Score" has Harry the Hurler, former chief executive of the Boys in Derry, getting it into his head to form a soccer team. It's the longest and funniest tale in the book, and it, plus Downey's frequent concern with politics, brought up a question that I've been thinking about at work: What sports metaphors do political commentators outside North America use?

The question arose last week as I copy-edited a story about that night's presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. A political operative, assessing McCain's chances, told a reporter that McCain needed to land a knockout punch in the homestretch of the campaign.

What made the two-sport cliché-mongering especially delicious is that it came in a story about the debate's having to compete for attention with that night's baseball playoff game. Baseball, quite naturally, was invoked in the headline, which gave the story three sports metaphor/clichés – or should I say a hat trick.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

The rocky road to modern Ireland

Books, Inq., run by my former colleague Frank Wilson, points the way to a newspaper article full of interesting insights about Irish English, even if some of these come from John Banville, not beloved of all in the Irish crime-writing community.

I especially liked the article's observation that, while ordinary Irish people may not have Seán Ó Faoláin or James Joyce at their fingertips, they speak with a fluency rare in the author's own city of Toronto:
"I'll be accused of stereotyping to say it, but everyone not only answered in full sentences, but those sentences almost inevitably turned into paragraphs, and those paragraphs had structure, plot, characters, jokes, well-constructed self-deprecations and not a single `um,' `er' or `like.'"
The man is right. I'm recently back from a trip to Ireland, where no one ever missed the chance to turn the most ordinary, quotidian interaction into a story or a joke or a little play:

Me: "Is that a Belfast train?"

Conductor: "Do you want it to be a Belfast train?"


"It's a Belfast train."
My other discovery was that Peter Lennon's 1967 documentary Rocky Road To Dublin is available whole and free on YouTube. I found this by accident when searching for clips of the song of the same name, and all I can say is that it's easy to see why the film was banned in the Republic of Ireland for so long:

"We were told that we were the sons and daughters of revolutionary heroes and that our role now was to be one of gratitude, well-behaved gratitude. To criticize the society our old guerrilla fighters had built up was to be a traitor. We were to keep quiet, and they, like jolly but tough old uncles, would take care of us. What they expected from us now was a new kind of heroism, heroic obedience."
This is electrifying stuff and will lurk in my mind as I read any current Irish crime fiction that takes even a glancing look at the current state of its country.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

An Irish crime writer revitalizes Runyon

Two years ago the Rap Sheet marked Damon Runyon's birthday with a post that suggested many readers knew his name and many knew his work, but few knew both.

I'm not sure how many know Runyon's writing these days (as opposed to movie adaptations, such as Guys and Dolls), but I agree that many know his name and that the name is encrusted with nostalgia.

Garbhan Downey's 2005 collection of linked stories, Off Broadway, chips away at the crust. Its title is an acknowledged nod to Runyon on Broadway, and Downey's characters have colorful nicknames, gather in bars, and speak in the present tense, as Runyon's did.

So what makes these stories fresh? The contemporary settings: Derry, Boston, New York. Paramilitaries and methods of violence I'd read about in other Northern Ireland crime writing. Thus I smiled at the diction of

"(T)he hundred K he'll get from the Massachusetts Public Insurance Board to make up for the two holes in the back of his knees, which incidentally will be developing about now"

even as I cringed at the violence. And how can one not love a phrase like "it will be a cold day in hell before Bad Breath Bradley shows his head in here again to violate my chips and Tikka sauce"?

And now, your questions: Thanks to Garbhan Downey, I may pick up Runyon again to look for darkness beneath the over-the-top color. What newer writers have caused you to take a similar look back at an earlier author or genre? (I have one such pair in mind, and if you're good, I may tell you who it is.) Which writers or styles could use similar rescue from the mist of nostalgia?

(Read about Damon Runyon and sample his work here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, October 17, 2008

That's a wrap: Bouchercon in words and pictures

Arnaldur Indriðason's cheerful demeanor belies his country's financial meltdown. That crisis also came up during my discussion with Arnaldur's fellow Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. I asked her if it could become Iceland's JFK moment, a counterpart to the murders of Veronica Guerin in Ireland and Olof Palme in Sweden and a comparable spur to crime fiction. Could economic unrest spark social unrest if vanishing credit makes basic commodities hard to come by, for example?

Her verdict? Too early to tell, though she and her companion said a banker friend of theirs had been harassed in the streets. And, they added, Icelanders lack a tradition of social protest: "We don't demonstrate well."

(Arnaldur Indriðason and your humble blog keeper. Photo courtesy of Ali Karim)
Jason Goodwin's Edgar-winning novel The Janissary Tree contains tasty, unobtrusive and believable scenes of his protagonist, Yashim, preparing meals. No surprise, then, that Goodwin's Web site discusses the Ottoman culinary tradition, complete with recipes, to which Yashim would have been heir in nineteenth-century Istanbul. No surprise either that Goodwin says the book is "all about cookery," including – well, let's just say for purposes other than preparation of meals.

(YHBK and Jason Goodwin. Photo courtesy of Ali Karim)
A seafood restaurant near the convention hotels – call it Fishnet – and a brew pub next door were evening resorts of choice for a floating group that included a number of folks you've read about in my Bouchercon reports and elsewhere on this blog (me, Declan Burke, John McFetridge, Donna Moore, Christa Faust, Angie Johnson-Schmit, Stacia Decker, Scott Phillips, Duane Swierczynski, et al.) and some you haven't. (Hi, Anita.) Prominent among the group was Philly Poe guy Ed Pettit, who has made it his mission to get Edgar Allan Poe back to Philadelphia.

I can't reveal what plans were hatched at the pub and restaurant – call it the Bucket o' Bait – but had I been able to score a doggie bag big enough, Poe's body would be back in Philly now.

Hasta Indianapolis!

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crime Screen NI: Carnival of the Criminal Minds goes to the movies

Carnival of the Criminal Minds takes yet another new turn in its twenty-fourth installation courtesy of Gerard Brennan and Crime Scene NI. Gerard, working on a screenplay, turns his thoughts to films and offers his readers a guide to ten years of Irish crime movies.

One nice feature is that Gerard doesn't just list the movies, he critiques them. His post ought to beef up your to-watch list. There are some good movies here and some cool titles. I will leave it to those more competent than I to judge the accents.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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The Weinman doppelganger: A Bouchercon mystery

Dave White mentioned the curious case of the Weinman doppelganger. I, too, experienced this strange phenomenon when chatting with a fellow Bouchercon attendee. As we talked, he suddenly looked over my shoulder and said, "Hi, Sarah!" I turned to see a woman looking back at him, dressed in black and appearing puzzled.

I scrutinized her face, her shortish brown hair, and her rangy, athletic figure, and I smiled knowingly. "That's not Sarah Weinman," I told my friend.

"It's elementary, my dear McFetridge," I continued. "The key is the subtle difference between the pronunciations of Sarah and Sara."

For our perplexed companion was not the well-known proprietress of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, but rather another writer, this one named Sara J. Henry. The case grows still more complicated. Weinman, though living in New York, is from Ottawa. Henry, though living in Vermont, is from Nepean, Ontario, now a part of – Ottawa.

The mystery deepens.


As I waited to begin the journey that turned into Tuesday's post, a little girl scuttled across the waiting hall at Baltimore's Penn Station, calling, "Mammy, mammy!" But I'd been spending too much time with crime writers, because I at first heard her girlish cries as "Allan Guthrie!"

"I'd be worried about that kid," my travel companion said.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bouchercon 2008: Run by the Jordans, fueled by the Gordon's

Quite a lot happened after my return to Bouchercon Sunday evening. I:

– Enjoyed a convivial al fresco dinner overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor and moderated by the amazing Ali Karim. Completing the table were Brian Lindenmuth; Sandra Ruttan; Roger "R.J." Ellory; Jodi Pierce and her husband, J. Kingston; and Linda L. Richards. Roger chose the wine, a white meritage called, appropriately, the Novelist. (Read Brian's not-to-be missed account here. You'll almost hear Ali's voice booming off the old warehouses.)

– Returned to the hotel for the bar-closing noir gabfest described earlier.

(The convivial al fresco dinner. Clockwise from lower left: Ali Karim, me, Linda L. Richards, J. Kingston "Jeff" Pierce, Jodi Pierce, Roger Ellory, Sandra Ruttan, Brian Lindenmuth. Photo courtesy of our waiter.)

– Decided to stay over another night, which led to a post-everything chat with Linda Richards as she waited for her 2 a.m. shuttle to the airport, and to the next day's brief chat with Bouchercon organizers Ruth and Jon Jordan and Judy Bobalik. It was good to be able to thank them for their superb work, and Jon Jordan shed some light on a decision that likely contributed to the event's relaxed, sociable character: Attendees' conference badges identified them simply by name and location. There was no "author," "agent," "editor" and so on. The results will be apparent from the number of ecstatic Bouchercon wrap-ups filling the blogosphere. J. Kingston Pierce offers a welcome guide to those wrap-ups on the Rap Sheet.

So, whence this post's title? It's from Thursday's "Booze and Crime Fiction" session, which Ali wrote about in a rundown of Bouchercon's panels:

"They were excellent, even though my first one where I was moderator on 'Booze and Crime Fiction' was somewhat 'controversial', it turned out to be rather good fun, and I must thank my panelists Con Lehane, Michelle Gagnon, Jason Starr, Ken Bruen and Liz Zelvin. All those who thanked me for the panel, remember it was thanks to the Gordon's gin talking."
Therefore it was no surprise when I walked into the Arnaldur Indriðason party that evening, and Ali offered me a gin and tonic.

(Your humble blogkeeper with Christa Faust, courtesy of Sandra Ruttan.)

Finally, the pub quiz. Bouchercon was such a blast, and the organizers did such a superlative job, that I hate to call attention to one microscopic bump. I will say that when a woman with a cane sat down at our table, I asked her if its end was weighted, since I had a target in mind. (And here's a shout-out to my teammate Angie Johnson-Schmit of In For Questioning, a congenial schmoozing and question-answering companion and one of a dauntingly long list of folks whom it was my absolute pleasure to meet at Bouchercon.)

One of the quiz questions asked each team to draw a hypothetical tattoo for some crime author (I forget which one). Christa Faust was the captain of our team, though perhaps mistress would be more appropriate, and she knows a thing or two about tattoos. She drew our team's entry. We lost. Need I say more?

P.S. We didn't win, but I helped our team clean up in the section on international mysteries.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, October 13, 2008

The big no sleep: Post-Bouchercon miscellany, Part I

My Bouchercon posts are not always the most orderly in the blogosphere. Herein, then, a scattering of highlights that may degenerate into a list of fondly recalled names:

The gift of music. Dana King had commented on my posts about music in crime fiction, suggesting Delbert McClinton when I asked for musicians whose songs made good noir stories. The first day of Bouchercon, despite not having met me before, he gave me a CD of McClinton's songs that he'd prepared.

When the sacred gin mill finally closes. A post-last-call discussion at the hotel bar Sunday night with, among others, master-of-all-noir-trades Eddie Muller, Linda L. Richards and Jodi and J. Kingston Rap Sheet. This one finally broke up when a member of the bar staff offered to put his mop in Eddie's hands so he (the bar guy) could go home and get some sleep.

Muller appeared briefly to consider the swap of professions, which would have made a photo almost as good as the one of him in bed with the rest of the Noircon Five.

Carousing is good. Brainy, funny people are better. Carousing with brainy, funny people may not be the highest form of human activity, but it will sure as hell do until something better comes along.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Bouchercon VI

Tired, so today's post will be shorter than usual.

Nice chat at bar with



More tomorrow.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bouchercon V: One too many mornings ...

... but too few days and evenings to attend all the panels and soak up all the vitality of the event, much less to write about it all. So, a few notes, and expect more such late bulletins and little essays in the coming days. I'll begin with a pair of accolades for a pair of Swedish crime-fiction characters.

A panel Friday bore the amiable title "Books we love." Panelist Ali Karim predicted that Lisabeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo in Stieg Larsson's novel of that name, would become one of this generation' great crime fiction characters.

Lee Child paid even stronger tribute to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's great creation: "[Martin Cruz Smith's] Arkady Renko is really Martin Beck. Michael Connelly's Bosch is really Martin Beck."

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bouchercon IV: All the schmooze that's fit to print

(From left: Declan Burke, Donna Moore, Christa Faust, Sandra Ruttan)

And I hope this one doesn't sound too much like the extended-play version of the "I see ... " routine at the end of Romper Room.

Glenn Harper, the keen critical mind behind International Noir Fiction, arrived at Bouchercon today and mingled with your humble blogkeeper and J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet. The mingling lasted just long enough for one onlooker to refer to our few square feet of the Sheraton as the center of the blogging universe. I was chuffed, but then, seeing the people whose work one respects is part of the fun of a convention. And being seen is kind of fun, too. People of accomplishment in crime fiction were coming over and introducing themselves to me as if I were a Dagger winner or something.

The schmoozing and boozing is a guilty pleasure, of course. It's fun to hang out with Sandra Ruttan for lunch and lighthearted rehash of old controversies. It's fun to hang out with Scott Phillips and Christa Faust and the Philly Poe Guy.

(Jason Goodwin and Ali Karim)
But the schmoozing has a sneaky way of leaving me awed at the brains and talent of my fellow diners and imbibers. I'd always figured that Stacia Decker must be an editor of taste and judgment. She had, after all, signed John McFetridge and Declan Burke. Then, when I asked her what I should know about Allan Guthrie and Ray Banks, authors of hers whom I had not read, she discussed their work with such precision, brevity and intelligence that I felt I knew not just that they were good, but what they were all about.

I've been a fan of authors, of course, and even of several publishers. Now, for the first time, an editor's name has become a selling point with me.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Bouchecon III

It's not specifically an international-crime-fiction conference, but Bouchercon 2008's second day touched from its beginning directly on a number of subjects often mentioned on this blog. And I do mean from its beginning. I was up, scrubbed, dressed and at an Edgar Allan Poe panel at 8:30 in the morning.

As is always the case with a good conference, much worthwhile stuff happens informally, and I don't mean just drinking and carousing. I hope to devote a post to the informal side of the convention in the next day or two. For now, on with the business at hand (and these reports cover a small selection of the panels on offer. For a full schedule, click here.):

1) The Poe panel, chaired by Philly Poe Guy and Detectives Beyond Borders friend Ed Pettit, focused principally on Poe's centrality in American literature, but Pettit also cited Poe's internationalism, specifically in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt." Quoth Ed: He's living in Philadelphia, he writes about a crime in New York, he sets it in Paris."

Panel member Shelley Costa Bloomfield said: "There's something about Poe's work that's not very American. He's not a naturalist. He's not a realist." The French, she said, were ready and waiting for what Poe had to offer: "Maybe it takes an older civilization to feel comfortable with the dark side and be able to enjoy it," a statement pregnant with meaning and ripe for future blog posts if I've ever heard one.

2) A panel on "the influence of music on/in writing." John Harvey offered a striking remark or two about his jazz-loving protagonist Charlie Resnick: "I try and get onto the page what he actually hears" – not always an easy task for music much of which is instrumental. "Sometimes he'll listen to Billie Holiday if he's feeling particularly melancholy" or to Lester Young, who suffered much.

Peter Robinson discussed a rather puckish invocation of technology in his Inspector Banks books. Odd things pop up occasionally when Banks' iPod is in random-play mode, Robinson said: "Sometimes a song will perhaps ironically reflect a situation."

3) Michael Genelin, an American who lives in Paris and writes novels set in Slovakia, suggested during a Soho Crime panel that an author writing about a country not his or her own can see things a native would miss because they are so commonplace. Cara Black, who lives in San Francisco and sets her Aimée Leduc novels in Paris, said that city works as a setting because "Many people have their own Paris."

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Bouchercon II: Win three signed stories!

The late, lamented Murdaland magazine published tough, beautifully written crime fiction in a sturdy, attractive, well-produced package.

The magazine's no longer around, but you can win a copy of Issue 2 signed by contributors of three of the best stories in this outstanding collection: Scott Phillips, Vicki Hendricks and Henry Chang . All you have to do is name any of the last three winners of either the Edgar or the Dagger award for best short story.

WE HAVE A WINNER! Kerrie in Paradise (that's part of Australia) knew that Martin Edwards won the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2008 for "The Bookbinder's Apprentice" and that Peter Lovesey had won the previous year for "Apprentice." Congratulations, Kerrie, and enjoy this excellent magazine/book.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Bouchercon I: Drinks with ice

Arnaldur Indriðason had just made the intriguing statement that “I am heavily influenced by the Icelandic sagas.” This blog having several times cited the greatest of those sagas, I thought I'd ask him about this.

Arnaldur's presence just a short walk from the main convention hotel here in Baltimore at Bouchercon 2008 made the inquiry painless, and its answer was disarmingly practical. Those medieval sagas, he said, were set down on calfskin, an exceedingly dear commodity at the time, which dictated terse prose style, a style he says he strives to imitate.

His first novel to be translated into English, Jar City (Tainted Blood in the U.K.) took advantage of the peculiar qualities of its setting like no other crime novel that I can think of has (to reveal the details would be a spoiler). It was nice to hear that he uses his country's brilliant literary tradition as well as its geographic isolation in his fiction. It was nice, too, that his publicist or publisher paid for the drinks.

Some other highlights of Day One:

Martin Edwards' account of his introduction to crime fiction at age 9, when was around for the premiere of Murder Most Foul: "Margaret Rutherford arrived by helicopter," Edwards said. Between the clues and the red herrings, he said, he fell in love with the idea of a detective. "That night" -- and he was 9 years old, remember -- "I decided I would one day like to write an Agatha Christie-style mystery." The man is now a Dagger-winning author of two crime series. Would that the rest of us held as true to our ambitions as 9-year-olds.

Ken Bruen's citation of Luke Kelly when asked who he admired among writers who had been bedeviled by alcohol and alcoholism. That superlative, scary talented, demon-possessed, late and much-lamented Irish singer was a superb poet who could have made a career of that pursuit had he chosen to do so, Bruen said.

Beyond that, the event has been a rush of old friends encountered anew as well as face-to-face meetings with a long list of accomplished individuals whom I'd known previously online: Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers Journal, J. Kingston Pierce and Ali Karim of the Rap Sheet, Gerald So, plus a number of others I will likely remember once I've got some sleep.

The Baltimore Sun has been offering a blogging forum to select guest Bouchercon authors. Click here.

Tomorrow: How in God's name will anyone manage to get up in time for the panels?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Noir at the Bar IV: Caught in the act

A stimulating time was had by all at Philadelphia's fourth Noir at the Bar reading last evening at Fergie's Pub when authors were not being nabbed in the act of pinching bicycles.

John McFetridge read from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Declan Burke read from The Big O, and subsequent discussion shed light on crime fiction not just from McFetridge's Canada and Burke's Ireland but from England and the United States as well.

I shall ponder and perhaps discuss further McFetridge's observation that American crime fiction had "removed the author's voice and given it to the characters."

Burke offered at least three possible explanations for the boom in Irish crime writing: the post-Troubles phenomenon of newly unemployed paramilitaries with finely honed criminal skills, the 1996 murder of Veronica Guerin, and an explosion of chick lit that may seem antithetical to crime fiction but nonetheless gave genre writing, including crime, a foothold in a country of towering "literary" writers.

Burke draws inspiration from Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard, McFetridge from Ed McBain. This naturally led to an examination of American crime fiction, and an audience member offered the astute observation that "Americans take you through a place" as opposed to the traditional English plot-driven murder mystery. This may interest readers familiar with sneering references to recent international crime fiction as mere "guidebooks." Americans did it first, Clive.

(In the photo above, Scott Phillips demonstrates American-style crime for an attentive international audience of, from left, John McFetridge, your humble blogkeeper, Declan Burke, Brian Rademaekers, and our courteous and efficient barmaid, Claire Wadsworth.)

Tomorrow: In Baltimore to see how pros run a Con, or drinks on Iceland.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Free Finnish fiction

A comment from the Finnish crime writer Tapani Bagge alerts Detectives Beyond Borders that more of his work is available free and online.

This is good news. Bagge's story "The Face in the Concrete," which I wrote about here last year, is one of the touchstones of my argument that Nordic crime fiction can be funnier than you think.

Visit Bagge's Web site for links to "The Face in the Concrete," three additional stories, and an excerpt from his novel Black Sky.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Yore accent sucks, y'all hea-ah?

I've just given up on The Drowning Pool, the second of two movies that starred Paul Newman as Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer but with his name changed to Lew Harper. I just couldn't take those crappy Southern accents. Or maybe the accents were too good – too studied, that is, to be anything but a distraction.

In any case, the movie is safely back in the store. Now I think I'll sample Macdonald firsthand, through The Moving Target, the first Archer novel and the basis of Harper, the first Newman/Macdonald movie.

Have you ever given up on a movie because an accent drove you nuts? If not, what similarly little things will put you off a movie or a book?
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Myles ahead, or cliché refuses to succumb despite long battle

In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, that man of many aliases, Flann O'Brien, wrote satirical newspaper columns for the Irish Times. These included a recurring feature called "The Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché," which was just what it sounds like. Here's a sample:

"Is man ever hurt in a motor smash?"

"No. He sustains an injury."

"Does such a man ever die from his injuries?"

"No. He succumbs to them."
Now, I work for a newspaper, and trust me: People today are still sustaining injuries and succumbing instead of just getting hurt and dying. Why, I don't know. And, as O'Brien might have asked: "To what does a person succumb after a long battle with?"

Here's another excerpt from the Catechism of Cliché. Here's a short biography of Flann O'Brien. And here's your question: Which clichés do you find maddening or at least curious?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Noir at the Bar: A break on the way to Bouchercon

Bouchercon 2008: A insane bacchanal of schmoozing, boozing, deals, meals, contact-arranging, business-card exchanging, panels at eight, staying up late, meeting friends and burning the candle at both ends. You'll have a ball, but you'll need a rest when you're done.

Noir at the Bar: A relaxed evening with two of Bouchercon's best, Declan Burke and John McFetridge. Come hear Declan (author of The Big O and Eightball Boogie) and John (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Dirty Sweet) in a special international Noir at the Bar reading in Philadelphia the day before Bouchercon (and just an hour away by train):

Where: Fergie's Pub
1214 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA
When: Wednesday, Oct. 8, 6:30 p.m.

Come hear why North America's best newspaper said McFetridge "has a gift for dialogue and setting . . . [and] is an author to watch. He has a great eye for detail, and Toronto has never looked seedier." Come find out why Ken Bruen called Burke “the future of Irish crime fiction.”

Come meet them before the madness of Bouchercon, and you'll be old friends by the time you get to Baltimore. Won't it be fun to recognize them and say: "Dec! How ya doing?" or "Looking good, McFetridge!" You can – but only if you come to Noir at the Bar first. See you there!

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Carnival of the Criminal Minds No. 23

(Image courtesy of © 2004 Piers Nicholson.)

Read Michael Walters' novels featuring Inspector Nergui, and you're apt to run into anything from traditional Mongolian ger tents bumping up against modern apartment blocks to a Manchester City fan in the middle of the Gobi desert.

Now it's Walters' turn to host the twenty-third incarnation of the Carnival of the Criminal Minds, for which he takes us to northern England and then on into the wide world of crime-fiction criticism. His carnival offers not just a round-up of crime writing, but also a critical look at the critics. He has insightful things to say about authors' blogs, for instance.

It's nice to see readers taking crime fiction seriously without descending into obscurantist academic sludge. Walters also makes the important point that blogs provide wider, deeper, timelier, more comprehensive and more innovative coverage of crime fiction than do the media still sometimes called mainstream:

"Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with conventional journalism or criticism – it’s just that it’s operating within the commercial constraints
inevitably associated with conventional mass media."

As always, glimpses of this and all previous Carnivals are available courtesy that pearl among archivists, Barbara Fister.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Hear Colin Cotterill speak

I've just found this video interview with Colin Cotterill on Krimi-Couch ("Denn lesen ist spannender") under the title "Wo in Afrika liegt Laos?" ("Where in Africa is Laos?").

Cotterill is the author of six novels about Dr. Siri Paiboun, the oldest and only coroner in Laos after the communist takeover in the 1970s. He talks about crime fiction and his reasons for writing it, about why he chose a protagonist in his seventies, and about war, politics and life in Laos, among other interesting subjects.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Books to read on an island: The campaign for Vanda

Ever wonder what books you'd want should you find yourself on an antipodean island? Vanda Symon has gone you one better: She lives on an antipodean island, and, while an existence amid all that lamb and kiwi fruit strikes me as tantalizingly close to paradise, Vanda has a complaint: Too few books.

Vanda, herself a crime novelist, has asked me to recommend crime books that might be hard for her to find otherwise. She's been a charming correspondent and the winner of a Detectives Beyond Borders contest, so how could I refuse? I'll begin with an offering from my own native country: three Canadian crime novelists whose work I've read and enjoyed recently. Then I'll ask you for some suggestions.

Giles Blunt portrays small-city humor and hopelessness as well as any American or Swede you’d care to name, though with sensitivity to local sounds and sights. Take him to a city, and he does just as well, keeping the action moving fast at all times. Even when his characters sit still, they are never really at rest. As a bonus, his novel The Delicate Storm offers an unusually detailed first-person look at a tumultuous period in recent Canadian history. (Read more about Giles Blunt here and here.)

Howard Engel's Memory Book recounts its protagonist's struggles both to solve a murder and to overcome a neurological condition that has robbed him of his ability to read. Think that's easy? Engel's Benny Cooperman can't read what he has written, and he can't follow street signs, read reports or make much sense of the visual world. Then reflect that Engel himself struggled with the affliction, alexia sine agraphia, while writing the book. The novel comes with an afterword by the neurologist Oliver Sacks. If possible, get the Canadian edition from Penguin for its ingenious cover, which brilliantly captures Cooperman's puzzling, frustrating predicament. (Read more about Howard Engel here.)

John McFetridge is a guy you'll have heard from and read about on this blog in recent days. His satirical edge and sympathetic view of his city and protagonists bring his novels to rich, vivid life. Read Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Dirty Sweet, and see why people will one day talk about McFetridge's Toronto the way they talk about Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles. (Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with John McFetridge here.)

Won't you help? What other crime books should Vanda Symon be reading?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

We have a winner!

A reader in Italy was the first of several DBB respondents who knew that Amanda Cross' real name was Carolyn Gold Heilbrun and that she received tenure at Columbia University (the first woman to be so honored in the university's English department). He wins a copy of Iain Levison's Dog Eats Dog.
Thanks to all who entered.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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It's academic, or, win a book!

I haven't read many academic mysteries, but I always had the idea that they constituted a pretty genteel genre. Not so Iain Levison's Dog Eat Dog (though to be fair, the book is more a caper novel than an academic one).

Levison's chief target is his co-protagonist Elias White, an ambitious schemer who has calculated that his road to academic stardom lies in being seen as a Nazi apologist:

"Elias also wanted the article to be posted on White Supremacist websites, so he could argue furiously against its misinterpretation by evil people with a harmful agenda. This kind of conflict usually resulted in the most prized of all commodities, news coverage."
But Elias was nothing compared with his father, a feckless fraud whose "God-given ability to slither around unnoticed was rewarded each year with a fatter paycheck and a slimmer workload, until, after forty years of teaching, he found himself collecting nearly $100,000 for teaching one class a semester."

I'd say Levison is even harder on academia than that other acid-tongued crime writer/professor, Amanda Cross. You can win a copy of Dog Eats Dog and find out for yourself if you are the first with the right answer to this academic question: What was Amanda Cross' real name, and at which American university did she receive tenure?

Send your answers along with a postal address to detectivesbeyondborders (at) earthlink (dot) net.

As much as I love Bitter Lemon Press, and as much as I enjoy Levison's accurate digs at the psychic toll of being overworked and underutilized in a dead-end, initiative-crushing job (at least, a friend tells me the digs are accurate. I wouldn't know from personal experience), where were the copy editors?

Page 96 contains this mismatch of number: "And he always handed the good ones off to her, rather than finish it." A few pages later, a sentence uses the word attribute when asset was called for: " ... her gender was more of a career detriment that her charm, personality, and positive attitude were attributes."

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

An interview with John McFetridge, Part II

In the conclusion to his interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, John McFetridge talks about immigration, management-speak and the business of publishing.

You can meet John on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in Philadelphia when he joins Declan Burke for a special international Noir at the Bar reading at Fergie's Pub. You're invited.

(Read Part I of the interview with John McFetridge here.)

Every great crime-fiction city in the United States – Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco – is a city of immigrants. So is the Toronto you write about. How does your Toronto differ from those U.S. cities? How is it similar?

Some of it, I guess, is just the difference between the American melting pot and the Canadian mosaic.

I'm not a very well-travelled guy. I haven't even been to all four of those cities, but I've certainly read books set in all of them. So, Toronto is different in that immigration is different today. When my father's family came from Ireland almost a hundred years ago, they were the typical penniless immigrants and never once went back. Many immigrants today arrive with trades and professions and keep in touch with 'back home' a lot more. Remember when you were a kid, and your parents made a big deal out of a long-distance phone call? Those days are gone.

The good thing about this is that immigrants in Toronto can maintain a connection to their cultures, which I think means that there's less of a feeling of strangeness and of being cut loose from the things that make people who they are.

Now, some people complain, of course, that this makes people less, “Canadian,” but I don't really see much evidence of that. I think people can be many things at the same time.

Your fiction pokes fun at the fatuous gospel of management-speak, used alike by gangsters, businessmen and police. Share your feelings on this subject, if you would.

I do find management-speak funny. But I also see it as a sign of the ideology of the business world taking over everything – even though we know it doesn't really work for even all businesses, never mind for police work – and I like to point that out.

I also find it kind of funny that business sometimes talk in the language of gangsters – all that tough-guy, corporate machismo. I guess it's true, people always want what they can't have. Gangsters want to be businessmen, and businessmen want to be gangsters. Cops make great characters, as they are stuck in the middle like the rest of us.

Many contemporary crime authors chronicle changing cities. You are among the few who do this without bitter nostalgia or a stark anti-developer stance. Why is this? If you can answer such a big question without eating up too much bandwidth, what is your take on Toronto’s changes of the last three decades?

Toronto needs development because so many people are moving in all the time. I like the idea of people moving in. They bring so much to the city. Development is always an issue when cities grow, but I think it's important to be honest with yourself and make sure you're upset about the buildings and not about the people. I like old buildings, and I wish we'd keep more of them, but I'd rather have all these new people, even if it means some ugly buildings and some growing pains.

There are some real challenges in having a city grow as much as Toronto has in the last thirty years – and with the people coming in from all over the world – but it is really a microcosm of what the world is going through, so we better find a way to make it work. For the most part Toronto does work, but we can't simply ignore the stuff that doesn't, and I think that's a little bit of where crime fiction comes in.

Dirty Sweet has a notable similarity with The Big O by your fellow Harcourt author Declan Burke, that of a youngish couple on the run. You also shared an editor at Harcourt, Stacia Decker. I'd like to switch gears and talk about what role an editor's sensibilities have in acquiring, shaping and delivering books.

It gets even weirder. In Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and The Big O, there are women named Karen and Sharon involved in illegal activities who each meet a shady guy named Ray.

The editor's sensibilities are key. Before my books got to Stacia at Harcourt, they were published by a small press in Canada called ECW, run by a guy named Jack David. I really felt it unlikely that anyone would publish Dirty Sweet because it falls between a lot of cracks – it's not really a mystery, it's not really literary fiction, it's not really a thriller. When I asked Jack why he, and my editor at ECW, Michael Holmes, wanted the book, Jack said it was because they liked it. He said, "All we have in this business is our judgement."

For all the big-business, international mega-corporation stuff about publishing, it still comes down to individual taste. Stacia Decker picked up books by me, Declan Burke, Al Guthrie and Ray Banks. I'm absolutely thrilled to be on that list.

In some ways this goes back to that management-speak stuff. The multinationals can use all the techniques from other businesses they want, but the only way to sell books is one at a time. Editors have to trust their own judgement, acquire books they really like, and then hope other people will, too. I don't know if there's any connection to the fact that my books and Declan's were originally published by small presses.

I'm thrilled when people like my books, and I want to thank each and every person. And thank you, Peter, for such a tough interview. I'm afraid it was probably a lot more interesting for me than for people reading this, as I think I learned a lot more about my own books than anyone else will from my disjointed answers.

(Editor's note: Wrong on that last guess, bub. I learned quite a bit about my own city and country from your answers, and I suspect I won't be the only one.)

(Read Part I of the interview with John McFetridge here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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