Saturday, February 28, 2009

Camilleri: The mystery within

I've enjoyed the increasingly tender, sympathetic world view that Andrea Camilleri gives his protagonist, Inspector Salvo Montalbano.

I've haven't read the entire series, of which ten novels have been translated into English, and the ones I have read, I've read out of series order. But I'll make a tentative guess that Camilleri began to emphasize the personal, tender touch with Excursion to Tindari, fifth in the series.

Montalbano, the novels' third-person point-of-view character, is as much a mystery, a puzzle, and a surprise to himself as the murders he is called upon to solve. "He realized he was awake," the novel begins, "as his mind was functioning logically and not following the absurd labyrinths of dreams." The first subject of Montalbano's investigation is Montalbano.

Perhaps the most mischievous personal touch is Camilleri's choice of the mystery novel that Montalbano tries to read but is continually distracted from ever finishing. In The Smell of the Night, that book was by Georges Simenon. Here the novel is by the author for whom Camilleri named Montalbano: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. This is a puckish yet heartfelt an act of tribute and self-reference as I can think of in crime fiction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Read a chunk of Chercover free: Offering lengthy book excerpts online

Read the first fifty pages of Sean Chercover's novel Trigger City free on the HarperCollins Web site.

The format is similar to those online look-inside-this-book features, but fifty pages is far more than such sites usually make available. An excerpt that size seems large enough to give readers a real feel for the book but not so large that they'll feel they won't need to buy it. I'm no businessman, but this seems like a sound marketing idea.

What are your thoughts on this matter?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crime fiction in the Arab world

In Reference to Murder links to an interesting review in the Arab News of M.M. Tawfik's Murder in the Tower of Happiness. Why interesting? Because it appears under the headline "A rare thriller from the Arab world."

"Crime fiction is not popular in Arabic literature; in fact a number of Arab writers and scholars do not even consider it a noble genre," the reviewer notes, and both she and the author discuss the problem:

"According to Tawfik, the lack of an organized book industry in the area of general reading has prevented the development of literature in the Arab world. The main function of a book industry is to cater for the needs of the consumer, in this case, the reader, by selecting the works expected to have a broad appeal; its absence means that the writers gradually ignore their readers’ preferences."
Tawfik, an Egyptian, tells the reviewer that "Our educational systems make students hate reading. There is a lot of money being spent on culture in the Arab world but it is not designed to take culture to the masses but rather to create cultural bubbles for the elites"

That damning assessment tallies nicely with comments I'd noted here in a comment that in turn discusses comments from various authors of crime fiction set in the Arab world.

The publisher's Web site calls Murder in the Tower of Happiness "A darkly humorous and intricate crime novel from Egypt." Read an excerpt here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Keeping it fresh

Sean Chercover and Howard Shrier, the guest authors for "Noir at the Bar T.O. style" in Toronto on March 10, both face the challenge of keeping an old genre fresh. Each writes novels set in a big city (Toronto, principally, for Shrier, Chicago for Chercover), and each has as his protagonist a private investigator who's male, tough but reasonably sensitive, single and unhappily so.

How do these authors keep that well-worn fictional territory fresh? Yesterday I cited one way Shrier does it. Today is Chercover's turn. For one thing, he'll sharpen a traditional P.I. trait just enough to make it stand out. One such example in Big City, Bad Blood is his protagonist's willingness to use violence when necessary. Chercover's guy goes a bit farther than most. You'll recognize the example I have in mind when you read the book.

This protagonist is also comfortable with technology without compromising his toughness, slipping into geekiness, or getting obtrusive about how much research the author has done. I'd flagged one nice example of this, which I'll share with you as I soon as I can find the page it's on.

Now it's your turn. What are your favorite examples of authors' strategies for keeping a traditional genre fresh?

(Whether intentionally or otherwise, Shrier and Chercover have also given their P.I. heroes resonant names: Jonah — as in the whale guy who bounces back to life after being in a pretty tough situation — Geller in Shrier's case, Ray Dudgeon in Chercover's.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, February 23, 2009


In these hard times, fun becomes a luxury, pleasure a concept best left for the fat years when it can have no consequence. "The era of entitlement is over," we were told at a recent work meeting. "I," said the manager who made the announcement,"feel lucky to have a job." Personal fulfillment from work? Professional satisfaction? Pensions? Social security? Surely you jest.

Happily, though, not all assigned tasks are so grim. I've been doing my homework for the March 10 "Noir at the Bar T.O. style," featuring authors Howard Shrier and Sean Chercover, and the job has been fun. Here's one reason: The kicker to Chapter One of Shrier's novel Buffalo Jump. P.I. Jonah Geller has just ejected an ill-mannered, anti-Semitic slob from a Toronto streetcar after the bum had grabbed a seat intended for an elderly woman. As the streetcar doors close on the complaining yob, the hero of the piece muses: "Jonah Geller. Repairing the world, one asshole at a time."

What does this tell us? That Shrier has a sense of humor. That Geller is a gentleman of the old-fashioned kind, a knight errant who does what the rest of us only fantasize about doing to jerks, slobs and morons. But mostly it tells us that Geller, his creator or both paid attention in Hebrew school.

Repairing the world, in Hebrew tikkun olam, is an ancient ethical concept in Judaism, its various meanings embodying service, social conscience, duty and responsibility for others. It may be time to make room for Geller on the roster of ethnic detectives (for which, see here and here). And, since tikkun olam originated in the rabbinic period, with roots in the Mishnah, perhaps the Mishnah joins that list of proto-detective classics of world literature.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

A bit more on "Hard Man"

Before I crack the books preparing for "Noir at the Bar T.O. style," here's another thought about Allan Guthrie's Hard Man: The story is startlingly unpsychological:
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. He wasn't going to beat himself up about it. It was done. Nothing he could do to change anything now.

"This was the kind of introspective shit that crept up on you when you owned a dog."

More later.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nice poster, eh?

Generous John McFetridge, author, blogger and television writer, has invited me to Toronto to present "Noir at the Bar T.O. style."

I'll be up there Tuesday, March 10, quizzing Sean Chercover, author of Big City, Bad Blood and Trigger City, and Howard Shrier, author of Buffalo Jump and High Chicago.

Come join Sean, Howard, John and me at Scotland Yard Pub, 56 The Esplanade, one block east of Yonge Street and one block south of Front Street in one of North America's coolest crime fiction cities. The fun starts at 7:30 pm.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Allan Guthrie's "Hard Man"

When does violence cross the line into so-called "torture porn" and exploitation? Not in Allan Guthrie's novel Hard Man, I don't think.

I don't know the substance of the debate about torture porn and crime fiction, but I know the debate exists or existed, and I know Guthrie's name has come up. So here's why I think that whatever torture porn may be, Guthrie's not guilty of it here.

First, the book does contain a scene of torture that may be unpleasant reading for some, but it does not invite the reader's prurient interest. It is neither gratuitous, frivolous nor out of character. The lengthy narrative of escape from the torture is refreshingly low-key, straightforward in its detailed description of the agonizing lengths to which the characters must go to effect their escape. And those lengths are great, which makes the scene heroic.

And violence in this novel, torture and otherwise, has its consequences. Guthrie told Spinetingler Magazine that:
"I believe that writing's about creating sensory experiences. If a character's eating a hamburger, I want the reader to taste it. So if a character's in pain, I want the reader to feel it. Violence in my books always hurts. And it always has a lasting effect. None of this getting knocked unconscious and waking up two minutes later with a little bump that's completely forgotten about ten seconds later. That annoys me almost as much as gratuitous scenery. I also try to write from the point of view of the victim where possible. But even my aggressor's get hurt. Hit somebody with your bare fist and you're liable to break a finger. In my books, anyway."

I'd say that makes Guthrie a pretty morally serious guy — especially considering how much (dark) humor the book contains.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Out of the fire

Adrian Hyland, whom readers of Detectives Beyond Borders will know as the author of Diamond Dove (Moonlight Downs in its U.S. incarnation), was near the heart of the Australian bush fires that ravaged Victoria. Though he and his family survived, they lost friends.

Hyland writes in The Age newspaper about how his daughter's school has begun to bounce back from the disaster:

"... Then, on Monday, the principal, Jane Hayward, called us all together and made an announcement that drew tears from many an eye, my own included: The Strathie school was going to re-open.

"Not at some vaguely distant date, after the red-tape had been sorted, the money allocated, the tenders won.

"No, Strathewen school was going to re-open on Wednesday. ..."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The last carnival

The Carnival of the Criminal Minds winds down this week after a 16-month run that enlisted crime fiction bloggers from around the world to hold forth on the writing they loved.

For the thirty-second and final edition, Carnival Queen Barbara Fister looks back at carnivals past, and a fine list it is, of the straight and the bent, the printed and the screened, monkeyshines and manifestos and all the best of crime fiction everywhere.

Give Barbara a round of applause, if you would, and click here for her biweekly announcements of all 32 carnivals. Thanks, Babs.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Max

Here's one of those fun posts where I get to highlight a book's exuberantly funny lines. Along the way, I may discuss what makes some of them funny. The book is The Max, third of Ken Bruen and Jason Starr's collaborations for Hard Case Crime, and here are some of those lines:
"The coke kicking in, she took a sip of her stone-cold vanilla latte. (Decaf. She wasn't reckless. That caffeine was, like, addictive.)"

"`I might have to make it into a trilogy,' she said, and Max suddenly had a vision of the great Hollywood trilogies. Star Wars. The Godfather. Shrek. Revenge of the Nerds."
And, among many others, this, from the novel's title character, which pushes the book into Detectives Beyond Borders territory:
"Yeah, okay, there was a downside, he had to be fucking Irish, maybe for the rest of his life, but hey, he could pull it off. After all, how hard could it be to be Irish? He already liked to drink and kill people, he'd be a goddamn natural."
The series has an Irish author and an American author, just as it has a protagonist from each country. Bruen has always looked to American crime writing for inspiration, and that passage, whether it comes from Bruen's pen or Starr's, is a wonderfully blunt statement of some American stereotypes about the Irish. Max Fisher, that utterly amoral, irrepressibly optimistic and impossibly lucky businessman turned drug dealer turned prison lord who embraces the stereotype, is a great American comic character.

Someone asked me if Bruen and Starr planned a fourth book in the series, to follow Bust, Slide and The Max. I didn't and don't know, but The Max leaves possibility open, albeit with a twist.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Crime and history

I've been posting about Joe Gores and, by extension, Dashiell Hammett. Now comes a look at the real crime of Hammett's era. Paul Davis posts about Depression-Era Public Enemies vs. the FBI on the Great History Web site. The site, new to me, looks like an informative and entertaining place to learn about and discuss matters that might bring the past to life even if they touch on subjects not always thought of as the province of history — subjects such as crime.

Next post, I'll be back to my normal subject of international crime fiction — or halfway back, anyhow.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More Gores

I posted two days ago about some of the ways Joe Gores alluded to Dashiell Hammett's life and work in his Spade & Archer, a "prequel" to The Maltese Falcon. Here are two more.

Gores has Sam Spade adopt the alias Nick Charles in one scene. Charles, of course, was the protagonist of Hammett's novel The Thin Man (thought not its title character).

The novel's structure, too, is reminiscent of the 1920s and '30s, when a series of loosely or tightly knot stories published over several issues of Black Mask might later be reissued together as a novel. Frederick Nebel's The Crimes of Richmond City, Paul Cain's superb The Fast One and several of Hammett's own books appeared as serials this way before their publication in book form.

Spade & Archer is presented as three long, linked episodes, set in 1921, 1925 and 1928 (The Maltese Falcon was published in 1929). I don't know if Gores intended this, but it's easy to imagine one is reading three long stories brought together as a novel, in the old Black Mask manner.

(Click here for a thoughtful, highly critical review of the book.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, February 13, 2009

A belated best of 2008

In December, my newspaper solicited staff members to choose the best of what they'd read, watched or listened to over the course of the year. The editor, accusing me of being "an expert on the international crime novel," put me on his list. Here were my choices for some of the best international crime fiction published in 2008:

Canada: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, by John McFetridge
England: Second Violin, by John Lawton
Iceland: The Draining Lake, by Arnaldur Indriðason
Ireland: The Big O, by Declan Burke; Yours Confidentially, by Garbhan Downey
Italy: Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, by Amara Lakhous, a great little novel that made book critic Carlin Romano wonder: "Do we have an Italian Camus on our hands?"
Switzerland: The Chinaman, by Friedrich Glauser.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spade & Archer: The first thirty pages

Here's Dashiell Hammett's famous description of Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon:
"Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by the thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down – from high flat temples – in a point upon his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan."
Here's how Joe Gores picks up — and displaces — the v motif in his new Maltese Falcon prequel, Spade & Archer:
"He had a long bony jaw, a flexible mouth, a jutting chin. His nose was hooked. He was six feet tall, with broad, steeply sloping shoulders. He stayed in the shadows while the scant dozen passengers disembarked from the wooden-hulled steam-powered passenger ferry Virginia V, just in from Seattle via the Colvos Passage. ... The watcher stiffened when the last person off the Virginia V was a solid, broad-shouldered ..."
I'll file that under "clever solution to a problem." An author picking up such a well-known story needs to recreate without copying. I don't know if the boat name Virginia V has any narrative significance, but it certainly alludes to the original's v motif, rekindling memories of Hammett's Spade without descending to word-for-word copying. Damn, that's clever. And if not, it's a hell of a lot of fun.
And remember that line about looking pleasantly like a blond satan? Here's Gores, on page 30 of Spade & Archer: "`You will,' said Spade. His grin made him look pleasantly satanic." Gores takes bits of Hammett's original description and appears to be sprinkling them throughout his own book, an interesting choice that ought to make Hammett readers smile.
I haven't written much about Gores because he's not beyond my borders, but I recommend his DKA Files novels. Of these, 32 Cadillacs and Cons, Scams and Grifts are two of the great comic crime novels ever. The protagonists are repo men and women. How can you beat that?
And here's a passage from the same chapter that may interest a certain regular reader of this site:
"Yeah, uh, thanks, Sam." Something sly and delighted seemed suddenly to dance in Archer's heavy, coarse voice. "We're living over in Spokane so's she can keep working at Graham's Bookstore ... "
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not all angst, plus a free comic

I've received recent reassurance that there's more to superhero revisionism than angst, full-bleed color and dark shadows.

Ex Machina has as its protagonist Mitchell Hundred, an ex-superhero complete with powers acquired in the traditional superhero manner — an accident. Hundred's gift is the ability to communicate with machines and tell them what to do. Oh, and he gets himself elected mayor of New York City after using his power to save one of the World Trade Center towers from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And he loves comic books.

Such angst as there is takes the form of Hundred's forswearing his powers, but being compelled to use them in crises, and of occasionally melodramatic interludes. In one such, he rescues his mother from a gang of thugs in trailer park, in part by using his powers to start the engine of one thug's truck — a humorous way of telling the thug to take a hike.

But the series' real energy comes from its exciting dramatizations of practical political problems: the mayor vs. the police commissioner, the mayor vs. a persistent reporter, the mayor offering pragmatic criticism of political dogma, and often with a humorous touch.

This livelier touch may be due simply to writer Brian K. Vaughan's own temperament and inclinations. But maybe the series, which began in 2004 and whose first thirty-four issues have been collected in seven bound volumes, marks a stage in the evolution of superheroes from the angst-and-shadows tales of 1986 and after. Readers more knowledgeable than I about comics, feel free to weigh in.

And click here for a free download of Ex Machina, issue No. 1.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reading a series out of order

I like this passage from Garbhan Downey's Private Diary of a Suspended MLA, and I like to think I'd enjoy its vivid descriptions, political jabs and lusty good humor even if I were an Ulster Scotsman:

"An Ulster Scots ceili, it seems, is exactly like an Irish one, except all the good bits are taken out. For a start, the musicians were all Scottish and couldn't play in tune; secondly, no-one knew any of the dances, because they were all invented just last week by some chancer from Larne on a big Stormount grant; and thirdly the uileann pipes were replaced with bagpipes, which for us purists is like removing a grand piano from a chamber orchestra and installing a very loud farting machine."
Private Diary ... is the first of Downey's four (t0 date) volumes of comic fiction, and reading it has been a lesson in the pleasures of reading a book out of series order. I've already read Running Mates, Yours Confidentially and Off Broadway, so I especially enjoy the story of how Shea Gallagher and Sue McEwan first met, clashed and loved despite coming from opposite sides of Northern Ireland's political divide. And I enjoy seeing the Stan Stevenson byline on the newspapers stories that form part of the narrative because I know Stevenson takes center stage in Running Mates.

How do you feel about reading out of series order?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, February 09, 2009

More comics and 1 1/3 Batman movies

A colleague pointed me toward Batman: Year One, and my first reaction is a thumbs-up for some copy on the book's back cover. The copy praises writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli for their groundbreaking "reinterpretation" of Batman's origin. I was grateful that it did not call Miller and Mazzucchelli's work a "reboot."

The collection's first story is nicely noirish and ought to appeal to crime fiction fans. It even contains a scene of police-on-police violence that may remind readers of Bill James.

Earlier I'd seen and liked the Batman movie Dark Knight, whose attractions included, in addition to Heath Ledger's celebrated performance as the Joker, a view of city life not normally seen in movies that emphasize views of city life, and the presence of Michael Caine. So I rented the earlier Batman Begins, which has the same director, one of the same screenwriters and many of the same actors.

That movie's rebo— I mean, reinterpretation of Batman's formative experiences, about the first forty-one minutes of the film's running time, is risible, psychobabblish, faux-mystical nonsense, complete with a Bruce Wayne who endures the most rigorous trials the mountains of Tibet can offer and emerges with his beard still neatly trimmed. But the movie does have Michael Caine.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Detectives across the Canada-U.S. border

Something interesting is going on in Canadian crime fiction. John McFetridge's Swap, to be published in the U.S. late this year or early next, opens with a Canada-U.S. border crossing. Howard Shrier, like McFetridge a Montreal native now living in Toronto, is setting up a kind of cross-border travelogue in his new series about Toronto investigator Jonah Geller (The first book is Buffalo Jump, the second High Chicago).

I'm from Montreal, too, and I am familiar with Canadians' understandable apprehension about being swallowed up culturally by the United States. I grew up, for instance, among rules mandating a certain proportion of Canadian content on radio and television. So it's nice to come across work that neither cringes at the U.S. nor ignores it.

And it's nice to read crime fiction that acknowledges this globalized world of ours. Savvy crime writers are recognizing that global and local perspectives need not be mutually exclusive, that they can interact in all sorts of interesting ways. Henry Chang's Year of the Dog comes to mind. The author is American, from New York's Chinatown, and his fiction examines its crowded streets in minute detail. Yet the criminal life he depicts is intertwined with that of mainland China, of Hong Kong and, yes, of Canada.

(Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with John McFetridge here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Donald Westlake's multiple personalities

I'd posted here and here on Donald Westlake's tendency in his later work to bring aspects of one part of his large and varied oeuvre to bear on another. Thus a Parker caper might have comic Dortmunder touches or a Dormunder story might contain echoes of economic havoc, a la The Ax.

So I was especially pleased this week to find the following comment from Westlake himself:

"There are three reasons to write under a pen name, and at one time or another all three of those reasons have applied to me. As a result, I have been a longtime multiple personality, though lately showing signs of a more fully integrated character."
Perhaps I wasn't imagining those crossover tendencies.
I found my way to the Westlake comment via the redesigned Violent World of Parker Web site. That's long been one of the richest and most informative sites out there, and now it includes a blog. Take a look.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Now, that's delicious!

Two consecutive paragraphs in Andrea Camilleri's August Heat, two consecutive references to two unrelated subjects, both worth quoting:
"Adelina had made pappanozza for him. Onions and potatoes boiled a long time and mashed with the back of a fork until they blend together. Seasoning: olive oil, a hint of vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. It was all he ate. He wanted to keep to light food."
"He sat outside until eleven o'clock, reading a good detective novel by two Swedish authors who were husband and wife, in which there wasn't a page without a ferocious and justified attack on social democracy and the government. In his mind Montalbano dedicated the book to all those who did not deign to read mystery novels because, in their opinion, they were only entertaining puzzles."

I hereby vow to add pappanozza to my recipe list.

The second paragraph's tribute to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö is just one more from a master of such tributes, not to mention a nice statement of purpose for crime fiction. The very name of Camilleri's protagonist, Salvo Montalbano, in fact, is an homage to a crime author. Tell me which author, and perhaps I'll award you a prize. Who knows? It could be a dish of home-cooked pappanozza.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sunday crime brunch in Philadelphia

Robin’s Book Store’s Crime Fiction Book Club hosts its monthly brunch this Sunday, Feb. 8, at 1 p.m.

Join William Lashner, author of Blood and Bone, at Les Bons Temps, 114 S. 12th Street, 215-238-9100. Brunch is a la carte.

"Kyle Byrne, illegitimate son of a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, had to sneak into his father's funeral when he was fourteen years old. Twelve years later, his father's death still casts a shadow upon his heart. Now amiable and handsome, Kyle finds himself drifting through a life of slack. With his house in foreclosure and his part-time job lost, he spends his days playing Xbox and his nights in Philly bars, drinking way too much and sleeping with the wrong type of women. Life is, well, actually pretty damn sweet.

"But when his father's former law partner is murdered, the cops start asking uncomfortable questions about his father's death. And after a strange encounter with one of his father's former clients, Kyle enters a search for answers that leads from his father's past to the highest pinnacles of power — and forces Kyle to lay bare the deceptions and losses in his own life. Just when it seems he's close to learning the truth about his father and the murder, Kyle is reminded of that old adage `be careful what you wish for.' Because Kyle Byrne's most fervent wish is suddenly about to come true — with a vengeance."

Summer Carnival of the Criminal Minds

Philadelphia is having the season's second snowfall, with forecasts calling for light flurries of the white stuff but blizzards of coverage of the "news" in local papers and on local television.

Naturally, then, the current edition of the Carnival of the Criminal Minds is full of photos of surfers, scullers and belt racers (see explanation in the comments). The carnival's host, Helen Lloyd of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, and the It's Criminal blog, offers a nice-size roster of crime sites to add to your browsing list, including some that will appeal to the ear as well as to the eye.

As always, visit Barbara Fister's carnival archive for summaries of all thirty-one carnivals to date.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Buenos Aires Quintet

There's more going on in The Buenos Aires Quintet than in most crime novels, so it's no surprise that author Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was not just a crime novelist. He was also a "journalist ... poet, essayist, anthologue, prologist, humourist, critic, as well as a gastronome and a FC Barcelona supporter."

In fact, the Colegio de Periodistas de Cataluña awards two prizes named for Vázquez Montalbán, one in sports journalism, the other in cultural or political journalism. There's a bit o'boxing in this novel, and politics and culture? You name it, and it's here, from tango, meditations on Jorge Luis Borges and Catalan food to pointed jokes about Carlos Menem, Argentina's president when Vázquez Montalbán wrote the book.

Mostly, the book is a moving psychological travelogue through Buenos Aires in the years after Argentina's military dictatorship, an "almost unreal" city, perhaps fitting for a novel in which the shade of Jorge Luis Borges figures prominently.

Though Vázquez Montalbán plucks his nihilistic gourmand of a detective, Pepe Carvalho, from Barcelona for this novel (he's looking for his uncle's missing son), fans need not worry. Carvalho still manages to eat well, staying in frequent touch by phone with his chef/assistant, Biscuter, back home for culinary advice.
Here's a retrospective and a pair of reviews from the Barcelona Review on the occasion of Vázquez Montalbán's death in 2003. The article contains spoilers, but you won't lose much if you know something about The Buenos Aires Quintet's plot beforehand. The book is too rich a trip for that.

And I have just found a link to the abstract for a thesis by one Anna Maria Valsecchi from the Università degli Studi di Bergamo titled in English translation When the Mediterranean hosts a detective story: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Andrea Camilleri, Jean-Claude Izzo. That's one thesis that I bet was fun to write.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Another translator speaks

Stieg Larsson's English translator has started a blog called Stieg Larsson's English translator. Early posts concern Larsson and translation, both in combination and separately, as well as miscellaneous pieces on such topics on how translator Steven T. Murray (Reg Keeland) learned Swedish and Danish.

I have special fondness for a post called Nuts & bolts of translation (1), which declares, among other things, that

"We are proud that our translations at Fjord Press were remarkably error-free, compared to most books today, now that publishers are cutting back on copy editing, or eliminating that step altogether."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Andrea Camilleri's translator speaks

I've mentioned Stephen Sartarelli from time to time, and the tough problems he must face translating Andrea Camilleri from Italian into English. I've long thought about asking Sartarelli for his thoughts on the matter, to go along with my interviews of Sian Reynolds and Mike Mitchell, translators, respectively, of Fred Vargas and Friedrich Glauser.

But Sartarelli beat me to it. His article on the Picador blog highlights some of the special problems of translating an author who

"writes in a language that he has been the first to grace with literary status. An invented language, in the sense that, though made up of existing manners of speech and writing, it has never before been assembled in quite this fashion."

I especially enjoyed some remarks of Sartarelli's that bear directly on questions I once asked about translating clichés.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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