Sunday, May 31, 2009

Peace process

I've heard it said that a writer's style ought to be transparent, invisible. I've also heard it said that anyone who believes that has no style of his or her own.

David Peace has style. That style is self-conscious, telegraphic, literary. Sentence fragments to open chapters of 1977 give way to (slightly) more conventional narrative flow as chapters develop. Snippets of interior monologue in italic are interspersed in the text. Transitions are choppy.

It's literary as all hell, and boy, does it ever work. A harried cop and a burned-out reporter are on the tail of the Yorkshire Ripper, who rapes, kills and mutilates prostitutes. Cop and reporter are each involved in the victims' world more than professionally. A community terrorized? Well, yes, but here the terror seems to radiate from within the characters.

Crime fiction need not argue its case on any terms but its own. But if anyone feels a need to argue that a crime novel can be a literary novel and work as both, Peace might be a good place to start.

More later, probably, since I'm just 142 pages into one book of a quartet. For now, though, a question: What authors whom you have read, crime or otherwise, emphasize literary style the most? How do they do this? And how do you like the results?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Swiss misc.

Hans Werner Kettenbach has won the Friedrich Glauser Prize for lifetime achievement in German-language crime writing, an especially impressive achievement since he did not publish his first novel until he was fifty. The award dovetails neatly with Bitter Lemon Press's release (this month in the UK, October in the US) of Kettenbach's novel David's Revenge. This follows its earlier publication of his Black Ice.

The prize honors the great Swiss crime writer Friedrich Glauser, a longtime favorite here at Detectives Beyond Borders.

Speaking of the Swiss, Crime Time will follow up its richly informative surveys of the French and Dutch crime-fiction scenes with Crime Scene: Switzerland. If the French and Dutch Crime Scenes are any indication, this latest will be a comprehensive guide to the past and present in Swiss crime fiction, along with guides to Web sites, bookshops, fans' organizations and more. A big tip of the headwear to AIEP/IACW (the Association of International Crime Writers) for this worthy project.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Strictly business in New York

This evening's Soho Crime event at Partners & Crime in New York was more meet and mingle than rap and read, and time passed too quickly for me to do all the meeting and mingling with the authors that I'd have liked to do. Still, editors, publicists, booksellers and a collector and fan with apparently wide Irish crime-fiction contacts made for an enjoyable and possibly productive evening.

Eliot Pattison, one of the six featured meeters and minglers, writes series about Tibet and colonial America, but he's a big fan of Irish and other Celtic music, it transpires. We didn't get the chance to chat about his Tibet books, of which I've read two and bought a third at the event. But he did tell me about some good places to hear Celtic music. (The other authors were Cara Black, Garry Disher, Mick Herron, Henry Chang and James R. Benn. I'd particularly have liked more time to talk technique with Disher.) I also saw a copy of Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand on display, and a Soho editor told me about a new title they're really excited about: Stuart Neville's Ghosts of Belfast. There's something to this Irish crime fiction thing.

Alas, my train ride home called to mind another Irish crime novel. Three passengers on the Amtrak Quiet Car, where cell-phone use is barred, were using their cell phones. The serial killer in Ken Bruen's Calibre would have known what to do about that.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Senses and sensibility: Aberystwyth Mon Amour

I'm glad I have a blog to discuss Aberystwyth Mon Amour because I could never talk about the book in person or on the phone. I'm unsure how to pronounce the name of the Welsh resort town that gives the novel its title. Nor am I much more confident with Myfanwy, Cantref-y-Gwaelod, Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn or Siani-i-Blojob and other names of people and places in the book, though I suspect the last is not pure Welsh.

Author Malcolm Pryce sets the story in Aberystwyth, a town on Wales' west coast for whose past glories he apparently has much affection. Yet the book also acknowledges, sadly perhaps, the need for Aberystwyth to update itself. In fact, it's possible, at least for a reader like me who knows nothing of Wales and its coast, to read the novel as an elegy to an old Aberystwyth of ice cream stands and whelk stalls and a final acceptance of a new one of cappuccino and biscotti.

But the book is a murder mystery and a thriller, and Pryce delights in deadpan humor and in words amusing for their own sake. He also excels, particularly in the novel's opening chapters, at creating a sense of place by appealing to the senses.

The mystery is the disappearance of a string of schoolboys and then of a dancer at Aberystwyth's notorious nightclub, the Moulin. Louie Knight, the private investigator whose office is furnished with old library furniture, takes the case and is soon immersed in a shady half-world of gangsters, secret societies, Welsh mythology and a plot that could destroy the town.

I suspect that reaching the book's final destination was more than half the fun for Pryce. Who would think otherwise with bits like:
"The grandeur was now sadly defaced by charmless municipal sign boards: Combinations and Corsetry; Two-Headed Calves and other Curios; Coelcanths."
"I rolled a six and a one, and set off on my journey around the board. How many other people, honeymooners and young families, had made the same journey as the rain swept in from the sea and pounded on the plywood roof of their shoebox on wheels? Families who had driven for two or three hours, stopping occasionally for puking children, to the world of gorse and marram grass, dunes and bingo and fish and chips."
and possibly my favorite:
"A gleam of comprehension appeared in the waters of her eyes and the mauve iris of her mouth opened like a sea anemone's vagina."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Night of the living neds

(City Chambers, George Square, Glasgow)

"A Glasgow stabbing is more fun than an Edinburgh wedding," runs a popular saying, and my informant tells me Glaswegians say this with pride.

I got out of town before the celebration worked its way to full steam, but I expect occasional acts of yobbery happened in honor of Glasgow Rangers' wrapping up the Scottish Premier League soccer title on Sunday.

Championship games seem to follow me around. On Friday, I joined a boatful of Leinster fans on the Belfast-Stranraer ferry heading for Edinburgh to watch their team play for the Heinken Cup in rugby (They conducted themselves well, though an Edinburgh acquaintance complained that a Leinster fan accidentally bopped her in the head with a flag.) And last year, I wandered into Dublin in time to witness what may have been the greatest team performance in the history of hurling.

(Holyrood Park, Edinburgh)
That same head-bopped Edinburgher replied (good-naturedly, I think) to a Glaswegian's comment about her adopted city last week. "Don't, she wrote, "be led too far astray by those cunning Glasgwegian types." So yes, I learned something of the rivalry between Scotland's two largest cities. (For more insight than I can offer on the passions stirred by Scottish sports, see a long, thoughtful comment here.)


© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Donna, Queen of Scots

(Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh)

Donna Moore is pleased to announce Big Beat From Badsville, a new blog dedicated to Scottish crime fiction and crime writers. Her long list of authors includes great names from the past (Arthur Conan Doyle, Josephine Tey), current stars (Denise Mina, Christopher Brookmyre) and megastars (Alexander McCall Smith), and some authors whose names are new to me.

All this adds up to the promise of some enjoyable exploration. So join a most genial guide to the world of guns and haggis.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cross-border crime-fiction events in Philadelphia and New York

Cara Black and Garry Disher headline the next Robin’s Book Store’s Crime Fiction Book Club brunch this Sunday, May 24, 1 p.m. at Bridget Foy’s, 200 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-922-1813.

On Wednesday, May 27, at 7 p.m., Black and Disher will join Mick Herron , Elliot Pattison, Henry Chang and James R. Benn for a Soho Crime chat and signing at Partners & Crime, 44 Greenwich Avenue, in New York. Call 212-243-0440.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Aberystwyth Mon Amour

Ryanair had no flights available from Derry to Glasgow, so I took the Belfast-Stranraer ferry instead. Just as well; I'm reading Malcolm Pryce's Aberystwyth Mon Amour, and this way I was safe in case Ryanair decided to charge passengers extra for carrying books with long Welsh names in the title.

I regard with affection any novel that begins: "The thing I remember most about it was walking the entire length of the Prom that morning and not seeing a Druid" and includes exchanges such as:
"`Is that Caldy Island?' she asked pointing at the map of Borneo.

"`No, it's Borneo.'"
Had dinner in Glasgow with Donna Moore, a wonderful hostess who regretted that there was no dead body on the premises as there had been the day before; Allan Guthrie; and Ewan McGhee. Made plans to visit Edinburgh today, to which one Glaswegian replied: "You should have a lovely day as long as you don't have to mingle with the people."



© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, May 22, 2009

True, er, crime?

Thursday's front-page story in the Derry News told of Republican Action Against Drugs' denial that it was responsible for threats against a local drug kingpin and of its warnings to anyone who made threats in its name without its knowledge. The short item included the following:

"[The warning] comes after it was reported earlier this week that the group had issued a death threat against a man referred to as the so called `Cocaine King' of Derry.

"However, in a statement to the Derry News, RAAD said they issued no such statement — but would nevertheless execute the man in question `at a time of their own choosing.'"
In other news, I took a walk along Derry's marvelously preserved walls. Enjoyed a sweeping view of the Bogside as local maven Garbhan Downey pointed out the sights and narrated the area's dramatic history. That history includes the 1689 Siege of Derry, which gave rise to the more romantic of the city's two nicknames that I learned today. (The other moniker, Stroke City, is said to reflect the mark that separates the city's two names, Derry/Londonderry, when care is taken to respect both sides in the historic Irish-English divide.

Then afternoon tea and talk of crime, fiction and crime fiction with Downey and Brian McGilloway.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pilot to control tower: Missed it by that much

Much of Brendan O'Carroll stand-up comedy act could probably not be repeated on a family blog, but he's accurate when it comes to accents; most Americans really do talk like that.

He's also dead on about Ryanair and the surreal results of its ultra-low fares and ultra-high, ultra-rigid service fees. (Ryanair is the airline that has recently contemplated charging passengers to use the lavatories on its flights.) The airline is such a figure of fun that O'Carroll got big laughs at the Millennium Forum in Derry with a mere allusion to an incident in which one of its pilots landed at the wrong airport.

The politics are pretty funny here, too, or should I say they provide rich material for comedy. I'd been impressed that Garbhan Downey could turn out that much fine political crime comedy in just a few years. After a chat with Downey today, I'm surprised the lazy so-and-so has not written three times as much.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Down time

(Dundrum Castle, County Down, Northern Ireland)

When John de Courcy founded this castle in 1177 overlooking Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains, little could he have suspected that Dundrum would one day become the home of Gerard "Crime Scene NI" Brennan, blogger, wearer of several crime-fiction hats, and my gracious host yesterday. (Little more could he have dreamed that Carrickfergus, site of his other great castle, would one day become home to the Joymount Arms pub, its proprietress, and her crime-writing brother.)

Our restful drive through the fields of County Down followed an afternoon of talking, shopping and talking shop at Belfast's No Alibis. The day's bounty included books by Brian McGilloway, David Peace and Reginald Hill; a calendar with gorgeous illustrations inspired by classic crime-book covers; and the only novel ever placed into my hands by its own putative protagonist.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Post-CrimeFest: The legal fight over the "Millennium Trilogy"

The Sunday Times offers this wrap-up of the legal wrangling over Stieg Larsson's literary estate. The article is worth reading despite its stupid headline.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, May 18, 2009

CrimeFest, Day IV

Super moderator Martin Edwards acknowledged that the members of his "Edge of Doom: What Pushes Your Characters Over the Edge" panel were previously unfamiliar to him. This may have accounted for the general nature of some of the questions. And this, in turn, let some surprising answers shine through.

Caro Ramsay put a nice spin on the old idea of writers who say their characters are in charge. For her, writing a novel is a collaborative effort, "like writing a script and giving it to actors I know very well."

"The plot," said M.R. Hall, who brought television experience to his novel writing, "has to drive the character to the edge of destruction." To this, Ramsay replied that "Plot drives the writer to the edge of destruction."

Brian McGilloway cited Shakespeare among the writers he admires and made a good case for the Bard's crime-fiction chops. Shakespeare incorporated suspense, tight structure and, of especially timely interest to your humble blogkeeper, "gallows humor following a death." (At an earlier panel, I'd cited Ken Bruen and Allan Guthrie for effective use of humor at dark moments. And Shakespeare and crime has been a recurrent interest here at Detectives Beyond Borders. I invite McGilloway and other readers to have a look.)

And I cheered when Steven Hague added prose style to plot and character as key constituent of crime writing.

Edwards then stepped across CrimeFest's suite of rooms and retained his title at the festival's "Crossfire: Criminal Mastermind" quiz. I was torn between casting my lot with him or with Simon Brett as my choice to win. I chose Brett. Had I chosen Edwards, I'd have won a free pass to the festival next year.

A short Saturday night bar chat with Brett was nonetheless one of my CrimeFest highlights. He was honored for his long and prolific crime-writing career, but he'd worked in radio before he began writing books and was the first producer of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the acknowledgements to the book version of The Hitchhiker's Guide, author Douglas Adams thanks "Simon Brett, for starting the whole thing off." I enjoyed the radio broadcasts and the first few books, so it was a pleasure to enjoy a few minutes of Guide and Adams stories from Brett.

Finally, an apology to Rafe McGregor. He, too, was on the team that kicked my own Shots Detectives squad into second place in the pub quiz.

See the complete CrimeFest program here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

CrimeFest, Day III, Part II: Appetizers, dinner and dessert

Donna Moore, Declan Burke, Cara Black and Paul Johnston's panel called "Natural-Born Killers: Maxim's Picks" (the name honored moderator Maxim Jakubowski) took meandering paths with brief stops at several interesting destinations.

Moore recalled her childhood admiration for the Nancy Drew books, for the heroine, her handsome boyfriend, her fun friends and young Nancy's car. But then, she said, "I actually read one a few years ago and decided Nancy Drew was a bit of a whiner, her boyfriend was pathetic, and her friends were neurotic. I still liked the car, though." Perhaps you won't be surprised that Moore's first novel, Go to Helena Handbasket, pokes fun at every crime-fiction cliche Moore could think of.

Burke's comment that "I'm fascinated by the power of the Internet and what it can do" sparked a discussion of that medium's potential, both good and bad, for writers and publishers. Burke works hard to exploit that potential, both in his own fiction and as keeper of the Crime Always Pays blog. If Ken Bruen and Colin Bateman are godfathers to the current wave of Irish crime fiction, Burke is the godfather of Irish crime blogging, so he knows what he's talking about. Still, the discussion was leavened by a bracing sense of dread and blissfully free of the wifty optimism (pure shite, really) that can infect discussions of consumer technology.

I also quite liked Johnston's comment on writing about a country where one lives but is not a native: "That book I wrote about terrorism in Greece, I don't think a Greek could have written."
The baked cod at the gala dinner in the King's Room was more than acceptable, accompanied by waves of ecstatic verbiage to my left, and graceful acknowledgment to my right. The former came from Ali Karim, world's most voluble booster of Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire). The latter came from Reg Keeland, the books' English translator.

Each guest of honor (Simon Brett, Håkan Nesser, Andrew Taylor) gave a short, funny, speech, joyously irreverent of the proceedings. My favorite of the three was Taylor's deconstruction of the prizes he'd been given for each of his many Dagger awards from the Crime Writers' Association. Fook, the gent is twisted.
As a rule, the reporters' notebooks shut when the hotel bar opens. Still, I can't resist mentioning Kevin Wignall's scintillating impersonation of Marlon Brando as the Godfather, cut short only when Wignall almost swallowed one of the napkins he'd stuffed in his cheeks.

As always, view the complete CrimeFest program here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

CrimeFest, Day III, Part I: Interviews

Håkan Nesser, interviewed by Ann Cleeves, shed light on that recurrent question of Scandinavian gloom and Scandinavian authors. Scandinavians, he said, are dour; their authors are not: "I wanted [my protagonist] to be, at least to start with, depressed. ... Happy people don't need their humor."

Dour Swedes may be, Nesser said, but not cripplingly so: "We're not that depressed, but we don't talk a lot. That's good for a crime story. You keep things inside for thirty years," and then they just come out.

Ten of Nesser's twenty-two novels have featured Inspector Van Veeteren; four of these have been translated into English. The remaining six would likely change Nesser's image in the English-speaking world. The books translated thus far have featured villains with whom the reader may sympathize deeply. But that changed: "There are two really bad guys in numbers nine and ten." After the fifth in the series, Nesser said, Van Veeteren retires from the police and opens a bookstore instead.

Nesser also discussed his series about a character with the whimsical name of Gunnar Barbarotti, a series as yet untranslated into English, a series whose premise seems an odd mix of whimsy and Ingemar Bergman: "It's a thing between [Barbarotti] and God, and God has to prove he exists. ... If the prayer is fulfilled, God will get one point, or, in more important cases, one or two points."


Two interviews with authors I have not yet read offered insights I found especially pleasing. Andrew Taylor told Peter Guttridge that he loved Jane Austen, and Simon Brett told Gyles Brandreth that Austen was the one person he'd like to meet in Heaven, Taylor also cited P.G. Wodehouse as an early love.

So I'll take a tentative stab at charting some tendencies of British crime writers: They love Austen, they love Wodehouse, and they have a decided position, yes or no, on whether their novels have fundamentally moral concerns. At least this was true of some writers here, and the penchant for Austen and Wodehouse is by no means restricted to writers of what Americans call cozies or to any other type of mystery. Not should it be. Austen and Wodehouse are towering giants, a Hammett and a Chandler of English writing.

One remark was sufficient to get me interested in reading Taylor, who is English and this year's recipient of the CWA Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement: "Until ... 1934, it would have been utterly possible for us to slip gradually into being a Fascist state."

Oh, and he offered a valuable tip for beginning crime writers: "With the first novel, I had a corpse, and I went on from there. Corpses are good."

Click here for the full CrimeFest schedule.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, May 15, 2009

CrimeFest, Day II: The spirit is willing, and the flesh makes a pretty good go as well

My own highlight from Crimefest 2009, Day II? Perhaps it was Jo Nesbø's English translator, Don Bartlett, relieving me of anxieties about how to pronounce Nesbø's name. If "Joe Nesbow" is good enough for the man who translates his books, it's good enough for me.

Or maybe it was L.C. Tyler's professed admiration for Allan Guthrie. Tyler writes comic cozy mysteries; Guthrie's work is anything but cozy. One author's respect for another who writes fiction of a different type is one of those salutary, mind-opening reminders that make events like this a joy.

Another was Leighton Gage's answer that his books begin with plot. If my memory serves me well, he was the only one of eight writers on two panels who gave that answer to the "Plot or character?" question.

Stephen Booth offered the disarming admission that "I didn't want to write about middle-aged alcoholics because other people had done it better" and the warning that too faithful a portrayal of procedure can be deadly in a police procedural.

Ros Schwartz, Dagger-winning translator of Dominique Manotti, offered shocking assessments of the miserable working conditions of literary translators in much of Europe and contrasted these with the far better environment for translators in the Scandinavian countries.

Håkan Nesser, in answer to a question about Nordic authors' reputation for dourness, noted their penchant for social criticism: "If your mission is to criticize society, you can't be very comical." (Editor's note: Your humble blogkeeper is author of an article on humor in Nordic crime fiction, including Nesser's. I believe that the general seriousness of crime fiction from the Nordic countries throws such humor as there is into especially sharp relief.)

Declan Burke, Chris Ewan, Steve Mosby and Kevin Wignall made up a panel on writing about villains. An observation of Mosby's neatly encapsulated the way the line between hero and villain can blur: "Every villain is the hero of his own story."

See the day's complete program here. And Burke discharged his bar debt in a prompt, gentlemanly manner.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

CrimeFest Day I: It's in the bag

The formal CrimeFest proceedings got off to a smashing start, with a panel on psychological thrillers moderated by Margaret Murphy and also including Jenni Mills, Steve Mosby, Sheila Quigley and Claire Seeber. One highlight might be useful to would-be authors: Each writer talked of an experience, small or large, that germinated into a book. In one case, it was repeated visits to a young relative in a mental hospital. In another, it was panic induced when confined in a narrow passage in a cave. Lesson: Use your imagination, and see where it takes you.

My question to Mosby about serial killers who act in the name of civilized virtues won me a bag of books for the cleverest question.

A panel on historical mysteries offered a practical answer to a question I'd only been able to formulate in theoretical terms: How does one remain faithful to one's historical setting while writing for an audience of one's own time? The panelists were Roger Hudson, who sets his work in fifth-century B.C. Athens; Ruth Downie and Jane Finnis, each of whom sets her work in Roman Britain; and Roz Southey, whose protagonist is an eighteenth-century musician. Moderator was Edward Marston, whose sets work in several historical periods.

Finnis spoke of a character scarred by war, and of the difficulties writing about such a character without the psychological vocabulary that would be anachronistic to the first-century Roman world. The character suffered from what we would call post-traumatic stress syndrome, Finnis noted, but she could of course not use that term. Nor could she offer the insight that this is what happens to people exposed for a long period to war: "It just had to be left to the reader to make that deduction."

My question to Southey won me another bag of books, or would have had not a fellow attendee pointed out that I'd already won one. I was thus deprived of the opportunity to make a magnanimous gesture and voluntarily surrender the second bag.

The panel on "The Lost Weekend: Eric Ambler and Who? — Forgotten Authors" could keep me talking and reading for months, and I'll likely read and post about some of these authors. Superbly moderated by Martin Edwards, the discussion also included Mary Andrea Clarke, Barry Forshaw, Declan Hughes and Sarah Rayne.

The current authors praised their predecessors for streaks of humor and for gorgeous prose style, two elements I love that are rare these days. Hughes said of Margaret Millar that "She's also, sentence-by-sentence, I think, one of the crime writers who can write. ... She's a great plotter without smacking the least of the Golden Age."

My question about why forgotten books are such a popular topic these days sparked a lively discussion among the panelists about nostalgia. Alas, I won no bag.

Next: The pub quiz. As my teammate Ali Karim would say, "Mental!!!"

NEWS FLASH: Pub-quiz result: A tie for second place. The prize: A bag of books.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


(Photo by Mike Gove)

Your humble blogkeeper was too jet-lagged and congested to do much of anything today except take a desultory walk around Bristol with a brief stop to have lunch and watch cricket on television.

I did see enough to note that Bristol seems to have done much with its old waterfront. This has included glitzy projects with lots of shiny metal and the word millennium, but it also incorporates old trains, track and tow-boats, none decayed but some with just enough of the ramshackle about them to remind visitors what this city was built on and how distant that past has become.

These reminders take in a plaque that notes Bristol's role in the dreadful triangular trade: arms and other metal goods to Africa, slaves to the Caribbean, and raw goods such as sugar back to England. The whole reminds me a bit of Belfast, with its waterfront plans that include a museum around the slip where the Titanic was built, and the massive Harland and Wolff cranes.

Tomorrow: Crime time.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

CrimeFest — and what I'll miss by being there

CrimeFest 2009 opens Thursday with an international galaxy of crime-fiction stars. I'll be there, too.

Among those stars is Leighton Gage, author of the Inspector Mario Silva series set in Brazil. I've just started Buried Strangers, the second in the series, but that's enough to report on the opening chapters' deftly executed hook.

Amid brief reintroductions of character conflicts from the first novel, Blood of the Wicked, Gage portrays discovery of what appears a crime horrendous in its scale and barbarity. Any number of authors might have given us pounding hearts, breathless adjectives and appalled attempts to come to grips with the enormity of— but you've read that all before.

I will say no more except to suggest that Gage's severely understated execution of the scenes is one hell of an attention grabber.

Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Leighton Gage here. And next year, read the third Mario Silva mystery, Dying Gasp.

As CrimeFest gets under way Thursday in Bristol, England, one of America's greatest crime writers, Elmore Leonard, will be reading from his new novel, answering questions and signing books at the Free Library back in Philadelphia.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, May 11, 2009

CrimeFest blogfest IV: Gonzo publishing

(Here's the fourth in a series of posts about authors who'll be at CrimeFest 2009 in Bristol, England, this week. I'll be there, too, standing on my tip-toes in the back row of the group picture.)

Big O author Declan Burke, whose name you may know, has announced an experiment in publishing. My fellow CrimeFest attendee is seeking to make his novel A Gonzo Noir, circulated heretofore in the traditional Internet mode, available in print as well. Join me in wishing the book good luck in finding a publisher.

In the meantime, click on the Gonzo Noir link above and enjoy exchanges like this:

‘If you want my opinion,’ he says, ‘the conflicts that work best are between the reader and a character they like who’s doing stuff they wouldn’t generally tolerate. Your mistake was to make Karlsson a total wack-job. No one who wasn’t a complete fruit could like him.’

‘Okay, so we make you likeable. What then?’

‘We blow up the hospital.’
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Graphic noir: Scalped, Vol. 4

Ed Brubaker's introduction to the fourth collection of Jason Aaron's comic/graphic novel Scalped offers a definition of noir that passes within hailing distance of my own. Writes Brubaker:

"[G]ood noir often has amazingly intricate twisty plots, but that's just icing on a dark, dark cake. Noir is about the characters moving through those plots, ricocheting like a banged-up pinball that only bounces




"Until — Game over. No match, no free play.

"And as you watch them move, you know their final destination, you recognize it ... because it feels inevitable. To me, that's the heart of what noir is, inevitability."
Your humble blog keeper had this to say when he set his mind to definitions (and that definition came in the introduction to an interview whose subject had yet a third definition of noir):

"For this reader, noir hits me hard in the stomach with an ending in which a protagonist goes knowingly to his or her fate. Call it resignation, even if that resignation is sometimes triumphant."
Scalped occupies a thought-provoking place in such discussions. For one thing, its setting on an Indian reservation helps freshen the noir tradition by keeping it surprising and contemporary. Noir is not a style, it's a way of grim life. For another, it's a kind of group noir. Everyone is trapped or doomed, not just some hapless protagonist.

Having said that, one story in this volume, which collects issues 19 through 24 of the comic, has a prominent character take a series of unexpectedly moral actions. I'd like to say that the character turns away from the noir and toward the heroic, but I won't. Instead, I'll take the story as gratifying evidence of noir's flexibility and vitality.

(Read more about Scalped at publisher Vertigo's Web site.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Tradition, tradition!

Does something in the zeitgeist — the disastrous recession, maybe, the swift and terrifying collapse of vital, once-trusted industries, the newly precarious state of so many lives and livelihoods — turn readers' and publishers' thoughts to the comforts of tradition? A week and a half ago I posted some thoughts by and about those unrelated novel-writing Edwardses — Ruth Dudley and Martin — on traditional mysteries: what the term means, and how an author goes about writing traditional mysteries in these untraditional times.

This week, Sarah Weinman weighs in on "New Traditionalist" mysteries and cites some thoughts on the subject from Jordan Foster at Publishers Weekly.

Click on all those links — Sarah's, PW's, the Edwardes' and mine — and open your mind to mysteries that can be traditional and with it at the same time.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Buffalo Jump up ... for an Arthur Ellis Award

Howard Shrier, a guest at the first cross-border Noir at the Bar earlier this year in Toronto, is up for an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada for best first novel.

Buffalo Jump offers funny and fresh takes on the private-eye novel and not-so-funny trips into scary moral territory. The novel is set near the Canada-United States border and crosses that border to tell a pair of stories that converge to pack a tough and thoroughly contemporary punch.

(Click here for a complete list of nominees. The winners are to be announced June 4.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Detectives Beyond Borders is a winner

The people have spoken. Your humble blogkeeper has won a Spinetingler Award for special services to the industry, in a tie with the worthy J. Kingston Pierce of the worthy Rap Sheet.

I like these awards because the categories reflect serious thought about and great care for crime fiction. They recognize a wide range of authors, for instance, and they include graphic novels.

Both the ballot forms and the winners list include links to the nominated short stories, another sign that the Spinetinglers want to spread the news about writers and artists who might not otherwise get the recognition that they deserve. So thanks to all who voted, and I hope you'll join me in spraying some champagne on Sandra Ruttan and all the good folks at Spinetingler.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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CrimeFest blogfest III: Interview with Håkan Nesser

Håkan Nesser will be a featured author at CrimeFest 2009. (I'll be there, too, as a humbly worshipful paying customer.) Nesser's appearance coincides with the publication of Woman With Birthmark, the fourth of his novels about Inspector Van Veeteren to be translated from Swedish into English. The original version won the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy's prize for best novel in 1996, the second of Nesser's three victories in that category.

In the third of a series of posts about CrimeFest authors, here's an interview I did with Nesser last spring, upon publication of the Van Veeteren novel Mind's Eye.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Readers of translated crime fiction know that series are often translated out of order. Håkan Nesser's is no different. The newly published Mind's Eye, third of Nesser's ten Van Veeteren novels to become available in English, after Borkmann's Point (second in the sequence) and The Return (third), is the first of the series, published in Swedish in 1993.

The novel tells the story of a high school teacher named Janek Mitter who wakes up hung over and finds his wife dead in the bathtub. He struggles to recover his memories of the fatal night, cracks jokes and makes a mockery of his trial, and finds himself confined to a mental institution. Then Mitter himself is murdered, and the investigation and mystery begin in earnest.

The book contains much that will be familiar to Nesser's readers: deadpan humor, sympathy even for unsympathetic characters, and delightfully true-to-life oddball observations. Since this was the first in the series, a reader might naturally wonder if the novel is more autobiographical than those that followed, in the proverbial manner of first novels everywhere. I did, so I asked Nesser a few questions.

What have English readers missed by having only three of the Van Veeteren novels available in their language?

You’ve missed seven books, but hopefully Pantheon will make up for the loss. Next one is published next April. Woman with Birthmark (Kvinna med födelsemärke) got the award for best crime novel in Swedish 199-something. (Note to readers: The year was 1996, when Nesser beat a field that included Åke Edwardson and Henning Mankell.)

You were a teacher. To what extent does Elmer Suurna, the headmaster in Mind’s Eye whose only ambition was “to keep his handsome red-oak desktop clean and shiny,” reflect your own disillusionment with that profession?

My disillusionment is not that big. The main problem with Swedish schools is too much administration, too little money. Most headmasters are good. I have seen one or two like Suurna, though.

You named your protagonist, Van Veeteren, for Janwillem van de Wetering, author of the Grijpstra and De Gier stories. What do you find attractive about Van de Wetering’s work? How is Grijpstra and De Gier’s world view similar to Van Veeteren’s?

Not sure. I enjoyed De Gier and Grijpstra a lot, of course, perhaps the way they sort of look in the wrong direction most of the time, not really concerned about their work. But perhaps Van Veeteren is different in this respect.

Minor characters in Mind’s Eye are named Joensuu, Mankel and Kellerman. Why those particular crime writers? And what other writers have I missed?

Well, most people like to have a name, and it doesn’t cost a lot to give knowledgeable readers some meaningless hints.

Both this book and The Return display strong sympathy with characters who have been in prison or otherwise institutionalized. What are the origins of this sympathy?

With different circumstances the good guy would have been the bad guy. It’s important to understand the motive, and to not demonize the criminal. Some murders are more understandable than others, and those are also more interesting to write about.

The great Swiss crime writer Friedrich Glauser also showed special sympathy for institutionalized or otherwise downtrodden characters. Do you know his books?

No, never read Glauser. Heard of him though.

What plans do your U.S., U.K. or Australian publishers have for issuing more English translations of your work?

See 1). Also I believe they’ve bought a fifth title from the series.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More awarders recognize crime beyond borders

With a hat tip to Crime Always Pays comes news of the Macavity Award nominations. CAP is excited that his fellow Irish crime author Declan Hughes is up for a best-mystery-novel Macavity. This follows on his short-listing for the best-novel Edgar Award.

I'm pleased that 3½ of the seven best-novel nominees are from beyond U.S. borders: Hughes' The Price of Blood (called The Dying Breed in the U.K.); The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason (Iceland); and The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (Canada). The half is for Trigger City by Sean Chercover, who has divided his time between Toronto and Chicago and who blended in beautifully with the natives at the recent Noir at the Bar: TO Style in Toronto. This follows a short list for the best-novel Edgar that was 50 percent non-American authors.

Visit Mystery Readers International for a complete list of nominees for the Macavitys, which are to presented at Boucheron 2009 in October.

In other award news, Bob "I'm not Roger" Cornwell of Crimetime sends notice of nominations for the Glass Key prize, the top crime-fiction award in the Nordic countries. Crimetime announces the nominations here in a wrap-up that spins off into a look at other Nordic awards plus all kinds of neat stuff about the several languages involved as well as links to more sites on Nordic crime prizes and organizations. The article deserves an award of its own.

Read (in English) about the Glass Key nominees here, on a blog operated by the Skandinaviska Kriminalsällskapet, which awards the prize.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Les six mille froids

Per a recent comment string in which James Ellroy's name came up, here's a picture from a bookshop window in Paris in November 2007.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Inside-out in Split

By popular demand, a photo from Split, Croatia, showing some of the odd views that result when a city grows up inside the precincts of a palace, that of the Roman emperor Diocletian. The man did things in a big way.

The popular demander said he'd recommend Split highly. So would I. It's one of the two or three places I've visited where I was overcome with the spontaneous thought of how pleasant it would be to live there, even if I didn't live within the old palace walls.

The clear sea air and the blue Adriatic waters inspired in me an unprecedented desire to get up early in the morning and go for walks before breakfast.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

One city, three scripts

This has nothing to do with crime fiction, but it is pretty cool, I think.

All three of these samples are from monuments in Split, Croatia, and they reflect something of that clement and gorgeously situated city's diverse heritage.

Above, read some Latin; at right, try some Hebrew; and below, Croatian (the old Glagolitic script, I think.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Sex and the country

A scene near the beginning of Pierre Magnan's The Messengers of Death nicely exemplifies an observation I made after reading his Death in the Truffle Wood. The observation concerned Magnan's convincing portrayal of rural life's human texture. Here's the Messengers of Death example that brought it back to mind:

"`Perhaps you could teach these things to me directly?' Prudence said.

"Rose's mouth fell open and stayed open. As it happened, for quite some time now she had regretted the fact that her enriching experiences still lacked an essential spice. ... [Prudence] was the one who dragged her, pushed her, willing and eager, towards the little bedroom behind the shop. And there, both of them had their first and definitive lesbian experience. After that it it was nothing more than a habit dependent on the whim of the moment.

"That's how you fight boredom in these sleepy villages."

I like the deadpan humor, the slow buildup to an unexpected punch line that you just know Magnan enjoyed as much as his readers will. (He uses the technique at least once elsewhere in the book's opening chapters, possibly to even better effect.)

I also like what the passage implies about the pace of life in Magnan's rural Provence. I'm not sure extra-marital liaisons are any more common in Magnan's work than in fiction set in cities, but they are far less fraught with anxiety, at least of the immediate kind. Consequences unfold slowly, if at all, and characters accept them stoically or with good-humored resignation or silent suffering or secret relief. The consequences are more like glaciers than volcanoes. Or maybe more like seasonal winds.

Hmm, why do I have this sudden urge to read the Book of Ecclesiastes?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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