Monday, August 31, 2009

Those fingers in my hair / That sly come-hither stare ...

... it's witchcraft, and it figures prominently in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's 2007 crime debut, Last Rituals.

A student is found slain in his Reykjavík university department, his body mutilated in ways that suggest occult rituals (but also outré and dangerous sexual practices). The student has been preparing a dissertation on the comparative history of witch hunts. Early investigation of his death coincides with the disappearance of a historic letter from one sixteenth-century ecclesiastic to another that may deal with witchcraft as well.

I suspect from the novel's early chapters that I will learn something about witchcraft, its history and its reception in Iceland. But I'll also keep in mind other Nordic crime novels from the late 1990s onward in which satanic or other occult practices (or fear thereof) lie at the heart of murders. I wrote about this in 2007 in a discussion of Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm (published as The Savage Altar in the UK). Helene Tursten's The Glass Devil and Jo Nesbø's The Devil's Star would also make the list.

While I go read more of Last Rituals, I'll throw the question open to readers, especially those from the Nordic countries: Have satanism and witchcraft been on people's minds in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland in the past ten years? If so, why? And what other crime novels have taken up the subject?

Last Rituals has had its mischievous moments, too. One early highlight is an unexpectedly lighthearted exchange over autopsy photographs that includes the line "Fancy a pizza?"

(Yrsa Sigurðardóttir will be a member of my crime fiction and translation panel at Bouchercon 2009 along with Steven T. Murray, Tiina Nunnally and Robert Pépin.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

One more thing about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I've just finished The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and I think things remain to be said about Stieg Larsson's much-discussed first novel. I won't say them now, though, except to note that the last few pages contain two of the most endearingly self-deprecating bits of self-reference in all of crime fiction — unless one regards the bits as self-justification, grimly ironic or not self-referential at all.

I won't give away much if I reveal that the references concern a book written by protagonist Mikael Blomkvist.

(Stieg Larsson's English translator, Steven T. Murray [a.k.a. Reg Keeland], will be a member of my panel on crime fiction and translation at Bouchercon 2009.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Modesty Blaise: The original girl who played with fire

I've reached the stage in Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo where Lisbeth Salander is starting to come to the fore. So far she reminds me strongly of another young fictional woman with mysterious origins, a horrible past, a quiet demeanor, and wide-ranging and dangerous talents: Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise.

The affinity is so strong and so obvious that someone else must have remarked on it. Who else has noticed the similarities?

(Stieg Larsson's English translator, Steven T. Murray [a.k.a. Reg Keeland], will be a member of my panel on crime fiction and translation at Bouchercon 2009.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Stieg Larsson — debut novelist

Two of the rare measured comments I've read about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo suggested that Stieg Larsson wrote too much like the journalist he was and that, like many another first-time novelist, he wrote long.

I liked the comments because they humanized the man behind the astonishing Larsson phenomenon. Once you start becoming the focus of conspiracy theories and notorious court cases (in Europe) and once your books start getting displayed next to volumes about Michael Jackson (in Philadelphia), calm discussion starts looking for its coat, making its excuses, and glancing nervously at the door.

So I regard with affection what I take to be traces of the first-time novelist in the first two hundred or so pages of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. One such trace is the occasional wordiness in routine exposition. Ordinarily I don't like that sort of thing; here, it made Larsson seem more human.

But I especially liked co-protagonist Mikael Blomkvist's rants against his fellow financial journalists, and I take Blomkvist as a stand-in for Larsson. Here are two examples:

"In the last 20 years, Swedish financial journalists had developed into a group of incompetent lackeys who were puffed up with self-importance and who had no record of thinking critically."

"The article was written by a columnist who had previously worked for Monopoly Financial Magazine ... who cheerfully ridiculed anyone who felt passionate about any issue or who stuck their neck out. ... The writer was not known for espousing a single conviction of his own."
If that's a first-time novelist failing to separate himself from his character, so be it. Those passages are fun, and that's what reading is for.

(Stieg Larsson's English translator, Steven T. Murray [a.k.a. Reg Keeland], will be a member of my panel on crime fiction and translation at Bouchercon 2009.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm moderating a panel at Bouchercon 2009

I've just learned that I'll be moderating an exciting panel at Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis this October.

"Lost in Translation?: Translators and writers discuss the challenges of translating the crime novel" will feature Steven T. Murray, Tiina Nunnally, Robert Pépin and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in conversation, with your humble blogkeeper asking the questions and keeping the peace.

This panel will bring together four talented, accomplished individuals, and it will look at translation from every viewpoint: that of translators into English (Nunnally, Murray), that of a translator from English (Pépin), and that of an author who places her creations in a translator's hands, which must feel like giving up a child for adoption or at least like sending her off to summer camp for the first time (Yrsa Sigurðardóttir).

The fun happens Thursday, Oct. 15, 10:30 a.m.-11:25 a.m. I'll see you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Flight dreck, Part II

My theory about flight crews? Glad you asked. But first, rest assured that the theory is grounded in repeated observation, refined only later into a general proposition.

One night I was having a drink at the Ledes and Layoffs Club in Philadelphia, my peace disturbed by a too-loud group pounding tables in bad rhythm and jocosely threatening not to pay for their rounds. "An airline crew," the bartender whispered. "They work for Northeast."

Next week, different crew, same airline, same behaviour.

Some months later, the club a bit more crowded, the music a bit louder, the behaviour a bit worse. "These guys fly for Northeast, too?" I asked.

"Nope," the bartender said, "Epsilon Airlines."

Now, what may we conclude? That commercial-airline flight crews, worn to a frazzle and wound tight by endless rules and procedures and by the tight quarters in which they work, rendered light-headed by jet lag, go nuts when let loose in a strange city? Or maybe these three crews (from two real airlines whose names have been changed to avoid embarrassing the club or its customers) were just jerks.

In any case, next time I go to Europe, I may take the train. (Read more about flying here, including a comment that suggests another plausible explanation for flight crews' blowing off steam.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flight dreck

Another bit from my current crime reading, Selçuk Altun's Songs My Mother Never Taught Me, dovetails nicely with a non-crime post I had planned to make. Here's Altun:

"The stewardess of the `business class' section was presenting the flight security precautions with the usual repulsive mimicry."

Here's me:
"A train journey begins with a thrilling lurch into motion. A plane journey begins with the slightly nauseating whiff of filtered, pressurized air.

"You squeeze past your rowmates' knees to get up. You squeeze past their knees to get back. (Just don't drop anything, because good luck squeezing down between rows to pick it up.) You contemplate the condensation between the windows. You choose from a wide range of entertainment options. You enjoy the easy-going conversational genuineness of the crew ..."
Coming soon: More from Selçuk Altun, plus my theory about why flight crews, so rigidly cheerful in the air, can be so obnoxious once they land.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, August 24, 2009

A novel from Turkey that won't leave me cold

Here's a bit from the second chapter of Selçuk Altun's Songs My Mother Never Taught Me:

"Today your humble servant Bedirhan Öztürk is thirty-seven years old! Instead of buying myself a birthday present I've come to a crucial decision. God willing, I'm going to break away from the business I've undertaken so patiently for the last twelve years.

"Please don't let the fact that I'm a hired killer alarm you. ...

"But retirement will come to pass, by the grace of God! Listening reverently to the evening ezan and eating my blessed pomegranate, I'll say my prayers and go to sleep, if you'll allow me. I'm sure that you've already begun to realize that your humble servant is no ordinary gun-toting operator."
I think I'll enjoy this novel's amiable tone. As a bonus, my alma mater gets a prominent mention in the third chapter.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fred Vargas in the newspaper

My review of Fred Vargas' The Chalk Circle Man appears here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Eddie Coyle's best friend

Partisans of George V. Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle sprang to its defense last week when I wrote that some parts of the novel had aged badly. It turns out that one of the book's most ardent defenders was lurking right here all along.

The superlatively talented Bill James, author of the Harpur and Iles novels, told your humble blogkeeper in June that "the one book that influenced me above all was The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins, for its dialogue and its subtle treatment of the fink situation."

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Keeping it short, or, `The sight of the defeated is always tedious'

The title to this post includes a line uttered by a corporate official in Dominique Manotti's Dead Horsemeat, and it's typical of Manotti's technique in one respect.

It's a powerful line but spoken matter-of-factly, amid cocktail-party chatter in a luxurious apartment as guests catch sight of a banner commemorating the events of Tiananmen Square. The guests drop the subject as suddenly as they bring it up.

I don't like references to a novel's "texture" because I'm not always sure what the word means. With Manotti, it would mean terse writing, spare character reactions even in scenes of violence, low-key jokes that have a sharp effect set against the laconic prose that surrounds them. All this makes for a fast pace, especially when Manotti describes harsh but small crimes that must be building to something bigger. The resulting suspense is why I regard Manotti's novels as part crime, part thriller, or better, as crime thrillers.

This is all the more impressive because her novels range widely and cover big topics: from horse barns to corporate takeovers, from sweatshops to government security services, massive international drug smuggling and high-level assassination attempts, from factory floors to the highest offices of power in France. These could easily be earmarks of fat, sprawling doorstops, yet the three books available in English check in at about 255 pages for Rough Trade, around 200 for Lorraine Connection, and a spartan 175 for Dead Horsemeat. That's just one factor that makes reading Manotti a bracing experience.
Click here for more Manotti posts. And tell me what crime or other novels have surprised you with their brevity.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, August 20, 2009


Merde is the glue that holds Fred Vargas' three evangelists together:
"Ils cherchaient. Un autre fou dans la merde."
"Dans la merde" demanda-t-il?"

"Précisément. ... Ennui, désillusion, écriture en solitude."

"Mais alors il est dans la
merde ... Tu ne pouvais pas la dire tout de suite?"
"(L)es trois chercheurs de merde se retrouvèrent tassés autour d'un grand feu."
"Ils sont bien emmerdés les médiévistes avec ça."
Marc, Matthias and Lucien, the three "evangelists" of the novel's English title, come together because all are in merde. Too bad that merde, or rather its English equivalent, is frowned upon in American publications. But even then, shit is both far harsher in tone and far narrower in meaning than merde.

Siân Reynolds, who translated Vargas' Debout les morts into English as The Three Evangelists, told Detectives Beyond Borders last year that:
"Swearing is another potential pitfall. French colloquial speech uses a number of terms which if translated literally sound rather stronger in English (merde, je m’en fous, etc.) Given what we know about the characters, you have to save four-letter words for times when the context calls for them."

She renders merde variously as down on his luck or in a bad way, chercheurs de merde as seriously unemployed historians, and "Ils sont bien emmerdés les médiévistes avec ça" as "Not so easy either, for the poor medievalists."

The translation loses the unifying, amusing effect of the repeated merde, both meaning and sound, but what can a translator do except shrug, mutter a quiet merde!, and get on with her work?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Daylight Noir: Raymond Chandler's Imagined City: A review

By Catherine Corman
Preface by Jonathan Lethem
Charta Art Books

I spent a few days in Santa Cruz this spring. Wrong end of California, but I still saw parts of it through Raymond Chandler's eyes.

Others have done the same, whether in Santa Cruz or elsewhere. Jonathan Lethem's preface to this collection of Chandler excerpts and Catherine Corman's photographs accounts nicely for the rich visual associations Chandler conjures up — and the reasons have nothing to do with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall or Martha Vickers. "In Chandler," Lethem says, "the hardboiled style becomes above all a way of seeing, not so far from photography itself."

The preface and the photographer's own introduction play heavily on solitude in Los Angeles and in Chandler's own work, invoking Edward Hopper's paintings, for example. And the photos are of buildings, fences, trees, airplanes — and none of people.

Here are some of the excerpts that Corman has illustrated with her lovely, lonely black-and-white pictures:

"We drove away from Las Olindas through a series of little dank beach towns with shack-like houses built down on the sand close to the rumble of the surf and larger houses built back on the slopes behind."

"He had a good job in Wichita. I guess he just sort of wanted to come out here to California. Most everybody does."
"The guy in the sports coat and yellow handkerchief got in and backed his car out and then stopped long enough to put on dark glasses and light a cigarette. After that he was gone."
I'm ready to do some serious seeing when I read writing like that.

The excerpts are treats, bits of ominous description and philosophizing and Chandler's wonderfully erudite jokes that will send me back to my Chandler collection. Sometimes Corman makes the photo part of the story. A stark, empty corner of what looks like a street-level shop accompanies an excerpt about "Geiger Rare Books," the porn outlet in The Big Sleep. After Geiger and Carol Lundgren have cleared out, perhaps?

Two small complaints concern the book's lack of annotation. The locations lack identification, and the individual excerpts lack convenient citation by source. The former would have intrigued experienced Chandler readers, and the latter would have made a useful reading guide for those new to Chandler. But those are quibbles, for the book is not a Chandler travelogue, but a companion to his way of seeing the world.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I love Paris in November

In the tradition of my crepuscular view of Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge, here's a little thing from 2007 that I'll call Paris at Night.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, August 17, 2009

War! What is it good for?

Some time ago I made some posts about a great Frenchman. Now here's a word from his neighbor:

"War then is a relation, not between man and man, but between State and State . ... each State can have for enemies only other States, and not men; for between things disparate in nature there can be no real relation."
Nothing there about a war on drugs or terror, as far as I can tell.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Haere mai to a New Zealand crime blog

Craig Sisterson sends word from New Zealand of Crime Watch, his new blog about New Zealand and international crime/thriller writing.

Early posts have lots of good stuff about New Zealand writers, appearances by and interviews with international authors, and one about New Zealand's own dame of crime fiction, Ngaio Marsh.

"So why a blog on Kiwi crime fiction?" Craig writes. "Well, because I think we have some fantastic authors here in Aotearoa, but we don't talk about them enough."

Craig also answered a question I had always had about his country: "What is kiwifruit called in New Zealand?" His answer: It's called kiwifruit.

(Click here for an explanation of this post's hospitable title.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, August 14, 2009

An enemy of The Friends of Eddie Coyle?

Well, not an enemy, really, but George V. Higgins' novel is such a foundational text for hard-boiled crime writers everywhere that any criticism smacks of heresy, and I have at least one to offer.

First, though, it's easy to imagine what a bracing effect the novel's style, almost all dialogue, with bits of elliptical description, must have had when the book appeared the early 1970s. That part still works fine, and it would be interesting to look back at what Elmore Leonard was doing at the time. This was just before he moved over from Westerns to crime novels. Did Higgins influence Leonard?

Second, that dialogue contains some funny lines. My favorite so far:
"`I never been able to understand a man that wanted to use a machinegun,' the stocky man said. `It's life if you get hooked with it and you can't really do much of anything with it except fight a war, maybe.'"
The substance of the dialogue is surprisingly fresh considering that the book was written amid the hangover from the 1960s, and Higgins couldn't help that he was writing during what may have been the most embarrassing fashion era in Western history. He had to describe all those god-awful fringes and suede jackets.

But the book's bad-guys-are-people-too message has dated badly, or rather, so many writers have delivered it so much better since that Higgins' version reads today as plodding, rudimentary and ponderous. Dillon's long virtual monologue in Chapter Six is so patently tendentious (It's one of the only parts of the book so far that has no funny lines; that's how we know Higgins is being serious), and it's so damned long that I was tempted to flip ahead – not a good thing in a book of just 150 pages.

Chapter Six certainly slows the story down. I don't know enough about crime writing of the early 1970s to call it a bad piece of writing. Maybe it has just dated badly. I invite friends of The Friends of Eddie Coyle to weigh in, particularly on the chapter in question and on Higgins's role as a pioneer in the bad-guys-are-just-working-stiffs school.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A return to serious posts – tomorrow

Someone suggested John R. Corrigan's golf novel Bad Lie in response to yesterday's question about sports in crime stories. What a terrific title.

This got me thinking that games, with their rules just waiting to be broken, offer apt metaphors for crime – and a rich field of over-the-top crime-fiction titles, some of them possibly genuine: Out of Bounds. Personal Foul. False Start. Long Bomb. Broken Play. Italics give even the hoariest cliché a bit of zing, don't they?

Your task today is to make up the cleverest or most outlandish sports-related title you can for a crime or mystery story. Titles of real books and stories, in the tradition of Bad Lie, are also welcome, as are suggestions from games whose terminology is unknown to me, such as cricket, darts, archery, camogie, boules, kabaddi, 43-man squamish, tossing the caber ...

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In the rough

P.G. Wodehouse's Oldest Member must be turning over in his grave. First Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attacks golf as a bourgeois game, sparking a war of words with the U.S. State Department.

Then this, in Dominque Manotti's novel Rough Trade:

Police Inspector Daquin has just interviewed a powerful man at an exclusive golf club. The powerful man has urged discretion, equating his own business interests with France's national interest, to which Daquin responds on his way back to the office: "People who play golf are capable of anything."

Come to the defense of sports, readers. What are your favorite uses of or references to sports in crime fiction?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who is reviewing the reviewers?

I am. So is Seana Graham. Declan Burke takes a peek, too, from time to time, and that's a good thing.

The occasion is a review in the Guardian of Adrian McKinty's novel Fifty Grand. I've always been partial to reviews that establish context, that show the reviewer knows his or her subject, that could interest even a reader unfamiliar with the matter at hand.

I like that the Guardian begins by invoking McKinty's "Dead" trilogy and goes on to find traits common to that superb series and the new book. This tells me that the reviewer, John O'Connell, prepared well, embraced his subject and took his job seriously. A reviewer owes his readers no less.

Seana Graham's Things You May Have Missed blog takes up this subject in a post aptly titled What the Guardian knows that The New York Times doesn't. And Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays is apt to snap its jaws at lazy reviewers' hindquarters when they deserve it.

With newspapers devoting less and less space to books coverage, the coverage that remains had better be good. Because we're watching.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Guthrie and Weegee

(Cop Killer (left) Weegee; negative, January 16, 1941, print, about 1950, © International Center of Photography)

The cover of Allan Guthrie's Two-Way Split is taken from one of the great crime photographs, Weegee's Cop Killer, though the borrowing from Weegee is unacknowledged, as far as I can tell.

The designers hired by Point Blank Press colorized the photo in hot reds and yellows, flipped it, cropped it, and jacked the contrast up to emphasize splashes and ominous blotches on and around the cop killer and the arresting officer.

It's an evocative photograph, eliciting pity for the beaten suspect even as one thinks of the horror of his deed, his desolation highlighted by the facelessness of his custodians. And that makes it a pretty good cover for an Allan Guthrie novel.

(For more on Weegee, click here. For more on Allan Guthrie, click here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Your daily crime fiction chuckle

Nemesis may be Jo Nesbø's best novel, more tightly constructed, sticking more closely to its central story than his others, with only hints of the flashbacks that are such an integral part of The Redbreast. It muses philosophically but unobtrusively on revenge both personal and national and, as usual with Nesbø, it contains wonderful deadpan humor. One of my favorite bits mixes humor and philosophy:

"`One of the most celebrated bank robbers in the world was the American Willie Sutton,' Raskol said. `When he was arrested and taken to court, the judge asked him why he robbed banks. Sutton answered: Because that's where the money is. It's become a standing expression in everyday American English and I suppose it's meant to show us how brilliantly direct and easy language can be. To me, it just represents an idiot who got caught. Good robbers are neither famous not quotable."
I'm not sure where that stands on a scale of philosophical weightiness, but it sure adds to the pleasure of reading the novel. As always with Nesbø in English, Don Bartlett has provided a fluent, unobtrusive translation with the added small pleasure of leaving street names in the original Norwegian.
Nemesis, which comes after The Redbreast and before The Devil's Star in order of original publication, highlights the desirability of reading the books in that order rather than in order of their appearance in English. Devil's Star was first of the three to be translated, followed by The Redbreast and Nemesis.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Remember when computers were cool?

There's a nice bit of social observation in Jo Nesbø's Nemesis. The protagonist, Harry Hole, has sought out his cab driver friend Øystein (last seen in these parts in a highly amusing conversation about the Rolling Stones) and asked if he might want to return to his old career:
"`Still not interested in going back to computers?'

"`Are you crazy!' Øystein shook off internal laughter as he ran the tip of his tongue along the paper. `Annual salary of a million and a quiet office – of course, I could do with that, but I've missed the boat, Harry. The time for rock 'n' roll guys like me in IT is over.'"
The boldface line is of especial sociological interest, I think, because computer and Internet types loved to cultivate a rogue image for themselves, and their followers in the media were only too happy to oblige. Nesbø published Nemesis in 2002. Your question today, especially if you're old enough to remember when the Internet was going to be a liberating force and the media loved scruffy young computer rebel/entrepreneurs, is this: When did computers lose their roguish glamour?
Nemesis is the fourth of seven Harry Hole books in order of composition, the third of four in order of translation into English, and the second in series order of the four.

In order of original publication, the four novels are The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil's Star, and The Redeemer. In order of publication in English, The Devil's Star came first, followed by The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Redeemer. I'd strongly recommend reading the books in order of original publication, at least the first three.

P.S. Nesbø has also written children's books, one whose title translates delightfully into English as Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Here's a better idea

Instead of discussing what I didn't have time for on the radio Wednesday, here are the notes I carried with me into the studio. I guess this would have been a bit much to get to in one hour.

Listen here to hear what we did get to.

Latest Here on Earth notes
Date: Wednesday, August 05, 2009 12:06 AM

Seicho Matsumoto: Inspector Imanishi Investigates, Points and Lines. Trains and their role in Japanese society.

Jakob Arjouni: Plight of Turkish gastarbeiter in Germany.

Matt Beynon Rees: The Arabic review that explained an investigator's job is to find out the truth.

Post-Troubles and Troubles off-shoots in Northern Ireland: How does one cope? a) Garbhan Downey b) Adrian McKinty, who penetrates into the heart of America. c) Brian McGilloway, who sets novels on the border, Borderlands. d) Stuart Neville, Ghosts of Belfast.

Arnaldur Indriðason: Takes superb advantage of setting in Jar City, The Draining Lake. "One problem for Icelandic crime writers is that we have almost no crime."

Manuel Vazquez Montalban: Has a private cook, Biscuter. Was jailed under Franco. The Buenos Aires Quintet. (Political. Mediterranean. Food.)

Andrea Camilleri: Salvo Montalbano (named for Montalban) loves food, prickly but increasingly tender as the series goes on. Excursion to Tindari, Smell of the Night, Patience of the Spider. (cf. Simenon) (Political. Mediterranean. Food.)

Jean-Claude Izzo: Loves food, music, poetry, Marseilles. Predicted the riots in the banlieues. The Marseilles Trilogy (Political. Mediterranean. Food.)

Humor and Scandinavians: Jo Nesbø (The Redbreast, Devil's Star, Nemesis); Håkan Nesser (The Return); Karin Fossum (He Who Fears the Wolf)

Qiu Xiaolong: Death of a Red Heroine. Slow buildup through pollution of Shanghai. Anti-climax of the perps' hasty execution.

Canadian setting and the border: John McFetridge (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Dirty Sweet); Howard Shrier (Buffalo Jump, High Chicago); Boldness of a Canadian setting: Sandra Ruttan: What Burns Within. Arson. Ensemble cast.

Fred Vargas: Slow buildup. Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand.

Pierre Magnan: Rural life, slow pace, neuroses, acceptance. Death in the Truffle Wood.

Irish writers and Americans: Ken Bruen ("All my influences are American. That's how to I learned to read. That's how I learned to write.") Declan Burke loves Chandler. Brian McGilloway on the American West. Declan Hughes loves Margaret Millar, Ross MacDonald.

Yasmina Khadra: (Army officer, self-imposed exile, wrote in French because his teacher encouraged him)

Bill James, Peter Temple: Best prose stylists.

Clive James:

" . . . there are only so many storylines and patterns of conflict. The only workable solution has been to shift the reader's involvement from the center to the periphery: to the location. In most of the crime novels coming out now, it's a matter not of what happens but of where. Essentially, they are guidebooks."

Misc. exotic settings: Eliot Pattison (Tibet). Double outsider: Exiled Han Chinese prisoner in Tibet. Michael Walters (Mongolia)

Translation: Stephen Sartarelli on the richness of Camilleri's language. Sian Reynolds on translating wordplay. Mike Mitchell on Glauser's dialects. Don Barlett on Vibes gate. Janwillem van de Wetering: Translating canals' names to show their silliness.

Crime fiction crossed borders from the beginning:

"One should remember also that crime fiction was international from its beginnings. Poe's C. Auguste Dupin was a French crime solver created by an American. This is no mere accident of history. There is reason to believe, as one Poe scholar says, that an older society such as France was more prepared than the young United States to accept a writer who probed the dark side the way Poe did."

Chinese crime plays that became novels in the 18th century. Robert Van Gulik.

Crime fiction as a key to history: Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels

Crime fiction as a key to politics: Jean-Patrick Manchette's political noir (The Prone Gunman, Three to Kill.); Helene Tursten, Kjell Eriksson

Exotic locations (with respect!): Colin Cotterill and Dr. Siri.

Timothy Hallinan: Struggles as an outsider.

Brazil: Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Leighton Gage

Publishers: Bitter Lemon, Serpent's Tail, Quercus, Harvill Secker. Vertical (Japan, Korea)

Dominique Manotti: Corporate villains.

Stieg Larsson + Michael Jackson: Together in Borders window
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Detectives Beyond Borders on the radio

I’ll be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Here on Earth program Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. talking about international crime fiction with Hirsh Sawhney, editor of Akashic Books’ Delhi Noir collection.

The show streams live and should be on the station’s archives for a while afterward. Think of it as morning drive time for afternoon workers. There’s lots of superb crime fiction from outside the U.S. Tune in and learn about some good books to bring to the beach.

For more information on the program, visit Wisconsin Public Radio’s Web site here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What's with the pish? and other linguistic miscellany

Events have turned my mind toward language and its uses.

First, the good people at St. Martin's/Minotaur Books sent Inspector Ghote's First Case, a prequel to H.R.F. Keating's long-running series. Then a discussion here turned to the odd happenings when speakers of one language appropriate speech patterns from another. Finally a piece of Scottish slang reminded me of a treasured word from my un-Scottish youth.

As I did when I first read Keating, I noticed in the opening chapters of Inspector Ghote's First Case a speech pattern in which characters use only at the end of a sentence where North American or European speakers would use it in the middle. It transpired that at least one Indian critic had been ambivalent about Keating and unhappy with Ghote's "broken-English patois." You can follow the ensuing discussion here and here.

In the meantime, some questions for readers with knowledge of English as spoken in India: Is only in the end position ("I have been longing to see it since I was at college only.") particular to certain regions of India? And could that speech pattern be a carryover from any of India's own languages?

Finally, pish. The word was part of my youth growing up, a holdover, I assumed, from Yiddish. But it must be part of the Scottish lexicon, too. Christopher Brookmyre has used it in his books, and Allan Guthrie uses it several times in Two-Way Split, most pungently thus:
"Kennedy chucked the paper in the bin, since the journalist was obviously from the west coast and therefore everything he said was unadulterated pish."
OK, lovers of Scottish English. What's with the pish? How did it get into your language?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Kill Clock

Allan Guthrie's 2007 novella Kill Clock is part of a series for "adult reluctant readers," but I'm guessing enthusiastic readers will like it, too:
"Scotland’s weather was good on the whole. Apart from the summer when Gordon Pearce got too hot. Nothing worse than the sun on your skin, making your armpits prickle and your back as wet as a river-bed.

"But, no, it was spring, and here he was, walking down to the beach in his t-shirt.

"Taking his three-legged dog, Hilda, for a walk."

"Now, it wasn’t as if Pearce had suddenly stopped in the middle of the road. He’d been crossing at an even pace. And when he’d set foot off the pavement, there was no traffic. This peanut-headed arse-hole had pulled out without looking. Or maybe it was on purpose. Which was even worse.

"The driver stuck his head out of the car window again, and said, `Why the fuck don’t you move? And take your stupid dog with you.'

"What the fuck was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he just be polite? These days, everyone was a rude fuck.
What's going on here? Short, punchy sentences. A scene made up of short bits of action — mini-scenes — each with a punch line of its own. And bits of rough humor. Sounds like this could also work for reluctant writers.

Read a sample chapter from Kill Clock here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Active dislike

Have you ever noticed how many annoying, meaningless buzz words have active as a component: Proactive. Interactive. I regularly excise from news stories references to someone's being actively involved in a dispute, and if a reporter ever explains to me how active involvement in a fight differs from the passive kind, I shall be happy to restore his or her pleonasm.

I recently read some well-deserved scorn for proactive. Terry Pratchett pokes gentler but equally well-deserved fun at interactive in Thud!:
"`I'm sorry, sir. (The painting is) probably long gone out of the city.'

"`But hwhy?' said the curator. `They could have studied it in the museum! hWe're very interactive these days!'

Interactive?' said Vimes. `What do you mean?'

"`hWell, people can ... look at the pictures as much as they hwant,' said Sir Reynold. He sounded a little annoyed. People shouldn't ask that kind of question."
Right on, Brother Pratchett!

Now, what's your favorite redundancy, circumlocution, periphrasis, pleonasm or just plain useless use of words?
News flash:
"You want tellers to be proactive, but you want them to do it safely," said FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt.
From a news story about a bank teller who chased and caught a robber and was fired for his trouble. "It's something I almost look forward to. It's a thrill and I'm an adrenaline-junkie person. It's the pursuit," he said.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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