Saturday, October 31, 2009

Andrea Camilleri: Death to the information dump!

I occasionally cite what I take to be an author's clever solution to a problem. There's one such example in The Wings of the Sphinx, Andrea Camilleri's eleventh Salvo Montalbano novel, scheduled for publication in English early next year.

Camilleri's readers will have come to enjoy Montalbano's squabbles with the dedicated, ill-tempered and amusingly sarcastic pathologist Pasquano. Here, in addition to a brief insight into the sympathy of temperament between the two, Camilleri uses a shouting match between them to convey information.

By the time the antagonists have finished bellowing at each, the reader has been entertained. Just as important and perhaps more impressive, the reader knows how the murder victim was killed, about marks on her body, about traces of material found inside her fatal wound, about what she may have been wearing when she died, and about a possibly significant substance found under her fingernails.

That's a brilliant way to avoid the dreaded information dump, always a hazard when forensic pathologists come on the scene. Man, does that Camilleri ever know what he's doing.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, October 30, 2009

New Andrea Camilleri novel

I'm feeling ethical today, so, yes, Federal Communications Commission, I received my copy of Andrea Camilleri's new Inspector Montalbano novel, The Wings of the Sphinx, free from the publisher.

And yes, publisher (Penguin), I will not quote from this uncorrected proof until I have checked the finished book first.

I think, though, that I can offer a general observation or two about how Camilleri keeps the series fresh into its eleventh installment. One is that the quips and political jabs are sharp as ever. Another is that Camilleri finds new ways to express his protagonist's aging.

Montalbano has moved into his fifties as the series has progressed (He's in his mid-fifties here), and Camilleri does much more than have him complain about creaking bones or occasional inability to sleep. In recent books, Montalbano has come to regard his lover, Livia, with increasing tenderness even as the relationship remains as tempestuous as ever. In the new novel, Montalbano finds youth itself ever more precious, rebelling against the obscenity of children's or young adults' slaughter in war or at criminals' hands.

I have heard that one reader, somewhere, complained of "all that growing-old stuff" in Camilleri's recent books. But what could be more universal, more human, than aging? What could be more touching than the spectacle of a character (and an author) finding life ever more precious? Camilleri never gets old.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Self-reference from South Africa

For this post, I revisit my old friend self-reference. My guide is Richard Kunzmann's story "If Nothing Else," from the Bad Company anthology of South African crime stories.

Kunzmann is a youngish author, born in 1976. I don't know how much death and violence he has seen, but his story confronts a difficulty that must plague many serious crime writers: How does one write about death without having seen it up close?

"Rarely are we treated to the spectacle of what is guaranteed to one day happen to all of us," muses the first-person narrator, a crime writer named Sam Engels excited to be joining police at a murder scene. "Modern society robs us of a unique experience on a daily basis, and this is why I wanted to relish the moment."

The story is a bit talkier than I'd have liked, but I like Kunzmann's sly use of the difficulty mentioned above. And I like the rhythm of the story's opening even more: "It was a desperate death to look at."
Fiction from Africa is bound to have a bit of the allure of the strange and new for North American readers, and that can be a good thing. One Bad Company story's passing reference to an officer's being the only Xhosa on the force is a reminder that the possibility of ethnic tension need not be limited to black vs. white – an especially salutary thought for those of us who live in the United States. (A similar light goes on above my head when Helene Tursten writes about tension between Swedes and ethnic Finns in her Göteborg-based Swedish crime novels.)

Now, let's bring back that other old friend, the question to readers: What kinds of unexpected racial, ethnic or other tensions have you found in crime stories?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bad Company: Short fiction from South Africa

The first days after a crime-fiction convention are a strain on the mind; one never knows what to read first. Compounding the Bouchercon plenitude, I've done a bit of secondhand shopping at Philadelphia's Whodunit Books since I got back.

One of my favorite Bouchercon pickups, and one not easily available in the U.S., is Bad Company, a collection of short stories by South African crime writers. I got my copy from Stanley Trollip, one half of the writing team known as Michael Stanley. Trollip was a jovial presence on Bouchercon's "Murder at the Edge of the Map" panel, a fashion hit in his stylized-hippopotamus T-shirt, and an enthusiastic promoter of South African crime writing who had brought ten copies of the collection to sell.

Stanley's own story, "Neighbours," is an intimate tale of death in a village, relations among neighbors, and the strengths and dangers of living in a community where everyone knows everyone else. Among other things, it makes elegant, unobtrusive use of cliffhangers.

Deon Meyer's "The Nostradamus Document" is a police procedural with a real punch, something like Ed McBain's 87th Precinct stories, but with greater focus on the dangerously intertwined personal and professional lives of one cop, Detective Sgt. Fransman Dekker. The story contains bursts of hard-hitting, elliptical dialogue, all the more impressive since what we read is a translation; Meyer writes in Afrikaans. A high vyf to his translator, uncredited here, as near as I can tell.

More to come the more I read.

(Read more about Bad Company and about the South African crime-fiction scene at Book Southern Africa's Crime Beat Web site.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bouchercon X: Asleep in the lobby

Inspired by the excellent Christa Faust, I'll make one more Bouchercon 2009 post before heading out to sell a kidney so I can afford a hotel room at Bouchercon 2010.

Christa wrote about the strange attraction of the hotel bar, a region of Bouchercon where many ventured, but only the strong escaped. My favorite example came Sunday evening as I relaxed in the lobby, marshaling my strength before repairing to the bar for a preprandial schmooze. I fell asleep with my feet on a table, and when I awoke, not only were Ruth and Jon Jordan and company still in the bar waiting for me, not only had no one said, "Would you please remove your feet from the table, sir," but a member of the hotel staff had placed a second cup of coffee on the table for me. Damned enablers.

Best underrated part of Bouchercon: the music in the hotel lobby. Bossa nova, and not just the old classics, either. Plenty of stuff by new Brazilian musicians, too, and the perfect music for the location, soothing for those who needed a rest, compelling and rhythmically dynamic for those who listened more closely. Someone’s prayers to nosso senhor do bonfim were answered.

I got to Sunday's book bazaar around 10 a.m., hoping to score some books by Rebecca Cantrell and Christopher G. Moore, whom I’d heard on panels. Instead, all that remained were scraps of human flesh, huddled and quivering cozy fans, shell-shocked noir writers whimpering for their mothers, and a UN relief crew cleaning up the remains. I like the idea of a new twist on the old free-book goodie bag, but perhaps this could use a bit of refinement. Spread the frenzy out over three or four days, maybe?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Detectives beyond glitches: International crime fiction on the radio

Missed Bouchercon? Still have a hunger for international crime fiction? You can hear an archived version of Leighton Gage's Blog Talk Radio Webcast with Yrsa Sigurdardòttir, Michael Stanley, Stuart Neville and Cara Black. Click here to hear the program, Around the World in Crime Fiction, first broadcast today. That address again:

Technical glitches marred the show's first few minutes, but you can get around that by hitting download rather than play, then advancing your player to 3:15, at which point the problem clears up, and discussion ensues.

I especially liked some of Yrsa's observations about the exigencies of writing about crime in a country where everyone knows everyone else, as well as some suggestions from Stanley Trollip (half of the Michael Stanley writing team) about South African crime authors.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Bouchercon IX: Death during wartime

The funniest moments of my Bouchercon came during Reed Farrel Coleman's Saturday panel on "Dark Books for Dark Times." Coleman's swift dispatch of long-winded audience members helped, as did Duane Swierczynski's laugh lines and the fortuitous tension between Larry Beinhart (an atheist) and Michael Lister (a prison chaplain).

I was having too much fun to take thorough notes, but I did note a consensus among the panelists, who also included J.T. Ellison, that the putative restoration of order at the end of a crime story is illusory (Coleman) or, at best, temporary (Ellison).

Nothing impresses me as much as intelligent people who think deeply and seriously about what they do, so this panel was one of the conference's highlights. "I find nothing funny about murder," Coleman said, and he quoted with approval the pronouncement that "A cozy is a book in which someone gets murdered, but no one gets hurt."
I found a similar seriousness earlier Saturday at "War Crimes: How war shapes characters and crime novels." The four panelists set their novels during or between wars.

"War creates opportunity," said moderator Suzanne Arruda, a suggestion immediately endorsed by the panelists. James R. Benn, author of the Billy Boyle World War II mysteries, noted the immense attraction of military supplies for black marketeers, but also a loosening of social structures and inhibitions that allowed black marketeers and others to act in ways they never would during peacetime.

Martin Limón noted the dreadful toll of the Korean War and the country's current success as a robust, if sometimes spectacularly fractious, democracy. The intervening years, he said, offered "tremendous conflict of gangs, the black marketeers ... In the interim there was a lot of room for crime." Limón, who served twenty years in the U.S. army, said there was much to admire about that institution. Nonetheless, he said, "the military does not talk about crime unless it has to." And that sounds like a superb source of tension for a crime novel.

The seven deadly sins are with us at all times, said Charles Todd, "but war magnifies it. ... War is a tremendous opportunity to make money."

And what about the odd, poignant task of a wartime crime novel: to single out one death as pivotal amid the deaths of hundreds and thousands? Perhaps the surrounding carnage makes a murder victim's killing all the more tragic. "I do think that once you've waded through death, said Rebecca Cantrell, "you don't want to see any more of it."

Said Benn: "It is a grave offense for someone to be murdered when they could have survived the carnage of war."

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Me llamo Peter, plus international crime on the radio

The good folks at Yareah Magazine: Literature, arts and Myths. Literatura arte y mitos have reprinted one of my blog posts as a short article in their October issue.

"The detective who almost loved Berlioz" is my contribution to an issue featuring articles in English and Spanish about cover boy Emile Zola.
Detectives Beyond Borders friend Leighton Gage takes his panel-moderation skills to this Saturday, October 24th at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. He'll host "Around the World in Crime Fiction," a discussion with four more D. Beyond Borders favorites: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Michael Stanley, Stuart Neville and Cara Black, and they'll field calls from listeners. If you miss the live broadcast, the program will be archived for a month.

Tune in, click on, and support international crime fiction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bouchercon VIII: Roll, Jordans, roll

A tip of the battered baseball cap to Ruth and Jon Jordan of Crime Spree magazine, honored at Bouchercon 2009 with an Anthony Award for special services.

I got to hang with Ruth and Jon throughout the convention, and their warmth, energy and brains are contagious. They plan Bouchercons. They put out a magazine. They love crime fiction and its community, and they are full of creative ideas for bringing new readers to the genre. They are the sorts who make one want to roll up one's sleeves, get to work, and have fun doing it. I feel quite sure that no one has deserved an award more. (Visit the Rap Sheet for a complete list of Anthony Award winners and nominees.)
I occupy a fairly specialized niche, and one of the pleasures of conventions is the chance to break out, to meet authors and even entire genres outside my specialty of international crime fiction. In the past, this has led me to Scott Phillips, Megan Abbott, Christa Faust and, through Brian Lindenmuth, back to comics and graphic novels. In Indianapolis I met, mingled, dined, drank at the same table as or schmoozed with Victor Gischler, Kelli Stanley, Heather Graham, Theresa Schwegel and Rosemary Harris, among others whom I had known previously just by name or not at all.

Practitioners and fans of crime fiction's various subgenres sometimes spit on the ground at the mention of each other's specialties, so it was nice to see the hard-boiled and the cozy breaking bread in good fellowship in Indianapolis.

Of course, I had good fun with the usual suspects, too, notably talking P.G. Wodehouse with Ruth Dudley Edwards at a dinner outing that also included Leighton Gage, who started the Wodehouse ball rolling; Cara Black; and Stuart Neville. The latter drank a Newcastle Brown Ale.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bouchercon VII: Gods and ends

(Indiana War Memorial)

John Maddox Roberts sets his S.P.Q.R. mysteries in the first century BC in the waning days of the Roman republic. Kelli Stanley set her novel Nox Dormienda in the first century AD under Domitian, not by reputation one of the good emperors. I asked Stanley and Roberts which periods they would choose if they were to set a book in a different period of Roman history.

Roberts would go back earlier into the Republican period, because once the empire was instituted, he said, politics started getting dynastic and boring. Stanley, on the other hand, would jump forward, to the fourth century under Constantine, who granted official approval to Christianity. Stanley said she was interested in the various religions to which the Romans were open.

One author is attracted to political unrest, another in change of the religious kind. The common factor: Upheaval is good, at least in historical crime fiction.

(Stanley is a classicist by training. So is Lindsey Davis, author of the Marcus Didius Falco series. Davis sets her books in the time of Vespasian, who came to the plate two spots before Domitian in the imperial batting order. Had a good chat with Stanley about Italy and its art at the convivial post-convention dinner Sunday night.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Bouchercon VI: Post-con posting, Part I

I will get back to serious Bouchercon 2009 reporting, but for now, the fun stuff:

1) The Weinman doppelganger attended, but Weinman stayed home this year.

2) The convivial post-convention dinner is a Bouchercon tradition of several years' standing, according to Crime Spree's Jon Jordan (top right with Ali Karim), and who would know better? Seventeen people attended this year's version, and a good and possibly productive time was had by all.

3) A small but dogged United Nations of smokers continually braved the cool weather to indulge its insalubrious but sociable habit. Last night I tore down the "No Not Smoking Allowed" sign and joined the group outside the hotel for a pleasant after-convention chat.

4) Here's my annual Christa Faust picture.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bouchercon V: Remembrance of crimes past

David Liss invoked one genre as a key to success in another at Saturday's panel on crime stories set in the past: "Historical fiction," Liss said, "has more in common with fantasy than we like to imagine."

The remark clicked with me because Liss' novel The Coffee Trader, whose central theme is commodities manipulation in the coffee trade of seventeenth-century Holland, is the most thorough and convincing fictional world in which I have ever been immersed, and creating convincing worlds (and universes) seems to this outsider to be much of what science fiction and fantasy are about.

A second panelist, Kelli Stanley, called into service a concept dear to this blog's heart in discussing the fiction she sets in first-century Rome: "I translate history," she said. Translating Latin curse words, she said, "I would use the vernacular" -- plenty of "Goddamnit!" and no "By Jupiter's nose!" And that get right at the heart of questions a translator faces whether translating a language or a period of history.

Panelist number three, John Maddox Roberts, whose work also includes Roman mysteries, noted that while the Julius Casears and Antonys and Cleopatras of the world are long dead and can't sue him, their defenders and detractors are still around: "All of these people have their fans" -- partisans who honor and embellish their names millennia after their deaths.

The fourth guest, Sharan Newman, who has been honored for her career achievement in historical mysteries, offered a practical solution to the problem of how to integrate necessary information about unfamiliar settings without turning the story into a travelogue or a lecture: Let a character do it. "In medieval mysteries," Newman said, "it's often someone who comes from another country and doesn't understand how things are done in Paris."

Next: God, truth, war and opportunity

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bouchercon IV: Among the headhunters ...

... and I don't mean the kind who specialize in executive job searches. Tamar Myers' discussion of her novel set in the former Belgian Congo was a highlight of today's entertaining panel called "Murder at the Edge of the Map."

Myers is the author of more than thirty mysteries in two series, one set amid the Pennsylvania Dutch and another in the world of antiques. One presumes none of this prepared her fans for a novel that stems from her childhood experiences as the daughter of missionaries in Africa among a tribe called headhunters at the time.

Old friend Yrsa Sigurðardóttir was on this panel as well along with Christopher G. Moore and Stanley Trollip, one half of the writing team known as Michael Stanley. This meant fifty-five minutes of tales and observations from Iceland, Thailand and Botswana in addition to Congo, and I can think of no pleasanter way to pass the convention time.

A salute to Leighton Gage, a prince among moderators.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Bouchercon II — My translation panel

This Bouchercon is set up a bit differently from the 2008 version in Baltimore, with more panel discussions in each time slot, and most taking place in smaller rooms. Four simultaneous events was the norm in Baltimore; here in Indianapolis there are six or more.

The smaller rooms meant a near-full house for my translation panel with Robert Pépin, Steven T. Murray, Tiina Nunnally and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. I was especially pleased that the panelists asked questions of one another, which meant good give and take. Nunnally told the too-many-cooks-spoil-the-stew story that led to her removing her name from the British translation of Smilla's Sense of Snow. In this case, one of the cooks was the author.

Robert Pépin had little patience with the suggestion that translation is an art, though his description of his own practice sounded suspiciously like art to me. He was also a bit of a jambon, a lively presence who was the first of the group to comment on another panelist's reply. Happily, the rest followed suit, and we had a real discussion going that ended far too soon. Fifty-five minutes for four intelligent panelists, me, and a roomful of questions? I ask you!

Nunnally's translations include works by Karin Fossum, Mari Jungstedt Hans Christian Andersen, Knut Hamsun, Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking), and quite a few more. She has also written two mysteries whose protagonist is a translator. I hope to have more to report about the books soon.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bouchercon I

Arrived in Indianapolis a full day ahead of the formal start of Bouchercon, which meant a few hours for socializing and for taking midnight pictures of the city's imposing Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Ran into old friends from previous conventions -- Anita Thompson, Dennis Tafoya, Toby and Bill Gottfried, Janet Rudolph, Jon Jordan (who is already hard at work on Bouchercon 2011) and so on. Ran into Ali Karim as well, but then, one is always running into Ali Karim at these affairs.

Dinner turned into a Pied Piper parade that dwarfed what I'd experienced at previous cons. About thirty of us all told wolfed down pasta, and each of us was asked to stand, introduce him or herself, and name the best book he or she had read this year. A few votes came in for Louise Penny (Canadians were well represented at the dinner), and one each for Timothy Hallinan's Breathing Water and Megan Abbott's Queenpin, both of which I endorsed.

Donna Moore stood and thrust her head straight into the low-hanging lampshade at left. It set off her hair nicely.

Tomorrow, my translation panel, plus an Irish crime fact and fiction discussion that includes Ruth Dudley Edwards and Stuart Neville.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sports is the continuation of politics by different means

For all kinds of reasons, sports and politics seem less intimately connected in North America than in Europe.

Perhaps that's because on my continent, most major-league cities have just one team in each sport. That means fewer politico-religious divides like that between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, and fewer teams with noxious political associations like Italy's Lazio.

I thought of this most recently when I came across the following in Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's novel The Man of My Life. The protagonist, Pepe Carvalho, recalls a stage comedy with Catalan nationalist undertones from his youth:
"It was the period when the Catalan language was undergoing a timid revival, and the Franco authorities allowed the play to be put on in church halls. Despite the restrictions, the actors usually managed to insert a few subversive jokes. Carvalho recalled how the Devil, defeated yet again by the Archangel Michael, and flattened on the stage with the angel's foot on his back, lifted his head a couple of inches and shouted: `Miquel! Miquel! Sembles el Real Madrid, que sempre vol guanyar!"*

* Michael! Michael! You're like Real Madrid, you always want to win!
It will surprise no one to learn that Vázquez Montalbán was both a man of the left and an FC Barcelona supporter. In fact, I may prepare a post on why Vázquez Montalbán's politics are so engaging.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, October 12, 2009

The medium is not the massage

I like to think I've helped lay to rest any suggestion that the Nordic peoples are stolid and humorless. (See here, too, for further evidence.) Now I'll take on that other base canard: that they like nothing better than to have the bejesus whaled out of them on a massage table ("Swedish massage" and all that):

The worst of it was over; the woman had stopped massaging and begun arranging hot stones in a row down her backbone ...

"Will it be much longer?" Thóra asked hopefully. "I think the energy's penetrated every single cell. I'm beginning to feel great."

"What?" The masseuse was incredulous. "Are you sure? It's supposed to take a lot longer."

Thóra suppressed a groan. "Positive. It's brilliant. I can tell I'm done."
The victim here is Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, the lawyer/investigator/protagonist of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's crime novels, and I sympathize with her. I once paid ten dollars for a neck massage in Central Park. I expected relaxation. Instead, I discovered aches and discomfort in parts of my body I'd never been aware of.
(Yrsa Sigurðardóttir will be a member of my crime fiction and translation panel Thursday morning at Bouchercon 2009 along with Steven T. Murray, Tiina Nunnally and Robert Pépin.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Man of My Life by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

A cover blurb for this new trade paperback of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Man of My Life (Serpent's Tail) says the author "does for Barcelona what Chandler did for Los Angeles."

Does for the 21st century ... would be more accurate. Detective Pepe Carvalho has returned to Barcelona after the events in the previous Carvalho novel, The Buenos Aires Quintet, and he does indeed offer pungent commentary on what his city has become:
"Barcelona ... was not the anarchists' fiery rose, because the bourgeoisie had won its final victory by the simple trick of changing its name; it called itself the `emerging sector' now, and how on earth could anyone throw a bomb or build a barricade against an `emerging sector'?"
He notes bathers and cyclists "equally keen on the sea and getting something for nothing," a mordant observation on our prostration before the God of the Free Market. And, he tells his first prospective client, things are tough for gumshoes, too:
"Globalisation has hit us hard. The multinationals control all private security business, and one-off detectives like me are seen as anthropological curiosities. There's never been so much Theology of Security around, nor so many crooks and murderers in the market, but we can't compete with the multinationals of oppression. What NATO is doing beggars belief. For now, they're just using intelligent missiles, but soon they'll be arresting and imprisoning people with magnets that can detect defeated human flesh from hundreds of miles away."
"Does for Barcelona what Chandler did for Los Angeles" falls short of Vázquez Montalbán's compass, I'd say.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stuart M. Kaminsky, 75, dies

The American author Stuart M. Kaminsky was a prolific writer and a fine respite for my occasional busman's holidays from crime beyond borders.

Kaminsky was probably best known for his lighthearted Toby Peters mysteries, set amid the singers, stars and other celebrities of Hollywood's Golden Age, and the Inspector Rostnikov series, set in Russia. (I believe he wrote at least the first of these before ever visiting the country.) He also wrote television tie-ins, stand-alone novels, and several books about American movie figures.

I especially liked two of his other series. The news of Kaminsky's death comes by way of Sarah Weinman. Here's a comment I left on her blog:
Someone recently commented that female crime authors write happily married protagonists more than men do.

Kaminsky’s Abe Lieberman is not just happily, lovingly married, he’s a grandparent. He’s also a detective unafraid to use violence when he has to, and he’s Jewish. That’s not a typical combination. More to the point, the religion and culture are not mere ethnic window dressing. They figure prominently in some of the stories. Lieberman has to be one of the more underrated characters in American crime fiction.

And Lew Fonesca springs from one of the more beguiling premises I know of. How can you not love a character who hits the road after his wife dies, settles in Sarasota, because that’s where his car conks out, lives in his office, and hangs out at the Dairy Queen?
(To clear up a frequent faux-pas and to facilitate searches if you try to track down Kaminsky's work, Fonesca is the correct spelling in the preceding paragraph. The character's name is frequently misspelled Fonseca.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009


Friday, October 09, 2009

Nothing if not diacritical: More conventional wisdom

On the eve (or, if you prefer, the brink or the cusp) of Bouchercon 2009, here are some favorite things that fellow convention-goers have said or written at, about or after my three previous crime-fiction conventions:

"Chubby Cambodian hotties."

— Christa Faust, Noircon 2008

"A KNOB is a COCK!"

— Ali Karim, Bouchercon 2008

"For years I wrote poems, nothing but poems, and all but about five of them were shite."

— Ken Bruen, Noircon 2008

"Tense vowels don't do a man's reputation any good."

— Don Bartlett, Crimefest 2009
(After I'd worried about pronouncing
Jo Nesbø's name correctly. If "Joe
Nesbow" is good enough for the man
who translates Nesbø's books into
English, at least when he's addressing
an English-speaking audience,
it's good enough for me.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Post-convention post: A Bouchercon flashback

I received two books in the mail yesterday to aid in preparation for my Bouchercon panel, then spent a couple of hours writing up questions for the panelists and reading the books. Since that left little time for the new post I like to make every day, here's one of my favorite old ones, from Bouchercon 2008.

Lots of people loved Bouchercon 2008, but I bet I was the only one who had such a good time that he came, left and came back again. It all started on a hot, post-boozy Sunday ...

The official part of the conference had wrapped up, and the unofficial part seemed ready to follow. Suitcases littered the hotel lobby, and among them flopped bodies of exhausted convention-goers. I don't know about the rest of them, but my body was subsiding comfortably into the floor, and my mind was close behind.
I had arranged to split a taxi to the train station with a fellow convention-goer, and I looked forward to the peace of the quiet car. I feared only that I'd be roused from sleep in time to get off at Philadelphia and make it back to work Tuesday.

But the train was far more crowded than a train has the right to be on a Sunday afternoon, and we had to grab any seats we could find, quiet car or otherwise. We couldn't find two seats together, but I did get one next to a woman having a family crisis over her cell phone.

By Newark, Delaware, I'd had enough, and I jumped the train. The hour I spent in the cool of a fall afternoon waiting for the next train back to Baltimore and the remnants of Bouchercon was the only chance I'd had all week to read, relax and recharge. But would anyone still be around when I got back to the hotel?

I felt good about my chances when I called Sandra Ruttan on her cell phone, and she couldn't hear me over the noise of the hotel bar. Seventy minutes later, I was back in the lobby feeling as if I'd never left and ready for an evening that was to include two of my most memorable Bouchercon experiences.
(Coming soon: A curious case)
 © Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Prize for Priest

With a hat tip to Crime Scene NI, Crimficreader of It's a Crime ... and others comes news that Ken Bruen has won the Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière 2009 for La main droite du diable, the French translation of his novel Priest. The choice is worthy; last year I called Priest "Best crime novel of its year and any year?"

Two Grands Prix are awarded each year, one to the best crime novel, and one to the best international crime novel in France. They've been awarded since 1948, which suggests the French got onto this international crime fiction thing before many of the the rest of us.

Plenty of big names and talented authors have won the international prize, including one to a superb crime writer for a book that I thought his weakest. Shows what I know.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What's happening in Indianapolis

My Thursday morning translation panel will not be the only one at Bouchercon of interest to fans of international crime fiction.

Thursday afternoon (Oct. 15) offers Irish Crime in Fact and Fiction with Kathryn Kennison, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Stuart Neville, and O Canada: Crime North of the Border.

On Friday, convention-goers can attend Murder at the Edge of the Map, where moderator Leighton Gage and panelists Christopher G. Moore, Tamar Myers, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Michael Stanley will discuss what mystery novels can tell us about international and exotic settings.

Saturday brings Criminal Consumables: The Craft and Popularity of Food and Drink in Mysteries and Crime Through Time: Research Versus Imagination in Historical Mysteries, the latter in a panel whose members include John Maddox Roberts and the excellent David Liss.

Also on Saturday, War Crimes: How War Shapes Characters and Crime Novels and The Humor Panel: Why Do Humor and Death Go So Well Together?

Those are just some of the panels on topics that have come up for discussion here at Detectives Beyond Borders. Lots more panels promise to be interesting, too, as do some of the off-site, non-panel events. My favorite of the latter is probably Friday's tour of the Hachette warehouse.

Click here for a complete Bouchercon program. If it's not too late, register now, and I'll see you in Indianapolis.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Novel graphics

A week and a half till Bouchercon, which means I'll be Bouchercramming for my panel on crime fiction and translation. And that means posting may be a bit sketchy for a few days.

Speaking of sketches, I received a nice package of graphic novels this week from Generous Jon Jordan. The opening pages of one, Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos' Filthy Rich, tell a story in ways words alone could not, and I may discuss some of those ways when I'm more fully awake.

Azzarello's words and Santos' pictures work together at least two ways, and I thought back to a post I once made about how another comic created tension yet a third way: a wordless opening, the narration entering only after the art has created the tone.

This is all heady stuff for a words guy like me, so help me, comics readers: How do words and pictures combine to tell stories in ways neither could do by themselves?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

"Three" winners

Here are the winners of the Sept. 21 “Sign of the Three” competition, which asked readers to name books in which the number three figures prominently in the title or the story:

1) Fred, because a title like Wycliffe and the Three-Toed Pussy (W.J. Burley) cannot go unrecognized.

2) Kerrie, for the clever choice of Karen Slaughter's Triptych and for the sheer profusion of her suggestions.

3) Simona, for her nomination of Il mistero delle tre orchidee (The Mystery of the Three Orchids) and L'albergo delle tre rose (The Three Roses Hotel) by Augusto De Angelis. All I need now is for those novels by that intriguing Italian author to be translated into English.

4) Oh, what the hell. Elisabeth is the fourth winner for seeking the ancient Chinese roots of Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries and their narrative structure, in which the judge often works on three cases at a time.
Some miscellaneous facts about the competition:

1) At least three titles were nominated by more than one reader: Der Tee der drei alten Damen by Friedrich Glauser; Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy; and Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill.

2) Nobody mentioned James Ellroy. Indeed, he never would have occurred to me had not an audience member at his Sept. 24 reading in Philadelphia asked Ellroy why so many of his novels revolve around groups of three men. But there it is, right on the back cover of The Cold Six Thousand, which I was reading at the time: "On November 22, 1963, three men converge in Dallas."
Thanks to all who entered for your thought-provoking and reading-list-enlarging suggestions. If the winners will send a postal address to detectivesbeyondborders (at) earthlink (dot) net, I'll sent them their books. Indicate a preference of author, genre, country — anything you can think of — and I'll try to send something close to what you want.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Silence of the Grave

This second of Arnaldur Indriðason's crime novels (The sixth book, Hypothermia, has just been released in the UK) is a heartstring-tugger that gradually turns into a hell of a mystery.

It also marks the first consistent statement of protagonist Erlendur Sveinsson's (and his creator's) equivocal feelings about postwar Iceland and their place in it, a preoccupation that has remained through the subsequent novels:
"[Erlendur] had been born elsewhere and considered himself an outsider even though he had lived in the city most of his life and had seen it spread across the bays and hills as the rural communities depopulated."
The novel is a story of domestic abuse in the past and its echoes and consequences in the present, and if you even think of rolling your eyes, then you haven't read the book. Not only is Arnaldur unsparing in his description of the abuse, he has a character remark the woeful blandness of the term domestic abuse, its insufficiency to describe acts of such enormity. (I wonder that the Icelandic term is and what its connotations are.)

Arnaldur also has a way of investing crime-fiction conventions with resonance they lack elsewhere. The protagonist whose personality clashes, sometimes humorously, with a colleague's is one such convention. Here, a human skeleton uncovered under grimly humorous circumstances triggers the investigation. The burial, it transpires, may be decades old. For Erlendur, haunted in his personal and professional lives, the past is a constant presence. His colleague Sigurdur Óli is of no such gloomily poetic temperament:
"`All these people are dead and buried long ago,' Sigurdur Óli said wearily. `I don't know why we're chasing them.'"
Erlendur knows why.

(Here's what the Crime Writers' Association said when it awarded Silence of the Grave its Gold Dagger for best crime novel in 2005.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, October 02, 2009


Our lives are suffused with it, and one of life's mysteries is why, if the Free Library of Philadelphia is going to host such compelling speakers as Karen Armstrong and James Ellroy, and if it insists on ending the programs at the library's normal closing hour of 9 p.m., it does not begin the evenings earlier than 7:30.

Quite a number of audience members' questions went unasked, and mine, at least, would have been good. I'd have asked this scholar of comparative religion, this preacher of compassion, this advocate of religious practice and of the ineffable that lies behind the words we use to delineate the divine, why the scriptures of the three religions she discusses most (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) so seldom if ever acknowledge the mysteries that lie at their own heart. Why has it been left for rabbis, exegetes, sages, interpreters and scholars of later times to do so? (And why, one might add, do the oldest Indian scriptures explicitly embody mysteries in ways that Western ones do not?)

Armstrong's current initiative is the Charter of Compassion, and this reminded me of one of the unforgettable crime novels of recent years.

We now return you to our regular programming.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Dope Thief visits Noir at the Bar

Manny and Ray work in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, making a nice living ripping off drug dealers, but they're a pair of crooks with intimations of their own mortality:
"You could only do this shit so long. Someone was going to recognize them, or follow them, or just do something brainless when they came in the door. They wore the cop jackets and badges and they moved with purpose and told themselves they were smart, but there was only so much luck and then it was gone. At the end of the day they were as doomed as the goofy bastards they were ripping off. Manny and Ray would do lines in the truck before they went in, getting their edges sharp, making their minds fast. It couldn't go on forever. Everyone was high. Everyone was stupid. Everyone had guns."
That's the end of Chapter Two of Dennis Tafoya's novel Dope Thief, and such weighty sentiments so early in the book are a key to Tafoya's purpose. "Showing the consequences of violence, the panic, is the thing I think is missing from TV shows" — at least until The Sopranos and The Wire — he told a gratifyingly crowded house at this evening's Noir at the Bar in Philadelphia. (And thanks to the good people at the Pen & Pencil Club for being such good hosts.)

I'm unsure how much more to report, since political events at the Pen & Pencil are traditionally off the record, and I don't know whether similar etiquette applies to readings, but Tafoya also had some sobering words about current conditions in the publishing business, conditions to which he seems to be adjusting exceedingly well.

Pete Dexter read next in an event independent of mine. That legendary newspaper columnist, novelist and screenwriter told fine old newspaper stories and read a heartbreaking section of his new novel, Spooner. I shall follow his future and his past career with interest.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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