Saturday, July 31, 2010

Paris Noir

1) This is not Akashic Books' Paris Noir. That book appeared in 2008. This Paris Noir appeared in 2oo7, published by Serpent's Tail, edited by Maxim Jakubowski.
2) Michael Moorcock's story may be my entree into fantasy and alternative history. Its science-fiction aspect didn't do much for me, but the imitation of continental detective dialogue is dead on, and the references to the story's alternative history is unobtrusive enough to get a reader wondering and speculating without hitting him over the head.
3) Dominque Manotti's (or visit her Web site, in French, here) and Jean-Hugues Oppel's contributions are terse, cutting, and politically aware, in a manner that I am coming to think of as typically French.
4) When is someone going to publish a collection of Scott Phillips' short stories?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Happy birthday, bird

Today is the official seventy-fifth anniversary of Penguin, which is hard to believe because it's hard to imagine a time when Penguin wasn't around.

Here's a Web site with all sorts of Penguin-related stuff, including old photos and galleries of covers. Seventy-five years — May all publishers last at least this long.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, July 29, 2010


You may have read a crime novel or ten about a psychotic serial killer with a flair for the dramatic who dispatches his victims in grizzly, gory, elaborate, over-the-top ways: crucified, flayed, dismembered with its long bones rearranged to form a pentagram, murdered in groups according to the Fibonnaci series or the list of prime numbers or the harmonic intervals in a Bach prelude.

That sort of thing gets cartoonish after a while, so why not do it in cartoon form in the first place?

That's what writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark do in "In the Line of Duty," first story in the Gotham Central collection, one of very many tales in which Batman has become a problematic figure.

The tale's villain is Dr. Victor Fries — Mr. Freeze — who wears a cryogenic suit to survive and who takes his revenge by freezing victims — nothing if not over the top. In the story's opening scene, Freeze attacks two police who raid an apartment where he's holed up, zapping one with his freeze gun and snapping his brittle torso in two.

Over the top, but it works. Brubaker, Rucka and Lark, creating a dark, realistic story in the traditions both of Batman's post-1986 return to his dark roots and of Ed McBain's group police procedurals, nevertheless manage to accommodate the most extravagant of superpowers and the most fiendishly violent of killings. No way anyone could get away with that in regular, non-comic-book crime fiction without inducing a fit of eye-rolling.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jason Goodwin's The Bellini Card has a nose for the truth

My favorite line of the day is from The Bellini Card, Jason Goodwin's third novel featuring the most thoughtful, brooding polyglot late-Ottoman eunuch investigator in all of crime fiction:
"The sultan screwed up his face and opened his mouth as if to scream, then whisked a handkerchief from the desk and sneezed into it loudly and happily.

"Yashim blinked. In the Balkans, people said you sneezed whenever you told a lie."
For more on the Edgar Award-winning author, click here and scroll down.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Homage, sweet homage

I was excited recently when, reading James McClure's 1991 South African crime novel The Song Dog, I found an off-stage character whose name was (and the detail escapes me) either Khubu or Bhengu.

Michael Stanley's protagonist, hero of A Carrion Death and The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu (A Deadly Trade outside North America) is named David "Kubu" Bengu, and Stanley collectively and the Stanley Trollip half of the team on his own have called The Song Dog one of the great African crime novels. Surely, I thought, their hero's name must be an homage to McClure.

Nope, said Trollip, just coincidence.

But I'm not giving up so easily this time. I've just glanced again at a passage from Roger Smith's Cape Town novel Mixed Blood that I cited in February:
"The wind howled across the Flats, picking up the sand and grit and firing it at Zondi like a small-bore shotgun. He felt it in his ears, up his nostrils, and it sneaked in and found his eyes behind the Diesel sunglasses."
McClure's protagonists are Tromp Kramer and Mickey Zondi. Furthermore, the passage is part of Smith's acknowledged homage to Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind," so what's one more homage? Now, don't tell me this one is a coincidence, too.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Declan Hughes in the news

My review of Declan Hughes' fifth Ed Loy novel, City of Lost Girls, appears in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

Here's part of what I had to say about this bracing Dublin/Los Angeles P.I. story:
"In his fifth novel featuring Dublin private investigator Ed Loy, Declan Hughes:

  • "Sets major parts of the story in Los Angeles, complete with breathtaking and melancholy scenery.
  • "Gets inside a serial killer's head.
  • "Sends great torrents of yearningly romantic prose tumbling onto the page.
  • "Offers up any number of wisecracks and world-weary observations.
"Crime writers have done all that for years, so how does Hughes keep it fresh?

"By the sheer exuberance of his prose, including some gleeful stomping on Bono's reputation.

"By the angry topicality of his observations ... And mostly by the high respect he has for mystery."
Read my Inquirer review of Hughes' The Price of Blood and a whole lot about Hughes, including the fourth Loy novel, All the Dead Voices, right here at Detectives Beyond Borders.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Swedish crime novel wins the International Dagger

Johan Theorin and translator Marlaine Delargy have won the 2010 Crime Writers' Association International Dagger for The Darkest Room. The prize follows the pair's 2009 John Creasey New Blood Dagger (best first novel) for Echoes From the Dead.

Thorin and Delargy beat out competition that included:
Badfellas by Tonino Benacquista, translated from the French by Emily Read.

August Heat by Andrea Camilleri, translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli.

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, translated from the Afrikaans by K.L. Seegers.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, whose correct placement of the apostrophe, in contradistinction to the novel's American edition, was not enough to secure a triumph over Larsson's fellow Swede. Reg Keeland was the translator.

Ruth Dudley Edwards won the Non-Fiction Dagger for Aftermath: The Omagh Bombing And the Families' Pursuit of Justice.

Visit the CWA Web site for other awards and shortlists announced today and links to more information about each.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Nelson who?

Michael Stanley rated James McClure's The Song Dog (1991) one of the ten best African crime novels. I'd rank it behind The Gooseberry Fool among the four of McClure's South African-set Kramer and Zondi mysteries that I've read, but it contains some good, bracing stuff. Among the highlights:

  • A Zulu character's dismissive reference to some Xhosa lawyer named Nelson Mandela. (1962 is the year both of the novel's setting and of Mandela's arrest.)
  • Lt. Tromp Kramer consoling a colleague thus:
    "`Listen,' said Kramer, certain he had heard somewhere it was better for a bloke to be allowed to express his deep feelings than to suppress them, `get up off your fat arse, hey, and help me go get this bloody animal!'"
  • This memorable pen portrait (Before dismissing the passage for a word that would be racially insulting today, remember that the book portrays apartheid-era South Africa — and that the passage's tone is one of amazement and admiration):
    "Then, all of a sudden, the crowd had parted of its own volition, and through it had come a coon version of Frank Sinatra making with the jaunty walk. The snap-brim hat, padded shoulders, and zootsuit larded with glinting thread were all secondhand ideas from a secondhand shop. Yet with them went the feeling that here was an original, even if someone, somewhere else, had thought it all up before."
    I neglected to note it at the time, so the precise name slips my mind, but the novel includes an off-stage minor character named either Khubu or Bhengu. Michael Stanley's own protagonist, hero of A Carrion Death and The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu (or, in its more prosaic non-North American title, A Deadly Trade) is David “Kubu” Bengu. A tribute to McClure, perhaps?

  • (In a late-breaking bulletin from Stanley Trollip, the answer is no, the names are coincidental.)


    Read James McClure's obituary and browse a list of his books.

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Thursday, July 22, 2010

      James McClure's last novel and Kramer and Zondi's first case

      I'm taking Stanley Trollip's advice on this one. Trollip, one half of the team that writes as Michael Stanley, talked up James McClure's The Song Dog at Crimefest 2010 in May, recommending it at the convention's forgotten-authors panel.

      The Song Dog is the eighth and last of McClure's South African series about the Afrikaner Lt. Tromp Kramer and the Zulu Sgt. Mickey Zondi. The novel is a prequel, set in 1962, that will give readers of the previous books the pleasant sensation of meeting old friends.

      It was a thrill to see Kramer, dispatched to a town in northern Zululand so small that it lacks a hotel, compelled to board with a woman who rents rooms — and to realize that she is the Widow Fourie, who will loom large and happily in Kramer's life in the books set later but written earlier. And McClure brings Kramer and Zondi together in a manner entertainingly worthy of origin stories.

      As in the earlier novels, McClure combines humor with unsparing looks at human depravity, local politics, and the toll exacted on human dignity by apartheid. Here's one of my favorite bits of wit so far:
      "As Terblanche had predicted, it did not take Kramer long to reach the main rest camp, his progress through that last mile or so of long, dry grass and flat-topped thorn trees being completely uneventful. He found this disappointing, never having been in a game reserve before, and having rather hoped he'd spot at least one species of lumbering brute he wasn't accustomed to handcuffing."
      The Song Dog appeared in 1991, twenty years after the first in the series, The Steam Pig. Ellis Peters and Reginald Hill similarly wrote origin stories for popular fictional detectives years after those detectives had become established hits. Who else has done this? Why do you think authors do it?

      (Happily, McClure is no longer forgotten, at least in the United States. Soho Crime is reissuing The Steam Pig and Book Two, The Caterpillar Cop.)
      Trollip and his writing partner, Michael Sears, ranked The Song Dog among the top ten African crime novels. Read their appraisal here.

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Sunday, July 18, 2010

      More John Lawton and P.G. Wodehouse

      I'm in awe of John Lawton's convincing picture of life during wartime and continually surprised by his invocation of P.G. Wodehouse, first in 2007's Second Violin, and now in Black Out (1995), first of his Frederick Troy novels.

      "It seemed Wolinski ignored everything for the life of the mind. Troy could not have slept a wink in dust and dirt such as this. On the bedside table, spine upwards, was Wolinski's bedtime reading. Troy smiled — The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse, in which whilst in hot pursuit of his Aunt Dahlia's cow-creamer, Bertie Wooster manages to defeat British fascism."
      Naming Wodehouse was unnecessary, like invoking Hamlet with the additional information that its author was William Shakespeare. But this was Lawton's first novel; perhaps he (or his editor) lacked the confidence to excise the name.

      More interesting is a later passage, where Lawton has a minor character "assuming the jowly look of a lugubrious bloodhound." That's Wodehousian, though its placement at a serious moment in a serious story is a Lawtonian touch. Think of it as Wodehouse in a minor key.

      And, as the English Wodehouse did in some of his American stories, the English Lawton pays special attention to the cadences of American speech. With the possible exception of one minuscule slip, he does a better job.

      Authors often pay homage to influential or beloved predecessors. What such homages have surprised you?
      Lawton's page on the Grove Atlantic Web site offers a pungent an illuminating essay called "A Shabby Page of History" on the episodes that formed the background of Second Violin. The site also offers a bit on Lawton's next novel, A Lily of the Field, which jumps back before Second Violin, to the early 1930s.

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Friday, July 16, 2010

      How do crime writers keep pace with technology?

      (Photo by Aaron Logan)

      I've read the occasional wistful lament that the advent of cell phones deprived suspense writers of that old stand-by: the hero's desperate search for a telephone so he can make the call that will save the world, the day, or his own life.

      I never worried too much, though, because I had faith that crime writers would put the replacement technologies to good literary use, and so they have. One newish suspense-builder takes advantage of the anonymity of text messages: Is that message really from the person it purports to be from?

      I've seen that one in a couple of novels recently, and it could be on its way to cliché status as we speak.

      The phone booth is out, the text message is in. What other formerly popular suspense-building devices have been rendered technologically obsolete? What newer ones have replaced them — or are good candidates to do so?

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010



      Help recognize a criminally underappreciated (at least by its U.S. publisher) book here.

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Thursday, July 15, 2010

      Whipped by a wizard: The real appeal of Harry Potter?

      You may have heard about I Write Like, which "analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers."

      "According to the machine," says the New Yorker, "an invitation to a birthday party was worthy of a comparison to James Joyce; an excerpt from a term paper on Renaissance literature, though, more closely resembled Dan Brown’s fiction."

      Most of my samples came up David Foster Wallace, though I also got a Joyce, a Dan Brown. a Stephen King, and a J.K. Rowling, the last for a selection that ended: "Would you want to be whipped by a fat dominatrix?"

      Just what kind of extra-curricular activities does Hogwarts offer?

      I write like
      David Foster Wallace

      I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010


      Wednesday, July 14, 2010

      More "Violence"

      Here's a bit more of Colin Bateman's view of the fictional Northern Ireland town of Crossmaheart in his early novel Cycle of Violence:

      "When you live on the First World poverty line — you can only afford to hire out two video cassettes each week and you take your summer holidays within a hundred miles of home — looting is less of a crime and more of a signal from God that he's busy elsewhere but here's an early Christmas present just to keep your interest."
      "First World poverty line" is brilliant. The next bit ("you can only afford...") might seem condescending, but the rest of the sentence dissipates that possibility in a burst of japery. Sympathetic? Satirical? Reader, you decide.

      And who is Bateman's target here, republican terrorists or their nationalist counterparts?:

      "A car was hijacked in Belfast, repainted, number plates changed, new documentation acquired, fluffy dice attached. It was driven to Meadow Way, parked in a garage, and the bomb loaded. Five hundred pounds' worth. A few pounds of Semtex might have done the same trick, but the UVF didn't have access to international markets. Fertilizer, chemicals, batteries, wire, a detonator, a clock."
      (Read more about Cycle of Violence.)

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Monday, July 12, 2010

      All rise

      The US has the Edgar Awards, the UK has the Daggers, and Canada has the Arthur Ellis Awards. The Nordic countries have the Glass Key, Australia the Ned Kellys and the German-speaking world the Friedrich Glauserpreis.

      Now New Zealand has its own crime award, and your humble blog keeper is one of the judges. The award, named for Dame Ngaio Marsh and the brainchild of the enterprising Craig Sisterson of the Crime Watch blog, will go to one of the following novels:

      Burial by Neil Cross

      Cut and Run by Alix Bosco

      Access Road by Maurice Gee

      Bold Blood by Lindy Kelly

      Containment by Vanda Symon

      No details on my choices here. Suffice it to say that the shortlist contained some very pleasant surprises. More to come.

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Saturday, July 10, 2010

      Cycle of Violence

      I'm going to quote at even greater length than usual from Colin Bateman's early novel Cycle of Violence because this bit is funny and, in its way, touching:

      "Crossmaheart still had a Cripples Institute. There were no special people in Crossmaheart. There were no intellectually or physically challenged people. There were mentals and cripples. There were no single-parent families, there were bastards and sluts. There were natural-born mentals and mental cases, nuts who had made themselves crazy through wielding a gun in the name of one military faction or another. There were natural-born cripples and those who had brought it on themselves, gunmen who had been shot, gunmen who had shot themselves, bombers who had blown their hands off, thieves who had been shot in the legs by terrorists because they (the thieves) were a menace to society, and you could see them hopping down the streets, wearing their disability with pride like it was some red badge of courage."
      Crossmaheart is the town to which the protagonist, a reporter and newspaper columnist named Miller, has been exiled, and that passage gives a vivid picture of just what kind of a town it is. It also uses parentheses to good effect.

      I have read that a collection of Bateman's early newspaper columns was published under the title Bar Stool Boy. I bow in awe.

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Thursday, July 08, 2010

      The girl who kicked the publisher's keister for misplacing an apostrophe

      Good punctuation: Left, The Hornets' Nest, Bruno Fischer, 1944 (hat tip to Elisabeth)

      Bad punctuation: Right, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Stieg Larsson, U.S. edition, 2009

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Wednesday, July 07, 2010

      The Ghosts of Belfast and a bit of Collusion

      I'd just read Stuart Neville's second novel, Collusion, so I thought I'd take a look back at his first, The Ghosts of Belfast, also known as The Twelve.

      Boy, this one has some good, withering sarcasm about Northern Ireland, its politics and its people. This may be the funniest, but its humor is of a bitter kind:

      "Another mural declared Catalonia was not part of Spain. Fegan couldn't say it was or it wasn't, but he sometimes wondered what it had to do with anyone on the Falls."
      And this may be more daring because it runs the risk of going over the top and breaking the mood:

      "Anderson shook his head. `You're insane.'

      "`I know. But I'm getting better all the time.'

      "Fegan pulled the trigger."
      I'd bet Neville giggled when he wrote that, then maybe had second thoughts. But I'm glad he kept it. In any case, The Ghosts of Belfast is a harrowing book whose action leaves Fegan just one way out, though that way may not be what you think.
      Collusion is due in August in the U.K. from Harvill Secker and October in the U.S. from Soho Crime. Its universe is the same as The Ghosts of Belfast's, though this time the protagonist is a police officer, Jack Lennon, rather than the haunted former Republican killer Fegan.

      The first book aims righteous anger at self-proclaimed freedom fighters as it tells Fegan's harrowing tale. The second book's target is official corruption as it tells Lennon's. The righteous anger of both is a hard, blunt literary instrument. And that's good. Very good.
      P.S. Hmm, "getting better all the time;" Jack Lennon, who angrily tells other characters not to call him John ... If I read Neville's books backwards, do they spell out: "Paul is dead"?

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Tuesday, July 06, 2010

      In case your comments are not showing up ...

      In a sudden downturn from its recent performance problems, Blogger is now not just failing to post and register comments, it's destroying comments that have already appeared. So if you've posted a comment and it does not show up, that's why. I hope Blogger will fix the problem. Meanwhile keep reading, keep posting, and hope for the best.


      the management

      Real tally: 8 comments

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      Monday, July 05, 2010

      July 4, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Sunday, July 04, 2010

      New arrivals from Northern Ireland

      • Gerard Brennan's award-winning newborn son, Oscar.

      • Gerard Brennan's Requiems for the Departed, co-edited with Mike Stone and now available everywhere. The volume brings together some of Ireland's best crime writers in a collection whose stories "invoke Irish myth, most of them updating settings and, often, names, but retaining what seems to this non-expert the chilling power and bringing it to crime fiction," raved Detectives Beyond Borders.

      • An advance copy of Collusion, Stuart Neville's follow-up to the chilling and much-honored Ghosts of Belfast (released as The Twelve in the United Kingdom). Early reading suggests some interesting variations on the tone of the first book's story of a haunted former IRA terrorist and his agonizing quest for redemption.
      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Saturday, July 03, 2010

      Peter Temple's style suits his substance

      Many fictional detectives lead chaotic lives, but their authors generally portray those messy lives in neat prose.

      Peter Temple, on the other hand, gives his novel Truth a choppy, episodic cadence that quite nicely suits the choppy, episodic cadence of protagonist Stephen Villani's life.

      Villani must solve two murder cases, one of which has grave political implications. He has a bad relationship with a daughter and a hellishly worse one with his wife. And he clashes with some of his supervisors.

      One critic of the decision to award Truth Australia's Miles Franklin Award for best novel — not best crime novel, but best novel — invoked such features in a complaint that the book was nothing but a package of genre conventions.

      Now, one would think a partisan of literary writing might have had more to say about Temple's prose style, the most noticeable feature of his work. But nothing, other than that Villani speaks in staccato rhythm. So the question becomes was the complainer paying attention?

      A commenter who agreed with the complaint wrote that:
      "The only thing that mitigates against talking about it, is that making a talking point of it feeds them the publicity they wanted…"

      Mitigate for militate is a common error but surprising in an ardent defender of the purity of the high against the pollution of the low.

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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      Thursday, July 01, 2010

      Crime-fiction team-ups

      This news makes me wish I could read Italian better: Carlo Lucarelli (left) and Andrea Camilleri (right) have teamed up on a novel, Acqua in Bocca, that pairs Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano and Lucarelli's Grazia Negro.

      Here's a clip of the two authors talking about their "romanzo a quattro mani" — their novel for four hands. The video is worth a look even if you don't understand Italian. But what is Camilleri doing puffing away on that cigarette? Doesn't he know smoking will shorten his life?

      I always liked comic-book superhero team-ups when I was a kid, but such pairings are rarer in crime fiction. Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice teamed their protagonists in the entertaining collection People vs. Withers and Malone in 1963, and Donald Westlake and Joe Gores shared chapters, in which both authors' cast of characters appear together in action included in novels by both writers.

      What crime-fiction crossovers have you enjoyed? If you can't think of one, create your own. Which crime characters from different authors could work well together?

      © Peter Rozovsky 2010

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