Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to read about Africa

Michael Stanley tweeted about Binyavanga Wainaina's acerbic Granta article "How to Write about Africa." Among Wainaina's pointers:

"Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’."

"Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat."

"Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved)..."
Those last two are especially relevant to Stanley. Domestic felicity is a notable and heartwarming feature of A Carrion Death and The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu (a.k.a. A Deadly Trade), their novels about the Botswana police detective David “Kubu” Bengu. Kubu loves his wife, loves his wine, and loves fine food. (Kubu means hippopotamus in the Setswana language)

What do you expect when you pick up a story about Africa? Are you often surprised once you start reading?

(Michael Stanley, the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, will be members of my "Stamp of Death" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 14, at 3 p.m. Their fellow South African writer, Jassy Mackenzie, is on my "Flags of Terror" panel Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Long Goodbye and Leigh Brackett: A non-Bouchercon, non-international post

And I mean Robert Altman's 1973 movie, not Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel, on which it was based.

1) Jim Bouton, who plays Terry Lennox, is a better writer than actor. He was also a better baseball player.

2) That comment notwithstanding, none of the actors was awful. Altman let no one in the large cast dominate the movie, either, though Sterling Hayden gave a sometimes enjoyable over-the-top performance as the drunken writer Roger Wade.

3) But the real reason for this post is that, as much as the movie makes me want to reread Chandler's novel, it really makes me want to read some Leigh Brackett. You'll get no plot spoilers here, but every significant departure from the novel, with the possible exception of the movie's 1970s setting, seems due to the writing, and that was Brackett's job.

Brackett was familiar with the formidable task of adapting Chandler to the screen; Howard Hawks hired her to co-write his screen adaptation of The Big Sleep. She also wrote science fiction and westerns in addition to crime, and her screenplays include Hawks' Rio Bravo, Hatari!, Man's Favorite Sport, El Dorado and Rio Lobo — and The Empire Strikes Back.

OK, Brackettologists, where should I start my Leigh Brackett reading? (I've got a head start on the viewing already.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A deadpan novel by the father of Italian noir

The deadpan description in the opening chapters of Giorgio Scerbanenco's Duca and the Milan Murders (1966) reminded me of Jean-Patrick Manchette. That French author, I once wrote, restored crime writing's ability to shock "with tales of what power can do to those it finds convenient to crush."

So I was pleased to read in the Wikipedia article about Scerbanenco that "his style was notable for the realistic way in which [it] conveyed and evoked the helplessness and despair of weak people being cruelly victimized."

One interesting note: While Manchette was a man of the political left, the Ukrainian-born Scerbanenco's "virulent and over-the-top anti-communism ... stemmed from the trauma of losing his father during the Russian revolution," according to the same article. Before New Rightniks claim him as one of their own, though, they should note that

"While denouncing the evils of the rampant consumeristic and greedy way of life taking hold from the 60s onward Scerbanenco always has a warm word for the peaceful, quiet, hard-working Milanese"
A French translation of Duca and the Milan Murders won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for international crime fiction in 1968 (The novel's Italian title, Traditori di tutti, translates as Betrayers of All.) Scerbanenco is considered the father of Italian noir, and Italy's top crime fiction prize is named for him.

None of Scerbanenco's work is in print in English, as far as I know. If they would consider reprints, this book would make a fine addition to Europa Editions or Serpent's Tail's lists alongside such authors as Carlo Lucarelli, Jean-Claude Izzo, Gene Kerrigan and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.

Here's a bit about the author and the book. And here's a short excerpt:

"Dr. Duca Lamberti?"

The voice, too, was offensive in its exemplary politeness, its exemplary diction. It was a voice that would have done credit to a teacher of elocution. Duca detested perfection of this sort.

"Yes, I am Duca Lamberti." He stood there blocking the doorway. He did not invite the caller in. The way he dressed seemed to Duca odious. Admittedly, it was spring, but this young man was already going about in a cardigan, no jacket, just this light grey cardigan with dark grey suede cuffs, and—in case anybody should imagine that he could not afford a jacket—he was carrying a pair of light gray driving-gloves, not the cheap kind with no backs, but real gloves, good gloves, with leather backs and intricately crocheted palms. It was impossible to avoid noticing these details. The gloves were very much on show, as though to make it quite plain that their owner possessed a car worthy of such a handsome pair of gloves.

"May I come in?" He was glowing with cordiality, insincere cordiality, insincerely spontaneous.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Is Stuart Neville the fifth Beatle?

An edgy exchange in Stuart Neville 's The Ghosts of Belfast (The Twelve in the UK) runs thus:

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

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

Fegan pulled the trigger.
"Getting better all the time" is the refrain of the Beatles' song "Getting Better," from their seminal (or epoch-making) album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Coincidence? Maybe. But what do you make of the fact that the protagonist of Neville's second novel, Collusion, is named Jack Lennon — and that he angrily insists that other characters not call him John?

Did I mention that Neville is also a musician?
(Stuart Neville will be a member of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Atmosphere (Henry Chang)

(Henry Chang will be a member of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco. This post originally appeared in November 2008.)
Year of the Dog, Henry Chang's second novel for Soho Crime, is all atmosphere – meteorological, economic, social and human – with plot strands gradually weaving their way into the story until one realizes that many of the details that constitute the atmosphere turn out to be plot elements.

To find out what I mean, you'll have to read the book. For now, know that the novel's opening is worthy of any number of 1950s films noirs. So is the rest of the book, for that matter. The New York of The Naked City contained eight million stories; Year of the Dog makes a valiant run at that number, giving us protagonist Jack Yu, who can't keep away from his old Chinatown precinct; a dying bookie who comments wryly on his own romantic dreams; the hairdresser, cruelly exploited by human traffickers, who tries to help him.

We come to know a boyhood friend of Jack's who dies in gang violence and a mysteriously named Triad official sent from Hong Kong to check on criminal operations in New York, and that's just a start. Chang not only introduces us to Chinatown's newer Fukienese arrivals, with their wide ideological separation from the neighborhood's longer-established residents, but he portrays dangerous criminal rivalries among these relative newcomers. And, of course, the Chinese characters interact, sometimes uneasily or violently, with black, Hispanic and white characters. This is, after all New York.

So effectively has the atmosphere been set that when the climactic confrontation happens, inevitable in general plan, an accident in its details, it seems at once cathartic and fated.

As dark crime novels often do, Year of the Dog has a touch of grim humor. Here, that touch is more wryly comic than most. Sai Go, the dying bookie, thinks of how he might like to spend his final months:
"He had a vision of himself in Thailand somewhere, a sunny tropical vista with brown-skinned girls to ease his remaining days. Spend the nights drinking Singha beer and feasting on satays, chow kueh teow noodles, and tom yum soup.

"When he thought better of it, he felt he could just as easily go to Fat Lily's or Angelina's for brown-skinned girls, and to Penang or Jaya Village for Thai beer,
roti and hainam chicken. For the sunny vista he could take a bus south on the interstate, or take the train with the skylight roof to Florida somewhere for a few weeks. Somewhere sunny and not too far. A cruise to one of the islands What would he do with a shipload of lo fang strangers? He could just as well be alone in Manhattan, if he only turned off his cell phones and stayed out of the OTB and Chinatown."
(The "Flags of Terror" panel happens Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m. Click here for the complete Bouchercon lineup.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lisa Brackmann on architecture, demolition and community

Thursday it was Christopher G. Moore on the destruction of traditional Bangkok architecture.

Today it's Lisa Brackmann, another author with whom I'll be panelizing at Bouchercon 2010 next month, on the same phenomenon in China. Here's Brackmann in an interview from earlier this summer:
"Central to the novel [Rock Paper Tiger] is the importance of community, and how do we have meaningful communities when everything is for sale, and this happens in a global economy? I thought about this a lot in terms of Beijing, where modernization has swept away traditional neighborhoods and replaced them with anonymous high rises. Sure, there were a lot of problems in the old hutong areas, and I totally understand the need and desire for central heating and modern plumbing and all of that. But something is inevitably lost as well."
(Lisa Brackmann will be a member of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m. Click here for the complete Bouchercon lineup.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spirit houses and other houses in crime fiction

Christopher G. Moore's crime fiction is not generally suffused with nostalgia, but Spirit House, his first novel featuring P.I. Vincent Calvino, does include a kind of elegy for Bangkok's traditional buildings:

"The main house was inside a high-walled compound. ... It looked like the kind of place you could paint with brown, yellow, and black. This was old-style Bangkok before the property developers tore down the traditional Thai houses with sweeping verandas and painted wood shutters. Behind the white wood-framed main house Isan workers in bamboo hats and scarves wrapped around their faces dotted a crazy-quilt of makeshift scaffolding stuck to the side of a twenty-story construction site. More real-estate developers, like the Finns who owned his office building, were looking to make a killing units to rich foreign buyers from Japan and Korea."

I once posted a comment about the evocative descriptions of Shanghai's shikumen houses in Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine and the kholis of Bombay in Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games.

What are your favorite descriptions of homes, houses or other buildings in crime fiction?
(Christoper G. Moore will be part of my "Stamp of Death" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 14, at 3 p.m.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Following the Detectives is in my hands!

I can't review a book to which I contributed, but I can say that Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction manages the neat trick of offering information beyond the ostensible range of its subjects.

The book's core is twenty-one essays, each about a single fictional detective and the real city, country or region where he or she works. One of my assignments was Arnaldur Indriðason's Iceland, for instance, but a full-page insert tells the reader about Arnaldur's fellow Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir as well. That sort of efficient conveyance of information is a good idea for a book whose other crime-fiction destinations include London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles. Pretty hard to squeeze all the fictional detectives who call any of those cities home into a single essay.

The extras include maps, graphics, information boxes, guides to television and movie adaptations, walking tours, useful Web sites and, as an accompaniment to my essay on Andrea Camilleri, remarks on the history of Sicilian cuisine with explanations of some of Salvo Montalbano's favorite dishes. Pappanozza. Just the sound of it makes me hungry.

Here's a list of contributors and their fictional destinations:

Boston: Michael Carlson
Brighton: Barry Forshaw
Chicago: Dick Adler and Maxim Jakubowski
Dublin: Declan Burke
Edinburgh: Barry Forshaw
Florida: Oline Cogdill
Iceland: Your humble blogkeeper
London: David Stuart Davies
Los Angeles: Maxim Jakubowski
New Orleans: Maxim Jakubowski
New York City: Sarah Weinman
Nottingham: John Harvey
Oxford: Martin Edwards
Paris: Barry Forshaw
San Francisco: J. Kingston Pierce
Shropshire: Martin Edwards
Sicily: Your humble blogkeeper
Southern California: Michael Carlson
Sweden: Barry Forshaw
Venice: Barry Forshaw
Washington, D.C.: Sarah Weinman
Order Following the Detectives here (free shipping!), from the publisher, here, here, or from an independent bookseller in the UK or Canada.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Billy Boyle, or making sure the words fit the time

How does an author create a sense of place and time?

On Page 91 of Rag and Bone, author James R. Benn has the narrator/protagonist, U.S. Army Lt. Billy Boyle, escorted into the presence of a gangster in wartime London.

"Two other guys, middle-management thugs by the look of them, sat at the table playing cards," Billy tells us.

Seventy-five pages later, Billy's sidekick tells him: "Them two knuckleheads are probably still changing that tire, and no one else followed us."

Middle management? Knuckleheads? Did people talk that way in 1944? Are the terms historically accurate?

Not only are they accurate, but they are accurate with impressive precision. One search traces the first use of knucklehead to 1944, another finds middle management used first sometime between 1945 and 1950. More to the point, they lend Billy and his aide, Big Mike, a distinctive American voice. This is especially important in this tale of a young American abroad.

More on Billy Boyle later. In the meantime, how does dialogue contribute to a sense of place in fiction? Give examples of dialogue and vocabulary well suited to their fictional place and time — or not so well suited.
(James R. Benn will be a member of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Can you find your way around a crime novel without a map?

Maps are a tradition in crime novels, but I rarely follow them much. I figure that if the plot loses me, or vice versa, a map won't help.

But one of the maps included with Michael Stanley's The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu proved helpful as a plot aid and a thematic reminder of the importance of borders.

The map situates Botswana in relation to its western, northern and northeastern neighbors of Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and its southern neighbor, South Africa. Botswana's proximity to all, especially Zimbabwe, figures prominently in the story.

What's your take on maps in crime novels? And when did the tradition of including them start?
(Michael Stanley, the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, will be members of my "Stamp of Death" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 14, at 3 p.m. Read a chapter from The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Any more panels, and I'll be able to furnish a rec room

I'm moderating two panels at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Oct. 14-17. "The Stamp of Death" happens Thursday, Oct. 14, at 3 p.m. (The panel's title is a tribute to the host city's crime-drama tradition.)

Panelists are Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who write together as Michael Stanley; Yrsa Sigurðardóttir; and Christopher G. Moore, with yours truly lending an unobtrusive guiding hand.

"Flags of Terror" (whose title has a similar origin) on Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m., brings together James R. Benn, Cara Black, Lisa Brackmann, Henry Chang, Jassy Mackenzie and Stuart Neville for an hour or so of civilized discussion, with your humble blogkeeper again asking the questions and frisking the participants for weapons.

The authors on these panels take readers to Iceland, Botswana, China, South Africa, Thailand, Northern Ireland, England, France, and what may be the setting richest with possibility, New York's Chinatown. And you're invited along for the ride, whether at the convention or by reading, reading and reading.

I'll see you at Bouchercon. And remember: If you're baking in San Francisco, be sure to wear some flour in your hair.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Coming home to South Africa

I'm nearing the end of Jassy Mackenzie's novel Random Violence, but I want to discuss something that happens at the beginning.

After a short opening chapter that functions as a prologue, the novel proper begins with the protagonist, a private investigator named Jade de Jong, returning to Johannesburg after years abroad. Roger Smith's Wake Up Dead begins similarly, with his cop-turned-mercenary protagonist, Billy Afrika, returning home to Cape Town reclaim what's his.

I have my guesses as to why such a motif attracted the two South African writers. Let's hear yours. What other novels, crime or otherwise, begin with the protagonists returning home? And why?
(Jassy Mackenzie will be a member of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m. Read a chapter from Random Violence here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Manchette in English

With a hat tip to Spintetingler comes the welcome news that a third novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette will be published in English translation on April 26, 2011.

Fatale is the book, New York Review of Books Classics is the publisher, and Donald Nicholson-Smith is the translator.

I've raved about Manchette's The Prone Gunman and Three to Kill (and about the graphic-novel adaptation of the latter, called West Coast Blues). In one such rave, "The most influential crime writer?", I wrote that:
"Manchette's time, an age that saw assassinations, cover-ups at the highest levels, and revelations of the violence that attended colonialism and its end, could no longer be shocked by small-town or even big-city corruption of the Hammett and Chandler kind. Manchette restored that ability to shock, with tales of what power can do to those it finds convenient to crush. And he did it while remaining true to the roots of pulp. Heck, the guy even loved American movies and played the saxophone. How much more genuine can you get?"
So I'd call this good news.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

International noir on a rainy day

Sunday's International Noir panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival was cut short by rain (We had to move indoors at the last minute and trudge over to St. Francis College.)

But participants did have some worthwhile things to say, particularly about their early inspirations. "I was huge fan of Batman," Pete Hamill said. "It has shadows."

And Paco Ignacio Taibo II said he was inspired early by Carl von Clausewitz. "`War is the continuation of politics by other means,'" Taibo said. "The phrase stayed inside me."

Caryl Férey repeated a sentiment I had heard from other crime writers that nonetheless ought to be bracing to all fans of the genre: "You can talk about anything in that kind of novel: politics, ethnic issues."

For Férey, the sentiment went hand in hand with a lively interest in the wider world and what one can say about that world in a crime novel. "I don't care about me," he said. "I care about others."

Taibo said the crime novel had usurped a place once occupied by another medium as a source of truth: "Journalism is becoming noise, noise, noise." And it did my heart good to hear him say what he thinks drives a story:

"Everyone says the plot is the instrument. No. The language is the instrument." Now, there's a crime writer worth investigating.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Writer beyond borders: An interview with "Zulu" author Caryl Férey

Caryl Férey's Zulu has not been out long in English translation, but two South African crime writers have already called it one of the top African crime novels.
The book, a violent exploration of contemporary South Africa, won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France's top award for crime fiction, on its original publication in 2008. Europa Editions has issued an English translation by Howard Curtis, whose previous work includes translations of Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseilles trilogy.
In an interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, Caryl Férey talks about violence, paranoia, the role of noir writers, and the things that he, a Frenchman, could say about South Africa that a South African author never could. He also reveals how and why he writes only during the summer.

Detectives Beyond Borders: You’re a kind of literary traveler: South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand. Why do you choose to work this way?

Caryl Férey: I travelled around the world when I was twenty years old. I discovered New Zealand, and I adored New Zealand. ... I discovered the “others,” the desire to write about what was happening abroad.

You found this more interesting than your own country?

Completely. ... As I always liked travelling and writing, so I could do them together: travel and write and, in addition, to use trips for writing.

A different country for each book?

In New Zealand I wrote two books.
Not yet translated into English?

Not yet, but they tell me soon. ... I never want to write the same book, that takes place in the same location, because I always want to write something different. That's why I generally kill off my hero at the end. So there is no continuation, and this lets me go look into another country.

It takes me three or four years to write such a book. After three or four years, I have the feeling of having taken in all the country’s problems. I don’t have much more to say. I try to put everything into the one book and then go somewhere else.

Often the Southern Hemisphere because when it’s winter in France, it’s summer down there, so I always leave in winter. I have a year of summer.
What are the advantages to writing as a traveler? What are the disadvantages?

I think it’s an advantage because there are taboos on all societies. In South Africa, for example, there’s the taboo around the Zulu Inkatha, and the ANC of Mandela. There was a civil war manipulated by apartheid, and no one talks about it.

Even today?

Completely. But I understand. Mandela, when he took power, said no, no. That was horrible, apartheid. We won’t talk about it any longer. Everyone is together. Tomorrow is more important than yesterday. ... Something extraordinary happened. He had De Klerk, the white Afrikaaner. He had Buthelezi, the chief of Inkatha, and when he took power, he raised their arms.

As an outsider, I can talk about this. I can talk about the war between Inkatha (and the African National Congress). It’s no problem for me. A South African, for reasons of national reconciliation, will not talk about it.

Why Zulu as a title? Why not Xhosa, or Afrikaaner?

That was just to discuss the war between the Zula Inkatha and the Xhosa ANC. Because I knew the area around Cape Town, my journalist friend lived in Cape Town, my book takes place in Cape Town. There are no Zulu in Cape Town, very few. The Zulu live in another part of South Africa, far away.

So, to talk about the problem of the war between the Zulu Inkatha and the ANC, I took a Zulu character (homicide detective Ali Neuman), I put him in Cape Town. He takes refuge in Cape Town, because his father was pro-ANC, even though he was Zulu. One could be Zulu and for the ANC.

There were people who understood that Mandela was the symbol of resistance against whites, and they understood that Buthelezi and the Zulu Ikatha were manipulated by apartheid. So for me, it was a way to talk about this civil war
Many South African crime novels are extremely violent. Is such violence more striking for white readers than for black readers?

Unfortunately for Africans, they live among violence. It’s everywhere. For us it’s more shocking because we are unaccustomed to living with violence all the time. Blacks who live in the townships, they live with violence. But us, whites, we are not used to living with barbed wire, fencing, electronic security. Houses in South Africa have this, electricity everywhere to protect the houses.

... We’re not accustomed to this violence, so we have the roman noir as a catharsis. For us, who have an ultra-securitized society, we are even more scared of violence. By contrast, I think that if I were a black South African author, I would not write about a violent life. What would interest me would be love stories, that kind of thing, because “Violence? OK, we know it.”

The Irish crime writer Alan Glynn talks about the 1970s as a golden age for books and movies of paranoia: The Conversation, The Parallax View. He says that our own age is good time for a revival of such books and movies. Is Zulu a novel of paranoia?

Completely paranoid, just like white South African society is paranoid. At the same time, there is good reason to be scared because there is so much murder and rape, but most rape and murder happens between blacks. It is often blacks who suffer.

This is a kind of golden age for South African crime fiction. Do you know many of the current South African crime writers?

Very few. I have just met Deon Meyer, but I don’t know the others. But the poor are fantastic society for writing a roman noir.

It’s like the Americans If American authors are so good, and American authors are superb, it’s because they have a terrible society, with enormous gulfs between rich and poor.

All the most interesting ingredients for me are not in France. That’s why I go back to Argentina. There was the dictatorship. There was the crisis of 2002. These are fantastic subjects for romans noirs. ...

With Sarkozy, France has more and more subjects for romans noirs: xenophobia, pitting one community against the other. He’s playing a very dangerous game, this guy.

... I think the role of noir authors is to detect— You have to get your nose down in the shit. That's our job, a little bit. We say, “Look! Look what’s happening there and there and there!”

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

A taste of Following the Detectives

Following the Detectives has taken another step closer to tangible reality: A selection is available for browsing online. Someone put a lot of effort into the book, and it looks good: lavishly illustrated, with useful reference maps and attractive graphics and photos. Alert readers will also spot my name in the table of contents.

The book, assembled by Maxim Jakubowski and issued by New Holland Publishers in the UK, is a travel guide to crime fiction's world, a collection of essays about fictional detectives and the cities, countries and regions where they work and live.

Barry Forshaw contributed, as did Martin Edwards, John Harvey, Sarah Weinman, the Rap Sheet's J. Kingston Pierce, Michael Carlson, Declan Burke, Dick Adler, Jakubowski himself, Oline Cogdill, David Stuart Davies, and me, writing about Andrea Camilleri's Sicily and Arnaldur Indriðason's Iceland.

Here's the blurb:
Whether it be the London of Sherlock Holmes or the Ystad of the Swedish Wallander, Dashiell Hammett's San Francisco or Donna Leon's Venice, the settings chosen by crime fiction authors have helped those writers to bring their fictional investigators to life and to infuse their writing with a sense of danger and mystery. "Following the Detectives" follows the trail of over 20 of crime fiction's greatest investigators, discovering the cities and countries in which they live and work ... allowing the reader to follow Inspector Morse's footsteps through the college squares of Oxford or while away hours in a smoky Parisian cafe frequented by Inspector Maigret, for example.
Following the Detectives. It's the perfect solution to your gift-giving needs.

(Hat tip to fellow contributor Martin Edwards.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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If you haven't read The Girl Who Played With Fire ...

... Declan Burke reads it for you.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, September 10, 2010

International noir in Brooklyn

This weekend's Brooklyn Book Festival includes a session on international noir, if you should happen to be around Brooklyn Borough Hall Sunday afternoon.

Guests include Caryl Férey, whose novel Zulu is a recent topic of discussion here; Mexico's Paco Ignacio Taibo II; Hirsh Sawhney, editor of Delhi Noir and my fellow radio guest on Wisconsin Public Radio last year; and Pete Hamill. They'll talk about noir and its enduring appeal starting at 3 p.m. on the International Stage at Borough Hall.

That's just one of the weekend's events, all available for the attractive price of FREE. Here's the complete schedule. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Mistakes beyond borders

As of this posting, the following still appears in the Toronto Star's Sept. 4 review of Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom:

"The women are strong, a little slutty and adverse to self-analysis and other intellectual pursuits ..."
Illiteracy is always painful (the word the reviewer wanted was averse), but especially so in a book review.

(If the Star has corrected its mistake, thanks.)

The Star preserves the error as of  6:14 p.m., Jan. 23, 2012 7:46 p.m., March 28, 2013— and yes, it has been notified of the mistake. Correct English usage is apparently obviously optional at the Toronto Star.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Win Caryl Férey's "Zulu"

Michael Stanley, who know a thing or two about African crime novels, chose Caryl Férey's South Africa-set thriller Zulu as one of the top ten such books.

The book has won a sheaf of prizes in its original French, including the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France's top award for crime fiction. Now you can see what the fuss is about, courtesy of the good people at Europa Editions, who have added an English translation of Zulu to their fine crime fiction list.

Five readers can win copies of Zulu by answering this simple question: The Zulu were one of the two principal antagonists as South African tribes fought for dominance in the run-up to democracy. Which tribe was their main opponent? (Hint: Nelson Mandela is a member.)

We have our winners! Five readers answered correctly that Nelson Mandela is a Xhosa. (Several knew he is a Thembu, one of several groups that make up the Xhosa. So I have learned something from this quiz.)

Congratuations to readers from the great states of Arkansas and Hawai'i and the great countries of Canada, England and Spain. Your books should be in the mail shortly. And, to Europa Editions for agreeing to donate the books, Ngiyabonga! Enkosi! Thanks!

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Crime fiction and culture, east and west

I can't find the citation, but I think it was Colin Watson who suggested that the police procedural was late in establishing itself in England for class reasons: Police came from the working classes, and social barriers would simply not have allowed such figures to pry into noblemen's affairs or let noblemen take such probing seriously.

I thought of this when I read a passage in Christopher G. Moore's 2007 novel The Risk of Infidelity Index. A lawyer has been found dead during Bangkok's annual Oxford-Cambridge dinner, a gathering of some of Thailand's most powerful people, and one of his junior colleagues was the last person to see him alive (though he had nothing to do with the death). This puts the young lawyer in an exceedingly difficult position, the firm's head tells him, since the idea that the dinner's truly powerful guests could face police scrutiny is absurd:
"What better place to kill someone? With two hundred of the top movers and shakers of Thai society nearby. If you wanted to kill someone, wouldn't that be a perfect place? Where would the police start? Questioning people from influential families, people with titles, people who work at the highest levels of government, banking and commerce? Where would you start?"
Moore has written elsewhere about Thailand's deference culture, arguing that Thailand has traditionally been characterized by unearned deference for descendants of the right families. Sounds British, doesn't it?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, September 03, 2010

What's your favorite complaint in fiction?

I'm a proud member of the culture of complaining, and that can be a lonely place these days. That's why I was thrilled to find the following in the eighth collection of Brian K. Vaughan's comic-book series Ex Machina, about an accidental superhero who becomes mayor of New York City (It's high-concept, but it works):
Times Square tour-bus guide: "Hello, my name is Monica, and I'll be your guide as we travel through the former greatest city on Earth.

"Once a wonderland of nonstop excitement and infinite possibility, this ex-metropolis is now the dumping ground for such societal triumphs as the ESPN Zone family restaurant ... "

Tourist: "We see Soup Nazi, yes?"

Tourist's smiling wife: "We come all way from Lisbon to taste him."

Guide: "Hey, delightful. What's Portuguese for `I quit'?"
Anyone that craps on ESPN, theme restaurants and Seinfeld is all right by me.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

He wrote the book on e-books

(At right, a page from the world's largest book. No word whether the book is available for download.)

Apropos of recent discussion about e-books and short crime fiction comes this interview with Jay Hartman of Untreed Reads, courtesy of an interested reader.

As you might guess from its name, the company publishes e-books. To this publishing outsider, it seemed that Hartman had much of interest to say. Particularly salutary is the reminder that "market forces" is a deceptively benign term. A market winds up the way it does because of specific actions that people take, or do not take when they could or should have.

Among the highlights:
"Untreed Reads didn't initially set out to have such a large focus on short form, but it just happened and the response has been HUGE.

"The overseas markets are especially hungry for shorts."
"Every retailer out there claiming to offer 70% royalties has some catch: the title has to be purchased in the US, the title has to be priced at $2.99 or more, there's a fee for transmitting the story, there's a fee for processing the credit cards ... SOMETHING. And in those cases the author SHOULD be getting the 70%, because the retailers aren't doing any publicity, promotion, marketing or anything else to help them get the word out. They're not designing covers, they're not formatting the title."
"Do you know that before Amazon created DTP the average price of an ebook over a ten year span was $5.99 and nobody had any problem paying for it? Then, places like Amazon and Lulu made it possible for anyone to publish their own work. What happened was a huge influx of material into the market filled with poor writing, bad grammar, typos, bad layouts and all sorts of other things that set the ebook industry back years.

"People weren't willing to trust they were going to get good content because they kept picking up titles that were poorly written and filled with flaws. Then, along came $9.99 pricing which only made things worse. Authors, fearing a backlash to both the $9.99 pricing and the badly written stuff that was hurting the industry, panicked and started setting their prices ridiculously low in an attempt to woo back a jaded audience. The result? The market that it is now. The market still has poorly written material that anyone can throw up there, but it also has some of the BEST material to come along in a long time. After all this, it's not the PUBLISHERS who caused anything over $2.99 to be considered expensive, it's the AUTHORS."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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