Saturday, October 30, 2010

Late-breaking convention pictures

Here are me and my "Stamp of Death Panel" at Bouchercon 2010.

From top left: your humble blog keeper; Christopher G. Moore; Yrsa Sigurðardóttir; and Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, known to readers as Michael Stanley.

At left are me and my man Bill James at Crimefest 2010. At right, it's me at the same festival with Ali Karim, who kindly provided these photos and is here pictured for the first time ever without a gin and tonic in his hand.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, October 29, 2010

History lessons and reading out of order

We have a nice discussion going about the covers to James R. Benn's Billy Boyle novels, so I thought I'd take a look inside one of the books.

Evil For Evil has Billy, an investigator on Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff during World War II, in Northern Ireland to look into an arms theft. Here Billy chats with Kay Summersby at a hotel bar:
"`I know what you mean. The Black and Tans burned the center of Cork in 1920, so I'm familiar with the heavy hand of the British Empire.'"

"`I know,' I said. `My uncle Dan told me afterward the Black and Tans tied pieces of burnt cork to their revolvers, as a message to anyone who resisted them.' I could recall the stories Uncle Dan had told of the Irish Civil War, when the British recruited veterans of the World War to bolster the ranks of the Royal Irish Constabulary. They were issued a mixture of surplus military and police uniforms. The army uniforms were khaki, the police uniforms darker. The colors gave them their name ... "
Is that an information dump, a chunk of expository prose that slows the story down? I don't know, but it fits Billy's character. He's a young, brash Irish American police detective, still wide-eyed at the new sights he encounters overseas, always comparing new situations to what he had known back home in Boston. He'd naturally be prone to talking about what he knows and what he sees.

I once heard an author of historical mysteries say that if you're going to describe Paris, have an outsider do it. That way the description seems natural for the character, and the author conveys the information painlessly, or nearly so. Benn does it here.
A bit later, Eisenhower tells Billy, apropos a British officer, that "I know the two of you didn't get along during that affair with the Norwegians, Billy. But this time he's coming to ask you for a favor, and it ought to be one you won't mind doing."

"That affair with the Norwegians" is the events related in Billy Boyle, the first book in the series. I'd read that book, so for me, the remark was a bit of an action-stopper, a perhaps necessary direct address to the reader. But if I'd read Evil For Evil first, the remark might have seemed a tantalizing bit of mystery — something I'd have gained by reading out of series order.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Form and content on book covers

I was a bit of a formalist when I studied art history.

With that in mind, see if you can figure out why I like these covers of three of James R. Benn 's Billy Boyle novels — especially if you've read the books.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crime fiction and adventure fiction

Don Winslow's The Death and Life of Bobby Z, discovered on a post-Bouchercon expedition to Green Apple Books, reminds me that some of my favorite crime fiction is really adventure fiction.

Winslow's book, Adrian McKinty's novels and James R. Benn's Billy Boyle series owe more to Robert Louis Stevenson and Daniel Defoe than they do to Arthur Conan Doyle, and that's just great. When it comes to crime writing, let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred gats send hot lead pills past the hero's startled noggin. If it has a crime in it, it's crime writing, and here's a toast to the varieties of crime fiction that haven't been invented yet. I'll welcome them when they arrive.

Winslow's book is a story of intentionally mistaken identity with a nice twist at the end that you might figure out, but I did not. Among the chief virtues of its peril-fraught journey is its humor. My favorite example involves an evil German:
"A second later they hear the explosion, then see a tower of red-and-orange flame shoot up.

"Johnson can't help himself. `Your friend,' he says, `he wasn't one of them rocket scientists, was he?'

"`Shut up.'

"`I mean, back in the old country?'"
The Death and Life of Bobby Z is crime fiction because its protagonist, Tim Kearney, is a criminal, sprung from a long prison term and almost certain death on the condition that he impersonate the notorious drug dealer Bobby Z. It's an adventure story because he meets an even more notorious drug dealer, a ruthless cowboy, a degenerate people-smuggler, bikers who lack any sense of restraint, a herd of trumpeting elephants, and DEA officers you would not want to mess with. And yes, he gets the girl in the end.

What are your favorite crime stories that also make the grade as adventure tales? And what makes an exciting adventure story? Here's a clue to get you started: A good adventure story needs a righteous hero, and Tim Kearney is righteous, even though he has slit a Hell's Angels throat with a razor-sharp license plate as the story opens. (The guy deserved it.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, October 25, 2010

John Connolly, Scandinavian crime fiction, and me

John Connolly cited James Lee Burke during his Bouchercon 2010 discussion with Declan Hughes of "Ten Crime Novels You Must Read Before You Die."

Among other things, he said there are "two landscapes in crime fiction. One is psychological." In Burke's evocation of landscape, Connolly said, "We have kind of an association with Scandinavian crime fiction."

I was thrilled to hear that because I'd written about landscape in my Following the Detectives essay on Arnaldur Indriðason. Here's some of it:

"People disappear in Arnaldur Indriðason's Iceland, but the soil has a way of yielding them up again. An earthquake cracks the land, drains a lake, and uncovers a body; a victim turns up on a construction-site excavation; in spring, corpses come to light in a lake, where winter ice had concealed all signs of their disappearance. ... `The setting is a character' is a commonplace in modern discussion of crime fiction; in Arnaldur, the setting is a narrative agent as well. The landscape swallows up victims, whether of murder, accident or natural disaster; geological disruption lays them bare again."
What other authors give landscape a similarly important role?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bouchercon 2010: The last Hammett post

You know what the first picture is. It's on Burritt Street, a half-block from my post- #Bcon2010 hotel.

Scene Two is 580 McAllister Street, a key location in "The Whosis Kid," a fine tale in its own right and a prototype for The Maltese Falcon:

"My best bet was the corner of McAllister and Van Ness*. From there I could watch the front door as well as one end of Redwood street. ...

"The Whosis Kid came down the front steps and walked toward me, buttoning his overcoat and turning up the collar as he walked, his head bent against the slant of the rain.

"A curtained black Cadillac touring car came from behind me, a car I thought had been parked down near the City Hall** when I took my plant there.

"It curved around my coupé, slid with chainless recklessness into the curb, skidded out again, picking up speed somehow on the wet paving.

"A curtain whipped loose in the rain. ..."

* — Van Ness Avenue is just out of the picture to the right. Redwood runs parallel to McAllister behind number 580, home of jewel thief Inés Almad, the mastermind of the heist that triggers the action in "The Whosis Kid." The view here shows the approximate location of the shootout to which Hammett is building up in the passage quoted above.

** — San Francisco City Hall was behind me and off to the right as I took this picture, and I presume it's still there. Much of Hammett is an accurate topographical guide to the city.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

I con, you con, we all con ...

I left Bouchercon, now Bouchercon is coming to me. Sunday, James R. Benn, Henry Chang and Stuart Neville, all members of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon last week, will appear in Philadelphia in support of their new books.

Nov. 4-7 is Noircon 2010, which will bring former Boucherconers including Megan Abbott, Patti Abbott, Reed Farrel Coleman, Christa Faust, Laura Lippman, Duane Swierczynski and many more, to town. (Among the many more is George Pelecanos, so this could be a good con.)

I'm turning into a regular con artist.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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After Bouchercon, or San Francisco, crime city

Bouchercon 2010 ( #Bcon2010 ) lasted four days for most but eight for me, and the bulk of my sightseeing came after my fellow attendees had gone home, exhausted by four nights of carousing at a hotel bar that stayed open as late as midnight.

San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood reminded me of Vertigo, the Embarcadero put me in mind of The Lineup, and Nob Hill was saturated with Hammett.

And then there was Inner Richmond (left/above), home of the excellent Green Apple Books. The neighborhood reminded me of no particular book or movie. But, like other areas of the city, it had the general feeling of an older time. If Nob Hill looks like the 1920s, Richmond looks like a small city in the 1940s or '50s. In both cases, the noir and hard-boiled ambience is rich.

Paradoxically, the city's modernity is partly responsible. The streets are honeycombed with overhead cables that power San Francisco's environmentally friendly electric buses. This evokes the days before power and other cables went underground.

The palm-lined block at left is somewhere on the way from Noe Valley to the Mission District, and if you saw a street that pretty in a movie or read about it in a crime novel, you'd know something dreadful was about to be revealed.

Finally, a mural from the Mission District (above right), just because it's cool, and a political candidate whose name is bound to keep the voters mellow.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Bouchercon wrap-up: Connolly and Hughes's 10 crime novels to read before you die

More than ten, actually, because Declan Hughes and John Connolly, the two participants in the #Bcon2010 "Ten Crime Novels You Must Read Before You Die" session, sometimes disagreed which book by their top ten authors was best.

Each also gave an appendix of more novels at session's end, which gave Friday's lunchtime session-goers even more to think about.

1) Heading the list, appropriately so for a convention in San Francisco, was Dashiell Hammett. Hughes chose The Glass Key, Connolly Red Harvest, and Hughes, never a man to be shackled by understatement, called Hammett "the Bach, the Louis Armstrong" of crime fiction. "Everything started with him." I'd say Hughes was right.

2) Where Hammett goes, Raymond Chandler follows. Connolly and Hughes chose The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, if my memory serves me well. "I believe I can tell the level of [Chandler's] drinking by chapter," Hughes said. Added Connolly: "I think Chandler is a great writer and a terrible novelst." Connolly's beef? Chandler's plotting.

3) Up third, Ross Macdonald. For Hughes, "his achievement is unsurpassed." In Macdonald's Lew Archer, Connolly said, "we have the first great Christ figure in the genre."

4) Patricia Highsmith, in whom Connolly "senses a genuinely unpleasant person" and whose novel Deep Water Hughes called "a perverse comedy of manners."

They also cited Ed McBain, "the father of the police procedural"; The Friends of Eddie Coyle; and James Lee Burke ("He had not read much crime fiction," Connolly said. "He comes out of a very different tradition.").

Hughes favorite Margaret Millar made the list, as did Red Dragon (Connolly had much of interest to say about the Hannibal Lecter books) and the surprise of the lot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Hughes said Christie could say in a few sentences what P.D. James would take three pages to say.

More to come.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

891 Post Street, San Francisco ...

... three books Dashiell Hammett wrote there, and 111 Sutter Street, where Sam Spade and Miles Archer had their offices.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Hard Case Crime is coming back

Hard Case Crime will be back next year after it suspended publication when its publisher, Dorchester, decided to move to e-books only.

The new publisher, Titan Publishing, plans to retain the paperback format and to publish e-books across multiple platforms. Hardback titles are also possible, Hard Case headman Charles Ardai says.

Christa Faust's Choke Hold and Max Allan Collins' Quarry's Ex will be the resurrected imprint's first new titles next fall along with "two never-before-published novels by MWA Grand Masters (names to be announced shortly)." Titan also plans to acquire existing stock of Hard Case's backlist and resume shipping the books to bookstores immediately, Ardai says.

Hard Case has strayed into international crime occasionally, with its three Ken Bruen-Jason Starr collaborations and David Dodge's tales of high foreign adventure. Even when it stays home in America, Hard Case does fine work.

Here are some of my previous posts about Hard Case Crime titles (scroll down). And here's to the rebirth of this exciting imprint.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Can a posh author write crime fiction with an edge?

(Mural in San Francisco's Mission District, photo by your humble blog-keeper)

Val McDermid suggested during her interview of Bouchercon's international guest of hono(u)r, Denise Mina, that an author's working-class background can lend her books a hard edge.

Mina agreed, suggesting, among other things, that "crap jobs are good for dialogue."

Mina said she left school at 14, not for those crap jobs, at least not at first, but rather to sit around and smoke and watch TV. She later attended university and became an academic, though she says she misused her grant money by writing a novel instead. She went on to become a great success as a novelist, graphic novelist and cultural critic. If a working-class edge is so important, I asked her, how does one maintain that edge in the face of success?

"That's a brilliant question," she said. One of her ways is through charitable efforts whose benefits go directly to the people who need them. One current effort, she said, gets people into higher education.

What's your take? What does a writer's background bring to his or her fiction? What does a working-class background bring? Can a posh author write crime fiction with an edge?
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bouchercon, Day 5: A preliminary wrap-up

Eddie Muller was the #Bcon2010 toastmaster. He's also a native San Franciscan and was a member of Friday's "San Francisco noir" panel. He had this to say about the city as a breeding ground for noir after someone said people come there to reinvent themselves:
"We breed people who exploit those people when they come to San Francisco. ... There are people who are waiting here to exploit those who come here to find themselves."
Three authors who impressed me with their intelligence, humor, critical acuity, willingness to stake out provocative positions, or some combination of these: John Connolly, Denise Mina, Val McDermid.
Three of my panelists whom I enjoyed listening to as they talked about their native country of South Africa at the bar: Jassy Mackenzie, Michael Sears, Stanley Trollip.
Two panelists with whom I ate dim sum in Chinatown on Sunday: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Christopher G. Moore. (Their spouses were there, too, and I'm happy to have them as panelists-in-law.)
Panelists who were exceedingly pleasant to work and spend time with: the lot of them. Really.

One hears whispered tales of difficult panelists, but none was mine. The aforementioned plus James R. Benn, Cara Black, Lisa Brackmann, Henry Chang and Stuart Neville were good company, and concise, entertaining and informative in their answers. I enjoyed our discussions on stage and off. Thanks, guys.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Bouchercon 2010: Women with guns

Had I paid better attention during the "Flags of Terror" panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2010, I'd have heard soft clucks of disapproval from a hundred female tongues, and maybe the sound of bullets being chambered as well.

I'd noted that Jassy Mackenzie's protagonist, Jade de Jong, was a crack shot, and I suggested that this was unusual for a woman in crime fiction. Afterward the sister of one of the panelists scolded me gently for my statement and nominated Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone as a female crime-fiction protagonist who knows what to do with a gun.

My remark was a throwaway line; had I had more chance to explain, or had anyone in the audience spoken up, I'd have suggested that Mackenzie emphasizes her character's skill with a gun more than do most creators of female protagonists. But maybe that would have got me in more trouble.

Read Jassy Mackenzie's thoughts on firearms as part of this interview, and read her novel Random Violence for Jade de Jong and guns. Best of all, weigh in yourself.

Which female crime-fiction character are especially good shots and especially comfortable using a gun?
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bouchercon, Day 3: Things that drive them nuts

Yesterday's Bouchercon 2010 panel sub-titled "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" asked writers about hellish experiences they'd had on book tours and pet peeves in their own reading.

Martyn Waites' bête noire is the "the jazz detective," but only the one who listens to "real cool jazz" — Miles Davis or John Coltrane. "It's become such a bad cliché," Waites said. "`This makes them wounded but somehow interesting people.' No, it doesn't."

Karin Slaughter demurred thus when moderator Mark Billingham pleaded for a happy story: "All of my nice stories are tinged with personal horror."

And John Connolly bemoaned sneering in the crime-fiction community at literary fiction: "There's a kind of reverse snobbery coming into the discourse," he said, "and that's really stupid. That's going to set crime fiction back two decades."

What does that tell me about John Connolly? That the man probably tries to work hard to avoid formula in his writing.
What are your pet peeves in crime fiction? What do you think of the panelists' pet peeves?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Words of Bouchercon: "I have no ****ing clue"

"I love you to death, but I have no fucking clue what you're talking about."
— Panelist's reply to his moderator's doctoral thesis of an introduction
Coming soon:
  • I muster the detachment to talk about my own two excellent panels.
  • I muster sufficient praise for Declan Hughes and John Connolly's lunchtime discussion of "The Ten Crime Novels You Must Read Before You Die."
  • I summarize bar schmoozing with Jassy Mackenzie and Stanley Trollip.
  • I talk about women, guns, and the dangerous things that happen when they get together.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Bouchercon, Day 2: The cure for excessive drinking

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bouchercon, Day 1 and Tokyo Year Zero

It's easier to report on a Bouchercon panel when one has passed the hour in the audience rather than on stage moderating. That's a phenomenon full of psychological interest, but we can talk about it in another post.

In any case, Thursday's "Stamp of Death" panel with Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who write together as Michael Stanley; Yrsa Sigurðardóttir; and Christopher G. Moore talking about their books, their countries, and their cultures, and your humble blog keeper moderating, proved an convivial hour for the participants and, I hope, an entertaining and informative one for the audience. Details later.

As always at conventions, some of the most illuminating remarks are uttered at the bar. The day's favorite for me came from a Japanese crime-fiction reviewer named Naomi Hoida, who said that the British crime novelist David Peace had done a fine job in his Tokyo Year Zero. The book traces an investigation that takes place amid the hellish chaos of postwar Japan, and Naomi said she was surprised a foreigner could write so sensitively and accurately about the period.

Over the course of the day, met and hob-nobbed with John Lawton, whose attire included a Mailer-Breslin campaign button; Robert Ward, and Otto Penzler.

Now, to bed to rest up for moderating "Flags of Terror" on Friday, with authors James R. Benn, Cara Black, Lisa Brackmann, Henry Chang, Jassy Mackenzie and Stuart Neville.

And, with a heads-up to Sean Patrick Reardon, this year's Christa Faust picture (above right).

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bouchercon, Day -1: Friends, Romans, countrymen ... lend me your Yrsa

Arrived in San Francisco after a productive flight, on time but jet-lagged. Was about to give up on my 9 p.m. meeting at the convention hotel with panelist Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when she showed up to deliver a copy of her new book, Ashes to Dust. Then the floodgates opened.

I had one of my panels drinking at one table, the other at another, and the estimable Christa Faust with her entourage at a third. I ran shuttle-hospitality missions among the tables with no great result except the possible germ of a revolution in the distribution of crime fiction in South Africa.

But all good things must come to an end when one has an 8 a.m. breakfast the next day. On the way back to my hotel, I found a familiar face enjoying a late-night pick-me-up in front of his hotel after a hellishly long travel day. Nothing says Bouchercon like Ali Karim with a glass of gin in his hand.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kelli Stanley: The San Francisco tweets

Kelli Stanley (left) is an even bigger boon than Rice-a-Roni for San Francisco Bouchercon 2010-goers. She's been busy on Twitter, tweeting tips for visitors, of which I'll reproduce as many as I can:

  • #Bcon2010 tip 23: Calif Cable Car is next to hotel--but also see the Powell St car and the classic turnaround at Powell & Market!
  • #Bcon2010 tip 22: 90 degrees in SF today & tomorrow, but fog will be here by Friday--bring layers for evening/Bay cruise!
  • #Bcon2010 tip 21: B'con organizers consulted weather wizard, guaranteeing beautiful skies! But bring layers for Bay cruises and foggy PMs!
  • #Bcon2010 tip 20: Hang out at the Crimespree table! Get a book signed, buy a cool t-shirt, & register for next year! :)
  • #Bcon2010 tip 19: In need of a pick-me-up? Don't forget the hospitality suite, co-hosted by local MWA and SinC!
Older tweets, as so often the case in life, are temporarily unavailable.
(Complete Bouchercon 2010 schedule here, including my two panels: "The Stamp of Death," Thursday at 3 p.m., with Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who write together as Michael Stanley; Yrsa Sigurðardóttir; and Christopher G. Moore; and "Flags of Terror," Friday at 10 a.m., with James R. Benn, Cara Black, Lisa Brackmann, Henry Chang, Jassy Mackenzie and Stuart Neville.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

California dreaming

I'm going to California (for Bouchercon 2010); Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Salvo Montalbano is doing the dreaming, in The Track of Sand, twelfth of the Montalbano mysteries to be translated into English.

Dream scenes in movies are generally embarrassments; in books they're merely obvious. But Camilleri, who often opens his novels with Montalbano waking in the morning, shows here that he knows how to write a dream. Montalbano's dreams here feel like dreams. It helps that the crime sets the story in motion is full of material ripe for dreams: a horse, a beach, sand (as in the stuff you get bogged down running in...slower...slower...sinking deeper).

So the dream can have something to do with the mystery Montalbano is trying to solve without being clunkingly obvious about it.
Longtime readers of this charming series know that Camilleri likes to have Montalbano reading a mystery as he tries to relax. This time Montalbano thinks about Giorgio Scerbanenco; Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, the creators of Martin Beck; and that newcomer Henning Mankell. Here's my favorite example:

"He got into bed and started reading one of the Swedish books he had bought. Its protagonist was a colleague of his, Inspector Martin Beck, whose manner of investigation he found very appealing. When he had finished the novel and turned out the light, it was four o'clock in the morning."
Readers for whom the running gag of Montalbano's inability to finish reading a Simenon novel in The Smell of the Night will find that especially noteworthy. I find it touching, and it's hard to imagine a warmer author-to-author tribute.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Icelandic crime update

A post I made at Bouchercon 2009 is just as relevant on the eve of Bouchercon 2010 — more so, perhaps, because I made a prediction then, and in a few days, I may find out if it has come true.
At Bouchercon 2008 I asked Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and her husband whether they thought the collapse of Iceland's banking system could mark a turning point in the country's crime fiction. Too early to tell, they said.

At Bouchercon 2009, when the topic turned to Iceland's low crime rate and the challenges this poses to crime writers, Yrsa said that crime had risen in Iceland — financial crime. Her matter-of-fact regard of financial manipulators as criminals was refreshing.

Later, after our panel, Yrsa's husband said burglaries were on the rise in Iceland. Not a great subject for crime writers, one author observed. So, here is my prediction: Some time in the near future, an Icelandic crime author will write a noir novel of a simple burglary, due perhaps to the burglar's economic hardships, that goes wrong and turns into a murder.

(Yrsa Sigurðardóttir will be a member of my "Stamp of Death" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 14, at 3 p.m. The room is Seacliff C, should you happen to be in the neighborhood. Walk-up registration is available.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

S***storm in South Africa

My interview last month with Caryl Férey about his novel Zulu has caused a firestorm of criticism in South Africa.

Author Mike Nicol reproduces portions of the interview over at Crime Beat/Book Southern Africa, interpolating his own scornful reactions to Férey's answers. Among the milder of these: "Ag no, my bru! Now you’re talking kak."

Nicol's post generated a string of comments, the gist of which was that Férey didn't know what he was talking about, especially when he suggested that tacit agreement bars discussion in South Africa of the apartheid-era war between the Zulu Inkatha Party and the mostly Xhosa African National Congress.

Férey brought the subject up when I asked about the advantages of writing about South Africa as an outsider. (He's French.) The vitriolic — and, in Nicol's case, funny — response suggests that such a detached vantage point may carry dangers as well.

Here's my interview with Férey. Here's Nicol's reply, along with a string of comments from readers including Margie Orford, another South African author whose short fiction I've read and whose novels I want to read.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Stripped down in Sicily

"(H)aving to write down the things he saw and the anxiety this caused him sharpened his ability to select, to pare down, to express things pithily, so that only what was sound and perceptive remained in the net of his writing. Such may be the case with Italian writers from the south, especially Sicilians — in spite of school, university and lots of reading."
That's from A Simple Story, a novella by the late, great Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia newly reissued by Hesperus Press, and I'm eager to see how the wittily self-reflective sentiment of the last sentence will play out in the story.

For now, the passage's meditation on the power of spare expression reminds me that stripped-down writing can induce shivers of recognition, a feeling that the author is onto something essential. Jean-Patrick Manchette does this and, based on my recent reading of the Continental Op stories, I'd say Dashiell Hammett does, too.

Who's your favorite creator of stripped-down prose? And is Sciascia's narrator right? Do Sicilian authors have a special talent for expressing the essential?

(Howard Curtis, who translates from French and Italian, has carved out a nice niche in hard-boiled and neo-noir. In addition to A Simple Story, his translations include Caryl Férey's Zulu, Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseilles trilogy, and works by Gianrico Carofiglio.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Blogs beyond borders

The titles of the panels I'll moderate at Bouchercon next week, combined with their geographically diverse makeup, leave me with the obvious choice of talking about setting, about a sense of place and how authors create it.

Fortunately, five of the ten writers on the two panels already do that regularly in group blogs with fellow crime authors. Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who write together as Michael Stanley, contribute to the Murder Is Everywhere blog, as do Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Cara Black. Christopher G. Moore is part of International Crime Authors Reality Check.

The first thing to know is that these are not authors' promotional Web sites. You'll find no book excerpts here, no blurbs, no fancy pop-ups and graphics. Instead, the authors write seriously, and sometimes whimsically, about the countries where they live, write, and set their books.

Thus Yrsa shares thoughts on the pronunciation of her name and the difficulty of rendering that pronunciation in a post that expands to take in Icelandic phonetics, conventions of naming, and mythology.

Or Cara Black, whose most recent novel, Murder in the Palais Royal, takes us briefly underground, spends a bit more quality subterranean time in a post that probes Paris' medieval past as well as her own literary history.

Sears writes about South Africa's pride in the success of soccer's World Cup. Moore explains that "In Thailand, highchairs illustrate the great urban and rural cultural divide."

So check out their posts for informative and informal lessons and stories on France, Iceland, South Africa and Thailand. And if you like the blogs, check out the books.
(Michael Sears, Stanley Trolli, Christopher G. Moore and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir will be members of my "Stamp of Death" panel at Bouchercon 2010 in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 14, at 3 p.m. Cara Black will be on my "Flags of Terror" panel Friday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Collusion, chiasmus and crime fiction

What's a chiasmus? I'm glad you asked, because there's a nice one in Collusion, Stuart Neville's follow-up to The Ghosts of Belfast (a.k.a The Twelve).

A chiasmus is a literary figure in which a phrase includes a list of concepts, and the following phrase repeats those concept in reverse order — the old A-B-B'-A' form (or A-B-C-D-D'-C'-B'-A' and so on). The Bible uses them all the time, and so did Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson. And Alexander Pope ("His time a moment, and a point his space," Essay on Man, Epistle I. ). And now Stuart Neville, too:
"`I've been called lots of things. Smith, Murphy, Tomalty, Meehan, Gorman, Maher, I could go on.' He leaned forward and whispered, `There's some people say I'm not even really a Pavee.'

"A dead mask covered O'Kane's face. `Don't get smart with me, son. I'm a serious man. Don't forget that. I'll only warn you the once.'

"The Traveler leaned back and nodded. `Fair enough. But I'm a serious man too, and I don't like answering questions. You'll know as much about me as I want you to know.'

"O'Kane studied him for a moment. `Fair enough. I don't care if you're a gypsy, a traveler, a knacker, a tinker, or whatever the fuck you lot call yourselves these days. All I care about is the job I need doing. Are you the boy for it?'"
This lends the exchange weight and rhythm and a fair bit of grim humor, too. Most of all, it makes the reader sit up and pay attention, alert for what comes next.

Reviewers, readers and blurbsters have quite rightly praised Neville for the ends he achieves: the suspense, the haunted emotion, and so on. I just thought I'd throw him a bouquet for a means by which he achieves those ends.
(Stuart Neville will discuss chiasmuses and other interesting subjects on 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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Monday, October 04, 2010

Happily married P.I.s and other mold-breakers

Patti Abbott asks "What are some overused character traits found in the typical police or private detective?" and receives a list of entertaining and largely accurate answers, everything from cynicism, marital trouble and excessive drinking to a dubious diet and contempt for authority.

But about fictional P.I.s and cops who go the other way? Who breaks the mold? And how?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

"He ... talked liked a Scotchman's telegram"

Raymond Chandler was known for his extravagant descriptions of persons, but Dashiell Hammett was no slouch either. Here's the Continental Op on Dick Foley in "The Big Knockover":

"He was a swarthy little Canadian who stood nearly five feet in his high-heeled shoes, weighed a hundred pounds minus, talked like a Scotchman's telegram, and could have shadowed a drop of salt water from Golden Gate to Hongkong without ever losing sight of it."
The week's other good bit comes from Lisa Brackmann's debut, Rock Paper Tiger. I neglected to note the page where it occurs, so I can't quote it exactly, but it has the protagonist walking into a Starbucks in China, where "the latest Brazilian retro was playing."

That captures nicely the comfortable/creepy feeling of Starbucks (Well, comfortable as long as the baristas don't mispronounce doppio macchiato too badly), where the music is almost always good and is never a surprise. Starbucks is the Holiday Inn of coffee, though with Hilton prices. Or is it more like an upscale McDonald's?

What are your favorite bits of literary description?
(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. Dashiell Hammett will be at Bouchercon in spirit, as convention attendees seek out the Continental Op's and Sam Spade's favorite haunts.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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