Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crime-fiction firsts in New Zealand and South Africa this week

By the time you read this, New Zealand crime writers, critics and fans should be putting on the soup and fish for their country's first crime-fiction awards, and their counterparts in South Africa recovering from that nation's first crime-fiction festival.

The Ngaio Marsh Award for best New Zealand crime novel was to have been presented in Christchurch on Sept. 10, but a magnitude-7.1 earthquake delayed things. But tonight, seismic conditions permitting, the inaugural honor will go to one of the following:
I am proud to have been one of the contest's judges, an honor I owe to Craig Sisterson, the award's creator. Three cheers to the nominees and four cheers to the energetic Craig.

Meanwhile in South Africa, the equally energtic Mike Nicol put together an impressive program for this past weekend's CrimeWrite, a two-day component of Johannesburg's BookEx.

As recently as Bouchercon 2010 in October, participants were unsure of the who and the what. Then, on five weeks' notice, Nicol assembled a roster that included Antony Altbeker, Wessel Ebersohn, Richard Kunzmann, Sarah Lotz, Chris Marnewick, Deon Meyer, Sifiso Mzobe, Mike Nicol, Margie Orford, Martin Welz and Detectives Beyond Borders friends Jassy Mackenzie, Michael Sears, Roger Smith and Stanley Trollip — pretty damn close to a who's who of one of the world's most dynamic crime-fiction scenes. Hell, even Nicol's program notes make entertaining reading.

That was the country's first crime-fiction festival, and I hope they won't hold too many more without me. So, crime fans, even though the world may be going to hell, this is a week to rejoice at two signs of our favorite genre's vitality and widespread appeal.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Two crime writers on corruption and cultural misunderstanding

Christopher G. Moore, crime novelist and student of cultural differences between East and West, wrote once that in Thailand
"The gift giving which flows as a tangible sign of respect is the slippery slope that descends easily into corruption. It becomes the basis of patronage and the client/patron relationship."
Elsewhere he has enumerated the right to ignore traffic laws as an unearned privilege that accrues to the Thai elite.

I expect that he'd approve of the following passage from Charlotte Jay's The Yellow Turban in which a character looks back at his arrival in Pakistan:
"If the doctor had offered me his bribe a month or so later after I had contracted a few of the local money-getting habits, I might not have been so overwhelmed with indignation. But I was new to the land. I obeyed the signals of traffic police without thinking and was shocked when Iqubal had slipped past them. I queued up at the post office for stamps, instead of thrusting my way through the grubby peons gathered round the window and slamming my money on the desk, as I was to do a month later. And the taking of a bribe was neatly labelled in my mind as antisocial—even criminal perhaps."
and this:
"Naturally he had heard of the corruption of the East but he had, I think, believed that this was largely a charge manufactured by certain Europeans to explain their own failure to understand the Oriental, and that with the departure of the British such evils would simply and automatically cease. And he was too honest and naïve to stand up to the collapse of his ideals."
Jay, an Australian, lived in Thailand when the novel, published in 1955, was released, according to a blurb for my edition. I'd guess from the two passages I cite here that she, like Moore, thought with considerable insight about what happens when Westerners try — and, in the second case, fail — to adjust to Eastern notions of conduct and ethics.
Read more from Christopher G. Moore on East, West and the places where they meet.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Do you get much—"

(Two scenes on Bush Street, Nob Hill, San Francisco. Photos, as always, by your humble blogkeeper)

Your kind comments on my previous post got me reflecting fondly on San Francisco's Bouchercon 2010 and my other recent crime-fiction convention, and I realized I had more to show and tell. (So does Ali Karim, though he exaggerates about me and the waitress.)

Back in Philadelphia, a pair of profane utterances ran through Noircon 2010 like leitmotifs through a Wagner opera. Here, then, are some of that conference's best-loved lines:

"Do you get much pussy?"

— inmate to George Pelecanos after Pelecanos had talked to a prison audience about being a writer

"Do you get much pussy?"

— shouted response to "Any questions?" following every subsequent panel session. Much laughter ensued.

"Fuck you!" (and variants including "Fuck you, Cullen!", "Fuck you, Peter!" and "Fuck you, Megan!")

— panelists' response to the equally ubiquitous (and equally jocose) post-discussion question "How do you define noir?" Much laughter ensued.
Want more? See you at Noircon 2012, Nov. 8-11.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

OK, one last San Francisco picture

Thursday, November 25, 2010

If you want to read on Megabus ...

... bring your own light. The fastidious driver on the Buffalo-Philadelphia leg of yesterday's trip disabled the bus's overhead reading lights because, he explained later, the reflections disturbed him.

Obstreperous clicking of the unresponsive switches drew no response, so I cursed the driver long and silently until I remembered the portable battery-operated reading lamp in my bag. With its help, I finished Fantômas and started on Yishai Sarid's Limassol, finishing the latter just as we pulled into Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. More on both books later.

Reading lamps for use only in broad daylight. On this busiest day of travel in the United States, what is the stupidest travel regulation you can think of?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Author chat and doggie drugs in Toronto

(Lawren Harris, Grey Day in Town, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)

Toronto must agree with me; today I heard a song by Rush, and I liked it.
Spent yesterday afternoon in Kensington Market, a colorful neighborhood that, unlike others of its kind, remains more than a relic. Today it was Greektown (or, simply, "the Danforth") , where signs display street names in Greek right under the English versions. No "This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH" signs here.

Earlier, it was coffee, bagels, and musing about the state of publishing with John McFetridge, and more book shopping at Sleuth of Baker Street. The lunchtime chat generated some panel ideas for Bouchercon 2011.
Back chez Brother Beyond Borders, the pace of daily life must be getting hectic because the veterinarian prescribed Pepcid AC for the family pet, German Shepherd-Lab Mix Beyond Borders.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fantômas on paper and an early Australian award winner

I'm warding off the slump that can come after a superb book (Peter Temple's An Iron Rose) by reading two books at the same time, and there are good things so far in both.

Charlotte Jay's The Yellow Turban (1955) has the following, among other memorable observations, in its opening pages:

"We had all been at Cambridge together. By that I mean Arthur and Roy were undergraduates when I was working as junior assistant in a rather seedy bookshop off the Newmarket Road. But my lack of social and scholastic distinction had not worried Roy, and what did not worry Roy did not worry Arthur — in those days."
Then there's Fantômas, familiar to readers of this blog from my recent posts about Louis Feuillade's silent-movie serials of 1913 and 1914, but before and after the centerpiece of many novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre.

I don't know many crime novels that alongside blurbs from the Village Voice and the Washington Post could carry testimonials from Jean Cocteau and Guillaume Apollinaire, but Fantômas (1911) does. This bit of dialogue might help explain why:
"`Sir,' she said, `I do not know if you are joking or if you are talking seriously, but your behavior is extraordinary, hateful, disgusting—'

"`It is merely original, Princess ...'"
If you want get your mystery-loving friends scratching their heads, mention that Raymond Chandler was the first American to win the Edgar Award for best novel from the Mystery Writers of America, for The Long Goodbye.

The first author of any nationality to win? The aforementioned Australian, Charlotte Jay, for Beat Not the Bones in 1954.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Peter Temple's An Iron Rose: Best second crime novel ever?

An Iron Rose is sometimes lush and sometimes elliptical, the latter not just because some of its characters speak laconically, but because the novel's viewpoint is so thoroughly that of its main character.

What does this mean? It means the story feels much more real than most. Protagonist Mac Farraday is also the first-person narrator, and no one person knows everything. Farraday misses parts of the story, and he makes wrong guesses, and the truth hits him hard when he learns it, just as it will likely hit the reader.

Farraday is a convincing blacksmith here, just as Temple's other protagonists have been convincing cabinetmakers and horse players; no crime writer writes about work better than Temple does, especially skilled manual work.

Gorgeous deadpan wit and memorable observations abound:

  • "After supper, Lew and I played Scrabble. He was good with small words, quick to see possibilities."
  • "`Leon's a charming person,' she said. `His problem is chronic envy. Non-specific envy. His greatest fear is that he's missing something ...'"
  • "Alex looked around at the pub: yellow smoke-stained walls, plastic furniture, scratched and cigarette-burnt formica-topped bar, three customers who looked like stroke victims."
Temple also reveals details of Farraday's back story gradually, which enhances the book's realism. A reader may feel not just that he or she knows the character, but has come to know him the way one comes to know a person in real life.
An Iron Rose, which appeared in 1998, is Temple's second novel, following Bad Debts and preceding such award-winners as The Broken Shore and Truth. It's easily as good as those books and must be one of the best second novels in all of crime fiction. What other good second novels can you think of?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

The man who created The Girl Who ...

You knew this was coming. A new book about Stieg Larsson includes an exchange of e-mails between the author of the Millennium trilogy and his editor, two of which the Wall Street Journal has published (a hat tip to Loren Eaton for calling the article to my attention).

One of the e-mails reveals disarming humility from Larsson on points his detractors have singled out:
"I am not altogether confident of my ability to put my thoughts into words: My texts are usually better after an editor has hacked away at them, and I am used to both editing and being edited. ... I think the first few chapters are a bit long-winded, and it's a while before the plot gets under way."
Elsewhere he is less humble. "I have used some techniques that are normally outlawed," he writes, according to Laurie Thompson's translation from the Swedish. That sounds to me like a man a little too proud of what he thinks he's doing.

Some of that pride comes from Larsson's handling of gender roles.
"I have also deliberately changed the sex roles," he writes. "In many ways Blomkvist acts like a typical `bimbo,' while Lisbeth Salander has stereotypical `male' characteristics and values."
Fair enough, if rather rough, elementary and schematic. Contrast Larsson with Megan Abbott, a better writer by orders of magnitude, talking about her novel Queenpin in a 2008 interview with Detectives Beyond Borders:
"The men are in there primarily to mediate the two women's relationship with each other, much as female characters function so often in classic noir triangles. Ultimately, though, the gender switch changed everything and nothing. On the one hand, it struck me how little difference it made; that mentor/protégé relationships are always about power and ambition, and this was no different. On the other hand, the particular complexities in relationships between women really interest me, as do the forms female power can take, forms that may be different from male power."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sports, crime, Neil Young, and everything

This blog has an eclectic group of sports fans-cum-readers: an Irish New York Yankees fan who lives in Australia, for one, and an ice hockey fan in New Zealand.

So, with a nod to the hard-working Craig Sisterson, here is a picture of your humble blogkeeper with the Stanley Cup.
And here's the evidence of Neil Young's influence on crime writing.

That's two crime novels with titles taken from Neil Young songs. What other rock and roll songs have lent their titles to crime novels?

(YHBK with Hilary Davidson, author of The Damage Done)
Speaking of sports, the protagonist of Peter Temple's An Iron Rose finds himself the de facto guardian of a aspiring teenage golfer. If memory serves, Peter Corris, the godfather of Australian crime writing, wrote a story in which a young aspiring tennis player figures.

Temple especially gets some nice drama out of this: The young man in question has dropped out of school, in part to work on his golf game, and the protagonist wants him to go back. And there you have it: suspense and generational conflict in one neat, subplot-size package.

Any other stories in which an aspiring athlete plays a role?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Peter Temple, stupid critics, and crime-fiction conventions

One of the stupidest complaints when Peter Temple's Truth won Australia's Miles Franklin Literary Award came from a blog commenter who thought that no crime novel could ever deserve such a prize. Truth, she sniffed, even has a damaged cop in it.

I thought of that idiot when I saw how cleverly Temple announces that Mac Farraday, protagonist of An Iron Rose, used to be a cop.

How do your favorite crime writers take hoary genre conventions and make them fresh?

"I'm skilled in the art of interrogation, so I know what you're doing."

Nephew Beyond Borders #1, age 11, as his mother tossed names at him this evening trying to find out whom he'd got in trouble with at school
Nephew Beyond Borders #2, age 9, announced tonight that he wants to go to Japan so he can eat poisonous fish.
"Novelty is inherently new."

— Sex therapist on The Joy Behar Show this evening talking about athletes who cheat on their spouses

This guy is a lot dumber than my nephews.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

There is a town in south Ontario ...

1) Visited Sleuth of Baker Street to hear Hilary Davidson read from The Damage Done and, while browsing, found myself at nose level with a novel called Down by the River. Neil Young has a more powerful presence in Toronto than I thought.

You know those readings where three people show up, and one works for the store and another wandered in by mistake? This was not one of them. Davidson grew up in Toronto and, I think, worked here as well. To judge from the evening's attendance, she is much loved; the place was packed.

2) Saw a copy of Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction on display, the first time I'd seen my own work on sale in a bookshop. This was very cool. And the book makes an ideal holiday gift!

3) Overheard a customer refer to "someone who likes to read x, y and zed." It is a pleasure to be in a country that knows what the last letter of the alphabet is. (Canadians also know that an entrée is a small course preceding the main dish.)

4) Bought Peter Temple's An Iron Rose off a rack labelled with disarming honesty "Expensive British Imports." Would any American shop or any chain store have been that straightforward? Nah.

5) Got up in the middle of the night at my brother's house, took one step down from the guest room, and turned right toward the bathroom. Only the guest room has two steps, so I took a header onto the living-room floor, landed on my right knee, and only the saving grace of a benevolent god prevented the big-screen TV from shattering into a million pieces. The knee was a little tender today, but Nephew Beyond Borders #2, asleep on the couch, slumbered right through the ordeal of his precipitating uncle.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DBB goes to Toronto

In Toronto to visit Brother Beyond Borders and to hear Hilary Davidson read from her novel The Damage Done at Sleuth of Baker Street on Wednesday.

On the ride up, I:

  • Read "$106,000 Blood Money" and cursed Dashiell Hammett for not having written more.
  • Wondered when plain old bus and train stations became transportation centers.
I should have figured from her pleasing manners at Noircon 2010 that Hilary Davidson was Canadian, and if that was not clue enough, her titling her debut novel for a Neil Young song should have given her away. More tomorrow.
On the subject of fine independent bookstores, here's a belated thanks to Farley's Bookshop of New Hope, Pa., official book purveyor to Noircon 2010. These guys brought in not just books by festival attendees, but a well-chosen selection of related noir and hard-boiled and, to my pleasant surprise, a nice selection of international crime fiction from Bitter Lemon, Soho Crime, and maybe a title or two from Europa Editions.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Woman in White: World's first mystery novel?

Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (1868), widely considered the first detective novel in English, may be better known to crime readers, but it's The Woman in White (1859-60) that's shaping up as a hell of a mystery.

Mystery saturates the most ordinary objects and seemingly ordinary persons in the opening chapters, and that's before the main plot has begun to take shape. Physical appearance turns out not to be what is seems, for one. And who is the mysterious woman in white?

Here's one of the novel's first sentences:
"But the Law is still, in certain inevitable cases, the pre-engaged servant of the long purse..."
There's some funny stuff, too:
"`Never mind,' says the golden barbarian of a Papa, `never mind about his genius, Mr. Pesca. We don't want genius in this country, unless it is accompanied by respectability.'"
"The driver was evidently discomposed by the lateness of my arrival. He was in that state of highly-respectful sulkiness which is peculiar to English servants."
"Some of us rush through life; and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey sat through life."
If this reminds you of Charles Dickens, it's no surprise. Dickens and Collins were friends and occasional collaborators (the two were so close that Collins was called "the Dickensian Ampersand," according to one source), and The Woman in White appeared initially as a serial in Dickens' magazine All the Year Round. But it's sentences like this that lend the book its aura of mystery even before the mystery begins:
"To see such a face as this set on shoulders that a sculptor would have longed to model ... was to feel a sensation oddly akin to the helpless discomfort familiar to us all in sleep, when we recognize yet cannot reconcile the anomalies and contradictions of a dream."
(Here's the beginning of a discussion of Collins' contributions to crime fiction.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do film studies make people dumber?

I’m now almost three serials into Louis Feuillade's silent Fantômas films, and two things have surprised me: how good the movies are, and how hard it is to find words to talk about them.

Part of the latter is due to my previous ignorance of Feuillade's work. I lack the commonplaces that come so readily to discussions of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or D.W. Griffith. But part is due to the films themselves.

Feuillade’s movies don’t hit the viewer over the head with technical gimcrackery, and they don’t monger the sorts of symbols that lend themselves easily to sophomore-level “analysis.” They're just well-written, and they tell good, atmospheric stories, and it’s a lot harder to talk about how writing makes a movie than it is to see Christ symbolism in every crossed set of window mullions.

Good god, and it’s not just sophomores who talk that way. A few months ago, I squirmed in my seat as a film professor breathlessly informed an audience gathered for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt that the film’s runaway protagonist and his niece are both named Charlie!!! and that this is significant!!!

Anyone who has taken a film course can talk about Orson Welles’ deep focus or D.W. Griffith’s use of close-ups. But anyone who thinks that those devices are what make their movies great is missing the point.

OK, readers and viewers, what's responsible for the great volume of superficial blather about movies — or films? Who are the worst offenders?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Fantômas follow-up and a saga's story-telling

Mike White posts a link to "How to watch Fantômas and why."

And, in the department of proto-crime stories, comes this transition between sections of Kormak's Saga, an Icelandic saga set in the tenth century and likely composed during the thirteenth:

"Kormak hesitated.
"There was a woman of evil character named Thordis ..."
Here's an English translation of Kormak's Saga, though its rendering of the excerpt above is less suggestive of suspense and femmes fatales. And here's the saga in its original language, if your Icelandic is up to par.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Zealand crime awards rescheduled

Ever have one of those days when the alarm clock doesn't go off, you miss your bus, or an earthquake forces cancellation of your inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award New Zealand crime-fiction prize ceremony?

The hard-working Craig Sisterson did when a quake forced postponement of the event, initially scheduled for Sept. 10 .

Geological conditions permitting, the ceremony will now take place Nov. 30. The details:

Whodunnit and Whowunnit? with the presentation of the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel 7:30pm, Tuesday 30 November 2010 Visions on Campus Restaurant, CPIT, corner Madras St & Ferry Road, Christchurch Drinks and nibbles from 7pm, author panel from 7:30pm $10, includes a glass of wine and nibbles.

Contact: Ruth Todd 03 384 4721 or

The finalists:

The judges:

  • Lou Allin: crime writer, vice president of Crime Writers of Canada
  • Mike Ripley: author of the "Angel" series of comedy thrillers, crime-fiction critic and commentator
  • Sarah Minns: writer, deputy editor of Australia's Good Reading magazine
  • Graham Beattie: former managing director/publisher of Penguin Books (New Zealand), creator of Beattie's Book Blog, book-industry consultant
  • Craig Sisterson: crime fiction reviewer and features writer, creator of the Crime Watch blog
  • Ros Henry: (See biographical information in comment, courtesy of Craig Sisterson.)
  • Your humble blog-keeper
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Detectives Beyond Borders meets Fantômas, plus a question for readers

I've begun my journey down the roads where Noircon 2010 will lead me.

Fantômas, first of Louis Feuillade's five French silent films from 1913 and 1914 about the master-of-disguise thief and anti-hero, included two silhouette shots, one of which John Ford might well have had in mind when he repeatedly framed characters in doorways in The Searchers.

The movie's moral ambivalence and inconclusive ending were not what I expected from a 1913 film serial; I'll be watching further episodes.

Next up, Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain's original 1911 novel, Fantômas.
The Web site to which most links in this post take you is rich with articles on such subjects as "Fantômas & the avant-garde" and "Pulp surrealism." Juan Gris included a Fantômas novel in one of his paintings, for example, and René Magritte used the character as a direct source for several paintings.

Offhand, I can think of no other figure from popular culture who held such fascination for high culture. Can you?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Noircon 2010: The boys of late autumn

That's my contribution to the coolest souvenir that anyone took home from Noircon 2010.

This is the guy the souvenir belongs to, Steve Weddle. He chose an appropriate memento given that baseball, once the summer game, is now played in November. (Read his Noircon report for an idea of the gentle camaraderie of crime-fiction conventions.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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What was new at Noircon / #Noircon2010 ?

For me, it was:

Meeting: Hilary Davidson, Jedidiah Ayres, Cullen Gallagher, Cameron Ashley, Meredith Anthony, Jared Case, Lawrence Light, Wallace Stroby, Larry Withers, Sharyn Pak Withers, Steve Weddle, Todd Mason.

Getting acquainted or reacquainted with: Fantômas, Patricia Highsmith,

Drinking: Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew.

And that was in addition to the congenial company I'd come to know from previous conventions.

New beer, new friends, new books. What could be better?
What books, authors or beers have you met for the first time at a crime-fiction convention?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, November 08, 2010

"Ghosted" author sails into Philadelphia

A Canadian author with the unassuming moniker of Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall has written what sounds like an intriguing, dark crime novel.

Ghosted offers a drug-addled, self-deluding idler who winds up with a job helping those even more desperate than he is: He ghost-writes suicide notes.

Bishop-Stall reads from Ghosted tonight, Monday, Nov. 8, at Moonstone Arts Center/Robin's Bookst0re, 110a S. 13th Street, Philadelpia, at 7 p.m.

(Read about Bishop-Stall's current book tour, which must be one of the odder such odysseys in the history of publishing.)
In other DBB-related new-book news, Mike Dennis' "tough, compact tale set in Houston and New Orleans," The Take, has arrived with an imprimatur from no less than Vicki Hendricks. Hendricks is a queen of noir, so that's a good sign.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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The Hendrick's and Tonic Crime-Convention Cost-of-Living Index ©

(#Noircon2010: David White [left] and Howard Rodman discuss Fantômas)Christa Faust (left), here with Butch on her lap and Vicki Hendricks to the right, provided one of those hotel-bar, a-ha! moments that make crime-fiction conventions such a treat for the mind even as they wreak havoc on the body.

She had bought Darwyn Cooke's graphic-novel version of Richard Stark's The Hunter, an adaptation I'd found slightly disappointing for its fidelity to Stark's novel. I reasoned that a comics adaptation ought to add something that words alone could not accomplish. Christa argued for strict obedience to the source; I defended infidelity.

But then she said look at the hands, at the panels in which hands fill the frame and their attitude tells the story. Stark's novel tells us about Parker's hands, but I don't think it focuses on hands nearly as much as Cooke does. So thanks, Christa, for opening my eyes to the power of hands.
So, what is the Hendrick's and Tonic Crime-Convention Cost-of-Living Index (HAT-3C-LI ©)?

A Hendrick's gin and tonic cost $14.24 with tax at Bouchercon 2010's convention hotel in San Francisco; at Noircon's hotel in Philadelphia the cost was $9.90.

Using the San Francisco cost as a baseline and assigning it a score of 100, Philadelphia's Hendrick's score is 69.5, nothing to laugh at in these hard times.

What's your city's Hendrick's score? (Trust me: You'll enjoy the research.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Noircon Day 3: The Tremor of Highsmith

Back when I read Patricia Highsmith's The Tremor of Forgery, I noted one critic's suggestion that Highsmith had abandoned character almost entirely for the political by the time she wrote the book.

I suspect Highsmith biographer Joan M. Schenkar might disagree; she took a more personal approach in her talk Saturday at #Noircon2010. Schenkar stressed the importance of forgery in Highsmith's fictional world, for example, particularly in the person of Tom Ripley, protagonist of The Talented Mister Ripley plus four additional novels and a number of film adaptations.

The Tremor of Forgery, Highsmith tells us, is the slight shake that even the most expert forger produces at the beginning and the end of his false signatures. A novel whose title conceit undermines a theme so important in the writer's work? Sounds pretty personal to me.

Even better: The novel's murder weapon — if indeed the victim has been killed — is a typewriter and the protagonist/killer a writer. The machine, Schenkar says, is identical to Highsmith's own, a typewriter the author treasured. (The apparent murder renders the machine inoperable, an especially suggestive state of affairs.)
Later, fellow Noircon attendee Richard Edwards interrupted a Star Wars techie chat with Mike "Cashiers du Cinemart" White that had begun in a hotel bar long ago and far away and offered welcome news: Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir, the podcast series Edwards hosted with Shannon Clute, will resume this summer. Unfortunately, their Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writers Revealed series is not coming back.
Overheard at the hotel bar: "Bitch-slapping the synapses of your brain," upon which another fellow attendee, knowing what I do for a living, asked, "Does bitch slapping take a hyphen?"

(To which I should have replied: "Bitch-slapping takes a hyphen — and likes it." )

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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From Noircon to Philadelphia Noir

If you're in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon, a bunch of authors will head straight from #Noircon2010 to the Moonstone Arts Center/Robin's Bookst0re t0 read from Philadelphia Noir, latest in Akashic Books' city noir series.

The store is at 110a S. 13th Street, and the reading starts at 2 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Noircon Day 2: Beer beyond borders

(Help-wanted sign, South Street, Philadelphia. Note to self: Keep looking.)

Here are some things attendees said on Day 2 of #Noircon2010:

David Goodis "seemed like the real thing."

— George Pelecanos

"One of the things I love about noir is ugly sex, dysfunctional sex, sex that doesn't work."

— Christa Faust, during panel on "Pornography and noir fiction."

"I embraced ... being an impostor."

— Jim Zervanos , of his short story in Philadelphia Noir
Top Noircon discovery so far: Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

So that's why they call it Pascal's Triangle

I mentioned in a recent comment that I'd bought The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, a collection of Icelandic sagas, and a selection from Pascal's Pensées. I also said I'd try to find a sentiment suitable to crime fiction in the last of the three.

I have found such a sentiment, and not only is it suitable to crime fiction, but it's the plot of a hundred hard-boiled, even noir stories:

"How tiresome it is to give up pursuits to which we have become attached. A man enjoying a happy home-life has only to see a woman who attracts him, or spend five or six pleasant days gambling, and he will be very sorry to go back to what he was doing before. It happens every day."
(Here's a discussion of another volume in Penguin's Great Ideas series.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Pre-con recon at Noircon

#Noircon2010 starts Thursday evening, but a few of us got an early start Wednesday at a reading from Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection.

I didn't know "Cashiers ... " during its incarnation as a movie and popular-culture 'zine, but I loved the reminiscences Mike White read of his days working at a big movie theater. And I got a great kick out of co-author Chris Cummins' discussion of Gremlins, its screenplay, and its weird novelization. I may yet turn out to be a geek after all.

Afterward, got a jump on Noircon socializing with fellow attendees including Anita Thompson, Ed Pettit, Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Tafoya and Scott Phillips.

Also today, some good news from super-organizer Jon Jordan about Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis: "The hotel assures me that the bar will be open to the legal limit each night as long as things don't get crazy. So as long as no one is dancing nude on the bar we should be good to go on that front."
See you in St. Louis!
This is Detectives Beyond Borders' 1,500th post.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

DBB welcomes Noircon

Early arrivals are on their way to #Noircon2010 in Philadelphia, which opens Thursday evening. Here's what they can expect when they get here.

See you at the hotel bar and the P&P.
I was a convention virgin when I signed up very late for Noircon 2008, but I got experienced quickly, and before the event was over, I resolved to sign up for that year's Bouchercon. I attended, and the rest is convention history — an ongoing history, I am happy to say. So I have a certain sentimental attachment to Noircon 2008, because a crime fan never forgets his first con.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Herodotus, crime writer

I can’t get away from crime even when I try. Herodotus Histories traces the enmity between Persians and Greeks in the fifth century BC to a spate of kidnappings.

When did people stop believing that war could have such a personal cause? (Before Herodotus' body was cold in his grave, apparently. Aristophanes' satirical play The Acharnians, produced in 425 BC, around the time Herodotus is thought to have died, pokes fun at the notion.)

And here's your chance to provide new answers to the classic question What works of great literature contain elements of crime? (Extra credit for going beyond the standards of Hamlet, Macbeth and Crime and Punishment.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, November 01, 2010

A Simple Story: The Leonardo (Sciascia) code

I'm about done with Bouchercon posts, and I have no more crime-fiction conventions until Thursday, so I can now return to my regular reading.

Leonardo Sciascia's novella (or long story) called A Simple Story, reissued by Hesperus Press in a new translation by Howard Curtis, begins with a one-two punch of sardonic observation and ends with irony just as sardonic. As the story opens, police in a small Sicilian town receive a phone call on the eve of a festival honoring St. Joseph the carpenter,

"who seemed to have inspired the bonfires of old furniture which were lit in the working-class neighborhoods almost as a promise to the few carpenters still in business that there would be no lack of work for them. The offices were almost deserted, even more so than on other evenings at that hour, but they were still lit, the way the offices of the police were usually kept lit in the evening and during the night, by tacit agreement, to give the townspeople the impression that the police were ever alert to the safety of the public."
Good god, an opening like that snaps the reader to attention. In such a world of deception, one must — readers included — be ready for anything, and the mental alertness that this demands is exhilarating. Sciascia's world is not one in which the police must solve a mystery, but rather one in which everything is a mystery.

Sciascia's skeptical wit also appeals, as perhaps all skeptical wit does, to the intellect, and I like this example especially:

"But as the commissioner's attitude had annoyed him, and as he was almost entirely devoid of what is usually called esprit de corps — which meant regarding the body to which he belonged as the most important thing of all, considering it infallible, or, if it was not infallible, untouchable, overwhelmingly right, especially when it was wrong — he had a mischievous idea."
Oh, man, that's what I want to be when I grow up.
Howard Curtis' previous crime-fiction translations include novels by Gianrico Carofiglio, Jean-Claude Izzo and Caryl Férey. He's built a nice niche translating gialli and polars that pack a punch.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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