Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Vote for me!

I've been nominated for a Spintingler Award again, this time in the best-reviewer category, and thanks for the good people at Spinetingler for their consideration. Vote here; I know you'll do the right thing.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Raymond Chandler, father of '60s cinema?

1) Here's a bit of dialogue from Raymond Chandler's story "Blackmailers Don't Shoot." Tell me why you think it works:
"`You wouldn't have a gun, would you, Slippy' he said, nudging the Luger forward. `Turn slow and easy, Slippy. When you feel something against your spine, go on in, Slippy. We'll be right with you.'"
2) Here are two more short bits, question to follow:
"The lanky man's duck became a slide and the slide degenerated into a fall. He spread himself out on the bare carpet in a leisurely sort of way."
"Macdonald put his other hand up to the door-frame, leaned forward and began to cough. Bright red blood came out on his chin. His hands came down the door-frame slowly. Then his shoulder twitched forward, he rolled like a swimmer in a breaking wave, and crashed. He crashed on his face, his hat still on his head, the mouse-colored hair at the nape of his neck showing below it in an untidy curl."
Does that remind you of anything? Slow-motion death became a movie staple with Arthur Penn and Sam Peckinpah in the late 1960s and a cliché sometime thereafter; Chandler published his story in Black Mask in December 1933. Did Chandler's writing of the '30s influence Peckinpah's and Penn's film making of the '60s? What other authors have influenced directors or cinematographers? And what movie makers have influenced writers?
Chandler's short fiction, written with protagonists not named Philip Marlowe, is a good place to start for readers who want to experience the author outside Humphrey Bogart's stupendous shadow.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, March 29, 2010

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the nulla-nulla

I've remarked often that I have no objection to well-deployed slang, dialect, and local vocabulary in crime fiction. I've said further that I enjoy having to figure out from context an unfamiliar term's meaning. Here's a bit from Adrian Hyland's Gunshot Road:

"I kept going at full pelt, knocked him off balance, managed to get him cuffed before he knew what hit him. Which would have been a satisfactory to the incident had not the victim found her feet and turned out to be Cindy Mellow. A nulla-nulla materialized in her right hand.

"The first blow hit my prisoner in the head ... "
That's Hyland's novel at left and a nulla-nulla at right. And here's a bit more about nulla-nullas, information I'd likely never have looked for if not for a crime novel. (Gunshot Road is due out in May from Text Publishing and Soho Press.)

Now, what have crime stories taught you?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Get Hodges

The deadpan narration of Watching the Wheels Come Off reminds me of Clive Owen's deadpan voiceovers in Mike Hodges' 1998 movie Croupier.

No surprise there, perhaps. Hodges, who began his movie career directing Get Carter in 1971, published Watching the Wheels ... , his first novel at age 77 and one of the first two titles from Maxim Jakubowski's Max Crime imprint.

I don't quite know why, but I find passages like this beguiling:

Alone, in a long black dress on a tall black bar stool, sits Ursula Letts. Everything about her, from the cut of her hair to the shape of her shoes, radiates style and originality. Even the stigma of a lazy right eye suits her quirky style. Ursula is a primary-school teacher. She also has the dubious honor of being Mark's childhood sweetheart and very first lover. Unfortunately for her, the affair won't quite lie down and die.
It's an odd story involving a faded seaside resort, a plucky public relations man who lives in his office, a fascistic cult leader, a down-at-the-heels detective, and a latter-day Houdini who, at the point I have reached, has vanished into the ocean chained in a trunk.

Here are two more bits I've liked:

He picks up the evil-looking burger. "Jesus, it couldn't be more dangerous than this."

He thinks about taking another bite but decides against it. Instead, he watches Ursula walk out of his life. The waitress moves in to clear the table.

"Anything else?"

"Yes, penicillin."

When conferences began to replace communities, every seaside resort in the country built a centre for them. These centres, with the greedy fingerprints of local burghers all over them, were inevitably portentous, ugly and erected on a prime location where nobody could ignore them. ... Conferences make the world go round or, more exactly, give the appearance of making it go around. Like careousels, things tend to end up pretty much where they started.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

D-E-D Dead!, or light makes right

This one got me thinking about a conversation I once had with a pastry chef who said the precision her work demanded made it the hardest of the kitchen crafts.

Geoff McGeachin's D*E*D Dead! is a comic spy thriller, though you might have guessed that from the title and cover. Its tone is light, and the reading is breezy, made so by a number of ingredients added in just the right amounts. But I suspect hard work and careful planning went into that light tone, and don't think it condescending if I call the book a confection.

What makes it light? McGeachin does not linger long over killings. His hero (and a hero he is) questions his profession but does not agonize over it.

Scenes set in Bali make me want to visit, an ambition I'd never had before. I don't know if McGeachin has spent time in Bali, but if he has, I'd guess he loved it. Clues and teasers are planted throughout the novel, obvious enough for the reader to detect them, but clever enough to create suspense. Details of military supply operations and Balinese life and history are folded into the story without ever turning into information dumps. And that includes mention of terrorist attacks in Bali and touching observations about the island's recovery.

McGeachin was a photographer, and so is his protagonist, Alby Murdoch, the latter as a cover for his job with Australia's Directorate for Extraterritorial Defence, or D.E.D. The operation he uncovers is just wild enough to be the stuff of comedy, but rendered convincingly enough to be plausible.

McGeachin's other novels include Dead and Kicking, Sensitive New Age Spy, and one of my favorite titles, Fat, Fifty & F***ed. Like many an Australian crime story from Fergus Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab on, D*E*D Dead! is set in part in Melbourne's suburb of St. Kilda, which must be one of the world's great crime-fiction neighborhoods.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First a pirla, now a Nutter

Mayor Nutter — Wednesday, March 24
Mayor Nutter had a tough 2009, fighting with City Council about the city budget and other issues and then having to coax financial help from the state General Assembly to balance a budget deficit. Come talk with the mayor about how the city teetered on the edge but did not topple into the fiscal abyss.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Papers of Tony Veitch, or showing, telling and compassion

"Show, don't tell" is one of those writing mantras that I think I believe in but have never examined thoroughly.

I guess the idea is that readers don't care what the author has to say, they want to see what the characters do. The Scottish novelist William McIlvanney intrudes on his own narrative far more than most crime writers do, often with thrilling results. Here's McIlvanney getting inside his protagonist's head in The Papers of Tony Veitch:

"He could recall giving up any belief in an overall meaning to living because any such meaning would have to be indivisible, unequivocally total, giving significance impartially to every drifting feather, every piece of paper blowing along a street.

"Eck was like one of those pieces of paper. You couldn't say the meaning of things was elsewhere and Eck was irrelevant. That was a betrayal. All we have is one another and if we're orphans all we can honorably do is adopt one another, defy the meaninglessness of our lives by mutual concern. It's the only nobility we have.

"Laidlaw tried to reinstate his energy by declaring war, over his whisky, on all brutalisers of others, all non-carers. Yet the very thought embarrassed. He would have been such a compromised champion, a failure opposing failure."
McIlvanney invokes compassion implicitly and, elsewhere, explicitly, compassion for victims, for perps, compassion for those who feel hopeless compassion. I've noticed a similar tendency in Allan Guthrie's novels and in Ken Bruen's Priest.

And now, two questions: 1) How do you feel about showing vs. telling? and 2) Is it any surprise that authors of hard stories about hard men should be attracted to compassion as a theme and a human attribute?

(Read about William McIlvanney here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Un pirla* al club Pen & Pencil

I was having a glass of wine at Philadelphia's press club the other night when I learned, loudly and repeatedly, from one of my fellow visitors that English is not a Germanic language. Where are the rowdy airline crews when you need them?
* Pirla.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Pest is (usually) prologue

If I ever run a competition for best prologue, I may have to specify best prologue from outside Northern Ireland. That's because Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand has probably sewn up best-prologue honors for the foreseeable future, and Brian McGilloway's prologue to Bleed a River Deep is pretty damn good, too.

McKinty's is full of menace, deadpan wit and suspense. Here's how McGilloway's opens:
"The last time I saw Leon Bradley with a gun in his hand ... "
McGilloway wastes no time obeying Raymond Chandler's dictum, and it gets better. There's a nice twist and a violent climax, but the little story breaks off just before its dénouement, leaving matters to be resolved in the novel that follows.

Why mention these two fine examples? Because I'm usually wary of prologues, suspicious that they're lazy shortcuts for authors who don't know how to begin and so begin with the end. How do you feel about prologues? If you don't like them, why not? If you do, what makes a prologue effective? Feel free to cite some good ones.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rolling Stones and scary snowmen: An interview with Jo Nesbø, Part I

Jo Nesbø is touring two countries promoting two novels. The Snowman, newly published by Random House Canada (and also out in the United Kingdom) has elements of horror stories, and it continues a theme put forth in The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil’s Star of scary characters within the police.

The Devil’s Star, out in hardback in the United States from HarperCollins, brings to a conclusion a confrontation between one of those characters and Nesbø’s protagonist, Inspector Harry Hole.

In the first part of an interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, Jo Nesbø talks about his fascination with Jim Thompson, his early attraction to ghost stories, and Norway’s shaky national identity. He also answers a question posed in a scene long a favorite here at Detectives Beyond Borders: Are the Rolling Stones the world’s greatest rock and roll band?

(Read Part II of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Jo Nesbø here.)
Detectives Beyond Borders: What attracts you about having monsters or psychotic villains within the police?

Jo Nesbø: The enemy within is always more scary than when you have the defined enemy. I’m a fan of Jim Thompson and his title The Killer Inside Me, which may be a somewhat cheesy title, but it’s a title that grabs me. To me it’s a scary idea that the killer is inside you, behind you. Also, I like to write about closed milieus, where you have a society within a society.

Like the Salvation Army (A key setting in The Redeemer)?

Right. That is parallel to the police force. Loyalty is very important, and you have certain rules that enable people to get power over other people. … You can have more dramatic conflict than in open societies.

You liked to write or tell ghost stories when you were young. Is there a connection between The Snowman and that earlier preference for ghost stories?

I didn’t come up with the stories, I told traditional ghost stories, then added a bit.

I think the reason why they asked me to tell the stories, I thought for while it was because I was a great storyteller. Later on, I think it was my big brother who told me the reason why he wanted me to tell the stories was because when I told them, they could hear the fear in my voice.

Are the Rolling Stones the world’s greatest band or the most overrated band?

The Rolling Stones are a great band and the world’s most overrated band.

Why do your novels include so many prominent and thematically important references to music?

People use music in so many ways, to say who they are. … You use a T-shirt to tell the world `I’m the kind of guy who listens to the Doors,’ and that is interesting to me because it’s just sounds, but it isn’t just sounds. They project ideas, basic values. I don’t really like Joy Division, but I wish I liked to listen to Joy Division.

Myself, I like jazz, and I like rock, but I like pop, the smoothest pop music, easy-listening pop music. I love that. [But] I thought it would be too confusing for people to have [Harry] like pop music. You’d have to explain it, so I put in some references. I try not to do it too much.

For example, you read George Pelecanos; to me, sometimes it’s on the verge of being too much. Everybody, every single character, is listening to a special radio channel. Well, they don’t. But then again, I love the references.

Talk a bit about some of the satirical fun you poke at Norway.

We’re a young and, in a way, an insecure nation. … It’s a very young nation, and it is trying very hard to find itself. Like any nation, it needs pillars to build an image of a nation on.

In Norway the most important things are probably the explorers of the South and North Poles, and Thor Heyerdahl, and the war, the myth about the resistance movement during the war.

Up until 1917, Norway was one of the poorest countries in Europe. In the Seventies, we found oil, or the Americans found oil, actually, off Norway. In the Eighties were booming times, and Norway quickly became one of the richest countries in the world. It’s like a guy with an inferiority complex that has suddenly had some success and who can’t quite cope with it.

Norwegians are so focused on what's going on in Norway now. If you read the newspapers, it's all local news. So many of the stories are `What do they think about Norwegians?'

It’s pride and insecurity going together. You see that in many countries. Norway has always had the same relationship to bigger countries, Sweden especially, Denmark, maybe the same way that Canada feels toward the United States, like a bigger brother. Canada is a nicer country, but that’s not enough.
(Read Part II of the interview with Jo Nesbø.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shadow cities

I wonder to what extent South Africa's emergence from apartheid has let the country's authors look clearly at the divisions that once existed and that still remain.

Here's a bit from "The Meeting," the heart-pounding short story by Margie Orford that opens the Bad Company collection of South African crime writing:

Claire Hart turned off the freeway, the off-ramp sinking her into Khayelitsha, Cape Town's teeming shadow city sprawling unmapped across the sand dunes south of the airport. The houses, makeshift cubes of corrugated iron and wood, roofed with black plastic, homed half a million people, maybe a million. No one was counting.
Roger Smith sees Cape Town in similar terms in his novel Wake Up Dead, where the city's dangerous Flats have resolved themselves into antagonistic territories defined by gang rule:

A woman in a Muslim headscarf scuttled across the road, carrying a plastic shopping bag and a tub of Kentucky chicken, and disappeared into Dark City. Otherwise the road was empty and silent.
Dark cities, shadow cities, alternative cities. Sounds something like those dirty towns Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett used to write about, doesn't it?

As always, read up on the latest South African crime writing at the Crime Beat site, including a discussion of Orford's novel Daddy's Girl.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nesbø in North America and your chance to win a book

This could be Jo Nesbø's year in North America. Nemesis, his fourth novel featuring Oslo police detective Harry Hole, has been shortlisted for the CWA's 2010 Edgar Award for best novel. And readers in North America have the chance to get their hands on some new Nesbø.

The Devil's Star, fifth in the series, is just out in hardcover in the U.S., and The Snowman, Book 7, is newly released in Canada and the U.K. Because the order of publication is different in different parts of the English-speaking world, time might be right for a listing of the novels in order of original publication (titles in italics are available in English translation):

1997 – Flaggermusmannen
1998 – Kakerlakkene
2000 – The Redbreast (2006); English translation by Don Bartlett
2002 – Nemesis (2008); English translation by Don Bartlett
2003 – The Devil's Star (2005); English translation by Don Bartlett
2005 – The Redeemer (2009); English translation by Don Bartlett
2007 – The Snowman (2010); English translation by Don Bartlett
2009 – Panserhjerte
And now, one lucky reader can win a copy of the U.S. edition of The Devil's Star, courtesy of the good people at HarperCollins. I'll read it first to see how it differs from the British edition, and then I'll send it to the first person with the correct answer to a skill-testing question. Harry Hole has a wise slacker of a rock and roll-loving cab driver friend named Øystein. You win The Devil's Star if you're the first to tell me the name of Øystein's favorite rock and roll band.
Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is the Rolling Stones. Congratulations to Iasa for sending in the right answer before the ink on this page was dry. Read Harry and Øystein's testy exchange about the Stones here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nesbø on news

The profession of which I am a part has cropped up twice this weekend in my crime reading. First, Dan Waddell writes about the excesses of English tabloids and the non-action of Home Secretary Jack Straw in a notorious real-life murder case. (Jack Straw used to be my favorite political name until Philadelphia elected Michael Nutter mayor.)

Then Jo Nesbø's The Snowman offers an amusing swipe at newspapers' moral pretensions and a more probing examination of television. Here's the first, as reporters besiege Oslo police headquarters

"Mumbling among themselves that the police had to acknowledge their responsibility to keep the general public informed about such a serious, shocking and circulation-increasing matter."
Later Nesbø has protagonist Harry Hole appear on Norway's leading talk show to discuss the killer and turn the show into something like Harvey Pekar's appearances with David Letterman. That television manipulates truth and reduces everything to entertainment and morally neutral "content" goes without saying, though Nesbø says it well. What I like best, though, is that he captures that ghastly attraction of the insidious medium.

"`Jesus,' she heard the producer wheeze behind her. And then, `Jesus bloody Christ.' Oda just felt like howling. Howling with pleasure. Here, she thought. Here at the North Pole. We aren't where it happens. We are what happens."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

E-reading in NI

I didn't know when I proofread Garbhan Downey's The American Envoy that the book was something of a landmark in Northern Ireland publishing.

Downey says Guildhall Press is the first Northern Irish publishing house to issue a novel simultaneously in Kindle and printed form and possibly the first in all of Ireland.

In an article he wrote for Verbal: The NI Literary Review, under a headline I'd have been happy to write ("Don't fear the reader"), he's sanguine about a technology and possible business model that have some readers, authors and publishers apprehensive.

To wit:
"Finally, and very importantly, it looks that e-publishing could be good news for writers. Some authors have already negotiated between 50 and 75 percent of the royalties to their digitised books – as opposed to the eight to 15 percent they get from printed volumes.

"In addition, publishing houses will be more inclined to recruit and develop new talent on an “e-book only” basis, as the financial risk to them is much lower.

"And of course, your work can be dispatched instantly to readers across the planet, without any additional cost or haggling with distributors. Just try getting a single US chain to take one hundred copies of your hardcopy novel. You could literally drown in the paperwork."
I was especially interested in the last paragraph. You've seen the debates elsewhere about e-readers. Here I'll ask you to think about what electronic publishing means for books beyond borders, for reading translated work and other literature from outside your own country.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Detectives between covers

Maxim Jakubowski, that man of exquisite sensibilities and wearer of many crime-fiction hats, is putting me in a book.

Following the Detectives, out from London's New Holland Publishers this fall, is a collection of essays about cities and regions around the world and the fictional detectives who bring them to life. I wrote the essays on Arnaldur Indriðason's Iceland and Andrea Camilleri's Sicily, and let me tell you, that was not the most onerous work I've ever had to do. My fellow contributors include a bunch of people you ought to know, read and admire:

Boston: Michael Carlson
Brighton: Barry Forshaw
Chicago: Dick Adler and Maxim Jakubowski
Dublin: Declan Burke
Edinburgh: Barry Forshaw
Florida: Oline Cogdill
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
Southern California: Michael Carlson
Sweden: Barry Forshaw
Venice: Barry Forshaw
Washington, D.C.: Sarah Weinman

A dummy and sample pages will be on view at the London Book Fair next month, should you happen to be in the neighborhood, and Maxim says the book will be out in early autumn. Your Christmas shopping just got easier.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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What makes a novel worth reading?, Part II

I made a post two months ago called What makes a novel worth reading? about two lines from John Lawton's A Little White Death.

Here's another such bit, this time from Jo Nesbø's The Snowman. Harry Hole and his colleagues are discussing a character who has been seen near the notorious Hotel Leon:
"They have small rooms which are officially hired out by the day, but in practice on an hourly basis. Black money. Customers don't exactly ask for a receipt. But the hotel owner, who earns the most, is white."

... Skarre grinned at Hagen. "Strange that Bergen Sexual Offences Unit should suddenly be so well up on Oslo brothels."

"They're the same everywhere," Katrine said. "Want a bet on anything I said?"

"The owner's a Paki," Skarre said. "Two hundred kronerooneys."


"OK," Harry said, clapping his hands. "What are we sitting here for?"

The owner of the Leon Hotel was Børtje Hansen, from Solør, in the east, with skin as greyish white as the slush the so-called guests brought in on their shoes ...
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

A delicious way to spend your hard-earned pounds

It's funny, it's Ireland, it's America, and I'll be embarrassed if there are any typos in it.

Buy it here or here, and read what Detectives Beyond Borders has had to say about the author here (scroll down after clicking.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Youth is served, but will it pick up the check?

I've twice cited bits of rueful wisdom from Jo Nesbø's novels. In Nemesis, Harry Hole asks his cab driver friend Øystein if he might want to return to his old career:

Øystein shook off internal laughter as he ran the tip of his tongue along the paper. "Annual salary of a million and a quiet office – of course, I could do with that, but I've missed the boat, Harry. The time for rock 'n' roll guys like me in IT is over."
Two passages in The Redeemer have Hole musing on the passage of time, invoking the ephemeral excitement of punk music and the fading appeal of a classic rock and roll album.

Perhaps because Nesbø and I are about the same age, I find these passages attractive. They're welcome respite from corporate- and media-driven youth and technology worship. Hole is reflective, I think, without descending into maudlin, hard-bitten cliché.

Such maturity is evident as well in The Snowman, fifth of the Hole novels to be translated into English. This time Harry recalls a television producer who wants him as an expert spokesman on an interview show:

She had been good-looking in a boring, young way, had talked in a boring, young way and had eyed Harry hungrily ...
One might object that Nesbø shows rather than tells; what exactly is "a boring, young way"? But the passage is about Harry, not about the young woman, and it says much about how he sees the world.

Now it's your turn. Tell me how you think youth is overrated. What are your favorite examples of maturity, introspection and self-knowledge in crime fiction?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Irish writing sucks not in the least

The Irish are proverbially humorous; famine, bloody civil war and murderous sectarian hatred will do that, I guess. Here's Gypo Nolan after he has turned in Francis Joseph McPhillip (last seen in my previous post) in Liam O'Flaherty's The Informer and claimed the twenty pounds reward:

"How, for the first time, he realized the difficulty of making a plan without McPhillip. ... His brain got all in a tangle and he could make a beginning nowhere."
Hmm, maybe poverty, deprivation and bloodshed aren't the only reasons. Maybe Irish syntax has something to do with the occasional humorous effect of Irish English. Irish, according to Wikipedia, has no words for "yes" and "no," so must express negation in other ways. American or British English might express the boldface sentence above as "could not make a beginning" or "couldn't make a beginning anywhere."

"Could make a beginning nowhere" is structured like a little joke, the unexpected payoff ("nowhere") coming at the end, like a good punch line, working its magic by overturning the expectation generated by what had gone before. The context is not humorous, but the sentence still has a surprising effect. That's my theory, anyway. Now, talk me out of it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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The Informer

A serendipitous visit to a fine old bookstore this weekend turned up that fine old Irish crime novel, Liam O'Flaherty's The Informer, in a sturdily bound edition at an attractive price.

I liked O'Flaherty's 1928 novel The Assassin for its spare prose and harrowing exploration of solitary psyches (even though Wikipedia's article on O'Flaherty does not mention the book). It looks like more of the same from The Informer, published in 1925 and the basis for the 1935 movie of the same name by O'Flaherty's cousin John Ford.

Why keeps a crime novel from the 1920s fresh in 2010? Maybe it's the unsparing psychology. Maybe it's the unsentimental politics. And maybe it's the no-nonsense descriptions and action, full of concrete nouns and verbs, sparing with the adjectives.

Then he turned about. He crouched against the angle of the doorway and peered around the corner of the wall, up the lane through which he had just come. He wanted to find out whether anybody was following him. He was a murderer.

Writing like that doesn't get old.

(Did Irish storytellers from the twentieth century have a predisposition for tales of men on the run in their own land? The country's history makes the proposition plausible. Click here for a recent post about another such tale, though by a British author.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Catarella highlight reels

Here's a special treat for lovers of Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels and stories and the Italian television series based on them: a series of Catarella highlight reels. Pay special attention to video 5, in which the soft-hearted, language-mangling Catarella turns hero.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Peter Temple speaks

A big hat tip to reader Pat Miller for pointing me to this televised interview with Peter Temple.

"Books choose you," Temple tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Kerry O’Brien. "The genre chooses you rather than the other way around."

Why crime? O'Brien asks.

"Because I like strong stories, I like narratives, I like characters who have some reason to get up in the morning and also because they're involved with the the world. ... It's the inwardness of the literary novel that escapes me."

Read a partial transcript here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Gli arancini di Montalbano

I haven't read the short story, as yet untranslated into English, on which this episode of the Italian Commissario Montalbano television series is based, but in some ways it's the most faithful to its source of the six I've seen.

One strength of Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels is their consistent articulation of a set of themes, and this episode, based on the story "Gli Arancini di Montalbano" ("Montalbano's Croquettes") highlights some of the most important.

Its politics duplicate Camilleri's political barbs. It weaves a comic dilemma through the tale, at each step heightening the humorous stakes for the harried protagonist. Most important, it captures the poignance of the series' best books. Resolution of its central crime reminds me, as especially poignant crime stories will, of the famous line from Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game: "You see, in this world, there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons."

Watch the climactic scene, without subtitles, of "Gli Arancini di Montalbano" here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Death in Brooklyn

He's a jovial fellow, but I've long associated Reed Farrel Coleman with death. Coleman talks about how witnessing a death in the street influenced his writing, and he told a Bouchercon 2009 panel that "I find nothing funny about murder."

This doesn't mean his fiction is devoid of deadpan wisecracks, but none is about death, dying or killing. Soul Patch, the fourth of Coleman's Moe Prager mysteries, offers this somber flight of imagination on how we deal with death and how things might be different:
"When everyone was gone, the three of us stood around watching the backhoe driver unceremoniously dumping bucketfuls of dirt on Larry's coffin. Got me thinking about how disconnected we were from death. It was easy to blame drugs, movies, TV, and video games for violence and the devaluation of human life. Bullshit! The real culprit was the lack of intimacy with death. When you're unfamiliar with death, you're disrespectful of life. No one dies in his or her bed anymore. ... Why should any of us respect death when we make it as remote as the mountains of the moon? I have often wondered whether it would be a little harder for a killer to pull the trigger or shove the blade in a second time if he had washed his dead brother's body or dug his mother's grave. What if he had watched his dad die an inch at a time from cancer and sat by the deathbed day after day after day? What if there was no church, no funeral home, no hospital, no way to pass the responsibilities of death off to strangers. How much harder would murder be?"
Kind of a serious flip side to John Lennon's "Imagine," isn't it?
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Break the chains

A friend and I visited a local Barnes & Noble last night looking for the Library of America volumes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Unavailable, my friend was told, because Barnes & Noble carries no hardcover classics other than those it publishes itself.

Didn't Congress step in years ago when American movie studios monopolized production, distribution and exhibition of movies? How is the refusal by one of the country's two major chains to carry a respected line of books any different?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010