Monday, August 22, 2011

The world's sanest crime-fiction protagonist?

Last week I mentioned protagonist Guido Guerrieri's midlife angst in Gianrico Carofiglio's A Walk in the Dark. Things are not going so well for Guerrieri in Involuntary Witness, the series' first book, either, but the angst is funnier.

Here's Guerrieri on his profession, that of a lawyer, or avvocato:
  • "[I]n my office, the routine went as follows: my secretary called me, in the presence of the person who urgently needed to see a lawyer. If I was busy -- for example, with another client -- I made them wait until I was finished.

    "If I was not busy, as on that afternoon, I made them wait all the same."
  • "People think that lawyers often have important meetings."
  • On a previous client, "a drug pusher for whom I had managed to negotiate a disgracefully light sentence."
I quite like the amused detachment of those passages. Naturally, Guido's wife leaves him, and 
For several months I lived a wild life ... I kept outlandish company, went to fatuous parties, drank too much, smoked too much and all that."
He can't bring himself to say the word psychiatrist, yet he persuades himself to visit one, who tells him:
"I must try to find distractions. I must avoid dwelling on myself. I must attempt to see the positive side of things and avoid thinking there was no way out of my situation. I must hand over 300,000 lire, there was no question of a receipt, and we'd meed in two months time for a check-up."
If that's not enough, when you see what Guerrieri does with the drugs the psychiatrist prescribes, you'll realize that has to be one of crime fiction's saner and more level-headed protagonists.
Gianrico Carofiglio will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?"  on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Anonymous kathy d. said...

OK, I say, carefully using AP's preferred spelling.

Carofiglio's first book was witty and compelling.

This post just makes the panel sound even better.

On who is the sanest crime fiction protagonist, I'd still say Guido Brunetti is the most stable,and has a good family life. He's not filled with angst, not morose, somewhat introspective, but not ruminating, as Erlendur or manic and whatever else Montalbano or alcoholic Harry Hole, et al.

August 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, maybe I should develop my own style book (or stylebook).

Guerrieri has problems, including the breakup of his marriage, but he's not crazy. That, I suspect, endears him to many readers. Perhaps I should ask who is the sanest crime-fiction protagonist not named Guido.

And yes, I am very much looking forward to his panel.

August 22, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Brunetti always seems to me unnaturally unemotional, particularly when it comes to his wife who irritates me immensely, the way she lectures him all the time. No normal man can possibly put up with that female. He also has a peculiar relationship with the toothsome secretary. He's been salivating for years without ever admitting it to himself.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've always liked that word, toothsome. Guido Guerrieri is subject to temptations, and we know he has yielded to them in the psat. But they don't drive him nuts. He's not flawless, just sane. And he is decidedly a hero in the old-fashioned mode, who wins in the end.

August 23, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Brunetti. . .particularly when it comes to his wife who irritates me immensely, the way she lectures him all the time. No normal man can possibly put up with that female.

Well, certainly no typical Italian man. Thank you, I.J.! I'm glad I'm not alone in feeling that way about that tiresome woman. A rather vulgar expression comes to mind to describe that poor guy.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hen-pecked, Elisabeth. You mean he's hen-pecked.

Meanwhile, I just gave one of Donna Leon's books to a colleague who says he and his wife are both reading the series. I see him across the room now. Shall I go share this discussion with him?

August 23, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Well, that wasn't the animal I was thinking of, but it will suffice and it's family-friendly to boot!

Actually, I'd be curious to know what draws a man to Leon's books. Most of the guys I know, hard-boiled mugs all, don't much care for her lightweight stuff. Is your colleague look like the er, uh, hen-pecked type? That is, does he have a hangdog expression, sloped shoulders, drink too much caffeine, say "Yes, dear" at too-frequent intervals, etc.?

If someone I knew were planning a trip to Venice, I'd recommend Michael Dibdin's Dead Lagoon before D. Leon.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, his shoulders are a bit sloped, but I think that's just because he's tall. And I've never met his wife.

In re non-Italians setting books in Italy, I'm finding much of interest in David Hewson's approach, which I'll probably write about in the next few days.

August 23, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, if any discussion is shared with friends, it has to also see the other side of the story.

I have two friends, a 50-year married couple who both read and LOVE Donna Leon's books and Guido and Paola Brunetti and we laugh over quotes.

They have gone to Venice and looked for Guido's haunts.

I adore their relationship.

I have seen very long-time marriages where one spouse, male or female is the more difficult, demanding spouse and the other one is either very patient and calm or "long-suffering." I've seen women put up with their partners' idiosyncracies and yelling and irritability and I have seen men live with difficult spouses -- for decades.

There are NO ideal marriages. Everyone is dealing with another person's idiosyncracies.

Many women here and in the world live with physically, emotionally and verbally abusive spouses for years and don't leave. A case in point: A friend's sister-in-law was for decades -- at least 6 -- was so dominated by her husband; he wouldn't even get a glass of water or cup of coffee without telling her to get it for her -- that she, who loved to read mysteries, would have to escape with her books to the bathroom and lock the door for some peace.

I have relatives married nearly 70 years ... both have strong opinions and speak their minds and argui, but neither could make it without the other.

In the scheme of things, I think Paola and Guido Brunetti are just fine. They love each other. If anyone reads Drawing Conclusions, her last book, you'll see him express how much he loves her and wants to be with her forever.

There are no idealized or fantasy marriages. Everyone in one is a real person with personalities and foibles.

August 23, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

Kathy: I couldn't agree with you more. I am very much taken with the relationship between Guido and Paola. She is, after all, a society dame - her father is a Count for goodness' sake. (Call me crazy but I like her parents.) She was probably used to having her own way all her life AND speaking her mind. I wish Donna Leon would write a prequel about how Guido and Paola met and fell in love originally.

Paola's penchant for Henry James (The Master) confuses the heck out of Guido but he puts up with it and her sometimes imperious ways. Why?
He loves her. She puts up with his cantankerousness (especially when it comes to his feelings about her mother and father) - why? She loves him.

She is too smart to have married a police officer and then expected him to change his ways for her. I think they have a very enlgightened relationship.

Well, as enlightened as marriage gets, anyway.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

Who is the sanest crime fiction protagonist not named Guido?

There are many of them:

Stanley Hastings
Elvis Cole
Jack Reacher
Thomas Pitt
Gideon Oliver
Melrose Plant
Mary Russell
Thomas Black
Archie Goodwin
Hercule Poirot
Miss Marple
Any one of the many Dick Francis' heroes
...and on and on.....

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good god, what ever happened to all the damaged protagonists?

August 24, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Guido Brunetto goes home every day for a fantastic lunch and dinner -- which would make Montalbano weep with envy -- made by Paola Brunetti. He enjoys the food, the wine and the conversation with her and his two teen-age children.

If he didn't do this, he would be incredibly miserable.

He gets a lot out of his relationship and family life. He'd be lost without it.

August 24, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Guido Guerrieri takes enviably long breaks, too, though he does not eat as well as Montalbano.

Inspector Maigret eats enviable meals prepatred at home by Mme. Maigret.

August 24, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Montalbano eats well, but his personal life is in shambles from start to finish. Or are we still only discussing protagonists named Guido?

Guido Guerrieri doesn't eat as well as Brunetti or Montalbano, but his life isn't centered around meals. He's thinking a lot of things through and trying to figure out his life, what he should be doing, how he fits in the scheme of things, his personal relationships.

Brunetti knows exactly where he is in life and is content. Montalbano is going through middle-aged crises all around, but as long as he gets his pasta, seafood and wine every day, he'll survive, although Catarella may be giving him high blood pressure and aggravation.

August 25, 2011  

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