Thursday, September 29, 2011

Martin Limón and Raymond Chandler?

I asked a few days ago how crime-fiction series change over time, using the first of Martin Limón's novels about U.S. Army investigators in Korea as a case in point.

I finished the book, Jade Lady Burning, last night, and I think I found one way Limón has changed: He shed some of Raymond Chandler’s influence as he found his own voice. Granted that every hard-boiled writer since Chandler has been compared to him, and that such comparisons can be glib and facile, I'd say they’re valid here.

The ride from Seoul into the countryside in Jade Lady Burning, the scenery changing from urban to thinly settled rural, is pure Chandler. The novel’s wistful ending has a whiff of Chandler about it as well, and co-protagonist/narrator George Sueño is a bit more the lone wolf here than he is in later books, when his colleague Ernie Bascom comes more to the fore.

Maybe Limón never borrowed from Chandler. Maybe he did, but unconsciously. But if he did use Chandler as a model, he did so effectively and well. And a remark that Limón made during our panel at Bouchercon 2011 demonstrated that he is highly conscious of his own efforts to find his voice.

Limón's publication history has closely paralleled American military involvement during the post-Cold War era, with spurts of books following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and then the second Iraq war. I suggested that interest in his military mysteries might have waxed and waned along with public interest in military news.

Nope, he said, the occasional gaps in his output (seven books in nineteen years) are due to his efforts over time to figure out how to be a novelist. I say that he’s gone a long way toward figuring out and that Chandler was part of the process.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Okay if I use this on Forgotten Books tomorrow?

September 29, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Be my guest, as long as you don't think a book published in 1992 (and about to be reuissed) is too recent to have been forgotten.

September 29, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I really like this about Limon, this pausing between books to figure out how to be a novelist. One should have that sort of respect for one's metier.

September 30, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Second what IJ said. Elmore Leonard says it takes decades of work to figure out a style. Other people say it takes 10,000 hours.

Give me the hesitant guy trying to get it right over the people who churn out book after book without any period of self reflection or heaven forbid self doubt.

September 30, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J. and Adrian: I did not follow the question up (it would have been difficult to do so n a one-hour panel with five authors that had to set aside time for audience questions). If I get Martin Limón on another panel, perhaps I could reintroduce the discussion.

In any case, his reply has me wanting to read the entire series. I started the second book yesterday.

September 30, 2011  

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