Saturday, January 14, 2012

History, humor and violence

How does an author of historical fiction evoke momentous events and famous names without growing turgidly self-important?

James R. Benn' s most recent Billy Boyle mystery, A Mortal Terror, opens with a giant wink to the reader that promises a fair bit of fun along with the human drama and military history: "Kim Philby owed me one."

That's a wonderfully disarming invocation of one of the twentieth century's most notorious celebrity spies.
Back in the American West, I've read a few more of Edward A. Grainger's Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles stories, and I can add pulp appeal to the reasons crime readers might like these Westerns:
"Cash cleared leather first and opened a dark hole in the rapscallion's forehead. A third blast came through the shattered door and then a stream of small fire joined in the dance."
"Miles rolled sideways, ignoring the pain, and popped the third man in the right eye, sending chunks of brain out the back of the man's head."
If you like Mickey Spillane's action but are leery of his politics, try some Cash Laramie!
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger Dana King said...

The Philby reference is a great beginning. What I like about books like that is they assume a certain historical awareness on the reader's part. I don't like to be spoon fed every aspect of a book. I'd rather not get a reference 00unless the book absolutely depends on me getting it--than have it explained too much.

Modern crime fiction is a logical extension of the Western, assuming we're talk about a realistic Western, and not a sanitized horse opera (which the Cash Laramie stories certainly are not). If DEADWOOD and UNFORGIVEN aren't noir, I don't know what is.

January 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, in Benn's case, such references adopt a refreshingly cheeky tone unusual for historical fiction. That tone, just what one would expect from a brash young protagonist fresh out of South Boston, is consistent throughout the books.

An introduction to one of the Cash Laramie books make what I take as an allusion to "Deadwood." I think it says something like it takes more than foul language to make a good, tough Western.

January 14, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I like some movie westerns, so I've always been interested in reading some, but SO much of the genre looks completely unlike what I would enjoy. Thanks for a good recommendation.

January 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

These stories could satisfy both Western traditionalists and crime readers who don't generally read Westerns, I'd guess.

What makes you leery of reading Westerns?

January 14, 2012  

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