Thursday, October 25, 2012

Books to Die For, Part I

I've begun my reading of Books to Die For with the essays by Scott Phillips on Charles Willeford, Adrian McKinty on Patricia Highsmith, John McFetridge on Trevanian, Mike Nicol on James McClure, Qiu Xiaolong on Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, and Elmore Leonard on George V. Higgins.

In each case but one, the essay is by a crime writer whose work I've read and the subject is another crime writer (or writers) whose work I've also read. In that exceptional case, the setting of the novel under discussion is my home town, so I feel that I can bring multiple perspectives to all six essays.

Each of the six probably says at least as much about its author as about its subject, with the possible exception of Nicol's on The Steam Pig, first of James McClure's six Kramer and Zondi novels set in apartheid-era South Africa. I can think of no author whose work looms larger over his country's crime fiction than McClure's does over South Africa's. Perhaps it's no wonder, then, that Nicol's fine summation of the great McClure seems to me more self-effacing than the other essays I read.

Scott Phillips (lower left) simulates
a larcenous act as, from left,
John McFetridge, your humble
blogkeeper, and Declan Burke
look on. (If this were a newspaper

rather than a blog, McFetridge,
Y.H.B.K. and Burke would not
just be looking on but also
sharing a laugh.) 

Elsewhere, McFetridge on Trevanian's novel The Main offers the same keen eye for social history that I know from McFetridge's own books. And Scott Phillips' observation that Charles Willeford's heroes "cheat, brawl, lie, and seduce their way, unencumbered by notions of fair play, through a postwar American landscape Norman Rockwell never painted" reminded me of nothing so much as the unsentimental but very funny world of Phillips' own novels.

And now, as Bob Dylan said, the hour is getting late. So I'll leave you with the thought that I see no reason Books to Die For and its editors, Declan Burke and John Connolly, ought not to be considered for next year's Edgar, Dagger, and other crime fiction awards in the critical/non-fiction categories.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I am nearly finished with the book and have enjoyed it immensely because of the variety of ways the writers deal with their subject. Some of the essays are very personal (like Barclay)others more academic, some are chatty but each one is interesting. A fine book indeed.

October 25, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

I finished the book last week for a review, and loved it. It's something every serious devotee of crime fiction needs, and should want. Once you read it, you'll wonder how you got along without it.

October 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, there are no "must reads," but I certainly think anyone who reads crime fiction, in any of its subgenres, would enjoy this book.

October 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti, there's a wonderful variety, and I say that after having read just a few pieces. I like that the essays may get readers interested in both the authors who wrote the essays and the authors about whom they wrote.

October 25, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

Peter, John Connolly mentioned that at the launch, and I think you and he were dead on. I definitely lent more credence to those essays written by writers I know and respect, and I will be more likely to read things they recommended. The same applies in reverse: a writer who showed similar taste to mine in his essay may well be worth checking out.

October 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, the book is like a gourmet supermarket of crime fiction shopping. My approach to the essays is similar to yours, but there's at least one essay that I'll read because I'm curious about the subject. That's yet another attraction of the book.

Incidentally, I had heard of what may be one of the more obscure choices to American readers because I interviewed the essay’s author, Mehmet Murat Somer, a few years ago and asked him what crime writers he liked.

October 25, 2012  

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