Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fred Vargas in my newspaper ...

... not here and now also online! My review of Vargas' latest novel, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, appears in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

My two-part interview with Vargas earlier this month expanded on questions touched on in the review. No surprise there; The Ghost Riders of Ordebec was what made me want to interview her in the first place. Vargas uses her much-ballyhooed quirkiness to good advantage in the book, and she offers a fine explanation for that quirkiness in the interview.

Thanks to Paul Davis for letting me know the review had turned up online.

In the meantime, I've finished reading Barry Cunliffe's Britain Begins and started his Europe Between the Oceans. It's refreshing to read stories told on such a large scale, combining hard science and informed speculation, told by a master of his subject who is unafraid to admit when the existing state of knowledge simply does not permit a question to be answered.  The man can write, too, and his story is as exciting as any tale of aliens or lost Atlantises, but without the looniness and the unsavory preying on the gullibility of the weak-minded.

Cunliffe takes the longue durée approach to history. That is, he focuses on long-term environmental and geographical structures that underlie and outlast wars, migrations, and other such events of traditional history.  The term longue durée is associated with the Annales School of French historians, coined by Fernand Braudel, author of The Identity of France, the three-volume Civilization and Capitalism, and others.

Among the great man's translators was Sian Reynolds, who, when not translating some of the most influential historical writing of the twentieth century, translates the crime novels of — Fred Vargas.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Occasional Irregularity

I've read lots of descriptions of men who spend too much time in bars. If you read crime fiction, you have, too. Here's how Kevin McCarthy handles the motif in Chapter One of his novel Irregulars:
"...a Player's Navy Cut burning down in his fingers, a fairy mound of shredded betting slips in front of him on the bar, five or six pints in an afternoon and sometimes more of an evening. Not doing the dog on it, as the saying does, but supping enough to damp down the nightmares that still come to him, even now, in his new life as a conscript in Dublin's vast army of thrifty, jobless bachelors. It is an army marching on bacon sandwiches, tinned stew and beans heated on single-ring gas burners in damp digs and back bedrooms; an army barracking in pubs and betting shops; convalescing in the Carnegie library, weary foot-soldiers obliterating the days and hours alongside snuffling, time-killing comrades."
That's nice, isn't it, the sympathetic, though lightly mocking invocation of the military perhaps hitting especially hard given the novel's setting in Dublin in 1922, around the outbreak of the Irish Civil WarIrregulars could be one of those crime novels, along with Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels or McCarthy's own Peeler, or, if you consider it crime, Ronan Bennett's Havoc in its Third Year, that tell a fine story while making you feel the history in your bones.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Win books by a couple of Irish guys — We have a winner!

During and after Crimefest 2013 in Bristol, I collected, among other books, the latest novels by Kevin McCarthy and William Ryan. Within days of returning home, I received by mail, among other books, the latest novels by Kevin McCarthy and William Ryan.

That promotional largesse can now win you the books, as I'll send the extra copies to the first readers who correctly answer these skill-testing questions:

  1. McCarthy's novels are set amid the agonizing birth of the modern Irish state. The first is titled Peeler. What is a peeler? Win a copy of McCarthy's new book, Irregulars.
  2. Ryan's books, set in mid-twentieth-century Soviet Russia, include a notable real-life Russian writer as a character. Who is that writer? Win Ryan's The Twelfth Department. 
That didn't take long, did it? One reader in California knew both that peelers are police in Northern Ireland (named for Sir Robert Peel, whose first name became the colloquial name for police in England: bobbies.), and that Isaac Babel is a character in William Ryan's novels. Congratulations. Thanks to you, two Irish guys are smiling, and I save postage by sending two books to one place.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Unmitigated Cunliffe

Relaxing in the corporate-affiliated café of a chain bookstore, having lined up with people ordering 24-ounce ventis.

I'm here browsing more Barry Cunliffe, whose book Britain Begins continues to offer a stimulating, plausible account of the peopling of Great Britain. Among the results of the population movements are those great Neolithic monuments I love to visit. (Call me old-fashioned, but part of me feels the world has been going straight to hell since the onset of the Bronze Age.) A summary chronology: Barrows came first, then passage graves, then the circular "henges," one of which you might know. Historical context only enhances the monuments' power to inspire awe. I now half-expect to visit examples in the Orkneys for next year's pre- or post-Crimefest trip.

Cunliffe also redeems himself for his earlier misuse of mitigate with this entertaining passage:
"The basis of subsistence was now much broader and much more reassuring than in past times, when survival depended on unmitigated reindeer eked out by horse meat."
I don't know about you, but I find unmitigated reindeer beguiling, not least for the images it conjures of Neolithic children complaining: "Reindeer again? This stuff sucks!" Cunliffe's correct use of eke out is a bonus.

All is forgiven, professor.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Goddamnit! plus thoughts on Barry Cunliffe

Barry Cunliffe is a wide-ranging scholar, an eminent archaeologist, a stimulating thinker, and a fluent and engaging writer. But he (or his editors) doesn't know what mitigate means. Here's a sentence from Britain Begins, his history of the peopling of Britain and Ireland, boldface mine:
"A genetically conditioned predisposition to be mobile is, however, balanced by a sense of territoriality which mitigates against wandering."
I knew a professor at the Univerity of Pennsylvania who similarly misused mitigate for militate. Mitigate means to ease, mollify, or alleviate: A nip of schnapps mitigated the surgery's painful aftereffects. Militate means to have an effect, to weigh (against), or, loosely, to conspire or work (against): His insistence on correct word usage militates against the possibility that he will ever be promoted. Militate takes a preposition (against). Mitigate does not.

I don't know what Cunliffe's copy editor was doing the day that sentence came across his or her desk. Dreaming of citizen journalism, self-publishing, and the benefits of overthrowing gatekeepers, maybe.

Cunliffe, meanwhile, is even more impressive than I thought. I'd known of his work on the big-picture issue of population origins, but he's also a nuts-and-bolts archaeologist. I have just learned that he was involved in excavating Fishbourne Roman Palace in England, one of the most moving, because most human, of all Roman remains. This knowledge mitigates, if only slightly, my annoyance at his book's misuse of a word.
What misuses of words have driven you nuts in your reading?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

City of Bohane: A review

City of Bohane, Kevin Barry's first novel and recently the winner of a big Irish literary prize,  is urban fantasy without the fantastic, post-apocalyptic without the apocalypse, science fiction without the science, medieval without the Middle Ages, Blade Runner with blades—lots and lots of deadly blades, called here shkelps.

The book, in outline about nostalgia, gang warfare, romance, a wandering native's return, and lots and lots of really bitchin' clothes, may remind you of James Ellroy or A Clockwork Orange or West Side Story or Irish myths or even, in its occasional repetition of a phrase or odd paragraph division, Ken Bruen. Its language is high-energy, dialect-filled, and it would not shock me if Barry sneaked a made-up word or two into the novel's litany of Irish slang.

Add Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest to a list of possible antecedents to this book, only a Red Harvest in which the Continental Op gave up and went home, instead of letting Poisonville's gangs wipe each other out.

But the novel's real appeal is to the senses, with its fetid streets, chill air, lashing wind, and flickering camp fires.  This is not, in other words, like most novels or any novel you're likely to have read recently, whether your preferred reading is crime, fantasy, or literary. I wonder what Barry will do for a follow-up.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Akashic to publish Belfast Noir

Photos by your humble blogkeeper
In the best news out of Belfast since the Titanic Van Morrison, Akashic Books is adding Belfast Noir to its "City Noir" crime-fiction series.

Confirmed contributors include Glenn Patterson, Eoin McNamee, Garbhan Downey, Lee Child, Alex Barclay, Brian McGilloway, Ian McDonald, Colin Bateman, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Claire McGowan, Tammy Moore, Lucy Caldwell, Sam Millar and Gerard Brennan, with Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville as editors who I hope will contribute stories as well.

It's the world's best crime writing in one place, and you can read it in 2014. Learn more at McKinty's place.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Benjamin Black is history, and so can you

John Banville signing
at Gutter Bookshop,
Dublin. Photo by your
humble blogkeeper
One of the last sights I saw in Dublin last week was John Banville signing books for a crowd that I'd guess was mostly Banville fans but had turned out on the occasion of a book he wrote as Benjamin Black.

Holy Orders is the sixth novel in Banville/Black's series about Quirke, a police pathologist in 1950s Dublin, and Black showed that he has his historical-novelist head screwed on right.

"Rome was our capital" in the 1950s, Banville told interviewer Olivia O'Leary at Smock Alley Theatre, Ireland's politicians taking their cue from the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, he said, he refuses to give his characters the benefit of hindsight. They don't know what the church is doing to them, and they — or Quirke, at least — can't learn from it. No characters spouting reassuringly progressive sentiments here, and the gap between what the characters know and what the readers know is a nice source of tension.

Here's part of what I wrote about the fourth Quirke novel, A Death in Summer:
"John Banville distinguishes between the artistic pleasure he derives from the literary novels he writes under his own name and the craftsman’s pleasure he gets from the crime fiction he writes as Benjamin Black. This makes it fair to ask a craftsman’s questions of the Black books: How well do the parts fit together? How smoothly does Black execute them? Are they beautiful? Do they work? Does the finished product perform the functions essential to an object of its kind?"
Get all the answers in the complete review, which appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

With Banville's remark about characters and hindsight in mind, what must a contemporary author do to make historical fiction work? 

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When Jim (Thompson) read Ross (Macdonald)? plus a question for readers

Ross Macdonald got so excited one day in 1952 that he dropped his commas. A year later, another writer had a character express his opinion of that sort of thing. Please welcome Macdonald's "The Imaginary Blonde" and Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me:
"The blankness coagulated into colored shapes. The shapes were half human and half beast and they dissolved and re-formed, dancing through the eaves of my mind to dream a mixture of both jive and nightmare music. A dead man with a furred breast jumped out of a hole and doubled and quadrupled. I ran away from them through a twisting tunnel which led to an echo chamber. Under the roaring surge of the nightmare music, a rasping tenor was saying ..."
And here's Thompson's Lou Ford:
"In lots of books I read, the writer seems to go haywire every time he reaches a high point. He'll start leaving out punctuation and running his words together and babble about stars flashing and sinking into a deep dreamless sea. And you can't figure out whether the hero's laying his girl or a cornerstone. I guess that kind of crap is supposed to be pretty deep stuff—a lot of the book reviewers eat it up, I notice. But the way I see it is, the writer is just too goddam lazy to to his job."
Who's right, the psychologist or the psychopath?  How has description of lowered or heightened states of consiousness changed in crime ficiton since the 1950s?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Myths and misses in Ireland

He was around when the myths were real.
Bog body ("Gallagh Man"), National
Museum of Ireland
, Dublin. Photo by
your humble blogkeeper.
I brought back with me from Ireland Lady Gregory's celebrated collection of Irish mythology. Its early stories, presumably taken from The Book of Invasions, offer marvelous deeds, a flair for drama, conventional numeric denominations (lots of nines and three times fifties), a bit of humor, and some good poetry amid their telling of the peopling of Ireland.

They also include the following, and I wonder if you will notice the same feature I did that distinguishes this from other tales of ancient battles:
"And three days after the landing of the Gael, they were attacked by Eriu, wife of Mac Greine, Son of the Sun, and she having a good share of men with her. …

"It was in that battle Fais, wife of Un, was killed in a valley at the foot of the mountain, and it was called after her, the Valley of Fais. And Scota, wife of Miled, got her death in the battle, and she was buried in a valley on the north side of the mountain near the sea. … And Eriu was beaten back to Tailltin, and as many of her men as she could hold together; and when she came there she told the people how she had been worsted in the battle, and the best of her men had got their death."
An episode or two from the myths struck me as ripe for treatment as crime stories. See the short-story collection Requiems for the Departed (Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone, eds.) for evidence that old Irish myths can inspire new Irish crime writers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Keeping one's hair in Dublin, plus books I got at Crimefest

Left: Sculpture,
Archaeological Museum

 Morbihan, Vannes, Brittany. 
Above: View from the rear
 of my guesthouse, Gardiner
Street Lower, Dublin. All photos
 by your humble blogkeeper.
I opened two packages of books yesterday that I'd shipped home from Crimefest, and I must be a nice guy because I sent myself some good stuff. Among the highlights:
  1. Betrayal, by Giorgio Scerbanenco. This is a new translation of a novel by the master of Italian noir. Its previous English translation was released in the 1960s as Duca and the Milan Murders.
  2. The Killing Way, by Anthony Hays. A mystery set in Arthurian Britain might not ordinarily be my cup of tea, but this looks low on sorcery and faux-Celtic wiftiness, and high on low-down, dirty political intrigue.
  3. The Saint and Mr Teal, by Leslie Charteris, included in my book bag, talked up by panelist Zoë Sharp, and published in a handsome new trade paperback edition. Includes an entertaining tribute to P.G. Wodehouse in one character's name.
Because everyone else is doing it?
When the crew announced itself for my Aer Lingus flight from JFK to Dublin, I first produced my pistol, and I then produced my rapier. Then I realized that Farrell was not, in fact, the captain of the plane but merely a crew member, so I stowed my musical weapons under the seat in front of me and restored my seat back and tray table to their full upright and locked positions.

Muiredach's High Cross
(detail), Monasterboice,
County Louth, Ireland
Speaking of tunes one just might hear in Temple Bar of a Saturday or any other evening, I love the song, but, unless you're Luke Kelly reincarnated, could we vary the repertoire a bit, lads?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

passage grave,

Loughcrew, County
Meath, Ireland

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stoned in Carnac

(All photos by your humble
To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, extremism in the defense of buckwheat crepes filled with Merguez sausage, egg, onions, and salad is no vice. I spent four nights in Carnac and ate the above-named delicious local specialty for dinner the last three. A butter-and-sugar crepe with lemon and orange zest for dessert is no slouch, either.

Here's a last bit of Brittany, from before I got on the rocky road to Dublin, though the rocks were in France.

The first two photos below depict the celebrated Grand Menhir Brisé at Locmariaquer, one head-on, the other a lateral view. Want an idea of how big this 6,700-year-old megalith is — and of how imposing it must have been before its collapse thousands of years ago? Note the groundskeeper standing between two of the fragments in the second photo.

Bizet Breizh!

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Friday, June 14, 2013

"A detective novel belongs to the great family of tales, legends, myths": The Fred Vargas Detectives Beyond Borders interview, Part 2

In the conclusion of her interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, Fred Vargas gets inside protagonist Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg's head. She discusses the origin of Adamsberg's name and says detective stories are really myths and tales. (This may explain her penchant for quirky characters.) She discusses her abiding love for secondary characters, reveals that Lt. Violette Retancourt arose from the dead, and finally, shares the joys and agonies of writing a character who insists on recurring, book after book.

(Read Part I of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas.)
Detectives Beyond Borders: You told L’Express newspaper that “Adamsberg is not a man of intuition.” Why do so many reviewers say otherwise? 

Fred Vargas: I don’t like excessively simple definitions of an human being, real or invented. It is not this adjective I would choose for him (but you know, I still don’t know Adamsberg totally. Sometimes he gets on my nerves — too slow — sometimes he surprises me, and so on.) I would rather say, I suppose, that this awakened dreamer has more possibilities than others of having the doors opened between his subconscious and conscious minds. That’s why, I suppose, ideas come to him in a strange manner. Also because he has an exceedingly strong visual memory.

DBB: Your novels are full of human marvels, the man who talks backwards in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, for example or Violette Retancourt. Where does this motif come from ? Why is it important to you? 

FV: I don’t know! I have never tried on purpose to create strange characters. But, once again, they come to me like this, they impose their personalities on me. So, I go with it, and sometimes, it may be fun. I suppose also that I am no fan of so-called «normality». 

DBB: One could interpret the name Adamsberg as Adam + berg, the German word for mountain. Adamsberg was born in a village in the Pyrénées. Is he the natural or original man who comes from the mountains? 

FV: That’s a good example. When I chose this name for him (I don’t especially like the sound of French names), I did research, I checked that no one had this name. I realized only later that it could signify «Adam’s berg», Adam’s mountain. And it isn’t at all, of course, a name from the Pyrénées. Original or natural? I would prefer «natural». What I surely wanted (and don’t ask me why!) is that he would be a man from the mountain. 

DBB: You write often about improvised families : the family in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, the protagonists of The Three Evangelists, Danglard without a wife but with five children whom he loves, Adamsberg and his son. Your novels remind me in this respect of Daniel Pennac’s novels, and maybe also of Michel Foucault, who would talk about new forms of family relations. Discuss, if you would, the role of families in your books, and why they appear so frequently. 

FV: Again, I must «discuss» the thing after the fact, because these strangely composed families come naturally. What is sure is that I don’t want to insert the normal day-after-day life in my novels. Not because I don’t like it, but because, from my instinctive (and intellectual) point of view, a detective novel belongs to the great family of tales, legends, myths, etc., and not to realistic literature. So I am not attracted, in a book, by usual families or situations. Too real. These groups enforce the sensation of writing a small, dreamed tale. 

DBB: You admire Ed McBain for having created eternal characters, who do not change from one novel to the next. How do you manage this with Adamsberg, Danglard, Retancourt while at the same time preserving their interesting, distinguishing characteristics? 

FV: Actually, I deeply admire Ed McBain (and James Crumley, and Donald Westlake and Kinky Friedman and so on) for the exceptional sound of his language. I appreciate encountering his characters, Meyer Meyer, Carella, Bert Kling, but that isn’t my main reason for reading him over and over. His music is. 

The problem with meeting the same characters book after book is a solid one, and I don’t know if it represents an advantage. My first three books introduced different characters each time. Adamsberg appeared in the fourth. Then I abandoned him for three books. Then he decided to come back. So you see that I hadn’t planed to create a recurring hero, (In fact, I had planed nothing. I just wanted, at the very beginning, to write one single book for fun.) 

Then other characters gathered around Adamsberg, important ones and the so-called «secondary ones». I am always sad to have to quit a secondary character at the end of a book (never to see Joss the fisherman again, or the old man who speaks to his sheep, etc.). At the beginning of Seeking Whom He May Devour, I was obliged to kill Suzanne. I realized I was sad to lose her in this way. She remained in my head; I had affection for her. That’s why I decided to make her live again afterwards, by creating Violette Retancourt — without knowing Retancourt would attain such importance (without my authorization). 

And so the group grows, and the more I know them, the more it seems to me painful to abandon them. It is as if I was going to lose old friends, friends I don’t yet know completely. I was puzzled by the Evangelists’ disappearance. That’s why, here and there, one of them reappears sometimes (Marc, or Mathias).

For one book, I decided to create a rival for Adamsberg; I introduced Veyrenc, who would have to leave the scene at the end of the book. In the end he stayed. So you see that I have never had the ambition to create an «unforgettable hero». It is just that I can’t forget them, or they don’t want to let me in peace. It is a link, a real link. But it is difficult, a challenge: how to describe Adamsberg again and again, from book to book, without repeating the same sentences, using the same words. Not easy at all!
(Read Part I of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kells and other books on my last day in Dublin

Sign at the Gutter Bookshop
(above); Shane MacGowan
mural, Adair Lane (right);
Bachelors Walk reflected
in the River Liffey from the

O'Connell Bridge (below). 
Photos by your humble
I spent part of my last day in Dublin looking at the Book of Kells, part listening to John Banville at the Smock Alley theatre, part buying books at the Gutter Bookshop, part drinking cider at the Palace Bar, and part cursing my impending return to Philadelphia and work.

Banville took questions from Olivia O'Leary in an interview to be broadcast on RTÉ Radio, then crossed the street to the Gutter to sign copies of Holy Orders, his latest novel written as Benjamin Black and featuring Quirke, a pathologist in 1950s Dublin.

Banville talked about Quirke, about the Black books, and about the novels he writes under his own name. He also revealed (a revelation to me, at least) that he used to be a newspaper sub-editor, what the English and Irish call a copy editor. Banville and I, that is, share a profession, and I am therefore obligated henceforth to consider him a blood brother.

Jim Larkin
My purchases from the Gutter included Kevin Barry's City of Bohane which, it transpires, is now award-winning. I may read that on the plane home, or else the history of the GAA. Or maybe, so help me, Lady Gregory's collection of Irish mythology.

How does it feel to be back? Go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat! It's time to start planning my next trip.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fred Vargas: The Detectives Beyond Borders interview, Part I

Fred Vargas has won three CWA International Dagger Awards for best translated crime novel, and The Ghost Riders of Ordebec could win her and translator Sian Reynolds a fourth this year.

Vargas was born in Paris, trained as an archaeologist and historian, and is known best to crime-fiction readers for her novels about the Paris police commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his colleagues, novels that partake as much of the fairy tale as they do of the police procedural. 

In the first part of a two-part interview with Detectives Beyond Borders, Vargas talks about Algeria, about the overlap between her careers as author and scientist, about the real story behind her entirely positive trip to my native land, and about the careers of the title characters in The Three Evangelists. She prefaces her answers with remarks that shed light on her working methods (and, perhaps, on my overly analytical questions), and she quotes another notable figure famous under a name other than the one he was born with:
"Dear Peter Rozovsky, 
"First of all, I am afraid to disappoint you. As Woody Allen said: `I have no answers to your questions, but I have questions to your answers!' 
"I just want to say that I don’t control everything I do when I am writing novels. A large part of the story comes — or, better, imposes itself — during the writing, and takes me along unforeseen ways that I am obliged to follow. Ways where I can meet characters that I had not envisaged previously, for example the old woman, Léone, whom Adamsberg meets in the path in the forest at the beginning of The Ghost Riders of Ordebec. And there it goes. In a way, I don’t have great freedom, because the book and the words want to decide (except for the sound). 
"So, it is difficult for me to `explain' everything, and you will be probably disappointed by my answers!"
Happily, she is wrong. Enjoy the interview. (And read Part II.)

Detectives Beyond Borders: The dead father in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec was a torturer in Algeria, a sadist but at the same time a wounded victim of that war. What do Algeria – and the word torture – mean for France and the French in 2013? For you as an author of crime novels?

Fred Vargas: Not as an author of crime novels. What the French army did in Algeria, the torture, remains a great shame for a large part of us. It can’t be and musn’t be forgotten, even if I was a child during this war.

DBB: You call the young fire starter in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec so frequently by the diminutive «Mo» that it’s a surprise when someone calls him by his real name: Mohammed. Why did you do this?

FV: Well, when I present a new character, I don’t say if he or she is white or black or Asiatic. I don’t mention his or her religion, either. So everybody thinks, instinctively, «OK, he or she is white and «classical» (Christian or without any faith). But this is not certain!!! Do we know if Danglard, Retancourt, others, come from Christian or Jewish families, for example? No. And I don’t mind. If I explained, in the beginning, that Mo had Arabic origins, I would single him out. Why should I do that? Mo is Mo, first of all.

In fact, a presentation of his origins would be a form of pre-racism, a sort of discrimination, and I hate that, especially now, with our toxic climate here against French people of Arab origin, the new so-called enemies. OK, he is Mo, as Adamsberg is Adamsberg. Later, the reader will understand why his origin will help transform him into an ideal culprit. But that his name is Mohammed does not imply that he practices the Muslim religion or believes in God. We don’t know that.

DBB: The title characters in The Three Evangelists are historians, one of prehistory, one of the Middle Ages, one of World War I. Why those three historical periods.

FV: I am an archaeologist myself. I specialized in the Middle Ages, but I also studied the prehistoric period. And my eldest brother is an historian, too, one of the foremost specialists in the First World War. It was an obvious pleasure for me to play with these professions I know very well.

DBB: I was born in Montreal, and I appreciated the tension, the jokes, and the linguistic misunderstanding between the French and the Quebecois in Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand. Why did you send Adamsberg and his team to Quebec in that book ? If you have visited Quebec yourself, did you experience tension of this kind?

FV: Again, a disappointment for you, with a very simple answer: I am not a great traveler, but I have been to Quebec twice. So, as I wanted to go out of Paris, out of France, I placed the action there, where I had been fascinated by the kindness of people, the great beauty of landscapes. I know the small, ancient path across the forest along the Outaouais River. And I was also very interested in the differences between languages from Quebec and France.

Tensions? Not at all, never. Often, with friends, we laughed together about our different expressions. After the publications, there were some people from Quebec who criticized these jokes about language, thinking that I was mocking them. I was sad about this misunderstanding and wrote an article in Le Devoir to explain that it was respect and curiosity.

DBB: The plague plays an important role in Have Mercy on Us All. You have done research on the plague. What is the relationship between your two careers, as a historian and as an author? What does each take from the other?

FV: I assumed over the years that there was no link between my two jobs. Writing detective stories was a way to forget in a small way the hard scientific work during holidays. But little by little, I understood that, probably, my passion for resolving things, problems, for finding the truth, was at the very heart of the two jobs.

In any case, I try not to exaggerate when I use some historical or zoological knowledge in a book. It must remain a detective story, not become a historical one with lessons and everything boring. I had worked seven years to resolve the plague’s epidemiology, and I was tempted to use this great disease as a symbol of a great fear in a novel, so I did. But as I said, it is not me who choose my ideas, unfortunately, it is the ideas which choose me. And the ideas said : «Well, put the plague in this book.» And I answered : «OK.» I write my scientific papers and books in a very different manner, of course. But even there, I try not to lose the reader’s interest.
(Read Part II of the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Fred Vargas.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

All I could drink with the author of All You Can Eat

But first, a pint or two with Kevin McCarthy, whose novel Peeler I liked so much a few years ago. That affable, insightful author talked about Ireland, about America, about the American city where we both lived at the same times years ago (I was the quiet one on the Green Line) and, before I knew it, I had a copy of his second book, Irregulars, in my book bag.

Peeler, I wrote:
"performed one of those acts of alchemy that always leave me in awe: It conveyed not just the facts of the novel's historical setting (the founding years of the Free State of Ireland), but also the feeling: the rural and urban poverty in West Cork, the moral uncertainty, and aching nostalgia for a time very recently passed, before the shooting started, when life seemed much simpler."
So I am excited to have Irregulars, and I'll keep you posted.

Then Kevin and I hied to the Porterhouse (I took a pint of the plain to keep my heart from sinking) to meet Ed O'Loughlin, who slapped his latest book into my hands. I had not heard of O'Loughlin before, but he was nominated for the Booker Prize, and he was smart enough to quit journalism when he looked around and found that the world's corps of foreign correspondents had been been slashed and cut and decimated to the point where it could fit comfortably into a snug at any bar in Ireland and still hear its lonely voices echoing off the walls.
Speaking of Irish authors new to me, Declan Burke has been throwing new names into the ring of late over at his Crime Always Pays, and no one knows more about Irish crime writing than Declan, even though he's sometimes too modest to show it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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