Sunday, September 29, 2013

Props for Laukkanen, plus an aside on Bouchercon book bags

I've finished my first piece of post-Bouchercon reading, and it was good.

Owen Laukkanen's second novel, Criminal Enterprise, has me wanting to read his first, The Professionals, and his third, due out next year. Criminal Enterprise does some familiar crime-fiction tricks well, and it rings refreshing changes on others. It manages the considerable feat of keeping all its subplots interesting, and its twists are surprising but plausible.

I had heard of Laukkanen, but it was Eric Beetner's Noir at the Bar-style open readings at Bouchercon that got me reading him, and he's my top discovery of Bouchercon 2103 so far.
Don 't laugh, but the Bouchercon book bag, given to each attendee and containing programs, award ballots, and books, was pretty cool this year. After six years of attending conventions, I'll never need to buy a shopping, beach, or laundry bag again. But this year's model was shaped like a miniature duffel bag or an enlarged version of those old-time flight bags that airlines used to give passengers. It's perfect for carrying a computer, one's lunch, and a few books.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Noir poetry from Les Edgerton at Bouchercon

Les Edgerton
Of all the parade of writers who read from their work at Bouchercon 2013's author's choice sessions, Les Edgerton was the only one who read a poem.  His choice was the shortest of any author's and, for me, hit the hardest, with a verbal punch to the gut that noir stories ought to have.

With kind permission from the author and from Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, where the piece first appeared, here is "My Father and Robert Frost":
   One day I found a volume of poetry by Robert Frost in the prison library at Pendleton and checked it out.
   Back in my cell, I read: Home is the place where, when you want to go there, they have to take you in.
   When I made parole, I called my mom to tell her my good news. I found out that my dad had never read Robert Frost.
   At least not that poem. 
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bouchercon 2013: This was their finest panel; Perry on TV; Gerritsen on the fiddle

View from my Bouchercon hotel at night
I admit I was proud of the line with which I ended the short but informative introduction to my "World War II and Offspring" panel at Bouchercon 2013:
"And so, if Bouchercon and its panels last a thousand years, men will still look back and say, `This was their finest fifty-five minutes.'"
Anne Perry, Tess Gerritsen at guests-of-honor panel,
B'con 2013. Photos by your humble blog keeper.
I also liked what Anne Perry said when talk at Sunday's guests-of-honor panel turned to television. "When you watch TV," she said, "you get an endless array of gestures and faces."

I have not read Perry, but if I do, I'll look for signs of the concentration on expressions and gestures that television can provide. With all the talk about this being a golden age of television (The Wire, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad all got at least one mention at Bouchercon), and with all the talk of season-long story arcs and the doth-protest-too-much proclamations that, by God, this, that, or the other greatest television show ever is just like a novel, it was refreshing to be reminded that television is a visual medium. I like the way Perry's mind works.

Tess Gerritsen, pictured above with Perry, said during the same panel that she likes to play the Irish fiddle and sit in at traditional music sessions both at home and on visits to Ireland. Slainte, Tess.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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A nice scene from Bouchercon 2013

Authors Cara Black and J. Robert Janes
Photo by your humble blog keeper.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Owen Laukkanen and the Finno-Canadian crime fiction explosion: The first five pages

I've begun remedying an unfortunate dearth of Finno-Canadian crime writers in my reading background, and if Owen Laukkanen's second novel, Criminal Enterprise, is any guide, Finno-Canadian crime writing could be the next big thing.

I say that after having read just five pages, and even if the rest of the book falls short, that beginning proves conclusively that the man has chops.  The first chapter is a bank robbery carried out with crisp precision that ought to delight fans of Richard Stark's Parker novels, but its climax shows that Laukkanen can write fear. I don't mean cheap titillation, I mean the kind of fear that induces pity for the victim without the slightest hint of dirty voyeuristic titillation. Laukkanen is a little like Allan Guthrie that way.

Chapter Two begins with a brilliant, subtle bit of trickery on Laukkanen's part that plays on crime readers' genre expectations and will very likely resonate through the book. I can't reveal it here, so you'll have to read the book yourself. But do so soon. My patience won't last forever.
Laukkanen is one of the writers I met at the just-concluded Bouchercon 2013. There's more to Bouchercon than gin. Meeting, discovering, and mingling with new writers is really what it's all about.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Rizzoli and aisles

Boon companions Roger Ellory and Ali Karim
at the Pearl Street Diner, Albany
"They had happy lives, but the time comes to eat them."
Waitress of honor,
annual festive post-
Bouchercon dinner;
Albany, 2013

Tess Gerritsen said that at Sunday's guest-of-honor panel at Bouchercon 2013. She was talking about chickens, the organically raised ones she helps slaughter at her son's farm.
For those who thought I couldn't do it, I was up for breakfast before 8 a.m. five consecutive days at Bouchercon. The experience was invigorating. I'll have to try it again next year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

Scott Montgomery of Mystery People

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bouchercon Day 3: McFetridge and Lansdale; Laukkanen, King, and Anonymous-9

After Bouchercon
From the perspective of 6:20 p.m., Saturday's 8 o'clock breakfast with the people who put together Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine seems a disorientingly distant memory, so it's time for a revitalizing nap before dinner. (This is Bouchercon; everybody takes naps at Bouchercon.)
Ah, that's better.
Saturday's panel on villains included this from Joe R. Lansdale:
"You're pulling something out of yourself. ... You're trying to bring humanity to the villain."
"You shouldn't try to write people as villains to begin with.  You should write stories that unfold in a certain way."
And this from DBB friend John McFetridge, who said his villains:
"See themselves as breaking laws, but they see the laws as kind of temporary."
North flank of Empire State Plaza, whose conference
center is the home of Bouchercon 2013.
That was more than just a laugh line. McFetridge told of seeing university buildings named for Canadian brewers who made their money shipping beer into the United States during Prohibition, even altering the shapes of the bottles to make smuggling easier. The drug smugglers in his books, he said, fully expect one day to see the BC Bud School of Finance.
I bought novels by Owen Laukkanen and Anonymous-9 after hearing them read during Bouchercon's author's choice sessions, which concluded with Dana King's passionate and eloquent defense of Raymond Chandler's championing of conduct not merely heroic but honorable. King is a fine crime writer. He'd also make a good university lecturer, and I was proud to have had him as a member of my noir and hard-boiled panel earlier in the convention.

Ali Karim, Roger Ellory, and your humble blogkeeper.
(Photo by Ursula)
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bouchercon Day Two: Zines, scenes, and cannoli

Shaky photo by lunatic who claims to believe in
alien landings, or convention headquarters for
Bouchercon 2013? You decide. (Photos by your

humble blog keeper.)
Damn, I enjoy moderating Bouchercon panels. Today's session (noir and hard-boiled, with authors Eric Beetner, Mike Dennis, Dana King, Terrence McCauley, and Jonathan Woods) met all the criteria for a good panel: The laugh lines worked, the panelists were articulate, entertaining, and surprising, I learned things from them, and we ran out of time before I ran out of questions.

This panel was a bit different from previous sessions for which I'd served as moderator, since all five authors have published fiction in the e- and print zines and anthologies that have come to serve as today's Dime Detectives and Black Masks.  That meant that in addition to questions about each author's work, the panel included group discussion of publications such as Thuglit, Atomic Noir, Big Pulp, and Out of the Gutter, what such publications have meant to the authors' careers, and what they can mean to readers who seek crime fiction a bit out of the mainstream. Look for these writers, find out where their work appears, and investigate further.

Shamus Awards dinner: I left the gun,
but I took a picture of the cannoli.
This evening at the Shamus Awards dinner, I met Holly West, whose debut novel is to appear early next year. And that is the occasion for a tip of the hat to Susan Elia MacNeal, a member of my Thursday war panel whom I also met for the first time at this convention. Bouchercon is not all work, you know, and meeting new authors and talking about favorite books is always one of the highlights. West sets her writing in seventeenth-century England, and I was pleased to recommend to her Ronan Bennett's superb Havoc, in its Third Year.
Detectives Beyond Borders is seven years old today!

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Bouchercon Day One

Bouchercon HQ is part of a complex whose aspect is
part sci-fi. part Kim Il-Sung's mausoleum. But it bumps

up at its State Street edge against architecture from an
earlier AlbanyPhotos by your humble blogkeeper.
1) My first panel at Bcon 2013 went exceedingly well, and I will post details in the coming days as I consult my notes and catch up on lost slumber. Suffice it to say that we could easily have gone for two hours rather than one (one of the panelists said we could have done three). That was my "World War II and Sons" panel (with James R. Benn, J. Robert Janes, John Lawton, Martin Limón, and Susan Elia MacNeal), whose title I changed to "World War II and its Offspring," though not entirely for the reasons you might think.

2) A William Morrow panel on that company's new digital-first line of crime fiction helped me make some sense out of digital publishing. I don't think I heard anything I had not heard before, but it was the first time I had heard it all in one place. People are starting to talk less about e-publishing's potential to liberate the world or destroy it, and more about how to use it to publish good books.

3) Had a gin with Ali Karim and then had another. And for those who fondly remember the Hendrick's and Tonic Crime Convention Cost of Living Index™, a Hendrick's and tonic at the hotel bar in Albany costs $8.50, which means Albany scores a refreshingly low 59.7 on the HT3CLI.

4) Friday at 10:20, I moderate "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both," with Eric Beetner, Mike Dennis, Dana King, Terrence McCauley, and Jonathan Woods. so it's time to sleep the little sleep.
Bouchercon's combination book room/signing room/relaxation room.
If you, like me, had recently watched The Parallax Viewyou, like me,
would have glanced up at the ceiling, half expecting to hear the crack
of a rifle shot and see Warren Beatty's slumped form dead in the rafters.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Five Bouchercons in pictures and words, plus what I'll do at a sixth

Wandering bridesmaids;
Indianapolis 2009
Oh, sure, you probably think Bouchercon is fun. But I have three 7:30 a.m. breakfast appointments at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., which begins Thursday, and odds are I'll make at least one of them.
Your humble blog keeper
with morose Icelandic
crime writer Arnaldur
Indriðason; Baltimore

While I'm darning my socks and laying out my Sunday best, here are some photos from my five previous Bouchercons, courtesy of Anita Thompson, Ali Karim, and your humble blog keeper.

Your humble blog keeper
with ebullient American
crime writer Christa
Faust; Cleveland 2012

Ali Karim and Jon Jordan,
annual festive post-Bcon
dinner; Indianapolis 2009
This year I'll moderate two panels. On Thursday at 4 p.m., it's "World War II and Sons," with authors James R. Benn, J. Robert Janes, John Lawton, Martin Limón, and Susan Elia MacNeal in a discussion of crime fiction set in wartime and its run-up and aftermath.

Fellow attendees on way to
annual festive post-Bcon
dinner; St. Louis 2011
On Friday at 10:20 a.m., it's Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both," with Eric Beetner, Mike Dennis, Dana King, Terrence McCauley, and Jonathan Woods. Sign up, drop in, and come ask some probing questions.

Here's the complete Bouchercon 2013 schedule. If I don't see you there, I'll see you here, with some pictures and posts.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013
After Bouchercon, San Francisco 2010

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: "Dead as a day-old-scone"

The protagonists of Jonathan Woods' short stories are dissipated schemers of bad intent, men and women who dodge death, sweat alcohol, and dream of drugs, sex, and money. And the stories are kind of fun, mostly because the characters never pretend to be anything they're not. It helps that Woods has chops and the imagination to make potentially stale descriptions fresh. A few examples:  
"Walberg squinted to make out the details. It’s a naked woman, he thought. A stark naked woman. Her round white buttocks rolling from side to side recalled the hump of Ahab’s famous whale. Or something less profound."

"He spent the day wandering the streets of Puerto Greenberg. The place was falling apart. Parallel and perpendicular had ceased to exist."

 Hard-boiled crime writing is full of descriptions of run-down towns. "Parallel and perpendicular had ceased to exist" is one of the better ones.
"A toothless Chihuahua ..."

That combination of words alone would make Woods worthy of note.
 "Caught by the wind, the money inside the suitcase, all US $4 million of it, spiraled upward and green-parrot-like swooped into the jungle.

"I pulled up short and watched the final gust of greenbacks flap over the line of palmettos and coco palms twenty yards south of the runway. Then I blanked out for an instant.

"Of course, this was all planned. I had twelve guys in the fallow rice paddy on the other side of the palm and palmetto windbreak scooping the greenbacks out of the air with butterfly nets. Estimated loss: maybe a hundred thou."
"Tony with a look of complete and utter surprise on his winsome face. Tony dead as a day-old scone." 

"Dead as a day-old scone" is almost as good as "toothless Chihuahua" 
 Jonathan Woods and his tropical-weight suit will be part of my "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany on Friday, Sept. 20, at 10:20 a.m. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Thomas E. Ricks taught me about war

I'm done reading the parts of Thomas E. Ricks' The Generals most relevant to my Bouchercon panel on wartime crime fiction.  Here's what I take from those sections, on World War II and the Korean War:
1) High respect for the skill, tact, wisdom, foresight, and calculation of the good generals: George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Matthew Ridgway. 
2) Hatred of the sloppy invocation of military metaphors in areas of civilian life whose laughable triviality is matched only by the self-seriousness of the morons who invoke them. Every football coach who likens his game to war.  Every corporate executive who issues a mission statement. Every middle manager who expects his or her underlings to take that crap seriously. Every business person who invokes The Art of War. At best you're a clown. At worst you're a destroyer of lives for no noble cause. I knew that already, but Ricks taught me that in appropriating military lexicon without any of the risk or the high purpose that attends some military action, you're not just debasing the English language, you're disrespecting an institution you'd probably pretend to admire. 
3) Ricks writes about war without resorting to the condescending, ethically dubious you-were-there in which reporters transport themselves into the bodies of the people who really were there. (You know the sort of stuff: "Harry Grabowski shivered in the early-morning chill on that fateful day in June 1944." How does the reporter know this?)  Ricks does a perfectly fine job relating the rigors and horrors of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir without resorting to such trickery.
4) Another reason to hate the Dallas Cowboys, if football fans need one. Clint Murchison, Ricks writes, father of the Cowboys' first owner, was among the arch-conservative Texas oil billionaires who bankrolled a nationwide tour by the frothing, insubordinate Douglas MacArthur with a view toward getting MacArthur elected president. Lest this offend any Republicans, conservatives, oil men, or Texans, they should know that Ricks also notes the role of Sid Richardson, another rich Texas oilman, in the political career of the much saner Eisenhower. And is MacArthur to blame for such scary creatures as Alexander Haig and Oliver North? (I wonder, too, if Murchison or Richardson inspired any of the characters in James Ellroy's Underworld USA novels.)
I thought of including boots on the ground, much overused these days, in 2) above, but Ricks sheds some incidental light on why that particular phrase, rather than some other, is the self-serious instant cliché in the current debate about Syria. In the 1950s, Ricks writes, the future of the U.S. Army was in doubt. Many in the army and out believed that sea and air war would render ground troops and the army itself obsolete. So boots on the ground may reflect bitter relearning of a lesson Donald Rumsfeld did not know or pretended not to know: that warfare still requires troops, sometimes in massive numbers.
Thomas E. Ricks' presence will loom over my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m., which will include authors Susan Elia MacNeal, Martin Limón, John Lawton, J. Robert Janes, and James R. Benn.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The general line: American military leadership and crime fiction

"As Lt. Col Paul Yingling noted(sic) during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war, a private who lost his rifle was now punished more than a general who lost his part of a war."
That's from The Generals, Thomas E. Ricks' study of the rise and decline of American military leadership from World War II to 2012. But substitute Korea for the Iraq war, and the passage could come straight from Martin Limón's fiction.

One passage in particular, from Nightmare Range, Limón's new collection of short stories, has co-protagonist George Sueño musing with some bitterness that he and his colleague, Sgt. Ernie Bascom, spend their days tracking down small-scale dealing in black-market groceries while generals and their spouses who evade customs law by illegally exporting and trafficking in Korean art treasures are not so much as investigated, much less punished.

That's a terrific moral setting for crime fiction, a world I suspect is unfamiliar to most crime fiction readers but at the same time akin to the civic corruption so central to early hard-boiled writing. And it's a big reason I'm pleased Limón will be part of a wartime crime-fiction panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon in a week and a half.

The Generals is also relevant to fellow panelist James R. Benn's Billy Boyle novels. The hero of Ricks' study is Gen. George C. Marshall, one of whose first great accomplishments was to recognize the talents of a regimental officer named Dwight D. Eisenhower and groom him for the role he would fill as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II.

One of Marshall's and Eisenhower's great skills, according to Ricks, was their ability to recognize talent and choose the right man for the big job. Billy Boyle's task is not as big as that of a real-life Eisenhower appointee, Gen. George S. Patton. But Billy is Eisenhower's relative by marriage, handpicked by the general to serve on his staff so he can have an investigator he trusts close at hand. Since personality is important, according to Marshall, expect me to ask Benn what Ike saw in Billy.
Martin Limón and James R. Benn will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Saturday, September 07, 2013

Bouchercon 2013 panels: Keeping it fresh, the Dana King edition

Here's a recycled post about how one of my Bouchercon 2013 panelists keeps things fresh. Such a question may be especially relevant on a panel that will discuss the tradition-encrusted genres of noir and hard-boiled fiction. The author in question, Dana King, may well have such matters on his mind already; he'll also appear at one of Bouchercon's new Author's Choice sessions, discussing “Is Chandler' s Concept of the Ideal Hero Still Relevant?”
I write occasionally about how crime writers keep established sub-genres such as P.I. or spy stories fresh (here, here, here).

Dana King's Wild Bill makes a running theme of one such example: FBI organized-crime agents' complaints that their resources are being depleted by another, more headline-grabbing priority:
“Rumor had it he had his eye on moving to an upcoming counterterrorism task force that could be a career maker, organized crime too Twentieth Century for him.”
“`Frank Ferraro might be the most dangerous criminal in the country. The only reason he’s not on the Most Wanted list is because he shaves and doesn’t wear a rag on his head.'”
“`About half our resources will be assigned to counterterrorism.'”
“`Careers are easier to make in counterterrorism than in OC.'”
That's some canny updating by King, a forceful case that gangster stories are still relevant, and another of the pleasures of this impressive book. Now I'll ask you once again: How do your favorite crime writers keep well-established sub-genres fresh, relevant, and contemporary?
Dana King will be part of my "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany on Friday, Sept. 20, at 10:20 a.m. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Bouchercon 2013 panels: Why Eric Beetner is righteous (James Sallis, too)

I'm resurrecting another previously posted post today, and not just because I'm too deep in Bouchercon preparations to do much new posting. My remarks about Eric Beetner's novel The Devil Doesn't Want Me play directly into what makes his brand of wisecracking, self-aware noir what it is, and I hope they fuel the discussion when Beetner takes part in one of my Bouchercon panels.
 Two gems from my recent crime fiction reading, the first from Eric Beetner's The Devil Doesn't Want Me, the second from Drive, by James Sallis:
"Used to be, in this town, to get anywhere you had to be with the family. You had guys like Sinatra kissing your ring. Now it takes a decent criminal a year to pull down as much cash as Steve Wynn takes in over one weekend of legitimate business."
"No way he remembered. He’d treated dozens of them in his day. Back in the day, as they said now—and found himself wondering again where that came from. Back in the day. Up in here. You’d never heard these phrases before, then suddenly everyone was using them."
I like Beetner's wry recognition that his Las Vegas is no longer the one of movie and crime-novel myth. Beetner has clearly thought about the nature of twenty-first-century crime even if he would not admit anything so serious.

As for Sallis, his remark makes him the first crime writer in the Detectives Beyond Borders Things That Drive Them Nuts Hall of Fame. I bet I'll never find "going forward," "reaching out," "scenario," "basically," "noise level" (instead of just "noise"), or "the fact that" in any novel by Sallis — unless he's making fun of them.
Eric Beetner will be part of my "Goodnight, My Angel: Hard-Boiled, Noir, and the Reader's Love Affair With Both" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany on Friday, Sept. 20, at 10:20 a.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

John Lawton, meet Allan Sherman

Allan Sherman's 1963 song "Harvey and Sheila" (sung to the tune of "Hava Nagilah") tells a story of upward mobility among postwar American Jews in the form of Harvey, "a CPA / He works for IBM / He went to MIT / And got his Ph.D.," and Sheila, "a girl I know / At BBD&O / She works the PBX / And makes out the checks."

Harvey and Sheila married, "And on election day / Worked for JFK."

They made their way in the world, bought a house with "a swimming pool / Full of H2O / Traded their used MG / For a new XKE / Switched to the GOP / That's the way things go."

I thought of Harvey and Sheila's political evolution when I read the following from a stalwart Labourite in John Lawton's novel Old Flames:
"(W)e breed Tories, you see. You'll see. We get back in next year or the year after, we improve the lot of the workers—do what we're committed to do—and the next election after that the buggers'll vote us out because they're making too much money to trust it to Labour. That's what happened to Cockerell. He made a bob or two."
"It's the British story, isn't it?" Lawton has his character say, but, as Allan Sherman attests, it's also the American story, and, for all I know, Frenchmen and women of the trente glorieuses, the glorious postwar years, struggled their way to a comfortable standard of living before turning around and saying, "Fuck you, Jacques. I'm all right."

Who says crime fiction can't provoke thoughts about the times in which we live, and other weighty matters?
 John Lawton will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m. Allan Sherman died in 1973, but he'll be present in spirit.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Benn's Day: Historical figures in crime novels

Last year I wrote that James R. Benn's novel 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.'"

Death's Door, the follow-up book, includes several such cameo appearances, including one by a Hollywood actor who, for purposes of his military service, went by the name John Hamilton. Other bit players include Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, a Vatican diplomat who later became Pope Paul VI, and Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty (and his butler, John May), whom I had not heard of before reading the author's note Benn appends to the novel, but who is very much worth hearing about.

And that's where you come in: What are your favorite cameo appearances by historical figures in crime fiction? (Here's a link to one of mine.)
A Moral Terror is the sixth of Benn's Billy Boyle World War II mysteries, Death's Door the seventh. Today is release day for the eighth in the series, A Blind Goddess, which lands Billy in a case that involves the 617th Tank Destroyer Battalion and racism in the U.S. military.
James R. Benn will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Monday, September 02, 2013

My Bouchercon 2013 panels: Khrushchev visits a pub

I learned everything I know about pig farming from P.G. Wodehouse, so I was especially tickled by the following exchange between Frederick Troy and his sister Sasha in John Lawton's Old Flames:
"`The Old Spot's turned out to be a beauty. Are you going to have her put to the tup this month?' 
"`I think you only call them tups if they're sheep.' 
"Sasha thought about this as though it were some great revelation, startling to contemplate and worth hours of harmless fun. Troy sat in the driver's seat and reached for the door, but she put her hand across the top of the frame and emerged from reverie. 
"`Oh, well ... are you going to get her fucked by a daddy pig then?' 
"'Goodnight, Sasha.'"
That's a neat, if foul-mouthed nod to a writer Lawton loves, an update of Angela, Lord Emsworth, and the Empress of Blandings for a brave, postwar world.

Troy's mission in this, the second of Lawton's Troy novels, is to guard and spy on Nikita Khrushchev on the Soviet leader's visit to England in 1956. Early on, Troy takes the disguised Khrushchev on a subway and pub crawl through London, and Lawton manages the considerable feat of making the scenes funny but not farcical. Along the way, he does what he's best at: He milks the scenes for pointed observations about English character and habits. My favorite bit among many:
"Khrushchev fished out a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles, in which he usually, Troy had noticed, managed to avoid being photographed. He blinked at Troy through them. Troy weighed him up. Not only did he look English, he reminded Troy of those sturdy Londoners, packed with muscle after a lifetime in the docks, now running gently to seed on a diet of chips and beer."
The man knows how to make historical fiction fun.
John Lawton will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Italian scribe Strukul inks UK, U.S. pacts

Italian author/publisher/crime fiction impresario Matteo Strukul, last seen in these parts sitting for a Detectives Beyond Borders interview earlier this year, returns with the good news that his novel La Ballata di Mila (The Ballad of Mila) and its follow-up, Regina Nera (Black Queen), will appear in English translation from Angry Robot's Exhibit A imprint.

As a publisher, Strukul is or will be responsible for Italian translations of writers whose work will be familiar to Detectives Beyond Borders readers, Alan Moore, Jacques Tardi, Allan Guthrie, Brian McGilloway, Russel D. McLean, and Christa Faust among them.

As a writer, Strukul shows his love for revenge comics without degenerating into cartoonishness. He exposes a side of Northeastern Italian life unknown to outsiders and perhaps many insiders, and, in The Ballad of Mila, he has gangsters do things in a bowling alley far worse than eating greasy food and renting disinfected shoes.

Look for The Ballad of Mila in the U.S. next July, in the UK next August.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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