Thursday, April 30, 2015

Detectives Beyond Borders puts the comics in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The Black Hood. (Courtesy of Dark Circle Comics)
My article on Duane Swierczynski's Black Hood comic appears in Thursday's Philadelphia Inquirer  (along with one of my photos). See what Duane has to say, along with comments from his editor, Alex Segura of Dark Circle comics; and props to artist Michael Gaydos and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Duane Swierczynski. Photo
by your humble blogkeeper.
"David Goodis was a huge inspiration," Swierczynski says. "His doomed characters roam the dark Philly streets after a major fall from grace. That's pretty much what happens to Greg Hettinger, the man under the hood."
Read the full article.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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I shot Stephen King: Photos from the Edgar Awards dinner 2015

Stephen King (All photos by
your humble blogkeeper.
List of winners and
at the Mystery
Writers of America Web site.)

Charles Ardai
Sara Paretsky, Hilary Davidson
James Ellroy

Jon and Ruth Jordan
Ian Rankin, Stephen King, Karin
Slaughter, and Stuart Neville
Sara Paretsky and her shadow
© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Uneasy Street, or what P.I. fiction did after Chandler and Hammett

How do writers of P.I. stories confront the Olympian presences of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and when did they start doing it?

Here's a bit from Uneasy Street (1948), Wade Miller's second Max Thursday novel:
"(S)he sounded like a wandering-husband case, probably young, leggy, dissatisfied. And his mind roved curiously. ...

"When he could see her more plainly, Thursday wondered why he had expected her to be young. She was anything but that— a small frail woman, delicately wrinkled, with hair the moonlight couldn’t whiten."
That's one way to confront an imposing model, to challenge it straight on, then to slyly undercut it. It's a brilliant strategy, and it can work if one has the confidence and chops to pull if off, and Miller (pen name for the writing team of Robert Wade and Bill Miller) did. (Wade and Miller were also Whit Masterson, under which name they wrote the novel that Orson Welles adapted as Touch of Evil. So odds are that even if you don't know their names, you've had some contact with Wade and Miller's work.)

Uneasy Street has something of Chandler's yearning romanticism with a tinge of Hammett's witty detachment, the latter possibly because Miller wrote the book in the third person. It's witty without cracking wise, serious without getting maudlin, the way some of Chandler's successors in the 1960s did. It's in the tradition of both great progenitors of hard-boiled crime without being greatly reminiscent of each.  And it's a good place to look if you wonder where private-eye fiction went after Hammett and Chandler.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Satyajit Ray, crime writer

You may know Satyajit Ray as India's most famous movie director, but he was also a crime writer, composing a series of wildly popular novels and stories about a sleuth named Feluda. The stories, which appeared from the mid-1960s on, combined wit, liberal sprinklings of Holmes and Poirot, and a sharp eye for contemporary social problems.  I suspect one could do worse than reading these stories as an introduction to modern India. Or at least I think so based on the novella A Killer in Kailash, which first appeared in 1973

First, the story's form. Ray read and admired Sherlock Holmes, and A Killer in Kailash is full of delightful nods to Holmes and to Hercule Poirot. Feluda's cousin Tapesh narrates the stories in an amused, sometimes bemused, manner, like a Bengali Watson. Feluda, surprised by Tapesh's  failure to grasp a clue's significance, tells him that "Even the few grey cells you had seem to be disappearing, my boy. Stop worrying and go to sleep."

(Photo by your humble blogkeeper)
So Ray was a Christie-loving, Doyle-worshiping Anglophile, right?  Not so fast.  A Killer in Kailash is about the despoiling of India's cultural heritage for gain, specifically the theft of a yakshi's head for sale to an American collector. (This made rub my chin thoughtfully, for only weeks before I had ogled and taken pictures of a gorgeous example—in an American collection, above/right.)

So Ray was a Hindu nationalist, right?  Not so fast. At various times in the story, Feluda admits he can't speak Hindi, and Tapesh overhears two men arguing, but "They were probably speaking in Marathi, for I couldn't understand a word."  When Feluda and company board a plane for Bombay, Tapesh notes that none of them had visited that city before. Without anything like didactic intent, the story is a refreshing reminder of the glorious d-------y of Indian society.

A Killer in Kailash offers amused references to Hare Krishnas,  and, quite naturally, a vocabulary lesson or two. Chowkidar (from the Urdu language) is a fine word for night watchman. I'd always liked cheroot, but I never knew until looking it up that the word derives from Tamil, yet another language spoken in India (also in Sri Lanka).  How can a simple detective novella be so thought-provoking, so educational, and so much fun?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Charles Williams' Man on the Run: Unpacking a lesser book by a great paperback-original crime writer

Man on the Run (1958) is the weakest of the nine novels I've read recently by that excellent writer of paperback originals, Charles Williams, but those weaknesses stimulated some thought about what we mean by weak writing, what makes some books worse than others, and possible explanations for why those books fall short.

First of all, Man on the Run is a pretty good book; it just suffers by comparison with Williams' Nothing in Her Way (1953), A Touch of Death (1954), or his classic comedy Uncle Sagamore and His Girls (1959). I'd give those books five stars each, and maybe three to Man on the Run, with The Hot Spot (1953),  Aground, (1961), The Concrete Flamingo (1958), The Big Bite (1956), and The Diamond Bikini (1956) somewhere in between.

So, what makes Man on the Run weaker than the rest? For one thing, an occasional tendency to talkiness. For another, repetition of mildly odd phrases, including "intensely silent" and "sobbing for breath."  That this repetition occurs with greater frequency toward the end of the book suggests to me that Williams may not have had his heart in it.

I noticed this especially because Williams' work (and also Peter Rabe's) had previously stood out for me precisely because it avoided such repetition. That's part of why I considered Williams a more polished writer, if not necessarily a better one, than Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, and Day Keene.

The plot of Man on the Run also stands out. Williams was at his best writing about duped, infatuated, deluded men, but this book, as one might guess from its title, is instead about a fugitive. It was also published in 1958, and that's where things get interesting: 1958 was also the year of 77 Sunset Strip, a republication of three novellas by Roy Huggins, one of which I would bet the take of my next heist was the germ of the idea that Huggins later turned into The Fugitive. Men on the run were in the air in 1958.

My tentative conclusion: Whether urged by a publisher or agent, or whether on his own initiative, Williams wrote Man on the Run to satisfy a perceived market demand for fugitive stories and, in so doing, painted himself into a corner where he was less accomplished and less comfortable (hence the repetition).

To be sure, the suspense is well written, and Man on the Run contains elements of Williams' more customary infatuated-man tales. It also has one of the odder endings in noir fiction and, if that end seems a bit contrived, Williams had laid careful groundwork for it throughout the book. Even here, he remained an admirable plotter.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's almost time for the Edgars

It's almost time for the Edgar Awards, presented by the Mystery Writers of America and recognizing the best in crime fiction published in the U.S., and the 2015 awards dinner ought to be especially entertaining: James Ellroy is one of this year's two MWA Grand Masters.

I'll also be pleased to see Charles Ardai receive his Ellery Queen Award. Ardai is an entrepreneur, a publisher, an editor, and an award-winning author who changed the look of American crime fiction when he founded Hard Case Crime with Max Phillips. He's thoughtful, he's intelligent, and he's a nice guy to boot.

I'll get to see Jon and Ruth Jordan accept the Raven Award for outstanding contributions to crime fiction in an area other than creative writing, and, as I wrote when they won an Anthony Award at Bouchercon in 2009, "I feel quite sure that no one has deserved an award more."

Jon and Ruth publish Crimespree Magazine, and they organize Bouchercons. They are friends to authors everywhere, inspirations to all who know them, and they live in the world's coolest house: over the family machine shop, housing more books than the Library of Congress, with fresh sausage on the stove 24 hours a day, a bathtub filled with beer, and nooks and crannies even they probably have never seen.

The awards dinner happens Wednesday, April 29, at the Grand Hyatt in New York, and it's just part of a slew of events this week and next; here's a page with links to everything that's happening. Here's a bit about the Jordans, Ellroy, and their fellow special-award winners.  And here's a complete list of nominees, including Stuart Neville, whose Final Silence is up for the best-novel Edgar.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Off the Cuff in Canada, with Canadians

Over at Dietrich Kalteis' Off the Cuff, talented crime writers, organizers, and editors from Canada talk about crime writing in that country, their discussion illustrated by a Canadian who lives in this country.

The participants are Jacques Filippi, Sam Wiebe, and John McFetridge, and the illustrator (photographer, really) is your humble blogkeeper, with the noirish shot reproduced above right

Talk turns to Canadian identity in crime fiction, and both Jacques and John (the latter of whose gifts include a flair for naming minor characters) suggest that Canadian crime writers can best get themselves noticed by writing novels that could be set nowhere but Canada. 

But Canada's immensely long border with the United States, and the cultural ties between the two countries, are part of Canada's uniqueness. That may be why a fair amount of Canadian crime fiction, including John's, Dietrich's, and Howard Shrier's, straddles the border and embraces the geographically equivocal position. That, I think, is part of that makes their writing special.

Elsewhere in the discussion, Jacques muses on clichés, and I hope he won't mind if I quote him at length:
"Clichés are usually bad, but hockey, poutine, maple syrup, the Québécois swear words and bad driving; our politeness; our bilingualism (when in fact we are bilinguals in only 2 provinces and part of a third one out of 10), etcetera, are all aspects of who we are. If some of these Canadian attributes end up in your story, should you edit them out to avoid clichés? I don’t think so if it’s not just decorative to your story. I don’t think Louise Penny would have the same success if Three Pines was a village in North Dakota, Wyoming, or any other states for that matter. Penny inserts some of the Québécois clichés in her novels, but they are clichés only to those who know about the Québécois way of life in small villages. To Penny’s readers, the so-called clichés are Québécois and Canadian ‘flavours’."
Finally, as I wrote in a comment to their post, Canada is by reputation polite, progressive, and civilized, and its crime writing has not had the international impact deserves. Sweden, on the other hand, is by reputation, polite, progressive, and civilized, and we all know what its crime writers have done.  Why is this?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The mystery of Sherlock Holmes

This Arthur Conan Doyle guy has a future in crime writing. Sherlock Holmes' deductive powers are, of course, tosh, and it is to laugh to think that they may in the past have been mistaken for a model of scientific reasoning. But his dark side, and the atmosphere with Doyle endowed certain scenes, make him a plausible forerunner of noir.

I may know less about Holmes and his creator than anyone else alive, but it seems to me significant that Doyle was interested throughout his life in mystical subjects, because that's where Holmes, the unparalleled observer, belongs.  In today's terms, his props should be mask, cape, and colored tights, or maybe long beard and magic wand, rather than deerstalker and pipe.

But if Holmes was half machine ("He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen," Watson tells us in "A Scandal in Bohemia."), he was angst-ridden enough to serve as a precursor of noir fiction, and it's no shock that Hard Case Crime has reprinted a Doyle novel.

"To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. " "He had risen out of his drug-created dreams ... " "Holmes ... remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature."  Each of these is from the opening paragraphs of "A Scandal in Bohemia," first story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and each suggests Gothic horror more than it does rational crime solving.  Maybe the stories are really about their era's nervousness about the progress of science and what this might do the emotional side of humanity.

Like I said, I know little about Holmes and his creator, but the gulf between the place the Holmes stories occupy in the public imagination on the one hand, and what is most interesting about the stories today on the other is ... a mystery.  

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

(Mostly) Humans of Fifth Avenue (Main entrance at 82nd Street), New York

Here are a few more of the non-crime faces I shot in New York on Sunday. From the Metropolitan Museum to Noir at the Bar New York is not a bad way to spend a day.

For reference, here's is that other group I shot.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Noir at the Bar New York in words and pictures

Noir at the Bar has covered the globe like a fast-growing but benign fungus since I staged the first ones in Philadelphia back in 2008. Sunday night I had good fun at Noir at the Bar New York.

Suzanne Solomon
Joe Samuel Starnes
The venue was Shade in the West Village, the MC was Thomas Pluck, the food, the beer, and the company were good, and the readings were damn good. As a bonus, Henry Chang, that most amiable author of hard-hitting crime novels set in Chinatown, showed up even though he wasn't on the bill;  those New York crime writers have a cozy little community on their cozy little island.  Here's part of what happened (all photos by your humble blogkeeper):

Alex Segura, Todd Robinson
(One of these pictures does not depict a crime writer. Rather, it's a face I saw earlier in the day, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  but I thought it fit the evening's noir theme. It looks like a small-time hood who is beginning to worry his plan to rip off the boss and flee with the boss' woman may not go as well as he planned.)
Gerald So and his reflection. I call
this photo So and So.

Thomas Pluck, Jeff Soloway
Clare Gilliland Toohey. I wonder if she
likes this collection of stories
by Gil Brewer.
© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Friday, April 10, 2015

More shots in the dark, and a round-up of the usual crime suspects at Off the Cuff

(All photos by your humble blogkeeper)
Over at Off the Cuff, Dietrich Kalteis and Martin J. Frankson talk about crime fiction influences. They get to the usual suspects (Chandler, Hammett, and so on), but not before the discussion takes an interesting detour or two. Their exhange takes up a question I asked a while back in a post called "End of story, or what ever happened to plot?"  Read theirs, read mine, and discuss.

Dietrich again illustrates the post with one of my noir photographs (above/right), this one from especially close to home. And here's another recent shot of mine, not noir, but weird all the same, I think:

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Crimefest memories: Mike Hodges on how to make a classic movie for £7,000

Ted Lewis' great crime novel Get Carter (along with the rest of Lewis' work) is or soon will be back in print and easily available, thanks to those good people at Syndicate Books/Soho Press.  Five years ago, at Crimefest 2010 in Bristol, England, I had the chance to meet Mike Hodges, who directed the excellent and influential movie version of Get Carter. (This is one in an occasional series of blog posts about Crimefests past and present leading up to Crimefest 2015, which takes place May 14-17.)
Seven thousand pounds. That's how much money Mike Hodges made for writing and directing Get Carter, the classic 1971 hit-man movie starring Michael Caine, and not a penny more.

Hodges made that surprising statement during Friday's pre-screening conversation with Maxim Jakubowski at Bristol's Arnolfini cultural center. He also said the many humorous touches in the otherwise bleak tale encouraged him in the making of his 1972 follow-up, Pulp: "I really thought I would like to hear laughter."

Hodges said after a panel discussion today that yes, there had been pressure from producers and other heavies to have Michael Caine's title character walk away at the end of Get Carter. But Hodges resisted, and Carter gets— but you'll have to watch the movie to see what happens.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Why you should be at Crimefest 2015

I always enjoy Crimefest in Bristol, England, not least for its stellar lineup of guest authors.  P.D. James appeared there. So have Bill James, Peter James, and Dan James. 

Maj Sjöwall
I met that affable superstar of Scottish crime writing, William McIlvanney, at Crimefest, and I heard Declan Hughes sing country and western to a fellow author at the hotel bar. (As a singer, Hughes is a damn good author and playwright.) It was Frederick Forsyth's entertaining and informative presentation at Crimefest 2012 that finally got me to read his classic Day of the Jackal.

Your humble blogkeeper
with the great Bill James,
author of the Harpur & Iles
novels, at Crimefest 2010
But this year's special guest is as special as any guest at any crime festival anywhere. Maj Sjöwall wrote the classic Martin Beck series of crime novels with Per Wahlöö, and she'll be at Crimfest 2015 to be interviewed by Lee Child and to present the Petrona Award for best Scandinavian crime novel.

Your humble blogkeeper (right) explains things
to William McIlvanney at Crimefest 2013
Sjöwall and Wahlöö blazed a number of crime fiction trails (or at least were there at the very start), among them those of social criticism, a multiplayer cast of detectives, and elevation of the investigator's personal life to importance comparable with that of the mysteries he or she investigates. Their ten Beck novels, from 1965's Roseanna to The Terrorists in 1975, were among the first to examine a society critically as well as tell a crime story, and authors to this day cite them as influences.  

The best photo ever of Ali Karim
(right), with Peter Guttridge at
Crimefest 2013. Photo by
your humble blogkeeper.
So this is big, a chance to hear and meet one of crime fiction's modern greats, and I'll be there, May 14-17 in Bristol. (The award  Maj Sjöwall will present is named for the blog maintained by the late Maxine Clarke, a longtime reviewer and supporter of crime fiction. She posted the first ever comment here at Detectives Beyond Borders, back in September 2006.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The hunted man in American crime writing, plus some questions for readers

Saturday's post about Gil Brewer's novel The Three-Way Split prompted some thoughts about the hunted-man motif in American crime writing of the 1950s.

The Fugitive was on television from 1963 through 1967, for example, but the idea belongs to the previous decade. The series' creator, Roy Huggins, had written a virtual prototype for The Fugitive as one of three novellas published in 1958 under the title 77 Sunset Strip.

In the 1950s, Gil Brewer wrote novels about men trapped and on the run. So did Charles Williams, Day Keene, and Harry Whittington, and those are just the authors I've been reading recently.

Here are the names of magazines where the stories collected in Brewer's Redheads Die Quickly first appeared: Manhunt.The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine. Hunted Detective Story Magazine. Accused Detective Story Magazine. Trapped Detective Story Magazine.

I had previously heard of none except the celebrated Manhunt, and I have no idea if they were issued by one publisher or several, or of who started the craze. But something about the hunted man captured the fancy of the American public in a big-way for a few years there. Why? If you're up on your crime-fiction and American cultural history, who started the rage for such stories, and who were its leading publishers?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Noir, while you stand on one foot

I've found the quintessential noir sentence. It's from Gil Brewer's 1960 novel, The Three-Way Split, and it goes like this:
"For the first time, I felt a sense of real fear."
The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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