Thursday, May 07, 2015

Crimefest: History, wisdom, and the reek of fermented shark


Because it's almost time for Crimefest 2015, and because history is what I read most when I'm not reading crime, I thought I'd bring back a post about history from Crimefest 2010.   
Andrew Taylor made trenchant observations during Crimefest 2010's historical-fiction panel, just as he had at last year's Crimefest.

"The 1950s," he said, "are a fascinating time because, I think, it was the end of history for most of us, an eternal present." But, he said, "It became clear to me it was a completely alien time," a world that would have been recognizable to someone who had been around in the 1930s.

Edward Marston, the panel's moderator, spoke of his childhood during the Second World War: "I saw no one between the ages of 18 and 40 because they had all been conscripted. I didn't see my father until I was 6. ... My grandfather lived with us. He'd fought in the First World War," and, Marston said, those who remained at home heard much about how "His war was better than our war."

Marston also made a remark that ought to make all crime readers and authors reflect on the world in which fictional detectives live and work: "Your sleuth must have social mobility."

Ruth Dudley Edwards spiced up the sex, violence and bad language panel with the observation that her Baroness 'Jack' Troutbeck, while willing to avail herself of a carnal romp with whatever sex is available, "would be just as motivated, really, by a good dinner." (My question about sex as a motivating factor in crime fiction, as a means rather than an end, won me a book bag for the session's best question. I won another later the same day, and no one was around to take it away from me.)

Elsewhere, Michael Ridpath, an author new to me who sets his recent novels in Iceland, said that country's financial crisis had forced some rewriting. "I had to change `In Iceland everything is expensive' to `In Iceland, everything is cheap,'" he said. Asked at a different session what she thought of Ridpath's choice of settings, Iceland's own Yrsa Sigurðardóttir said: "That's great. That's just excellent."

Yrsa also brought hákarl, or highly pungent fermented shark, an Icelandic specialty she was eager to share with fellow attendees, along with bracing Icelandic schnapps to wash it down. I enjoyed watching the faces of everyone who tried hákarl. You'll enjoy doing so, too. Says Wikipedia: Hákarl "is an acquired taste and many Icelanders never eat it."

I suspect that after Crimefest 2010, some Canadians, Americans, Englishmen and South Africans may join them.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Re Edward Marston’s remark that “your sleuth must have social mobility”… Perhaps that’s a more abbreviated way of noting what Raymond Chandler understood when he wrote, about 65 years ago, that: “…down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean…He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world...He is a common man or he could not go among common people…He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.” (“The Simple Art of Murder,” 1944)

May 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I think you're right. I don't remember the context of his remark, but it reminds me of an observation I once read about the very late development of the police procedural in British crime fiction. In Britain, the theory went, police came from the lower classes and were thought too deferential to be depicted as investigating members of the nobility. I wondwer who the first working-class detective in British crime fiction was.

May 26, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Freeman Wills Croft's Inspector French?

May 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A Wikipedia article says that "Inspector French always set about unravelling each of the mysteries presented him in a workmanlike, exacting manner." No indication of aristocratic foppishness there.

May 27, 2010  
Anonymous critical mick said...

Hey Peter!

I don't know about hákarl but I can recommend Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie. Read it earlier in the summer and found it far better than fermented shark. (Mmmm... fermented shark....) I have a review up at in case anyone is interested in learning more!

Best regards,

Critical Mick

August 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, and here's that review in handy, one-click form.

"(M)uch more welcome than a spewing cloud of volcanic ash" is a powerful indication of how much you liked the book. I see it as a review blurb on a future paperback edition.

August 20, 2010  
Anonymous critical mick said...

"(M)uch more welcome than a spewing cloud of volcanic ash" --- "Possibly better than eating a bucket of fermented shark" --- Peter, we both missed our Marketing calling.

Cheers, amigo, and keep up the excellent DBB!

August 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks. We could get jobs ghostwriting blurbs for Ken Bruen.

August 23, 2010  

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