Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Norbert Davis and Max Latin

With Bouchercon 2015 just over a week away, here's a post from this blog's Paleolithic Era about an author will be a subject of one two panels I'll moderate:

I admit it: Norbert Davis was American. But he qualifies for this blog on two counts: He had a sense of humor, and Max Latin, just one of his creations in a short but busy career writing for American pulp magazines in the 1930s and '40s, had an interesting profession: He owned a restaurant.

Here's the opening of "Watch Me Kill You!", the first of five novellas collected in The Adventures of Max Latin:
"Guiterrez came out of the kitchen in a cloud of steam and slapped the heavy metal swing door violently shut behind him. He was a tall man with a dark, bitterly disillusioned face. He was wearing a white jacket and a white apron, and he had a chef's hat crushed down over his right ear. There was a towel wrapped around his neck, and he wiped his forehead with its frayed end, glaring at Latin.

"`What was the matter with it?' he demanded."
You're a sterner reader than I if you can resist that.

Mr. Thrilling Detective Web Site, Kevin Burton Smith,  will discuss Norbert Davis as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.,  called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald." The panel happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007, 2015

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Max Allan Collins on Jack Carter's Law

How tough and convincingly authentic is Ted Lewis' 1974 novel Jack Carter's Law?  Here's what Max Allan Collins had to say in his introduction to Syndicate Books' recent reissue of the novel:
"Spillane's fever-dream Manhattan is never as real as Lewis's London, and while [Mike] Hammer is a good guy who defeats bad guys with their own methods, Carter is simply a bad guy with methods."
Maybe that bleakness, that deadpan is what makes so many of Carter's observations so unsettling and so funny at the same time, including this, about the two gangster bosses for whom he is an enforcer and planner:
"The room I am in is all Swedish.  It's a big room, low-ceilinged, and when Gerald and Les had it built on top of the club they'd let a little poof called Kieron Beck have his way with the soft furnishings. Everything about the room is dead right. The slightly sunken bit in the middle lined with low white leather settees ... the curtains that make a noise like paper money when you draw them—everything is perfect. The only things that look out of place are Gerald and Les. So much so that they make the place look as if you could have picked all the stuff up at Maple's closing-down sale."
Jack Carter's Law is bleaker and wittier than the just about anything in the great Richard Stark's bleak and witty Parker novels. And it has the style that modern-day makers of gangster movies such as Guy Ritchie can only dream about.
Jordan Foster will discuss Ted Lewis as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.,  called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald." The panel happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m.
© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Vera Caspary, and mysteries within mysteries

"(S)he was not fond of mystery stories. Nobody in them ever seems to feel sorry about murders, she had said. They're presented as a problem, m'dear, her father said. What's more, they generally show the murdered person as someone you can't waste any pity on. I'm sorry for them, she said. I hate it when they're found with daggers sticking in them and their eyes all staring from poison and things like that."
That's from Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's novel The Blank Wall, included in the new collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels in the 1940s and '50s, edited by Sarah Weinman for the Library of America.  That paragraph will catch the eye of readers today, I suspect, and it makes a good starting point for discussion of the entire collection. What makes these eight writers different from their predecessors? From their successors? From their male contemporaries?  What traits do the eight share with all those groups? It might also make for interesting comparison with Raymond Chandler's famous assessment of Dashiell Hammett's contribution to crime writing in "The Simple Art of Murder."

But it's not the funniest meditation on mystery stories in Women Crime Writers. That honor goes to Waldo Lydecker's narration in Chapter II of Vera Caspary's Laura:
"I have never stooped to the narration of a mystery story. At the risk of seeming somewhat less than modest, I shall quote from my own works. The sentence, so often reprinted, that opens my essay `Of Sound and Fury' is reprinted here:

"`When, during the 1936 campaign, I learned that the President was a devotee of mystery stories, I voted a straight Republican ticket.'"
Sarah Weinman will discuss Elisabeth Sanxay Holding on a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C., in (yikes) two weeks. The panel is called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald," and it happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels — Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers

Yesterday's reading was the most touching I'll likely do for this year's Bouchercon or maybe any other year's, as well. I'm too busy preparing to make a full post about Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers, so I'll offer a few selections from the book that seem especially pertinent to Hammett's work and life. Fuller treatment may follow next month at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. , when I moderate a discussion with the book's two editors, Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett. The discussion is called "Inside the Mind and Work of Dashiell Hammett," and happens Saturday, October 10, at 8:30 a.m.

The author of A Daughter Remembers, Jo Hammett, is Dashiell Hammett's daughter and Rivett's mother. As you might guess, the book, published in 2001, is full of family photos and recollections of family life. This is especially valuable in the case of a writer as private, as sparing of information about himself, as Hammett was.  Jo Hammett also has a better eye and ear for what made Hammett a great writer than do many who have written about him. She's also capable of an occasional flash of delightful, stinging wit, which makes her sound a bit like her father. Here's some of what she has to say in this memoir:
"Red Harvest comes out of Black Mask days. It's got Black Mask rough edges and give-it-all-you're got energy. The later novels are smoother, more finely tuned. But this is the one I like best, because it's hard like its people. funny and unforgiving, and sounds most like Papa."
"`Lock me in a room with a set of encyclopedias, and I'll come up with a plot,' [Hammett] used to say. His idea of heaven was going cross-country in a train compartment, in his pajamas, reading all the way."
"[Hammett] took Mary and me backstage to meet Ethel Barrymore ... She was charming to us and very regal. In a parting remark she said something to him about the play having `great social significance,' perhaps thinking that would strike a sympathetic chord with him. He was quick to agree. `Oh, yes, absolutely.'  I could tell by the look on his face he was thinking, `Yeah, about as much as Krazy Kat.'"
"Papa had a generally low opinion of actors. He despised their self-pre-occupation and their ruthlessness."

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Friday, September 18, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Donald Westlake on The Thin Man

I wanted to say something about The Thin Man, but Donald Westlake said it better:
“When I was 14 or 15 I read Hammett's The Thin Man (the first Hammett I'd read) and it was a defining moment. It was a sad, lonely, lost book, that pretended to be cheerful and aware and full of good fellowship, and I hadn't known you could do that: seem to be telling this, but really telling that; three-dimensional writing, like three-dimensional chess. Nabokov was the other master of that.” 
I'll discuss Dashiell Hammett in a special event at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C., next month.  The discussion is called "Inside the Mind and Work of Dashiell Hammett," and the featured guests are Julie M. Rivett, Hammett's editor and granddaughter; and Richard Layman, Hammett's biographer and a pioneering name in Hammett scholarship. See you there on Saturday, October 10, at 8:30 a.m.

 © Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: YA? Why not?

Laura Lippman will discuss Zilpha Keatley Snyder as part of a panel I'll moderate next month at Bouchercon 2015. Snyder, previously unknown to me, was a big wheel in fiction for children and young adults, a three-time Newbery Honor winner, and I naturally expect to ask Lippman what drew her to Snyder, and perhaps to plumb Lippman's own work for signs of Snyder's influence.

But the opening chapters of Snyder's novel The Egypt Game suggest that her narrative technique will be worth discussing as well.  Each of the first three chapters picks up the story from a different viewpoint, Chapters 2  and 3 set at roughly the same time--and before the action related in Chapter 1-- and each featuring one of the story's of the two protagonists.

The multiple viewpoints presented after the story breaks away from its main action are a wonderful way to build suspense, leaving me, at least, eager to know what the two protagonists will get up to and how they will interact once the main action picks up again in Chapter 4. The technique reminded me of nothing so much as Richard Stark's Parker novels. And that showed me that yes, this may be a genre story featuring children as characters and intended for a young audience, but suspense is suspense, and good storytelling is good storytelling, whether the central figures are young girls or ruthless professional criminals.  Oh, and The Egypt Game includes some good Hollywood jokes, rendered believably from a child's point of view.
Laura Lippman will talk about Zilpha Keatley Snyder as part of my "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald" panel at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. The panel happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Billy Rags, Ted Lewis' American(-style) melodrama

Billy Rags is the most deliberately American of the Ted Lewis novels I've read, and the debt is more to the mid-century melodramas that later became known as film noir than it is to the more-often invoked Raymond Chadler.

The narrator/protagonist of the 1973 novel by the author of Get Carter (Jack's Return Home) invokes The Street With No Name and Richard Widmark, for example. (It also give a mention to René Lodge Brabazon Raymond, that Englishman who read James M. Cain, grabbed some maps and a dictionary, took the name James Hadley Chase, and wrote No Orchids for Miss Blandish.)

Billy Rags' story arc, particularly its ending, could have come straight from a 1940s filmed melodrama, and I won't spoil much if I reveal that the protagonist comes to a bad end without, however, dying.  The clincher, however, is that the phrase "no choice" and variants thereof recur throughout the book as a near-didactic invocation of all those doomed characters played by the likes of Widmark and Sterling Hayden, from back in the days when when lead characters died.

Jordan Foster will discuss Ted Lewis as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.,  called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald." The panel happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Weinman and Abbott on Eight Women Crime Writers: Provocative but not polemical

Sarah Weinman
Megan Abbott
Sarah Weinman had a good interlocutor for Wednesday's launch of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and the 1950s, newly out from the Library of America and edited by Weinman.  Her questioner was Megan Abbott, and between them, they talked not just about the eight writers in the collection, but about the audience for those writers, about the world in which they wrote, about the reception for their work, about their equivocal place in the crime fiction canon, and about how the collection was put together.  And they did it all without polemics.

Among the provocative notions that emerged: Abbott's suggestion that women may be better suited to writing noir than men because, while men believe that they can make a difference, and hence tend to write stories in which redemption plays a role, "I don't think any woman ever believes that." Now, a statement like that, broadcast in the wrong circles to the wrong people (the brainless kind), could obviously draw much flak.

Here, though, while Abbott's remark send a flurry of excitement through the audience (they packed the house at New York's Mysterious Bookshop), the idea served to stimulate discussion, to be revised, argued, and defended as necessary.  That's what intelligent, interested people do, and it was a pleasure to spend a couple of hours among them.
Sarah Weinman will talk about Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, whose novel The Blank Wall is part of Eight Women Crime Writers, on a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. The panel is called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald," and happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Monday, September 07, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: The Blank Wall

I've read two books in recent months that expanded my conception of noir.  One was Craig Rice's The Lucky Stiff. The second is The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.

The first is a hard-boiled screwball comedy whose ending turns a running joke on its emotional head and lends the book unexpected poignance. The second is a domestic murder mystery whose poignance lies in the protagonist's remaining at the novel's end exactly what she was at its beginning.  If that sounds unpromising, think of David Goodis' Street of No Return.

The Blank Wall is included in Woman Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 1950s, a two-volume set edited by Sarah Weinman and newly published by The Library of America. Weinman will discuss Elisabeth Sanxay Holding as part of a panel I'll moderate next month at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. The panel is called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald," and it features authors, editors, and other experts talking about their favorite crime writers from the paperback-original and pulp eras.  The panel happens Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2:30 p.m. See you there.
Sarah Weinman will discuss the new collection and other interesting subjects with Megan Abbott on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Ha[[y 90th birthday to Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri turns 90 years old Sunday, so go have a seat overlooking the sea, eat a nice fish dinner, and no cursing the saints until tomorrow.

Here are details on how Camilleri's Italian publishers are celebrating. And here's a link to my Camilleri posts at Detectives Beyond Borders, including my two-part interview with Camilleri's gifted English-language translator, Stephen Sartarelli.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015 

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Dashiell Hammett and Chinese-American history

Back in 2008, I wrote that Henry Chang's novel Year of the Dog
"not only introduces us to Chinatown's newer Fukienese arrivals, with their wide ideological separation from the neighborhood's longer-established residents, but [Chang] portrays dangerous criminal rivalries among these relative newcomers."
Then, as now, Chang's work led me to reflect on an aspect of Dashiell Hammett I had not thought of previously. That's timely because I'll be talking about Hammett with Julie M. Rivett and Richard Layman next month at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The session is called "Inside the Mind and Work of Dashiell Hammett," and it happens Saturday, October 10, at 8:30 a.m. There's still time to register, so I'll see you there, and I may even buy you a cup of coffee after the panel.
I've cited Henry Chang's crime novels for their portrayals of a New York Chinatown more complex than non-residents might think. Longtime residents are suspicious of newcomers; alliances, ethnic rivalries and cultural habits spill over from the old country; and Hong Kong Chinese restaurants are flashier than all others.

Dashiell Hammett did something similar in 1925, in a story called "Dead Yellow Women." That's not a title one would see today unless it was intended with irony, and it may make readers in 2015 cringe. But take a look at what Hammett does at the beginning of the story:
"The San Francisco papers had been full of her affairs for a couple of days. They had printed photographs and diagrams, interviews, editorials, and more or less expert opinions from various sources. They had gone back to 1912 to remember the stubborn fight of the local Chinese—mostly from Fokien and Kwangtung, where democratic ideas and hatred of Manchus go together—to have her father kept out of the United States, to which he had scooted when the Manchu rule flopped. The papers had recalled the excitement in Chinatown when Shan Fang was allowed to land—insulting placards had been hung in the streets, an unpleasant reception had been planned.

"But Shan Fang had fooled the Cantonese. Chinatown had never seen him. He had taken his daughter and his gold—presumably the accumulated profits of a life-time of provincial misrule—down to San Mateo County, where he had built what the papers described as a palace on the edge of the Pacific."
I don't know about you, but that makes me curious about who made up the population of America's Chinatowns and how those populations changed after the Qing dynasty, China's last, fell in 1912. And that's a lot of history to pack into a humble pulp story.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010, 2015

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels: Norbert Davis' hard-boiled slapstick

Last year's questions from the audience at my Bouchercon panel on "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras" included one about Norbert Davis. I hope the questioner plans to attend Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C., next month, because this year's version of the panel will include Kevin Burton Smith, the man behind the invaluable Thrilling Detective Web Site, talking about Davis.  The panel, its title slightly inflated to "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald," happens Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, at 2:30 p.m. Sarah Weinman, Jordan Foster, and Laura Lippman will join Kevin, each discussing a favorite crime writer from out of the past. 

While you rush out to register for Bouchercon, if you have not signed up already, here's a post from the past about Davis, who was known for his comic crime stories, but could get tough when he wanted to. 

 Norbert Davis wrote novels with a dog as co-protagonist. He wrote stories set largely in a restaurant, and he created characters named Bail Bond Dodd and J.P. Jones (the J.P. stands for "Just Plain." That's the man's name — Just Plain Jones.) Yet despite those slapstick touches, and plots, dialogue and action to match, the stories work as hard-boiled tales. Little touches in some of the stories may even reflect the grimness of the Great Depression; Davis published his first stories in the early 1930s.

Here's the opening sentence of "Something for the Sweeper":
"Jones limped slowly along, his rubbers making an irregular squeak-squish sound on the wet cement of the sidewalk."
Is that slapstick (squish-squish), or is it gritty urban realism? In Davis, it's both. When you get to the end of this tale of murder and deception, you'll find the story has come full circle.

Read more about Davis at the Thrilling Detective Web site.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

A wandering granddaughter job: My Bouchercon Hammett panel

Here's a post from December 2013 that is more relevant today than ever. I'll be discussing Dashiell Hammett with Julie M. Rivett and Richard Layman at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C., next month in a session called "Inside the Mind and Work of Dashiell Hammett."  The Bouchercon schedule calls it a special event, and I agree. Hammett was the best ever, and Julie and Rick know more about him than just about anyone else. See you there; the fun starts at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 10.
Julie M. Rivett, co-editor of The Hunter and Other Stories, the new volume of previously uncollected and unpublished work by Dashiell Hammett, drove up from Orange County to chat with Detectives Beyond Borders about the book, Hammett, the movie interpretations of his work, his critical reception at home and abroad, and other subjects—including some of her favorites among current crime writers.

Rivett is not just a Hammett scholar and researcher, she's also the daughter of Hammett's daughter Jo (she met her grandfather once, when she was 3 years old) and, she says, "What I want to come from this is that people will read [Hammett's work] as literature. I want to make him a rounder character."  Your humble blogkeeper says the book, co-edited with the noted Hammett biographer and scholar Richard Layman, will do just that, especially in the form of "The Secret Emperor."

Rivett says the combination of her personal contacts and Layman's professional ones strengthens their partnership. (They also worked together on Return of the Thin Man, which brought together two previously unpublished stories about Nick  and Nora Charles.) And, asked about the portrayals of Hammett as a communist, a drunk, or a bad family man, Rivett rebuts some of the stories, concedes others, and says: "It's always a difficult thing for me when people co-opt my actual grandfather."

Her list of favorite contemporary crime writers includes Declan Hughes, Dennis Lehane, Michael Koryta, and George Pelecanos, and if I were a crime writer favored by a descendant and scholar of the greatest of all crime writers, my sinews would come unstrung and my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth for a few minutes before I was able to resume writing.

Coming soon: Rivett on Hammett's reception in France and Italy, and the possibility of more Hammett material to come.
Rivett and I met for tea and a wine chaser at the Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard, close to stars on the Walk of Fame that honor several figures prominently connected with Hammett's life, career, and interests. Mary Astor's, Myrna Loy's, and Fatty Arbuckle's stars are within a block and a half of the restaurant, and later I found Peter Lorre's and also the one that honors some guy named Bogart. Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet were perfect for their roles in John Huston's celebrated film version of The Maltese Falcon, Rivett said, and Bogart, she added, while not physically perfect for the role, did marvelous things with the character.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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