Monday, March 28, 2016

Alan Glynn's latest

Reviewers have invoked James Ellroy and John le Carré when discussing Alan Glynn, and if I squint and hold my head at just the right angle, I can see resemblances. But Glynn's new novel, Paradime, is a lot more like David Mamet's 1997 movie The Spanish Prisoner than it is like anything by Ellroy and or le Carré.

The novel's fever-dream narration is intoxicating, its first section in particular a kind of contemporary nightmare picaresque. (A worker for a private military contractor in Afghanistan witnesses a shocking incident, comes back to New York City, discovers that the incident won't leave him alone, and finds aspects of the result a strangely attractive escape — addictive, even.)

The novel shares some themes with Glynn's previous books, The Dark Fields (also published as Limitless), Winterland, Bloodland, and Graveland: alienation, paranoia, helplessness in the face of corporate and government power, and the uncertainty of boundaries between the two. But, it seems to me, the action centers more on the protagonist than it does in the earlier novels, with distant but distinct echoes of mid-twentieth-century American noir.

The book also seems carefully constructed, full of epiphanies that shed shocking new light on earlier scenes. And that may be one more mark of its kinship with The Spanish Prisoner

© Peter Rozovsky 2016


Friday, March 25, 2016

A new book by, and an old post about, Alan Glynn (on words as self-deluding weapons)

Today's mail brought a copy of Alan Glynn's upcoming novel Paradime, and that is beyond good news. No crime or thriller writer is more alert to the scary power of language, to its manipulation by government and business elites (including, of course, Apple), and to our eager complicity in that manipulation. Have you ever been part of the conversation? Part of a narrative?  (If not, you will be. We can partner on that going forward.) If so, and if you take words seriously, and think they should mean what they say, you'll like Glynn.

Paradime is Glynn's fifth novel, following Winterland, Bloodland, Graveland, and The Dark Fields. (The last is also available as Limitless, the title of the movie adaptation that starred Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.) All the books are excellent.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

Words are weapons, and Alan Glynn knows weapons can be evasive and defensive as well as offensive.  Anyone who says "going forward" clearly would prefer that you not examine what he or she has left behind. (Is it any accident that going forward entered the American lexicon in a big way around the time Mark McGwire torpedoed his Hall of Fame chances by telling the U.S. Senate that he was not here to talk about the past?)

Glynn is alert to the ominous vogue uses of conversation and narrative, especially by corporations and politicians. But even the good guys in his books slip into jargon of their own, which adds to his novels' all-embracing sense of dread. Here's the crusading reporter Ellen Dorsey in his new novel, Graveland, (emphasis mine):
"Walking back to her apartment, she decides that with the lack of any intel on the perps, the only other likely route into the story is through the vics."
Perps is probably widespread enough in American usage (Graveland is set in New York) by now to have been stripped of whatever moral weight it may once have carried, and I'm not sure vics (for victims) is real slang. But intel is real, as fraught with self-importance and grandiosity as good, ominous slang ought to be. (A good test for a buzzword's bullshit quotient is how easily it can be replaced with an ordinary word. In this case, intel says nothing information would not. Its bullshit score is therefore 100.)
Here's Glynn on 1970s paranoia thrillers. And here's a question for you, readers: What are your least favorite buzzwords and phrases that have come into wide use since the early 1990s, say since the beginning of Bill Clinton's first administration? Why do you hate them? Here are two more of mine:
  • Friend modified by a person's name, e.g., a Clinton friend. Calls attention to the clubbiness of America's controlling elites, which might be good news except that reporters embraced the construction wholeheartedly. A (fill in the name) friend may a uniquely American construction. No one in the UK would see the need to call a prime minister's associate a Cameron friend because everyone would take for granted that, having gone to the same public schools before going on to Oxford or Cambridge, of course they were friends.
  • Conversation, as a neat catch-all for the vast, messy sprawl of opinions, verbal ejaculations, and seeming irrelevancies on a given subject, with the implication that the mess can be tidied up and manipulated. Trust no one who invites you to be part of the conversation, much less, as one of Glynn's characters does in Bloodland, to "change the conversation."
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Noir at the Bar: A few more pictures

A view from the stage at the Society Hill Playhouse
Duane Swierczynski
Erik Arneson
Here are a few more shots from Noir at the Bar Society Hill Playhouse: The Final Curtain.

Dennis Tafoya
© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Noir at the Bar in words and pictures

Edward G. Pettit
I served as MC for Saturday evening's Noir at the Bar Society Hill Playhouse: The Final Curtain,  and I spent the rest of the event with a hunk of metal, glass, and plastic pressed to my right eye snapping the pictures you see here. Not only that, but I inadvertently threw away the one page of notes I'd taken, so regard the following account with due skepticism.

Rick Ollerman
First we slipped our out-of-town visitors the Bavarian pretzel at Philadelphia's Brauhaus Schmitz, but we had to cut short the convivial piss-up before Adrian McKinty had sampled anything beyond a tiny fraction of the establishment's hundreds of beers. Over at the playhouse, nearing the end of its 57-year-run so it can be torn down for condos, we'd set up for what I believe was the biggest Noir at the Bar since I started Noir at the Bar in 2008: seventeen authors reading from their work, plus a staged reading of selections from a play about David Goodis and his brother.

Adrian McKinty

T. Fox Dunham
And we got through it all two minutes early, with the help of strict time limits and a boot in the ass from the theater's owner, Deen Kogan. The readings were a good mix of old favorites, samples of new work, and short stories by authors whose work I know from novels. I liked Ed Pettit's slice of Dickensian noir and Scott Adlerberg's version of the psychopath who is, by his lights, a perfectly normal guy. Ed and Scott are good readers, which only enhances the appeal of their writing.

Duane Swierczynski
Jen Conley, Ed Pettit
Jen Conley's reading verged close to horror, and she said afterward that her writing partakes of that genre as well as crime. William Lashner appears to have a sprawling piece of humorous noir on his hands. And Tony Knighton, a writer and Philadelphia firefighter who joined Noir at the Bar because I met his publisher in Bangkok in November, read a piece that invoked Northern Ireland shortly before McKinty left the premises to catch a bus back to New York.

Dana King
Tony Knighton
David Swinson
Duane Swierczynski and T. Fox Dunham were just two of the authors whose readings invoked real Philadelphia locations, and Erik Arneson gave fellow author Jon McGoran a place in his story in the guise of an orangutan. (McGoran returned the favor, though the fictional Arneson was human.)

Mark Krajnak, fellow shooter
and crime-scene fixture.
Richie Narvaez
The rest of the readers were old Detectives Beyond Borders favorites, with the accent on favorites: Dana King, Richie Narvaez, Rick Ollerman, Joe Samuel Starnes, Wallace Stroby,  David Swinson, Dennis Tafoya.

Dennis Tafoya, Deen Kogan, Wallace Stroby
C.J. Carpenter
It was all good fun, and we'll see you soon in Bristol, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Boston for a start.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Noir at the Bar: A rogues gallery

Duane Swierczynski
We're throwing a big Noir at the Bar this weekend, Saturday, March 19, 6:45 p.m,. at the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia. Be there for the biggest, best Noir at the Bar ever in the city where it all began.

(All photos by Peter Rozovsky)

© Peter Rozovsky 2016
Jen Conley

Adrian McKinty
Rick Ollerman
Scott Adlerberg
Wallace Stroby
Dennis Tafoya
Jon McGoran
Joe Samuel Starnes
David Swinson
Erik Arneson
William Lashner
Dana King
Ed Pettit

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Modern Ireland and modern Irish crime writers: A St. Patrick's Day post

For St. Patrick's Day, here's a post from a couple of years ago about Irish history and what you can learn about it from Irish crime writers.
 A passage in Adrian McKinty's novel The Bloomsday Dead alerted me to a certain tendency in Belfast to romanticize the present and the past (though McKinty states the case more pungently), and I may first have heard the term irregulars, for the anti-treaty military forces in the Irish Civil War, through Kevin McCarthy.

The dicey subject of Irish-German relations in the middle of the twentieth century? Stuart Neville deals with one strand of its aftermath in his novel Ratlines. (And it appears that Declan Burke may do so as well, in his latest.)  And Eoin McNamee wrote about the chilling sectarian hatred at the heart of one of Belfast's most notorious murder gangs in his novel Resurrection Man.

The strange, orphaned position of Northern Ireland, unloved by both the United Kingdom and Eire (or is that Ireland? Or the South? Or the Republic?) cannot have been portrayed more directly and more touchingly than in the passage of Garbhan Downey's (I forget in which book) where a politician from the North tells a counterpart from the South something like: "I know you regard us as the unwanted child you'd rather tie up in a sack and toss into the river." And my first inkling that Irish history was more complicated than the Manichean pieties we get in America came when Gerard Brennan took me to the Irish Republican History Museum off the Falls Road in Belfast.

I've just finished reading Part IV of R.F. "Roy" Foster's Modern Ireland 1600-1972, and I was periodically surprised and delighted when his entertaining, opinionated, analytical, non-ax-grinding history would touch upon subjects dealt with in some depth by each of the above-mentioned Irish crime writers. Foster's declaration, for example, that
"For all the rhetoric of anti-Partitionism, opinion in the Republic was covertly realistic about this point, too: the predominant note of modern Ireland in 1972 was that of looking after its own."
says in historical terms what Downey does in fictional ones, and induces a similar twinge of sympathy for Northern Ireland's people, if not its leaders.

So thanks, Irish crime writers, for writing entertaining popular fiction while casting an intelligent eye on the problematic present and past of your problematic country.

Foster's bibliographic essay at the end of Modern Ireland mentions one Irish crime writer by name, though not for her crime fiction:
"There are few first-rate biographies for the period, one glowing exception being R. Dudley Edwards' Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure, which illuminates far more than its subject."
Looking for more? Edwards, Downey, McNamee, and Brennan contributed stories to Akashic Books' Belfast Noir collection, edited by McKinty and Neville.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why I like Henri Pirenne better than "Chris" Wickham, plus Black Wings Has My Angel

I've read all or parts of three books recently by the great historian Henri Pirenne, who wrote in the last century, and never once does he use the words narrative, storyline, or interventionist. That's one reason I like him better than I do his successor in our time Chris Wickham. Another is that Wickham writes under the name Chris, even though his name is Christopher. Call me old school, but I say save that informality for the pub. If you're going to write a book about ancient Rome and its heritage in the Middle Ages, use your full name.

2) Black Wings Has My Angel is as chilling a work of noir as it is said to be, and it has been reprinted by New York Review Books, so you know it packs a ton of literary respectability. But don't hold that against Elliott Chaze's 1953 novel, originally published by Gold Medal. The novel follows several conventions of mid-century noir (readers of Jim Thompson might like it, or of Charles Williams at his darkest, for example), and it does does so thoroughly and well. But Chaze's writing is so understated, its narrator/protagonist's reaction to his hellish so circumstances so heartbreakingly matter-of-fact at times and so tragically noble at others, that the book becomes at the same time something more.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Floodgate: Why you should read Johnny Shaw's amazing new book

Johnny Shaw's new novel may not transcend a genre, but it embraces lots of them. Floodgate partakes of 1930s-style urban crime story, comedy, heartstring-tugging melodrama, dystopian urban fantasy, non-dystopian contemporary urban comedy, Western, epic (albeit filtered through The Warriors), martial arts (albeit with unexpected weapons), gangster fiction, ninja movies, old-time family melodrama, graphic novels without pictures, picaresque, and men's adventure.

That's less a departure for Shaw than it is an explosive expansion of areas he tackled in his previous fiction: the touching, deadpan-funny, violent rural noir of the novels Plaster City, Big Maria, and Dove Season, and the affectionate tributes to 1970s men's adventure of Blood and Tacos, including Shaw's own "Chingón: The World's Deadliest Mexican."

What holds all this together? What keeps it from becoming winking pastiche, the sort of thing that makes people who think they're clever say: "I see what you did there"? Shaw's narrative pace. His ability to lampoon a literary tradition's excesses while loving them at the same time. The occasional gut-busting jokes (My favorites in Floodgate are the epigraphs that purport to be excerpts from real memoirs, histories, plays, and news reports about the novel's setting of Auction City.) And Shaw's heart. A reader is just as likely to be touched by the resignation of a character about to die as to laugh out loud at the jokes and japery.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016


Sunday, March 06, 2016

Carpool to Hell: A day with David Goodis and his friends

Roosevelt Memeorial Park, Trevose, Pa. (Photos by Peter Rozovsky)
Edward G. Pettit
Tony Knighton, Ed Pettit, Cullen Gallagher
Excellent fun Sunday on the annual Carpool to Hell in honor of David Goodis' 99th birthday. Stimulating conversation with Lou Boxer (Dr. NOIRCON), Jay A Gertzman, Edward G Pettit, Cullen Gallagher, Tony Knighton, Daniel Wolkow, and more fellow carpoolers, shopping at the great Port Richmond Books, and the most gin I have ever drunk before 4:30 in the afternoon. That's a pretty good day, and we can talk more about it on March 19 at Noir at the Bar: The Final Curtain: Society Hill Playhouse.

Dr. Lou "Shadow" Boxer, Goodis fan and
founder of Noircon 
The site of Goodis' childhood home in the Logan
section, since vanished along with the rest of
several blocks in a sinkhole of ash, shoddy
construction, and millions of dollars worth of
Until then, read my previous posts about Goodis (click the link, then scroll down).

© Peter Rozovsky 2016
The Goodis house on North 11th Street in Philadelphia's East Oak Lane section (Goodis' bedroom was behind the window at left.). Goodis lived here after his return from Hollywood, and he wrote some of his best-known noir novels in this house.
The docks of Philadelphia, cleaned up since Goodis' day.
Goodis fans at Roosevelt Memorial Park