Tuesday, November 21, 2017

News flash: Peter Lovesey is an MWA Grand Master

Peter Lovesey (Photograph for Detectives
Beyond Borders by Peter Rozovsky)
Mystery Writers of America have announced that Peter Lovesey has been named an MWA Grand Master. The Last Detective, first of Lovesey's novels about Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, is one of the best alienated-cop novels. I got to meet and chat with Lovesey at Crimefest 2017 in Bristol, and I am pleased to report that he is one of the most pleasant fellows one could want to meet, entertaining as a panelist and informative as an interview subject. And here's an old post about that most virtuosic of crime-fiction feats, Lovesey's Bertie and the Seven Bodies.
I like authors who solve narrative problems, and that superb craftsman and fine storyteller Peter Lovesey solved a whopper in his 1990 mystery Bertie and the Seven Bodies (Felony and Mayhem Press), the second of his three novels about Bertie, Prince of Wales.

I picked up this affectionate tribute to Golden Age mysteries, Agatha Christie's in particular, as a change of pace, and I noticed early on how skillfully Lovesey captures the flavor and tone of an English country-house mystery while at the same time remaining thoroughly up to date.

How does he do this? First by making the jovial prince and the pretty hostess more explicitly randy than his predecessors in the Golden Age probably would have; second, by describing the pheasant hunt that is the occasion for the story's house party far more thoroughly than I expect a Golden Age author would have done:

"The planning for this week of sport had begun more than a year ago, and the arrangements couldn't be altered at the drop of a hat. What with loaders, beaters, stops, pickers-up, drivers and catering staff, we could be using more than two hundred personnel."

"The dead birds were tidily lined up for counting, almost two hundred pheasants, one of the gamekeepers said, bringing our day's bag past seven hundred."

"I waited, flanked by my loaders, picturing the activity in the coverts as the fugitive birds scampered ahead of the beaters. A pheasant has a natural reluctance to take to its wings, and it requires a well-managed beat to put it up precisely over the guns without flushing too many other at once."

battue was faultless. They presented the birds in a long, soaring sequence almost vertically above us. I worked with three guns, receiving from the loader on my right, firing and passing it empty to the other man, never shifting my eyes from the sky."
The accumulated weight of these vignettes adds up to a startling picture of sybaritism, a portrait of long, hard work by many devoted to the idle and momentary enjoyment of a few. And yet they work as action and description without ever coming off as shrill, polemical, condescending or anachronistically knowing.

Why? Because Bertie describes the scene with an innocent eye. He does not know that what he sees might be appalling to the democratic and ecological sensibilities of today's readers. That distance safely allows us both to enjoy the scene and to be surprised, even shocked, by its waste and luxury. To put it another way, Lovesey has written the most socially authentic-seeming hunt scene I can remember in any crime story.

Lovesey appeals beautifully to current readers' sensibilities. At the same time, he maintains the atmosphere of a story composed in the past (that he does this all against yet a third layer of time, the story's 19th-century setting, is a matter for discussion elsewhere). What other authors do this?
(Read another Detectives Beyond Borders post about Bertie and the Seven Bodies.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008, 2017

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Friday, November 17, 2017


Three from Bristol shot by me, one from New Orleans not.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016, 2017

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Knowles and Truman: What I've been reading

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Top news from the antipodes: New Zealand's Ngaio Marsh Awards

Craig Sisterson, last heard from in this space explaining cricket to your humble blog keeper, sends along cool news about the recent Ngaio Marsh Awards, New Zealand's top crime fiction prize, and the flock of talented newcomers who won this year's awards. (Craig founded the awards, and I served as a judge a few years ago, so Craig is the man in N.Z. fiction, and I'm an old friend.)  Here's Craig:
"The usual suspects took a back seat as first-time crime writers Fiona Sussman, Finn Bell, and Michael Bennett swept the spoils at the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards in Christchurch on Saturday night.  
"The talented trio made history on several fronts at a special WORD Christchurch event hosted in Dame Ngaio’s hometown by Scorpio Books as part of nationwide NZ Bookshop Day celebrations.  
“`Each of our winners this year is a remarkable storyteller who uses crime writing as a prism through which to explore broader human and societal issues,' said Ngaios founder Craig Sisterson. `When we launched in 2010 we wanted to highlight excellence in local crime writing, beyond traditional ideas of puzzling whodunits or airport thrillers. Our 2017 winners emphasise that broader scope to the genre, and showcase the inventiveness and world-class quality of our local storytellers.' 
"Sussman is the first female author to win the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. THE LAST TIME WE SPOKE (Allison & Busby) is her second novel but the first foray into crime storytelling for the former GP who grew up in Apartheid South Africa. It explores the ongoing impact of a brutal home invasion on both victim and perpetrator. `Laden with empathy and insight,' said the international judging panel. `A challenging, emotional read, harrowing yet touching, this is brave and sophisticated storytelling.' 
"It took Sussman seven years to research and write her winning novel. She travelled Aotearoa visiting prisons, talking to police and victims, inmates and ex-gang members, and seeking advice from Māori writers to ensure she brought authenticity to the disparate worlds of her characters. She won a Ngaios trophy, special edition of a Dame Ngaio book, and $1,000 cash prize courtesy of WORD Christchurch. 
"Self-published e-book author Finn Bell won Best First Novel for DEAD LEMONS and was a finalist for Best Crime Novel for PANCAKE MONEY. His debut explores themes of addiction, loss, and recovery as a wheelchair-bound man contemplating suicide decamps to a remote cottage in Southland, only to be obsessively drawn into a dangerous search for a father and daughter who went missing years before.  
"Bell has worked in night shelters, charities, hospitals, and prisons. He is the first author to ever have two books become finalists in a single year. The judges called him `a wonderful new voice in crime writing' who `delivers a tense, compelling tale centred on an original, genuine, and vulnerable character.' 
"Experienced filmmaker Michael Bennett (Te Arawa) won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Non Fiction for IN DARK PLACES (Paul Little Books), the astonishing tale of how teenage car thief Teina Pora spent decades in prison for the brutal murder of Susan Burdett, and the remarkable fight to free him. The international judging panel called it `a scintillating, expertly balanced account of one of the most grievous miscarriages of justice in New Zealand history.' 
“`Decades ago a woman from Christchurch was among the biggest names in the books world,' said Sisterson. `In recent years there’s a growing appreciation abroad for the top talent of our contemporary Kiwi crime writers; a reputation that’s going to flourish even more thanks to this year’s winners.'" 
For more information about the Ngaio Marsh Awards, contact the Judging Convenor: craigsisterson@hotmail.com or ngaiomarshaward@gmail.com
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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