Friday, April 29, 2016

What they said at the 2016 Edgar Awards, or Paretsky-Mosley for president

All photos by your humble blogkeeper, Peter Rozovsky
Star systems sometimes work. Two of the biggest stars at the Mystery Writers of America's 2016 Edgar Awards dinner also cut two of the evening's most impressive figures. Walter Mosley, honored as the organization's 2016 grand master, spoke with exemplary humility, passion, and great good humor, often about subjects this country finds it difficult to discuss.

Sara Paretsky
And Sara Paretsky, named a grand master five years ago and the MWA's outgoing president, reported on her term in a way that suggested she could run any damned thing she wanted to.  I was even more impressed after a discussion with her at a post-awards party. Mosley and Paretsky would make a dynamic, popular, and, for all I know, capable presidential ticket. They could flip a coin to decide who would be president and who vice. W. Paul Coates, who introduced Mosley, would make a fine press secretary.

Martin Edwards
Other speakers were thought-provoking and inspirational in the best possible non-maudlin way. Margaret Kinsman, a scholar who received the MWA's Raven Award, said: "I would like you storytellers to know we in academics are some of your biggest fans."

Martin Edwards, whose book The Golden Age of Murder won the Best Critical/Biographical Edgar, said he gad "tried to address the rather patronizing attitude ... to these thoughtful mysteries of the 1920s.

Janet Rudolph
It was good to see Janet Rudolph receive the Ellery Queen Award. I've written for her Mystery Readers Journal, and she's been a friend to Detectives Beyond Borders for going on 10 years and to the crime fiction community at large for two decades before that.  And it was pleasant to see that Reed Farrel Coleman took the loss of his status as crime fiction's best basketball player with something like good grace.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walter Mosley
(Find a complete list of the 2016 Edgar Award nominees and winners at the Edgars Web site.)

Duane Swierczynski
Megan Abbott
© Peter Rozovsky 2018

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Words, words, words: Nine years of blog posts on Shakespeare as a crime writer

Photo by Peter Rozovsky
The 400th anniversary this week of William Shakespeare's death has crime readers and writers remarking on similarities between Shakespeare's work and crime fiction. Here are links to some posts I've made on that subject over the years.

Some of the posts sound the standard Shakespeare-crime themes, mainly that lots of people die by foul means in the plays. Another explores Shakespeare's use of repetition to build tension in Hamlet. One post I especially like discusses a 17th-century criticism of Shakespeare that sounds like a 20th-century criticism of Mickey Spillane or a 21st-century knock on noir.
Sarah Bernhardt
as Hamlet

  1. "Hamlet, our crime fiction contemporary"
  2. "Words, words, words"
  3. "Jeopardy! catches up to Detectives Beyond Borders, then gets one of its own questions wrong"
  4. "A bit more from a great seventeenth-century crime writer"
  5. "Bill Shakespeare, sleuth / A question for readers"
  6. "Critic blasts crime fiction for lacking ontological scrutiny"
  7. "An English writer's Scottish crime story," and my favorite of the bunch, a post in which
  8. I catch Samuel Johnson out for an erroneous Shakespeare attribution in his Dictionary of the English Language.
© Peter Rozovsky 2016


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Classical (and biblical) gas: Walter Mosley's characters

Walter Mosley in a photo
I wish I'd taken.
I've been reading some Walter Mosley in preparation for next week's Edgar Awards dinner, where Mosley will be named a grand master by Mystery Writers of America and I'll be snapping pictures and schmoozing. Once again I ask myself: Does any crime writer take the Western intellectual tradition as seriously as Mosley does?

He has created protagonists with names taken from biblical wisdom literature (Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins) and from the ur-figure of Greek philosophy (Socrates Fortlow), as a bonus giving the latter a surname related to a Latin root meaning "strong." I thus take it as doubly clever that when Mosley creates a hero short on book learning, he drops the classical and biblical allusions in the name and cuts straight to a quality like those that such names embody: Fearless Jones.

But the Fearless Jones books also include characters named Ulysses (known to all but his mother as "Useless") and Hector. And Fearless' brainy co-hero, who operates a used bookstore when he's not getting into deadly trouble, is Paris Minton.  I suspect, given Minton's susceptibility to female beauty, that he just may be named for Paris, who eloped with Helen and started the Trojan War.

I take it is significant that all those character names go back before the New Testament to Greece, Rome, and the Hebrew Bible. Mosley, I think, is interested in the very roots of things. I find circumstantial support for this view in the novel Fear of the Dark when Minton notices a shelf of Greek philosophers and says: "I like some'a these guys ... But I prefer the older generation: Herodotus, Homer, and Sophocles."

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Photos from the 2015 Edgar Awards banquet

James Ellroy
The Edgar Awards, given by the Mystery Writers of America, are coming up April 28, 2016, and this year two friends and associates of Detectives Beyond Borders' are up for awards: Adrian McKinty, up for Best Paperback Original Novel for Gun Street Girl, and Duane Swierczynski, nominated in the best novel category for Canary.

Ian Rankin, Stephen King,
Karin Slaughter, Stuart Neville
I'll be there taking pictures, schmoozing, and maybe asking a question or two of 2016 MWA Grand Master Walter Mosely.  In the meantime, some photos I took at the 2015 Edgars.

Stephen King, Hilary Davidson
© Peter Rozovsky 2016
Sara Paretsky
Stephen King, Karin Slaughter
James Ellroy
Sara Paretsky

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Thursday, April 07, 2016

Sweetheart of the Secret Service, or Bernie Sanders comes to (my place of) work

Bernie Sanders (Photos for Detectives Beyond Borders
by Peter Rozovsky)
Bernie Sanders came to Philadelphia today, including a stop at my newspaper for a chat with the editorial board and some reporters. 

We civilians got close enough for handshakes and, if one had a long enough lens, for good photos.  We were kept from getting too close to the glass-walled room where Sanders spoke by a woman I'd suspect must be the lowest-key and most genial agent in the Secret Service. 

"Where is the senator going next?" I asked.

"Need-to-know basis," she replied, but she smiled when she said it. "They only told me I was coming here this morning."

Granted, this was not the most dangerous situation in which a presidential candidate is likely to find himself. Still, the wide-shouldered, black-suited,  ultra-tense Secret Service man with a earphone stuck in his ear is such a reliable pop culture joke that the easy atmosphere surprised me. Even the black suits, the ones who stayed alert at all times and kept their eyes on the elevators and only occasionally wandered into the photos I was trying to line up seemed to be turned to 5 or 6, tops, on the tension meter.  So, props to the Secret Service for doing its job well.
Unlike Barack Obama eight years ago, Sanders did not walk through the newsroom. I was off  the day Obama dropped in, but everyone who was there reported that Obama joked about being shocked by the age of our computers, by one account giving the publisher a friendly chuck on the arm as he did so. And maybe that's why we kept Sanders away from our computers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

"It is coated with a yellow poison paste and comes from Canada"

Why Robert Musil's story "Flypaper" might interest readers here at Detectives Beyond Borders: First, because the opening sentence of his story "Flypaper" gives my native country a shout-out:
"Tangle-foot flypaper is approximately fourteen inches long and eight inches wide; it is coated with a yellow poison paste and comes from Canada."
That's enough to make anyone from Kitimat to Come By Chance proud.

Second, while the story is cooler and more detached than noir generally is, its final paragraph includes this:
"Sometimes even the next day, one of them wakes up, gropes a while with one leg or flutters a wing. Sometimes such a movement sweeps over the lot, then all of them sink a little deeper into death."
Noir is sometimes about the horror of sliding toward death. Musil's story is about the horror, and the dirty little thrill, of watching something else do the sliding.
Musil's great novel, The Man Without Qualities, which remained unfinished when he died in 1942, weighs in at about 1,100 to 1,700 pages in English translation, depending on how one counts. But I once boiled it down to six words, in response to a challenge on social media:
"Empire decays. People talk. War looms."
You should still read the book, my choice for greatest novel of the twentieth century. But if you don't have time, my summary is accurate.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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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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