Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Sen and sensibility: Detectives Beyond Borders schmoozes three Nobel Prize winners

In honor of Nobel Prize announcement season, I bring back this post, which I promise to update the next time I have coffee with a Nobel laureate.
The number of Nobel laureates with whom I have exchanged pleasant words grew to three this week when I attended a lecture by Amartya Sen, who won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1998 for his work on poverty, famine, and welfare economics.

"You can't have a humane society without considerations beyond your own interests," Sen told his audience at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and if that's a surprise from an economist, consider Wikipedia's summation of the economics classic with which Sen began his lecture. That book's author
"critically examines the moral thinking of his time, and suggests that conscience arises from social relationships. His goal in writing the work was to explain the source of mankind's ability to form moral judgements, in spite of man's natural inclinations towards self-interest. [He] proposes a theory of sympathy, in which the act of observing others makes people aware of themselves and the morality of their own behavior."
If you know as little as I do about the literature of economics, you may be surprised to learn that the economist in question is Adam Smith — you know, the invisible-hand, self-interest guy (The book is The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the Penguin Classics edition of which comes with an introduction by Sen.)

I won't bore you with statistics and numbers, because Sen didn't bore me with them. Rather, he made the simple case that social factors, ethics, and indices of social well-being and misery all have a place at the economist's table, and he did so without turning preachy or dogmatic. In short, he's the kind of professor who might have made me an economics major had we crossed paths when I was in college.

Sen moves beyond the traditional purview of economics when he talks and writes about India, where he was born in 1933. His essays in The Argumentative Indian make the case that dissent, heterodoxy, and respect for opposing viewpoints have been integral to Indian culture at least from the time of Arjuna's debate with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and constitute a touchstone of India's present and its future. And that constitutes his rebuttal to the chauvinist, nationalist Hindutva movement in Indian politics, whose apparently organized campaign on Amazon has done so much to generate interest in Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History.

"Oh, yes! They have attacked me!" Sen said as he signed my copy of The Argumentative Indian.

"Be proud of your one-star reviews!" I replied. If the line of autograph-seekers behind me had not stretched a fair way down a hallway, we'd have high-fived.

 (My previous most personal contact with a Nobel winner came in 1986, when I sipped coffee with Dario Fo, the Italian actor/playwright, who ordered decaf because he needed sleep. He regarded his envelope of Sanka with suspicion before tearing, pouring, stirring, and sipping. Then he made a face, shook his head sadly, and said in the one language we could speak with something approaching mutual comprehension, "Détestable!"

(My third Nobel encounter was more memorable for the beautiful, philo-Semitic water polo fan in line behind me as we waited for Isaac Bashevis Singer to sign our books.  "Tell him something in Yiddish!" she said. Alas, the moment did not mark the beginning of a torrid fling.)
Sen's dynamic view of the Sanskrit classics sent me in search of The Mahābhārata. To my delight, the opening of that ancient book suggests that it may be as glorious a celebration of storytelling as The Thousand and One Nights.  I doubt if I'll write a complete review any time soon, though. The Mahābhārata is variously said to be seven, 10, or 11 times as a long as The Iliad and The Odyssey put together.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Bouchercon 2017: A photographic gallery of Canadians

Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto happens in two weeks. Here are some photos I shot at previous Bouchercons. I've been attending Bouchercons since 2008, but these photos date from the modern era, which began in 2014 (Long Beach), when I bought my first good digital camera.

First up is John McFetridge, who writes terrific crime novels, always volunteers to help out at Bouchercon, and has a big role in hosting the 2017 version in the city where he lives.

Next, Sarah Weinman, a member of a panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh. Sarah will return the favor in Toronto when she leads a panel called "History of the Genre," on which I make my first Bouchercon appearance as a panelist.

Sticking to the Canadian theme for a Canadian Bouchercon, here's Jacques Filippi, co-editor with John McFetridge of the upcoming Montreal Noir collection from Akashic Books. This is a rare bar photo, from Bouchercon 2015.

Finally, Dietrich Kalteis, on a panel in Bouchercon 2014, with Cara Black. Dietrich is from Vancouver, so the photo has 50 percent Canadian content.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Egyptian noir, noisy Parker, quiet Melville

Some question and observations from my recent spate of crime-movie viewing:
  • When did movies become music videos? Elevator to the Gallows used a small-group Miles Davis soundtrack to enhance the story mood. Logan Lucky, decades later and an ocean away, on the other hand, acts as if its viewers are incapable of processing, feeling, or thinking anything without a song to tell them what to do. And, if its opening scene, as offered on movie theater web sites, is characteristic of the movie as a whole, Baby Driver is even worse.
  • The above made me grateful for those considerable stretches of Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic where Jean-Pierre Melville let ambient sound tell the story.
  • Melville (or his sound engineers) used sound more subtly than did John Boorman (or his sound engineers) in the roughly contemporaneous Point Blank, based on The Hunter, Richard Stark's first novel featuring the affectless heistman Parker.  The overamplified footsteps of Lee Marvin in the latter film are overkill, one of that movie's few, er, missteps. Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic came near the end of Melville's career, while Point Blank was one of Boorman's earliest efforts. Could maturity have been responsible for Melville's resistance to gimmickry?
  • Point Blank is at or near the top of nearly everybody's best Parker adaptations, and it deserves to be there. But Boorman and Lee Marvin's Walker is not Stark's Parker. He's very much more rattled, conflicted, closer to being sucked up into the chaos of his time that Parker ever was. Perhaps that's because Stark's novel appeared in 1962, Boorman's movie in neurotic, psychedelic 1967.
  • Melville's movies look even better than they sound. Particularly in Un Flic, Melville's visual aesthetics (or his cinematographer's) are much like what I try to do in my own photography.
  • Logan Lucky has a distinctive look, too, thanks mostly to the cast, whose stolid, care-worn expressions are an eloquent counterpart to the glitzy commercialism of Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of the movie's central heist. The director, Stephen Soderbergh, knew what he wanted from his cast, and his cast knew how to deliver. Kudos to all.
  • The Nile Hilton Incident is the first noir(ish) movie I can recall set in Egypt. It has sex and it has police corruption, both familiar ingredients of American crime writing, but its time and place (Egypt, the "Arab Spring" in 2011) lend a sharper edge to the latter. The movie makes me want to look up Z and The Battle of Algiers.
  • The movie's protagonist, a relatively upright Cairo police officer named Noredin Mostafa, gets comically exasperated in an Internet shop, a scene that filled me with nostalgia for interesting experiences I'd had at public Internet cafes and shops in Tunisia, Croatia, and Germany. (My favorite was the Tunisian bloke who was about to get married and who, when I ran into him as I updated my blog at a Tunis Internet store, was browsing photos of prospective Russian brides. Or maybe it was the manager of the Internet shop in Split with whom I discussed Caetano Veloso and who confided that his dream was to see Neil Young in concert.) 
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Adrian McKinty wins another award

Adrian McKinty's novel Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly has won Australia's Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel. The award follows his capture of the Best Paperback Original prize at the Edgar Awards in New York this past spring for Rain Dogs. Here's what I had to say about Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly earlier this year.
 Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series, now six novels into what was once called the Troubles Trilogy, keeps getting better and better.

The language is gorgeous, the characters are endearing, the atmosphere full both of humor and of off-hand, everyday life, menacing and otherwise. With this much good crime writing coming out of Northern Ireland, how can anyone mention the Nordic countries in the same breath? Hell, how about the rest of the world? With McKinty ably supported by a cast that includes Stuart Neville just as a start, why is Northern Ireland not routinely numbered among the world's great crime fiction locations?

McKinty's books portray their settings as vividly as do Arnaldur Indriðason's Erlendur novels, set in Iceland (and they're a lot funnier). His Sean Duffy is as endearingly flawed as Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano (Poetry and music are to Duffy what food is to Montalbano, and the two characters lead similarly complicated romantic lives, although— but you'll have to read Book Six, the recently released Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly, to complete that thought.)  McKinty's Belfast is every bit as vivid a crime fiction locale as Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseille.  And he turns as unsparing an eye on that locale as Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö did on Sweden in their Martin Beck novels

Not only that, but McKinty deftly takes on any number of traditional mystery and crime tropes, and the Duffy series and their protagonist are erudite without being condescending. McKinty has also long attacked the notion that a writer's style ought to be workmanlike and invisible. He champions David Peace and James Ellroy, for example, so you know you're bound to find a gorgeous passage or two, prose you can relish for its own sake, in every book.  And if you listen to books, you're in for a treat. Gerard Doyle, the reader of the Sean Duffy audiobooks, is a master of accents, and he gives each character a distinct voice without ever descending to bathos and exaggeration. The audio versions pair the best of crime novels with the best of audiobook readers.

(The five previous Sean Duffy novels are The Cold, Cold Ground; I Hear the Sirens in the Street; In the Morning I'll be Gone; Gun Street Girl; and Rain Dogs. I've been a McKinty fan for years. Read all my Detectives Beyond Borders posts about his work.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Friday, September 01, 2017

New noir photos

Photos by Peter Rozovsky for
Detectives Beyond Borders

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

There goes the bride: A Bouchercon 2009 chase scene

I'm preparing for my two panels at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto. In the meantime, here's a post about an odd spectacle from Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis.
(Photos courtesy of Anita Thompson)

Our small gang had set out for a late lunch and agent's party at Bouchercon when we met what appeared to be a body of vestal virgins delivering pizza.

"Have you seen a bride?" one of them asked me.

Alas, I had not.

I don't know if they ever found what they were looking for, but Bridesmaid #1 seemed determined to lead the satin-swathed entourage through every park and monument in downtown Indianapolis if she had to.

Later we saw a banquet setting up at the restaurant where we'd gone for the lunch/agent's shindig — a wedding reception, perhaps? — but no bridal party.

Sounds like a mystery to me.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bouchercon panels are up!

Panel schedules for Bouchercon 2017 have been posted, and I'll take part in two sessions, including my first as a panelist rather than a moderator.

On Thursday, Oct. 12, at 11:30 a.m., Sarah Weinman will lead me, Margaret Cannon, Martin Edwards, Alex Gray, and David A. Poulsen in a session called "History of the Genre: Covering decades of good mysteries and its subgenres." Sarah is the North American Martin Edwards, and Martin is the British Sarah Weinman. No sharper and more knowledgeable crime fiction minds exist on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Margaret is crime fiction critic for the Toronto Globe and Mail, and Alex and David are two authors new to me, which is one of the pleasures of Bouchercon panels.

On Friday at 5 p.m., I resume the moderator's role, talking crime fiction in Norway, Thailand, Cambodia, Iceland, Ecuador, and Italy, Thomas Enger, Christopher G. Moore, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Leonardo Wild, and Timothy Williams. The panel is called "Across the Ponds," I've already begun assembling my questions,  and I'll see you there.
Follow these links for the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday schedules.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"We're in a Jam!": My first look at They Live By Night

The Wikipedia article on They Live By Night, Nicholas Ray's 1948 movie based on Edward Anderson's 1937 novel Thieves Like Us, offers interesting observations, and I have some of my own. First, Wikipedia:

Bosley Crowther's review of They Live By Night, included the following, according to the Wikipedia entry:
"Although it ... is misguided in its sympathies for a youthful crook, this crime-and-compassion melodrama has the virtues of vigor and restraint ... They Live by Night has the failing of waxing sentimental over crime, but it manages to generate interest with its crisp dramatic movement and clear-cut types."
 Those italicized bits are likely to raise eyebrows today, and, not knowing much about Crowther except his name, I have to wonder if he really hated noir as much as the first boldface bit makes it appear. I give Crowther a possible pass on the second highlighted portion. Though it seems almost as stridently moralistic as the first portion, many of the early film noirs were indeed sentimental, or at least melodramatic. Many American movies that came to be called film noir were, in fact, once referred to as melodramas.

The Wiki article credits They Live By Night with being the first movie to include action scenes shot from a helicopter and, indeed, its opening sequence is stunning, a gorgeous and compelling in medias res opening. A later shot from above, of fleeing crooks, seems heavy-handed, however, a telegraphing that the crooks are being observed and will be caught and come to a bad end. Here the technique has not dated well, probably no fault of Nicholas Ray's or cinematographer George E. Diskant. We're all so much more visually sophisticated than we were 70 years ago.

I'll save my own comments for later; this post grows long. The comments will likely revolved men and the city, women and the country, and the encounters between the first and the second in American crime novels and movies from the middle of the twentieth century. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Philadelphia noir

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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New York noir in color II

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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New York noir in color

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Bouchercon 2017, in which I'll answer questions rather than ask them

Sarah Weinman. Photo by Peter Rozovsky
for Detectives Beyond Borders
Sarah Weinman will step to the microphone to ask me some incisive questions on a panel at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto this October. The panel is called "History of the Genre," it will be my first gig as a panelist rather than a moderator, and I'll share the stage with Martin Edwards, David A. Poulsen, Margaret Cannon, and Alex Gray.

Sarah is one of the savviest people in crime fiction, and so is Martin. Margaret is one of the more respected crime fiction critics out there, and Alex and David are two authors new to me, which is one of the pleasures of Bouchercon panels. I'm going to have some fun and learn something from this session, and I hope you'll be part of it.
"History of the Genre: Covering decades of good mysteries and its subgenres" happens from 11:30 to 12:30 a.m. in the Sheraton E room at the Sheraton Centre  in Toronto. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sunshine Noir, the CWA Dagger awards, and me

I feel a kinship with the shortlists (one word in British usage) for the Crime Writers Association Dagger awards, announced last week. Two of the six finalists for best short story "The Assassination," by Leye Adenle; and "Snakeskin," by Ovidia Yu   appeared in Sunshine Noir, a collection of short stories set in hot places. Here's what I wrote about Adenle's story in my introduction to the volume (I gave the introduction the title "Clime Fiction," and the indulgent editors, Annamaria Alfieri and Stan Trollip, in his role as part of the writing team of Michael Stanley, were kind enough to let it stand):

"Leye Adenle’s `The Assassination' is a taut tale of death and political corruption that harks back to honorable precedents in crime and espionage writing but is redolent of its setting, which I take to be the author’s country, Nigeria."

Here's what I wrote about Yu's:

"If you want gothic-tinged domestic mystery, you’ll find it in Sunshine Noir. (Family secrets flourish in steamy air. Try Ovidia Yu's `Snake Skin.')"

Three of the remaining shortlisted stories are from Motives for Murder, edited by Martin Edwards, including one by Edwards himself. I have no connection with Motives for Murder, but I will join Edwards on a panel at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto. So when it comes to Daggers, I know almost everybody's shorts.

(Read about the nominees in all categories on the CWA website: https://thecwa.co.uk/the-daggers/)

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What was the high point of sound engineering in American movies? plus two questions for readers

James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor, the
novel on which
Three Days of the Condor is based.
Photo by Peter Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond
Were the late 1960s into the mid-1970s a high point of sound engineering in American crime movies? Bullitt (1967) is noted for its car chase, but, I wrote when I saw the movie for the first time that:
"I don't remember ever having seen a movie so self-conscious about its sound editing. Footsteps clatter loudly and significantly. Characters gesticulate and argue behind glass, seen but unheard. Pumps pump menacingly. Characters breathe loudly, and if you know Jacques Tati, you know where the movie makers got their idea for the hospital lobby scene with its busy ambient sound and utter absence of dialogue."
Last weekend I saw Three Days of the Condor (1975) at the Film Forum, and it used the teletype machine in the CIA front-organization office the way Bullitt used machines (EKGs) in an intensive care unit. Reviewing a DVD rerelease of Bullitt in 2005, the American Cinematographer website wrote of the famous car chase that "the music drops out and the whole scene is `scored' with a cacophony of revving engines and screeching tires."

I like that better than I like thudding music at one extreme and the triteness of echoing footsteps at the other, but I don't know much of the history of sound in movies. So, two questions: What are the high points of sound in American movies, and What are your favorite uses of sound (and why)?

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Good noir at a good bar, Part II: The Photographs

Angel Luis Colón
A few more photos from the Noir at the Bar I wrote about yesterday, all by Peter Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond Borders:
Suzanne Solomon
Nik Korpon, Angel Luis Colón, Nick Kolakowski,
Brian Panowich

Dj Alkimist, Nancy ThiLan Hart-Aymar

Suzanne Solomon (left), Ed Aymar
(right), Todd_Robinson and Rory
Costello (in mirror)

Joe Clifford
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Good noir at a good bar, Part I

I've complained, most recently in a discussion on Jay Stringer's Facebook wall, that "too many writers (of noir and neo-noir) think sticking their characters in a trailer park and having them crack wise while spitting out teeth near the meth lab is enough." I recently attended a Noir at the Bar at New York's Shade Bar that presented several exceptions. Here's what made some of those readings stand out.

Danny Gardner. Photos by Peter
Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond
Borders, except where notes.
Danny Gardner is also a stand-up comedian and an actor, so he reads well. Beyond that, his story, from an upcoming anthology inspired by Johnny Cash's songs ("Black people love Johnny Cash," he said, citing Cash's employment of black musicians and his refusal to play venues were black people were not admitted), hit on social themes, striking hard without coming on preachy. His story, he said, is about gun violence, its consequences, and who causes it. (Hint: It's not young black males.) When he did address a social problem directly, it seemed more an exciting Brechtian provocation than middle-class slumming, guilt mongering, or do-gooding.

Brian M. Panowich
Brian Panowich, unrecognizable at first because I'd never seen him without his cowboy hat, read with expression and emotion and offered the terrific sight gag of yanking out one of his teeth. The villain of his story was unexpected, as were the MacGuffin and, especially, the story's ending. Like Gardner's story, Panowich's offered unflinching explicit violence. Unlike too much new noir, neo-noir, and recent hard-boiled, both took that violence seriously, again without preaching or anything approaching torture porn.

Eric Beetner
Eric Beetner, who runs Noir at the Bar in Los Angeles, threw a gracious hat tip my way for creating Noir at the Bar here in Philadelphia in 2008. He also read a story that embraced the misty glamour of 1940s Los Angeles in every word without, however, tumbling into schmaltz. That's no easy feat, and it shows the man has chops.

Ed Aymar
Ed Aymar, who organizes Noir at the Bar in Washington, D.C., read a story that centered on looting and packed a contemporary punch even as it harked back in a highly satisfying way to noir's roots in melodrama. And these four writers are four reasons I feel better about new noir and neo-noir than I did last week.

(Jen Conley and Scott Adlerberg organized the New York event, and Gardner, Panowich, Beetner, and Aymar were just four of a large group of readers. I'll write about some of them soon, In the meantime, here's a photo of all the readers plus Jen and Scott, courtesy of Mark Krajnak.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Le Trou, Donald Westlake, and everything: Atmosphere in noir and elsewhere

"`Don't you see? There's a plan there, but you have to convert it to the real world, to the people you've got and the places you'll be, and all the rest of it. You'd be the auteur."

-- May to Dortmunder in Jimmy the Kid, by Donald Westlake
Photos by Peter Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond Borders.
That photo at right is the closest thing to a noir photo I shot in New York Saturday, and that's only because it's black and white and has some dark shadows. OK, maybe the lack of natural light and the photo's underground setting have something to do with it. Oh, and the walkway in question runs under Times Square, but you might not know that unless I told you or unless you knew New York fairly well. But the point is that noir isn't just a literary form or a fatalistic view of life; it's also atmosphere.

It's Jeanne Moreau wandering through the streets of Paris in the rain looking for her lover in Elevator to the Gallows. It's Alain Delon smoking a cigarette in just about anything; Le Samourai will do for a start. Atmosphere of a different kind was at work in Le Trou, one of two movies that brought me to New York and the Film Forum.

Le Trou ("The Hole") is a 1960 French prison-break drama directed by Jacques Becker, and I suspect that many Americans will find that it doesn't feel like a prison movie. The five (!) prisoners crammed into a small cell at Paris' La Santé Prison don't fight or rape each other. Instead, they share the contents of packages they receive from the outside, and they cooperate on an escape plan.  The atmosphere, that is, is one of teamwork rather than confrontation. And Becker fills the movie with the five men digging and reconnoitering and planning without, however, gimmicky attention boosters and false drama and wrong turns and screeching music to tell viewers how they ought to feel. (J. Hoberman's New York Times article touches on some of these questions, with a hat tip to Suzanne Solomon for putting the article in my way.)
I included the Westlake snippet above because the coincidence of coming to a discussion of auteur theory just when I was preparing a post about a French movie from 1960 was too good to pass up. But Le Trou may remind viewers of Westlake's comic Dortmunder novels and the Parker heist dramas he wrote as Richard Stark. Parker is a planner and Dortmunder is a planner, and so are Roland and Manu, two of the cellmates who plan the escape in Le Trou. The other three are something like the Kelps and Murches and Grofields and Deverses who fill out the teams that execute Parker's and Dortmunder's plans.

I had some quibbles with Le Trou's ending; see the movie, and we'll talk about it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

My sixth cover photo!

My latest book-cover photo is now available, complete with a novel by Philadelphia's own Tony Knighton. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Knighton's Three Hours Past Midnight joins a worthy group of crime novels and story collections whose covers have featured my photography.

That group includes:

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Monday, June 26, 2017

My visit with Dashiell Hammett, tough guys' corner, and short-pantsed tourists awed into respectful silence

Dashiell Hammett, who wrote a few good crime novels and stories, served in the Army in World Wars I and II and thus earned himself burial at Arlington National Cemetery.  He's not the only figure buried there who made his name outside the military.

Tough in the ring and out
Lee Marvin is buried right next to Joe Louis. The Wikipedia entry on Marvin makes a statement about Marvin that will seem Marvinlike to fans of his movies. Marvin, Wikipedia says, had been a corporal in the Marines but was busted down to private first class after "causing trouble."

Elsewhere, have you ever seen a crowd of tourists silent, not even yapping away on cellphones? If not, you haven't visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2017