Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Bouchecon panels: "The third time he pulled the trigger she disappeared"

This post's title is the end of Ennis Willie's story "Con's Wife." The story's first line is "He had three eyes."  For all the talk about Willie's tough-guy persona and his raw, first-draft prose style, and his roots in sleaze magazines and paperbacks of the 1960s, the man could write.

He's Richard S. Prather without the jokes, Mickey Spillane without the political frothing to which Spillane could descend at his worst.  His protagonist, Sand, is what Carroll John Daly's Race Williams would have been if Daly had been a better writer.

Willie is also a bit of a mystery man, at various times thought to be a) African American, b) Mickey Spillane, or c) dead, though the truth turns out to be simpler and, hence, more mysterious than the speculation.  You can read him in two collections available from Ramble House: Sand's Game and Sand's War, which include novels, stories, and appreciations from leading hard-boiled writers and commentators, including Bill Crider, Max Allan Collins, and Bill Pronzini.

So get your Willie. He's tough, fast, satisfying and, thanks to Ramble House, cheap. (Read the first chapter of Death in a Dead Place, included in Sand's Game, on the Ramble House Web site.)
Max Allan Collins will offer some comments on Ennis Willie as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014. The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: "I met Gloria at a fly-by-night school in Long Beach"

This post's title is taken from The Double Take, by Roy Huggins, a great creator and co-creator of television series (Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive, The Rockford Files) who, according to Max Allan Collins, might have become one of the giants of crime writing had he not gone Hollywood.

Collins knows his Huggins, and he'll talk about Huggins as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in the very same Long Beach where Norma Shannon met "Gloria" in The Double Take.

Roy Huggins
The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14.

In the meantime, read the Thrilling Detective Web Site on Huggins,  Stephen J. Cannell's memories of Huggins and a summing up of Huggins' television career from the Museum of Broadcast Communications, complete with an impressive list of credits.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Friday, September 19, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: Belfast Noir

It's tough writing about a volume of short stories, since, even more than with novels, one wants to avoid giving away spoilers and narrative twists.

Suffice it to say that Belfast Noir, out in November from Akashic Books, looks like one of the strongest, possibly the best entry in Akashic's "City Noir" series, and I don't say that just because the book's two editors plus one of its contributors will be part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in November.

Quite apart from the quality of the eight stories I've read so far, the pieces are well-chosen and the volume intelligently planned. Its four sections recognize not just Belfast's violent recent past, but the realities of its quotidian present. Most of the stories depict no violence directly, but violence, and the possibility or memory thereof, loom always. That's a lot more effective than whipping out a kneecapping or rolling down the balaclavas whenever the action lags.

I especially like Brian McGilloway's "The Undertaking," which opens the collection with hair-raising humor and suspense.  Akashic's Dublin Noir also opens with a comic story (by Eoin Colfer), and that story was the highlight of the volume for me. I don't know if it's an Irish thing, but  comedy is a wonderful against-type way to open a collection of crime stories. Oh, and I'll also want to read more by Lucy Caldwell.
Belfast Noir's editors, Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 Friday, Nov. 14, at 11:30 a.m.  So will Gerard Brennan, who contributed a story to the collection. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

James Ellroy, historical novelist

(Me and James Ellroy. Photo by a friendly bystander, photo
cropping and color desaturation by your humble blog keeper.)
James Ellroy says he "started out as a mystery writer, a crime writer. I became something else."

I've known that for a while, other readers of his recent novels have to have known it as well, and Ellroy has long said he doesn't write crime anymore. But what is that something else that he became?

A historical novelist, he said Wednesday at Mysterious Bookshop and, with his new Perfidia, a writer of historical romance. "In the course of going from mystery writer, from crime novelist, to historical novelist," he said, "I crafted the L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz)."

Perfidia is the first novel of a second L.A. Quartet. More than in the first quartet and more even than in the Underworld U.S.A. trilogy (American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, Blood's a Rover), the book's action is rooted in the moment of history that provides its setting.

That moment is December 1941 (The book's action begins on Dec. 6), and the centerpiece is the roundup of Japanese and Japanese Americans in and around Los Angeles, what Ellroy calls "the great injustice of the Japanese internment."

Virtually everything else in the book--the killings, the sex, the breakdown of social boundaries, the shady land deals--flows from the fact of the internment, planning for which is underway through most of the course of the novel.

The book is populated largely by characters from Ellroy's previous books, portrayed this time as their considerably younger selves. The four protagonists are Hideo Ashida, a police chemist; William Parker, a police captain in 1941 and later the real-life Los Angeles police chief; the demonic police sergeant Dudley Smith, a fixture in previous books; and Kay Lake, a young woman from Sioux Falls, S.D., whom Ellroy called his greatest fictional creation.  The revisiting of characters from previous books will be great fun for readers of those books.  It also provides at least one shocking surprise.

The novel may lack the stylistic daring of The Cold Six Thousand and naughty shtick and grotesque comic high-jinks of Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, John F. Kennedy, and the Las Vegas mob bosses from previous books.  What is does offer is increased emphasis on tortured redemption, of the kind Wayne Tedrow Jr., Ward Littell, and Robert F. Kennedy exemplified in the Underworld U.S.A. books.

That, and more thinking about 20th-century American history. "The whole book is a riff on democracy," Ellroy said Wednesday evening. "1941 in America was a time of utterly outlandish belief," he said, and he called it a sign of American goodness and greatness that the United States did not fall to its own currents of lunatic populism, nativism, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, the way other countries did.
Ellroy also offered thoughts on movie adaptations of his work. Three of the leads in L.A. Confidential (Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes, Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken, and Russell Crowe as Bud White),  he said, were not believable as their characters.  He didn't say they were bad, just not believable. But--and this is why I would love to grill Ellroy further on movies--the movie is "not an outright dog, as I believe the overpraised Chinatown to be."

© Peter Rozovsky 2014 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: The Bloomsday Dead's best paragraph

Adrian McKinty suggested in a comment on this blog that the great Northern Ireland crime novel will be written by a woman. Declan Burke called David Park's The Truth Commissioner "a very brave stab at writing ‘the great post-Troubles Northern Irish novel’," whereupon I immediately added it to my to-read list.

Both those gents, being Irish and having grown up there, one in the North, one in the South, are obviously far more qualified than I am to speculate on this matter. But the notion of "the" great anything is dangerous, at least in the hands of an outsider such as your humble blogkeeper. It carries with it the whiff of a suggestion that once one has read "the" great novel, one can move on to other subjects. I hope that the great Troubles or post-Troubles Northern Irish novel will mark a beginning for discussion and examination, not an ending. After all, life will go on in Northern Ireland even after the great novel appears.

In the meantime, McKinty has written a worthy contender for best post-Troubles Northern Irish paragraph, in The Bloomsday Dead, after the protagonist, Michael Forsythe, has returned to Belfast:
"They say the air over Jerusalem is thick with prayers, and Dublin might have its fair share of storytellers, but this is where the real bullshit artists live. The air over this town is thick with lies. Thousands of prisoners have been released under the cease-fire agreements — thousands of gunmen walking these streets, making up a past, a false narrative of peace and tranquility."
I have my own ideas about why that paragraph works, but I'd like to hear yours. Let us discuss! While you're at it, let me know what you think about the whole notion of The Great Novel.

Adrian McKinty will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Irelandpanel at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The fun starts at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14, in the Regency B room. See you there.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008, 2014
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: The magnificent, mysterious Dan J. Marlowe

I read older books as artifacts, particularly those from periods that have labels slapped on their foreheads such as the 1950s and early 1960s. You probably do the same, and we can't help it, especially in a genre as saturated with archetypes and prototypes as hard-boiled crime fiction.

That's why I like Dan. J. Marlowe so much. He was no path breaker, like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. The novels of his that I've read are recognizably products of their time (the late 1950s and early 1960s) unlike, say, Hammett's The Glass Key, parts of which could have been written yesterday rather than in 1931. But Marlowe wrote and told stories and worked the conventions so well that even when he writes a happy ending to a hard-boiled story, it seems fresh.

I've just read Marlowe's Strongarm after previously having read The Name of the Game is Death, One Endless Hour, Vengeance Man, and Four for the Money. Marlowe could write tough, and he could write funny, and by all rights, he ought to be at least as celebrated as Donald Westlake. I'll leave you with a selection from Strongarm before letting you know where you might begin exploring the mystery of why he was not:
“`You’ll dance to a different tune now, buster,' Foley announced with vicious satisfaction. `This is even better than we’d —' his voice died away. He had expected me to run. His popping eyes didn’t believe it when I went after him. `No! No! No!' he screamed, wrapping his arms around his head. I wrenched them away. He started to dive out of the chair, and I smashed him right in the mouth. I hit him twice more. I felt bone go. I didn’t know whether it was his or mine. I don’t think he felt the third one. I looked at him slumped in the chair with blood streaming down his shirt front. It was only a down payment on what I owed him, but for now it would have to do.”
Charles Kelly's Gunshots in Another Room bears the subtitle "The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe," so I'll pick it up with the expectation of learning why that strange and interesting life has been forgotten. In the meantime, Kelly tells a short version of Marlowe's story over at Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals.
Charles Kelly will discuss Dan J. Marlowe as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014. The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14. See you there. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2013, 2014

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three early comments on James Ellroy's Pefidia

Three early comments on James Ellroy's Pefidia:
  1. A pointed stick used to find water is a dowsing rod, not dousing. (pg. 137) 
  2. One who objects to doing something is averse to it, not adverse. (pg. 385) 
  3. I enjoy the novel's jabs at the 1940s Hollywood Left, through the pen of Kay Lake, one of the novel's four central figures and, in her way, a thematic carryover from Ellroy's previous novel, Blood's A Rover:

    "The tall Negro with the huge basso. The Broadway showstopper-cum-slaves' lament. The dilettante leftists. The wayward girl from Sioux Falls. The unhinged police captain.

    "I giggled.

    "...A Princeton-educated Negro extolled class revolt; a frail woman with runs in her stockings strummed an oversize lute. I laughed and covered my mouth. The dowager whispered,
    Be still, child.'"

    Come to think of it, that's less a jab at the Left than a snapshot of an all-around insane period in American history (December 1941).
And here's a fine version of the song that gave the novel its title.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Friday, September 12, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels

I'll moderate two panels at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, and I am excited about both.

On Friday, Nov. 14, at 11:30 a.m., it's

Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland, with Gerard Brennan,  Paul Charles, Adrian McKinty, and Stuart Neville.

Then I'm back at 3 p.m. for

Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, with Max Allan Collins, Charles Kelly, Gary Phillips, and Sarah Weinman. Each will discuss one of his or her favorite authors, a list that includes Dan J. Marlowe, Joseph Nazel, Dolores Hitchens, and to be announced.
So, one panel with some of my favorite writers from the planet's most dynamic crime fiction scene, and another with some of crime fiction's sharpest minds shining their intellectual searchlights into out-of-the-way corners of the crime fiction world. This is going to be fun
© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

DBB makes a guest appearance at Jungle Red Writers

I'm today's guest at the Jungle Red Writers blog, courtesy of Susan Elia MacNeal. Susan was a member of my wartime crime fiction panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, and a question she asked before the panel sparked some thoughts about crime stories set in wartime and its aftermath. I also fling a big-up or two toward some Detectives Beyond Borders favorites.

Join the discussion at

© Peter Rozovsky 2014


More on Beaux-Arts, books, and bouncers (Ellroy, Paul Charles, Joseph Nazel)

Here's a bit on what I bought in the land of Beaux-Arts buildings and of bouncers who are not so much stupid as they are the very idea of stupidity given human form, thick in body, thicker in mind, the kind who would be rejected for the role of a bouncer in a movie because they go a little over the top. (About the only thing to be said in favor of last night's specimen is that he did not wear a pony tail.)
  1. James Ellroy has said he no longer writes crime novels, yet I bought his new book at a crime fiction bookstore, Mysterious Bookshop, where, furthermore, Ellroy will appear next week. The novel's jacket copy makes the story sound an awful lot like a murder mystery, albeit with the grand historical sweep of Ellroy's recent books.
  2. Paul Charles' The Beautiful Sounds of Silence, my first novel in this Northern Ireland crime writer's Christy Kennedy series, looks set to take up a gruesome case with a degree of amused detachment. The opening chapter avoids the extremes of trivializing the crime with humor on the one hand and wallowing in its horror on the other. Charles says his inspiration for writing crime fiction was Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse. That's not a bad model.
  3. Joseph Nazel's Death For Hire arrived earlier in the week. A hard-hitting tale of black ghetto life in 1970s Los Angeles from an author and editor who also wrote biographies of respected African American historical figures, the novel has its good guys and bad guys, glorifying none, but with a measure of understanding for all. Los Angeles author Gary Phillips discusses Nazel and other Holloway House authors in an article on black pulp fiction at criminal
Paul Charles will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California, at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14.
Gary Phillips will discuss Joseph Nazel as part of my panel on Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, on Friday at 3.p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New York, New Jerk

(Photos by your humble blogkeeper)
Good fun at Mysterious Bookshop (right/above) in New York this evening for the launch of Syndicate Books' reissue of Ted Lewis' Get Carter.  I bought a nice pile of books, including titles by Paul Charles, Gary Phillips, Bert and Dolores Hitchens, and James Ellroy, who will read from his new Perfidia next week at Mysterious Bookshop before an audience that will include me.

Luminaries and near-luminaries of New York's crime fiction scene celebrated the launch of Lewis' dark, moving crime novel, and, more so than usual, the talk was about books. It's good to hear writers talk about their favorite writers (Ed Lin on Paul  Cain) and to talk up some favorites of my own.

Before and after the launch, I wandered around the Lower East Side and Tribeca with my camera. On the way, I spotted some attractive neon over a bar's entrance. "Excuse me," I said, indicating my camera and directing my question to the bouncer,  "mind if I shoot your sign?" My one multisyllabic word was apparently too much for him, because he just raised his eyebrows and kept masticating his cigarette.

"I'll take that as a yes (you do mind)," said I, and continued on my way.  Good thing I'd taken a picture of the sign before I asked.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Get Carter: Who needs an accent if you can act?

I've rolled my eyes here at Detectives Beyond Borders at movie stars whose hardest work seems to consist in showing us how hard they work. My targets have included Kevin Spacey's award mugging and Benicio Del Toro's lisping and mumbling in The Usual SuspectsEd Norton's meta-mugging in The Score, and the unspeakably awful accents in The Drowning Pool.

Then there's Michael Caine in Get Carter, playing a gangster who returns home to investigate his brother's death. Caine's character is from the north of England, but to my uneducated ears, he might never have ventured out of earshot of Bow Bells. And you know what? It doesn't matter, because Caine does not see it as his job to mumble, lurch, limp, or gain 60 to pounds to play a role. All he does is act, and if you can do that, you don't need an accent or any other Method crap.  Watch Caine in Get Carter, and you'll see a great actor in a great movie based on a great crime novel.

Ted Lewis
And that brings me to the international crime fiction event of the year. This week I'll attend a launch for Syndicate Books, a new imprint that is releasing not only Get Carter (original title: Jack's Return Home) in the U.S. for the first time in decades, but a good chunk of rest of author Ted Lewis' oeuvre, including two more of the Jack Carter novels, some for the first time ever in the U.S.

This new edition of Get Carter includes an introduction by Mike Hodges, who directed the film adaptation that starred Caine.The novel earns a spot as one of Allan Guthrie's 200 Noirs (as does Lewis' Billy Rags, due as an e-book from Syndicate)  Eight more novels to look forward to from an author whose admirers include David Peace and Derek Raymond? I'm excited, and you should be, too.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Off the Cuff and on the road: Words and a picture

("We Drive By Night," Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Photo by your humble blogkeeper, Peter Rozovsky)
Dietrich Kalteis discusses setting in his current Off the Cuff discussion, including some comments pertinent to his own novel Ride the Lightning, and once again, he illustrates the discussion with one of my noir photos.You can see the photo above; here's Dietrich:
"For me, Vancouver creates an interesting backdrop, partially because it hasn’t been overused. It’s also a busy seaport and tucked up against the US border, just begging for some crime fiction. Using where you live as a story’s setting makes it both easier for the writer and more convincing to the reader. When I wrote Ride the Lightning I also chose Vancouver because of the unusually high number of grow-ops here which served the story."
That tallied nicely with my remark when I wrote about the book that
"This novel, appropriately for a book under consideration at Detectives Beyond Borders, crosses the U.S.-Canada border, from Seattle to Vancouver, where most of the action happens. So Karl, the bounty hunter who loses his job and has to shift from the U.S. to Canada, muses that he expects less violence as compensation for his reduced income. (Karl states this in a more entertaining fashion, but this was an uncorrected galley, so no quotations allowed.)"
© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Bob and Ray meet Jim Thompson in Gerard Brennan's The Point

Lots of Northern Ireland crime writers take the Troubles and their aftermath as a subject. Here's Gerard Brennan's take in his delightful comic (and dark) novel. The Point (The scene is two young hoods surprised by a young woman as they burgle her apartment):
"`The IRA knows a lot about you, wee girl,' Paul said. `You better stop what you're doing.'

"`What are you talking about?' she asked.


"Brian shoved him ... `What the fuck was that for?' Paul asked.

"`You know what it was for.'

"`Ach, fuck off. Maybe if she thought the IRA was really watching her she'd make an effort to do a dish or two. You saw the state of the place.'"
At the risk of wallowing in identity politics, Brennan is a few years younger than, say, his compatriot crime writers Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville. I wonder if that renders him more able to joke about the Troubles because he's farther removed from them. I'll have to ask Brennan about this the next time I see him. In any case, The Point is Bob and Ray meets Jim Thompson, Give it a look.
Gerard Brennan will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The fun starts at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14, in the Regency B room. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Stuart Neville's Ratlines: Out of a different past

Several of Northern Ireland's brilliant cohort of crime writers write not just about their land's sectarian Troubles, but also about the conflict's afterlife (or persistence, if one prefers). Brian McGilloway, Garbhan Downey, and Anthony Quinn are just three who demonstrate that the Troubles continue to reverberate after the Good Friday Agreement.

Stuart Neville became an instant leader of the group with The Ghosts of Belfast, whose very title proves the continuing sensitivity of the subject. (The 2009 novel was released in the U.K. under the powerful but less politically charged title The Twelve.)

Neville crossed over the border and further into the past for his 2013 novel Ratlines.  The time is 1963, the occasion the murder of a Nazi given shelter in Ireland after World War II, and the novel's title a reference to the networks by which Nazis were helped to safety and, in some cases, to prosperity after the war.

Neville does a nice job imagining and investigating the sorts of corruption attendant on such arrangements, and not just the moral corruption that offers succor to evil men, either.  This novel's world has plenty of room for theft, dishonesty, and violence among the criminals themselves, and among the people who pursue them as well.  The book also contains flashes of just the sort of agony that haunted Fegan, the ex-IRA killer of The Ghosts of Belfast.   And, though I have never talked politics with Neville, I suspect after reading Ratlines that he is no fan of nationalism of whatever kind.

Stuart Neville will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The fun starts at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14, in the Regency B room. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Adrian McKinty's Cold Cold Ground: Life during sort-of wartime

I've just reread The Cold Cold Ground, by longtime DBB favorite Adrian McKinty, and, by god, that back-cover blurb from Detectives Beyond Borders holds up:
"The Cold Cold Ground is very possibly the best crime novel published in English in 2012."
The book's U.S. edition contains an author's note that goes a long way to explaining the book's richness:
"I wanted to set a book in this claustrophobic atmosphere, attempting to recapture the sense that civilization was breaking down to its basest levels. I also wanted to remember the craic, the music, the bombastic politicians, the apocalyptic street preachers, the sinister gunmen and a lost generation of kids for whom all of this was normal."
Your job, readers, is to name novels or stories similarly rich in telling, surprising detail, particularly those set during wartime or other turbulent circumstances.
The Cold Cold Ground is Book One in McKinty's Troubles trilogy, featuring Sean Duffy of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Read the first five chapters of Book Four at McKinty's blog.
Adrian McKinty will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Irelandpanel at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The fun starts at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14, in the Regency B room. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014 

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Monday, September 01, 2014

An off-kilter noir photo at Off the Cuff

(Photograph by Peter Rozovsky,
your humble blogkeeper)
Once again Dietrich Kalteis and friends sit for a chat among authors at Kalteis'  Off the Cuff site, this time to talk about character, dialogue, and dialect. Here's a sample of the discussion:
"Back to the accent/dialect question: you can do more with it - with perhaps more reader interest - than simply using a typical vocabulary or syntax of a place. You can use dialect-like giveaways and ‘verbal tics’ to reveal many aspects of character, while also making your characters separate and distinct from one another."
Read the complete discussion at Dietrich's place under the heading Off the Cuff 5.
Kalteis demonstrates once again that the right side of his brain works as well as the left. He's a novelist, he also has an eye for photography, and he again illustrates Off the Cuff with one of my noir photo (left).  Here are the first two noir shots of mine that he used (click the link, then scroll down)  and, if you're on Facebook, here are all my noir shots.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Bouchecon panels: "Mother never remarried. She's lived in Long Beach all her life": DBB meets Dolores Hitchens

A friend sent along Dolores Hitchens' 1955 novel Sleep With Strangers because of its setting in Long Beach, site of Bouchercon 2014. Indeed, the book is even more evocative of its setting than is that other great Long Beach crime novel, Paul Cain's Fast One.

Hitchens is new to me, so naturally I start out thinking of her in terms of other crime writers her work evokes, and those writers are two of the best.  Hitchens' compassion for characters who lead marginal existences reminds me of David Goodis, particularly The Street on the Corner and Cassidy's Girl, and her dissection of family life in California brings to mind The Big Sleep. (Ed Gorman's discussion of Sleeps With Strangers invokes Ross Macdonald. I've never warmed to Macdonald, but I suspect that what Gorman sees as Macdonaldish is what I see as Chandlerlike. In any case, that's another illustrious name associated with Hitchens.)

The novel's opening is an atmospheric, moody, tension-filled inversion of the usual scene in which a P.I. meets a client, and it hooked me on Hitchens right away. (The client is named Kay Wanderley.  "Wonderly," of course, is the name Brigid O'Shaughnessy uses when she first calls on Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Homage? Coincidence? Either way, it's more good fictional company for Dolores Hitchens.)
Sarah Weinman will discuss Dolores Hitchens as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014. The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14. See you there. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

A first look at the new Donald Westlake non-fiction miscellany

I have long admired Donald Westlake's musings on his chosen genre of crime fiction, on memory, media, popular culture, and other subjects, but I had to glean the observations from interviews, articles, and citations in the work of others. Levi Stahl and the good people at the University of Chicago Press apparently agree that Westlake was an interesting guy, because they're bringing out a collection of  his non-fiction called The Getaway Car. Release is slated for October.

The book offers insight into Westlake's many alter egos (Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, et. al), a list of Westlake's favorite crime fiction, his reflections on his own work, letters, recollections, and May's famous tuna casserole recipe, among other things. Also included: an introduction by Stahl, a foreword by Westlake's friend Lawrence Block, and an epigraph from Westlake's widow, Abby: "No matter where he was headed, Don always drove like he was behind the wheel of the getaway car."

While I wait for a final copy of
The Getaway Car, here's an old blog post that explains why I'm excited about the book. And here's a link to all Detectives Beyond Borders posts about Westlake.
Donald Westlake, who died Dec. 31. 2008, at 75, was not just a prolific, creative, original and endlessly entertaining crime writer, he was also a thoughtful, intelligent observer of the world around him.

He once lamented the reduced distribution of foreign films in the U.S., calling the superb 1958 Italian heist movie Big Deal on Madonna Street a laboratory for comedy writers and mourning that future Americans might miss similar opportunities to absorb and learn from foreign influences.

He also noted mass media's tendency to telescope the past into a timeless present/past accessible to all. This meant, he remarked, that Americans could assess the accuracy of a movie scene set on a train even though most had never been on a train. I suspect he underestimated the number of Americans who had travelled by rail, but his point was valid, and it anticipated such phenomena as retro fashions, digital sampling/recycling of old pop songs, and the Beatles churning out new records long after they had broken up and begun to die off.

Those statements, one in an interview, the other in a preface to one of Westlake's books, if I recall correctly, rank among my favorite Westlake moments. They're right up there with Parker out of jail and walking across the George Washington Bridge in The Hunter or Joe Gores' D.K.A. gang meeting up with Dortmunder and his crew in Drowned Hopes or all of The Score or the stoic Parker finally losing patience with his lighthearted sidekick's antics and snapping, "Shut up, Grofield."

I always said Westlake differed from most authors in one respect: Most writers might come up with a wild story idea from time to time. Westlake turned his wild ideas into books. That's why even some of his less successful stories were always exciting and worth admiration for the man's gumption, imagination and industry.

Sarah Weinman's remarks include a library of Westlake links and a rolling list of Westlake tributes. Leap in. The man offers some terrific reading.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Talkin' (and talkin' and talkin') 'bout my generation: Tony Judt on the 1960s (plus a bit of Michael Gilbert)

(Detail of a giant revolving sign at Hard Rock
Cafe, Philadelphia. Hard Rock Cafe International,
founded in London in 1971. Photo by Peter 
Rozovsky, your humble blogkeeper)
This could turn into a Tony Judt Postwar blog if I'm not careful. For now, though, I'll restrict myself to a few favorite bits from Judt's chapters about the 1960s:
"Moments of great cultural significance are often appreciated only in retrospect. The Sixties were different: the transcendent importance contemporaries attached to their own times — and their own selves — was one of the special features of the age."
And here's Judt's delicious account of the end of possibly the most self-regarding episode of the age, the events of May 1968 in France:
"In the ensuing parliamentary elections, the ruling Gaullist parties won a crushing victory, increasing their vote by more than a fifth and securing an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly. The workers returned to work. The students went on vacation."
Finally, Judt's discussion of Western European students' complaints about their universities, overburdened and unprepared for the postwar flood of young people seeking places, makes excellent reading alongside the British crime writer Michael Gilbert's story "The Decline and Fall of Mr. Behrens" (in the collection Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens). Now that I've read Judt, the surprising ending to Gilbert's story makes even better sense as a piece of social observation, not bad from a writer who insisted his job was to entertain readers.

(See also "Rock and roll is here to pay.")

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tony Judt, film noir, and American movies in Europe

(A Czech edition of Tony Judt's
"Postwar." As suggestive as it is
that the book should have been
translated into Czech, I included
this cover only because the English
edition I was going to use carries
a cover blurb that calls the book
"awesome." Such a word has
no place here.)
Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 offers observations that might interest fans of crime movies and novels. Here are a few from the final chapter of Judt's section on the immediate postwar years, when American cultural influence was at a peak in Europe:
"Only intellectuals were likely to be sufficiently moved by Sergei Eisenstein's depiction of Odessa in the Battleship Potemkin to translate their aesthetic appreciation into political affinity, but everyone--intellectuals included--could appreciate Humphrey Bogart."
I'm not sure how historically valid it is to compare a silent film from 1925 (Potemkin) with a talkie-era star who made his first well-known film only in 1934 (The Petrified Forest) and whose real stardom came in the 1940s. Still, the suggestion that intellectuals could appreciate Bogart provokes thought, if only because its perspective is unusual in discussions of American popular culture.

The very next page offers this, on the industry's business practices after World War II:
"(W)hen European governments after 1949 took to taxing cinema receipts in order to subsidize domestic film producers, American producers began investing directly in, foreign productions, their choice of European Venue for the making of a film or group of films often depending on the level of `domestic' subsidy then available."
Among other things, Judt suggests, American domination of European movie markets meant that U.S. movies of the time can be better guides to European viewers' experience than domestic movies are. In addition, he writes, it was Europeans who were likelier to make escapist movies in this period while American directors and producers were turning out the melodramas the French would later call film noir.  I suspect most of us would say American movies took over the world merely because they were more glamorous or better made  (Judt recognizes the latter possibility). But the idea that American movie makers were better judges of European taste that were European movie makers is a good deal more exciting and opens the door to all sorts of interesting questions.

Your thoughts, please.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Off the Cuff and on the clock: What makes a noir image noir?

(Clock in Reading Terminal Market. Photo by your humble blogkeeper):
Dietrich Kalteis once again uses one of my noir photographs to illustrate his Off the Cuff conversation with fellow novelist Martin J. Frankson. The photo above is the one he chose, so I thought I'd ask you, dear readers, what makes a noir image noir? Here's why I stuck this one in my noir photos folder on Facebook:
  1. It looks good.
  2. It's black and white.
  3. The suggestion of a ticking clock conveys a hint of anxiety.
  4. The cropping of the image enhances feelings of tension and suspense, in part by focusing on just the two numbers. What is going to happen in those five minutes, of which more than one and a half have already elapsed?
  5. The image of a clock face is highly familiar but, I hope, still packs a visual punch. That means it carries a rich set of associations.
Your job, readers, is to choose an image that strikes you as noirish and to think about why it does and post your thoughts here. The image can be from a photo, a book cover, a newspaper, online, anywhere. (The real-life suspense behind this photo was whether I would make it to work on time.  I did.)
Kalteis' chat with Frankson covers character and originality and includes the following:
"(W)hat makes a book original includes:

"Characters with lifestyles and attitudes that have been rarely portrayed before. The alcoholic, divorced middle-aged male detective with a drinking problem was once the most popular character in the genre. It’s still popular, but readers wanted fresh detectives with fresh lifestyles to reflect the times we live in. Along came young female detectives which was a breath of fresh air, but writers now need to look at society and see its diversity in the round. There are very few gay or non-white detectives in modern day crime literature I’ve noticed. I say ‘few’ as opposed to none at all. They do exist, but you have to go looking for them."
Read the entire conversation at Off the Cuff,

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hard-hitting post-war zest from Tony Judt

I left my copy of The Historian's Craft home today; what a blochhead! Instead, I'll offer one of many provocative passages from Postwar, Tony Judt's history of Europe since 1945 (and I still have almost 700 pages left to read, so expect more):
"Writers and journalists, having left a written record of their wartime allegiance, came off worst. Highly publicized trials of prominent intellectuals--like that of Robert Brasillach in Paris in January 1945--provoked protests from bona fide resisters like Albert Camus, who thought it both unjust and imprudent to condemn and execute men for their opinions, however ghastly these might be.

"In contrast, businessmen and high officials who had profited from the occupation suffered little, at least in western Europe. In Italy the Allies insisted that men like Vittorio Valletta of FIAT be left in place, despite his notorious engagement with the Fascist authorities. Other Italian business executives survived by demonstrating their erstwhile opposition to Mussolini's Social Republic at Salo--and indeed they
had often opposed it, precisely for being too 'social.'"
I like this passage for several reasons, not least the zest with which Judt wrote it. As for its politics, I wonder what crime writers including Didier Daeninckx and Andrea Camilleri would think of it. Would they, like Camus, protest the execution of a man whose politics they surely abhor?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why I'm making Craig Rice part of my crime fiction diet

If a crime writer made the cover of a major news magazine these days, the event would probably divide the crime fiction community because the honoree would be someone like Stieg Larsson or "Robert Galbraith."

I don't know where Craig Rice (Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig) stood in the public mind when she made the cove of time in January 1946, but my first reading of a solo Rice story suggests that not only did she belong on Time's cover then, but she belongs on the cover of reprints now (much of her work appears to be out of print). Working with raw ingredients well established in the crime canon, she managed to fashion work that feels like nothing else in crime writing until then or since.

The story in question, "I'm A Stranger Here Myself," first appeared in Manhunt in February 1954, has Rice's impecunious lawyer protagonist, John J. Malone, moving like a dream through as unlikely a mix of humor, snappy dialogue, and dread as anything I've read in crime fiction. I cannot remember the last time before this story that I'd read a crime story that made me think, "By God, I have read nothing like this before."

I don't quite know why, but I find dialogue such as this absolutely beguiling:
"`That Malone, he thinks good,' Joe the Angel said proudly, delivering the rye.  
 "`Go away," Malone said dreamily."
What's so special about that exchange?  The bartender's humorous nickname and diction? The unexpected proudly?  And what about dreamily, not the sort of word one normally associated with hard-boiled crime protagonists? For me the word worked like a bang-up ending to a miniature short story, like a pail of ice water to the face, leaving me alert and needing to know what happens next.

And now I'm off for dinner with a side dish of Rice. While I sip sherry at the local press club, I leave you with this question: What was the last crime novel or story you read that made you feel you were in the company of something utterly new?

 © Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The collective will and the collective won't, or should Dominique Manotti say no to nostalgia?

A cover blurb on one of Jean-Patrick Manchette's novels once referred to the author's "post-1968 leftism."  It has taken several years and the work of another politically oriented French crime writer to make me realize that the phrase is more than an ungainly and vacuous neologism.

The novelist in question is Dominique Manotti, whose Escape includes the following:
"There was an initial forging of collective thinking and a collective will."
"`That open letter could be the starting point for a collective analysis. We need to read it and discuss it, together and with other left-wing organisations.'" 
The second bit is dialogue, if you can believe that anyone would ever talk, as opposed to write, like that. Sure, that's a character speaking, not the author. But Russel McLean's interview with Manotti suggests that Manotti's own nostalgia and regrets figure in the book. "We were passionate," she tells McLean, "and a large part of France's far left was influenced by the Italians." (Much of the novel's early action, at least, takes place among Italian political refugees in France.)

Having read Manotti's previous work, with its astringent observations about the depravity of the French elite and that elite's horrifying exploitation of migrant workers, and having found nothing in that work approaching the clumsy political speech sprinkled through the opening pages of Escape, I wonder if Manotti is better off sticking to dispassionate analysis and avoiding nostalgic recollection of her own activism.

That's where Jean-Patrick Manchette's "post-1968 leftism" comes in. The three latest of the four novels of his that have been translated into English, published in their original French between 1976 and 1981, have moved well beyond the possibility of talking seriously about collective anything. I don't recall the word struggle occurring in any of the books.

The earliest of Manchette's novels available in English, though the most recently translated, suggests, as does Escape, that nostalgia and politically pointed fiction do not always go well together. The novel is called The Mad and the Bad, and
"at the worst, it reads as a mildly nostalgic reminder of a time before the triumph of consumerism, corporations, celebrity, and "content" was complete, before a time when multibillion-dollar corporations like Facebook and Apple were considered cool."
But Manchette got the nostalgia out of his system, and 3 to Kill (original publication 1976), Fatale (1977), and The Prone Gunman (1981), are three dark, stark noir classics, the last of them in particular chilling for its dissection of how powerful elites can exploit, debase, and discard an individual no longer of use to them, an individual, that is, who has no recourse to collective action or the struggle.

And now, in a collective spirit, I turn the question to you, readers, and ask: Is sharp political crime fiction incompatible with authorial nostalgia?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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