Monday, May 23, 2016

Some pictures from Crimefest 2016

From left: Ian Rankin, your humble blogkeeper, Ali Karim, 
Mike Stotter. This photo by our courteous, efficient, and aesthetically
sensitive waitress. All others by Peter Rozovsky
I'm back in London after the most enjoyable of the six Crimefest I've attended. Highlights included:

Anne Holt
1) Anne Holt's wisdom.

Gin and tonie
2) Hendrick's gin.

Crimefest T-shirts
3) Crimefest's T-shirts, and ...

Susan Moody, Laura Wilson,
Alison Bruce
Ali Karim, Steve Cavanagh
Alan Glynn
Kati Hiekkapelto, Ann Cleeves
Ruth Dudley Edwards
Thomas Mogford, Ian Rankin, Andrew Taylor
Alan Glynn and an inadvertent, unidentified woman
Albert the Gorilla
© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Your humble blogkeeper swings like a pendulum do

Lisa Brackmann
Lisa Brackmann, author of, I think, five crime novels for Soho Press and an energetic and entertaining member of panels I've moderated at Bouchercon, put up a photo of Trafalgar Square on Facebook similar to one I had just posted.

"Are you also here in London?" I asked her in a comment. Turns out she was here to do some events, and I met her and some friends of hers for drinks, dinner, and a club Tuesday night--first time I had visited a club in years. It was an enjoyable and highly unexpected evening on the road to Crimefest, which starts Thursday.

You'll see Lisa in the first photo, but don't be alarmed by her bluish tinge; she's not dead. That was just the lighting at London's 229 club. (I don't have ID's for the musicians, but if anyone from the 229 would pass the information along, I'd be happy to add it.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

London shots

© Peter Rozovsky 2016


Thursday, May 12, 2016

A reason I liked The Sympathizer, or diversity is unity is diversity

A big reason I liked The Sympathizer:

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen's occasional jokes about the cultural differences between the north and the south of Vietnam, including this:
"Besides the simple yet elegant cha-cha, the twist was the favorite dance of the southern people, requiring as it did no coordination."
That makes me want to know about who is what in Vietnam. There's more to the North-South dynamic than communist vs. its opposite, us vs. them, colonial vs. indigenous, or all the rest of the usual dichotomies. Portrayals of tensions and rivalries within cultures unfamiliar to me always make those cultures seem more real and more human. It's why I like Henry Chang's Chinatown novels and Joe Nazel's Street Wars, and also why I like Isaac Babel's Odessa tales and Dashiell Hammett's story "Dead Yellow Women," which, despite a title unlikely to be allowed today, says more on its first page about Chinese social and political diversity in China and in the United States than I suspect many readers are accustomed to thinking about.

 I can well imagine that a minority group might be skittish about presenting divisions to the wider world, but to me that makes those populations seem that much more human. Reminders that no group is monolithic seem especially important in a time when religious and cultural differences are so easily exploited.

Years ago, I staggered into a restaurant in London late one morning, near-exhausted by jet lag. I was the only customer at that hour, Arabic-sounding music was playing, and the waitress was a curvy, henna-haired beauty, so I chatted her up.  The encounter happened several years after after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and as the month of Ramadan drew to a close. Both facts are relevant to what followed:
Me: "What is that music?"|
Waitress: "It's Arabic music."
Me: "I know it's Arabic music. From where?"
Waitress: "It's from my country."
Me: "Where is your country?"
Waitress: "I came from Paris, actually."
Me: "Where were you before you were there?"
Waitress: "Beirut."
Me: "Christian or Muslim?" 
Waitress: (Nervously) "Muslim."
Me: "I ask because it must be hard to serve food all day while you're fasting."
Waitress: (Relaxes and bursts into hearty laughter) "I don't fast during the day, but I sure do party at night."
That might offend some Muslims and make some white liberals squirm, and I'd have hesitated to name the woman or her restaurant in a newspaper story. But I cannot imagine a better lesson in common humanity. And no, she did not party with me that night.

(Read my posts on The Sympathizer and Portnoy's Complaint: One man's squid is another man's liver and The Sympathizer, Part II: Genre, politics, and genre politics.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Sympathizer, Part II: Genre, politics, and genre politics

I've finished reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer- and Edgar-winning novel The Sympathizer, and, while I still don't see how it fits any reasonable definition of crime fiction, I'm still glad Mystery Writers of America gave it the best first novel Edgar Award last month because it's a funny, exciting, and thought-provoking book that I might not have read otherwise.

First, the genre question: Much of The Sympathizer's action is related in the form of a confession written by the narrator-protagonist, but the crimes of which he is accused are political, not criminal. The novel includes two killings of the kind that presumably would have been investigated by local authorities had they happened in the real rather than a fictional California, but there is no such investigation in The Sympathizer. Nor do the protagonist's reaction to and thoughts about those crimes constitute a major component of the narrative. Significant, yes. Thematically dominant, no.

Rather, the novel's generic affinities are from the very first sentence with the espionage novel, which has long led a comfortable co-existence with crime fiction.  Still, I suspect that few readers will regard The Sympathizer as a spy story. Indeed, the subject does not come up in an interview with Nguyen included as an appendix to the Grove Press trade paperback edition of the novel. Rather, the book is a political novel, a novel of immigration, a novel about Vietnam, a novel about the United States, about the perils and exigencies of moving between the two, about the equivocal (at best) nature of revolutions, and, most important, about the illusory nature of binary opposition, whether between American and Vietnamese, European and Asian, communist and its opposite, or what have you.

So how did the book come to the attention of the crime fiction community? One is tempted to imagine genre readers hankering for respectability and grasping a literary novel into their midst, but I think it's at least as likely that publishers and other promoters of "literary" novels grasp at genre labels because they want people to read their books.  I'm not sure that strategy benefits crime readers all the time, but in this case, the result is all to the good, because The Sympathizer is a hell of a book.
Here's Part I of my comments about The Sympathizer. In Part III, I'll tell you why I liked the book, with possibly a quibble or two.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

Heresy at the comics shop

I'm starting to feel more at home when I visit comics stores these days, by which I mean that I can comfortably swap artists' and writers' last names with the proprietors and clerks, and I often know who we're talking about.

But I committed a heresy today when checking out with my purchases of the two hardcover collections you see here. One thing I like about these two books, I said to the woman working the cash register, is that they're nothing but story: no extra crap.

I understand that extra material in hardcover comics collections and trade paperbacks may interest hardcore comicheads, but, as I wrote after reading the "definitive edition" of the fine Queen and Country espionage/soap opera comic, the third omnibus of which collects four fewer issues than do the first two omnibuses:
"The modern comic-book industry sells and resells the same stories, publishing `special editions' and bundling books into collections and collections into mega-collections, adding scripts, sketches and other extras at each step to flesh out the page count and entice potential buyers who have already read the stories elsewhere."
But that didn't matter because the clerk still gave me the sort of frozen smile I'd have got if I'd broken wind at a formal dinner. I got a kick out of her discomfort, but maybe you should be careful about what you say when buying comics.

Back to the books I bought before I farted in the temple: If You Steal by the one-named Norwegian cartoonist Jason, whose Left Bank Gang, which I read a few years ago, brings Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and James Joyce together in Paris as anthropomorphic animals who plan a bank heist (I dare to try to resist that premise), and the first volume of Jacques Tardi 's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Crime fiction readers may know Tardi for his graphic-novel adaptations of Jean-Patrick Manchette's noir classics. I'll report back when I've read them.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Friday, May 06, 2016

The Sympathizer and Portnoy's Complaint: One man's squid is another man's liver

The last time the question of literary vs. genre came up, I suggested that if literary has any meaning with respect to crime fiction, it might apply to crime novels that work as something else as well, whatever that something might be. Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine deserved its place on one recent list of "literary" crime novels, as did Hammett's Red Harvest and James Ellroy's White Jazz,  though the novels are not especially similar. (One thing I'm pretty sure literary does not mean, or at least with which it is not synonymous, is written in ravishing prose. That's why I was skeptical of one fellow commenter's suggestion that James Crumley and James Lee Burke belonged on the list.

(The Barnes and Noble nearest to me shelves Ellroy in mystery and Lee Child in fiction and literature. I'll mention that the next time anyone talks about literary and genre.)

Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction and Edgar Award for best first crime novel, is one current Great Obliterate the Distinction Between Literary and Genre hope, championed as such in a recent piece that hyperventilated more frantically than most without—naturally—offering any definition of literary. If I can find a link to the damned thing, I'll post it here.

I'm about a third of the way through the novel, and here are some reasons I think it might qualify as something in addition to (not more than) a genre book:
1)  It works its way into its genre-like plot, in this case espionage rather than crime, only slowly, telling us much along the way about the narrator/protagonist and his adventures in Saigon and California (if you say either character-driven or plot-driven, I'll shoot you between the eyes.)

2) Its humor is not just funny, but it also sheds entertaining cultural light, Here the protagonist, a native of northern Vietnam, observing a wedding celebration in California:
"Besides the simple yet elegant cha-cha, the twist was the favorite dance of the southern people, requiring as it did no coordination."

3) It pays tribute to, or at least echoes, another novel of American ethnicity, Portnoy's Complaint, using a squid where Philip Roth used liver.
Read an interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

I missed the bus home from the Edgar Awards. You won't believe what happened next!

(All photos by Peter Rozovsky)
Walter Mosley
I missed the 11 p.m. bus from New York after the Edgar Awards Thursday, so I returned to the Grand Hyatt and tagged along to a party at the Center for Fiction, where I had a nice schmooze with Sara Paretsky, ran into John Lawton, complimented W. Paul Coates on the speech he had made introducing Walter Mosley earlier in the evening, gabbed with Janet Rudolph, renewed acquaintances with Sheila York after we'd shared a row on a plane from Phoenix to Long Beach for Bouchercon in 2014, gawked at Meredith Cole's polka-dotted rain boots, and apologized to Otto Penzler for crashing the party, to which he graciously replied that he was glad I'd shown up.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Sam Reaves
Then it was back to the hotel bar for drinks with some of the same gang plus Reed Farrel Coleman and others. That part of the evening included some good stories about the Ivory Coast from Janet's affable husband.

Sara Paretsky
I forgot to mention yesterday that I've been going to these events long enough now that I knew just about everyone who sat at my table for the awards dinner. That included Sarah Weinman, Stacia Decker, Paul Charles, and Ellen Clair Lamb, the last of whom was happy to answer some questions about publishing. Once again, it was good fun spending time with people who know about things that I don't and who like to share their knowledge.  So I'm not sorry I missed that bus.

Jon McGoran, Linda Joffe Hull
© Peter Rozovsky 2016


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 had "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 2016

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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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