Monday, June 30, 2008

Good things from across the border, Part I

I thank the reader who brought to my attention Penguin's covers for the new Canadian editions of Howard Engel's Benny Cooperman mysteries. The one to your right is worth a comment even before I begin reading it.

Note the wheelchair, the thought balloon and the title's backwards B. These are, presumably, references to an affliction shared by Cooperman and Engel. Like his protagonist, Engel suffered from alexia sine agraphia, a condition in which the sufferer can write but not read. (In Engel's case, the condition resulted from a stroke. I don't know the protagonist's circumstances.) This obviously must have been a terrible blow for an author to overcome, and I believe the cover design captures that beautifully.

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author who has written with much understanding about any number of strange neurological conditions, wrote an afterword to this book, which leads me to suspect that the cover's hints at mental and physical struggles accurately reflect the book's contents.

Next: Toronto is widely known for the numerous movies filmed there but set in other cities. In the coming days, I'll be discussing a crime novel that makes Toronto so cool that producers may soon want to start shooting movies in other cities and pretending they're Toronto instead of the other way around.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Get smart, but not too smart

Apropos of my recent reading of Bertie and the Seven Bodies by Peter Lovesey, Lee Goldberg posts a relevant criticism of the new Get Smart movie. The problem with that movie and with Steve Martin's Pink Panther remake, Goldberg writes, is that "someone made the inept decision to make the bumbling heroes smart and capable ... and very good at what they do." This, he says, robbed the two protagonists of that which made them so funny: the gap between their inflated estimates of their own capabilities and what they were actually capable of.

Lovesey's Bertie, Prince of Wales, is similarly good-hearted and similarly deluded about the extent of his own capabilities as a sleuth. Lovesey has fun with this delusion literally from the novel's opening page: "Damnit, one small oversight and I'm branded as a failure. If I'd looked in the wretched wastepaper basket my chain of reasoning would have been different, altogether different."

And now, readers, what are your thoughts on crime-fiction bumblers? Who are your favorite such characters? Why do you like them? How would your feeling about them change if they were more capable and less prone to bumbling?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, June 27, 2008

More Bertie and the Seven Bodies

The third body has just been set off to one side in Peter Lovesey's Bertie and the Seven Bodies, which means I have about half the book to go. But I can't resist passing on a delicious passage.

The book's narrator and protagonist is Edward, Prince of Wales during the reign of his mother, Queen Victoria, which ended in 1901. The book's conceit is that Edward is narrating the story after he has become King Edward VII. Here is Edward, known to all as Bertie, relating his shock when he realizes the three deaths must be connected:

"Well, you'll have gathered the direction my thoughts were taking. It seemed to me that the victims had been picked off like prey, impersonally, for no other reason than that they happened to be guests at Desborough Hall at this time. Such callous slaughter is not unknown. I can't expect my twentieth-century reader to have heard of the East End murders committed in 1888 by a seeker of publicity known to the press as Jack the Ripper. At the time they made a considerable sensation. He wrote letters challenging the police to catch him, but up to now he is still at liberty. I tell you candidly, sitting in that darkened room, I could foresee a campaign just as brutal and alarming as the Ripper's – in fact more alarming, because it was aimed not at streetwalkers, but people of refinement."
This passage contains much to enjoy, laugh at and think about.

Discuss.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Noir at the Bar II

With the first Noir at the Bar reading safely in the can, Detectives Beyond Borders is pleased to present Noir at the Bar II on Sunday, July 6. This second crime-fiction event at Philadelphia's Tritone bar will feature Jonathan McGoran, who, under the name D.H. Dublin, has written three forensic thrillers published by Penguin.

The novels feature Philadelphia forensic investigator Madison Cross, and McGoran lends his sometimes grim subject matter a human touch by following Cross from the beginning of her career as a crime-scene technician. This, McGoran says, lets the reader learn along with her. And the reader just may learn quite a lot. One reviewer wrote that "If you are tired of all the unrealistic CSI shows and books and are looking for an author that delivers realistic crime scene and investigative procedures, D.H. Dublin is the author you are seeking. "

The Noir at the Bar reading should be especially enjoyable because McGoran does a terrific job with his characters' voices. varying them enough to keep things interesting without, however, going over the top. He also has a tendency to giggle at the gory parts, which lends his readings an unexpectedly delightful and macabre touch.

So, if you're anywhere in the Northeastern United States a week from Sunday, drop in to the Tritone. Come for the reading, stay for the music, the mahi-mahi burgers, and the fried Mars bars.

===================================
Who: Jonathan McGoran a.k.a. D.H. Dublin
Where: The Tritone
1508 South Street Philadelphia, PA
215-545-0475

“Cool bar. Great food. The most diverse music venue in Philly”
When: Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 6 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Peter Lovesey and the solved problem

I like authors who solve narrative problems, and that superb craftsman and fine storyteller Peter Lovesey solved a whopper in his 1990 mystery Bertie and the Seven Bodies (Felony and Mayhem Press), the second of his three novels about Bertie, Prince of Wales.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On the overlap of different series by the same author

I don't know how applicable this is to authors other than the one in question simply because few have written as many crime fiction series over so many years. So think of this post as some interested comments on the ways of Donald Westlake.

Dirty Money is the twenty-fifth in the long-running series of novels about the thorough, amoral thief, Parker, that Westlake writes under the name Richard Stark. The novel is given to bits of grim humor of the kind not found in the earliest Parker books:

"`You kill a lawman,' [Parker] said, `you're in another zone. McWhitney and I are gonna have to work this out.'

"`But not on the phone.'

"Parker yawned. `Nothing on the phone ever,' he said. `Except pizza.'"
Earlier incarnations of Parker never would have cracked wise like that. Now would they, upon being told by a bounty hunter that "The last time I saw you, you were driving a phony police car," have replied: "The police car was real. I was the phony. You were there?"

Similarly, Comeback, the 1997 novel that revived Parker after a twenty-five year hiatus, opens with the sort of farcical touch far more characteristic of Westlake's comic caper novels about John Dortmunder than of the pre-hiatus Parkers. The tone is grimmer, but the comic touch is decidedly present.

Elsewhere in the sprawling Westlake/Stark oeuvre, recent novels seem touched by the sombre sympathy for the economically hard-pressed that marked Westlake's novel The Axe. That book's protagonist is a laid-off executive driven to extreme acts by his induced unemployment. In the 2006 Parker novel Ask the Parrot, Stark/Westlake drops the earlier device of having Parker assemble a string of specialists to pull a robbery. Instead, Parker joins forces, against his will at first, with an embittered recluse to rob the racetrack that laid him off unfairly.

The cross-series boundary jumping also marks what might be Westlake's finest work, Walking Around Money, the Dortmunder novella that forms part of the Transgressions series edited by EdMcBain. The goings-on are farcically funny, as they usually are with Dortmunder, but the vignettes of a troubled upstate New York town are touching.

So, what about it, readers? What other crime writers have, if not quite borrowed from themselves, let one corner of their work influence another?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Covers through time

In an example of the creative synergy that starry-eyed Web boosters claim has transformed our consciousness (either that, or in a bit of copycatting born of laziness on my part), I refer you to Chocolate Cobweb's display of Ngaio Marsh book covers from 1944 through 1987. It's interesting to note how styles change over time and to speculate about how different aspects of an author's work capture designers' attention in different eras.

It appears that Ms. Cobweb has now posted a similar display of Agatha Christie cover, which ought to fuel your appetite for this question: What examples come to mind of covers from different eras that highlight different aspects of an author's work? Will a cover from an apprehensive era focus on darker aspects of a writer normally considered cozy, for example?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sell a cop, win a book : Here are the winners

Readers responded in gratifying numbers to my request for creative ways crime writers could sponsor public services, along lines pioneered by Peter James and the Brighton and Hove police force. I had promised to award books for the five best proposals, but I could not decide between numbers five and six, so I will award six books instead.

The winners are:
1) Philip, for his suggestion that Ruth Rendell could have had “a nice arrangement with the White House” based on titles that include Some Lie and Some Die; Going Wrong; Put on by Cunning; and The Secret House of Death.

2) Lauren, for her tasty suggestions that Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano and Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti could lend their names to a campaign for healthier school lunches (and I’m sure Lauren would not object if I included Paola Brunetti as well).

3) GJG, for proposing “a commercial tie-in between your better-run prisons and, say, Hilton Hotels or Ritz-Carlton or better yet Motel Six – `We'’l leave a light on for ya.’”

4) Vanda Symon, for a splendid proposal that, regrettably, seems unlikely to become reality: “Kathy Reichs, with Fatal Voyage, could sponsor the ferry service.”

5) Linkmeister, for a related and equally unlikely suggestion that The Taking of Pelham 123 would make an ideal sponsor – or is today’s preferred term corporate partner? – for bus and subway timetables.

6) Crimeficreader, for suggesting Chris Simms’ novel Outside the White Lines as a natural for emblazonment across the sides of traffic patrol cars on motorways in the United Kingdom. She wins special commendation for creative cross-marketing synergy for suggesting that Simms’ novels could also be stocked at motorway service stations.
Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all who entered. I shall be in touch with lists of the available books.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Authorial savvy

I recently singled out J.F. Englert's entertaining and highly worthwhile A Dog Among Diplomats for its explorations of canine consciousness, particularly in a series of meditations on scent. I called those meditations "nice pieces of fantasy writing," but I realize they are probably also the result of clear-eyed planning on Englert's part.

I don't know Englert's thinking as he planned the book, but, having decided to make an animal his narrator, he obviously then had to decide how this animal would communicate with the book's human characters. This is where readers who blanch at the thought of animal characters may start to roll their eyes, queasy with visions of cute dogs yelping and trying to pull their masters back from walking unknowingly into perilous situations.

Happily, Englert's book has none of that. A hilarious dog book would have been filled with such scenes. A sentimental dog book would have mused upon the beautiful ways dog and man communicate. Englert, however, recognizes that such communication is fraught with uncertainty, to say the least, and he makes such difficulties a large part of the book. In that respect, A Dog Among Diplomats is rather realistic for a story with a fantastic premise.

Faced with a problem, in other words, Englert decided not to solve it, but to make the problem into the substance of his story. What other clever, realistic solutions to thorny narrative problems come to mind? What other writers have taken what might have been a stumbling block and made it instead into an important part of the story?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

What does "modernizing" mean?

When the judges of the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger wrote that Martin Suter's novel A Deal With the Devil "pays literary homage which modernises Glauser’s plot and setting, while extending it into an original conception of [its] own," I sat up and took notice. Glauser was one of the greatest of crime writers, and if his name is on it, I'll buy it.

I wondered, though, how Suter had modernized the book, and I wondered further about the variety of ways an author can modernize or update a favorite book or story. My copy of A Deal With the Devil arrived this week, and the rear-cover blurb describes a woman, Sonia Frey, tormented by synaesthesia: She feels smells, and she sees sounds.

Glauser notably empathized with downtrodden characters in his novels. Perhaps Suter's deeper exploration of Sonia Frey's consciousness is an extension of Glauser's empathy. Perhaps the CWA judges had this in mind when they spoke of Suter's having modernized his illustrious countryman's plot and setting.

If you've read Glauser and Suter, what do you think? If you haven't, tell me some of the more interesting ways authors can update older stories.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Questions about surprising covers

A blog that bears the tasty name Chocolate Cobwebs posted a shot of this cover recently, and I was surprised when I noted the book's author and title. The illustration seemed a bit nervous for a collection of Golden Age mystery stories, even by someone like Sayers, who had a way of latching onto a viewpoint or subject well before others did.

Then I thought again. This cover, according to Ms. Cobwebs, is from a 1963 edition of the collection, which had first been published in 1928. By 1963, angst and nerviness had presumably become popular enough that such a cover might be more in keeping with the times than it would have been thirty-five years earlier.

This, in turn, sparked a string of further speculation, which I will happily save for some other time. For now, this question: What book covers or jacket illustrations, crime-fiction or otherwise, have you found surprising, and why?
=======================

Michael Walters posts a link to a site maintained by his book-cover designer, Richard Tuschman. The site has some gorgeous images, and Tuschman's blog offers interesting insights into the process of book-cover design.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Have you read Stieg Larsson's "Men Who Hate Women"?

Yes, you likely have, though you may not know it. That's the literal translation of Larsson's original Swedish title (Män Som Hatar Kvinnor) for the much-honored novel known to English readers as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The title of the book's Italian translation is a literal rendering of the Swedish: Uomini che odiano le donne. So are the Danish, Norwegian and Dutch titles, and the French is virtually literal: Les hommes qui n'aimaient pas les femmes. (The German title goes in a different direction, but that's a matter for another post, unless Bernd or Lars wishes to weigh in here.)

For now, why do you think English-language publishers decided not to translate the novel's harsh title? This is not a trick question. I have read or heard nothing on the subject, so educated guesses, provocative polemics, informed speculation and inside dope are all welcome.

P.S. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first and only book of Larsson's Millennium trilogy to have been translated into English. All three books have been translated into French and German and two into Dutch. That's one area in which English does not lead the way.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, June 16, 2008

"Via delle Oche": Carlo Lucarelli's historical noir reviewed in Words Without Borders


My review of Via delle Oche, third volume in Carlo Lucarelli's stripped-down, tensed-up De Luca trilogy, appears in Words Without Borders: The Online Magazine for International Literature.
A heads-up: I liked the book a lot.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Adrian McKinty on English self-loathing and faux Celts

Adrian McKinty pinch-hits for Declan Burke on Crime Always Pays and delivers a ringing defense of the classic English fictional detective. He offers that sophisticated, smart, unruffled figure as a kind of Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo for a national self-esteem battered by hooliganism, economic recession, colonial guilt and Hugh Grant. It's the sharpest and funniest piece of sociological analysis you will read all day, and you can read it all here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sell a cop, win a book

Euro Crime posts this photo and a link to this article from the Daily Mail reporting that the novelist Peter James and his publisher have sponsored a police car. The Hyundai Getz bears the usual insignia of the Brighton and Hove force, along with James' name proclaiming him "No. 1 For Crime Writing."

Will the officers in the car feel any compunction about arresting Mr. James should the need arise? And will this start a trend? How long before a cop slams a perp's head into a police cruiser's roof and says: "This reading of your Miranda rights is brought to you by ... "?

And now, readers, here's your chance to help answer this question. With Peter James' example in mind, give me your ideas for creative crime-fiction sponsorships. What crime writers, books, publishers and characters could sponsor law-enforcement or other services usually considered public? The top five entries will win a book from the Detectives Beyond Borders crime library, titles to be determined in consultation with the winners.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, June 13, 2008

A Dog Among Diplomats, J.F. Englert

Detectives Beyond Borders has heretofore restricted itself to stories with human protagonists, and the policy has been fruitful; the supply of such stories is almost endless, and some of them are quite good.

Now comes J.F. Englert's A Dog Among Diplomats, and I am pleased to report that through its first 126 pages, it's better than I'd have expected from a mystery with a dog as an investigator.

Why is this? Because:

1) The dog in question, a Labrador named Randolph who belongs to an artist named Harry and who also narrates the novel, is no mere wry commentator on the cute foibles of silly humans. Instead, his narration explores canine consciousness in rich detail, particularly in a series of meditations on scent. These are nice pieces of fantasy writing.

2) The opening chapters are beautifully organized, each introducing a complication, resolving a conflict, and leading smoothly and easily to another.

3) The tone is breezy and amusing throughout, probably a more difficult feat than punctuating a story with the occasional knee-slapper. Here's one example:

"There was also — I began to recognize — another potent potpourri, of cinnamon, nutmeg and apple, emanating from dishes discretely placed on either side of an old wooden clock on the mantelpiece. This potpourri was called `Country Kitchens' and stunned the noses of man and canine in bed-and-breakfasts across the country."
4) There is a tinge of melancholy, just enough to act as a subtle counterpoint to the humor and hold this reader's interest. Here's an example that immediately follows the selection quoted above:

"This veneer of coziness, however, could not transform the essential nature of the place. Despite its upscale transformation and the utopian ideals of its proprietress, the boardinghouse was still a place of transience and disconnection — an urban way station filled with alien bodies in separate rooms."
There is poignance, too, to Harry's role in the book's central mystery, a mystery that justifies the novel's inclusion in a blog called Detectives Beyond Borders. More later.

P.S. A similar melancholy lurks in Ian Sansom's The Case of the Missing Books, only occasionally bubbling to the surface in the protagonist's growing disconnection from his girlfriend back in London. Such undertones help ensure that despite their lighthearted or even fantastic subjects, the books are no mere froth.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Not a crime, but a question

(Twelfth Street near Passyunk Avenue and Morris Street, South Philadelphia)

Can anyone tell me what's going on in these murals — or write a caption for this odd juxtaposition?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How do characters talk?

A distinctive feature of Ian Sansom's The Case of the Missing Books for this North American reader was its characters' use of the word just. They often place the word at the end of a sentence, as against North American English's tendency to place it before the word or phrase it governs. Thus, in Sansom:

"So what is it you'll have?

"A mineral water just?"
where we in Canada or the U.S. would reply "Just a mineral water."

I don't know if this quirk of speech is Irish, Northern Irish, English, characteristic of one or another social class, or just a favorite of Ian Sansom's. (On second thought, I may have seen it in other Irish writing.) I do know it punctuates the novel and lends it a suggestion of authenticity or, God help me, texture.

Certain varieties of Indian speech use the word only in similar fashion. I first noticed this tendency in H.R.F. Keating's stories, where characters say things like "I am a simple policeman only." It was easy for me to condescend to Keating, to feel just slightly uneasy with this white Englishman's imitation of Indian speech.

Then I found that Vikram Chandra has several of his characters use the same speech pattern in Sacred Games. More recently, as I have read blogs from India, I find that the tendency to end sentences with only appears to be a living feature of Indian English, at least around Kolkata (Calcutta) and Mumbai (Bombay). This was a rich education for me, not least because it made me repent my own ignorance in having felt morally superior to H.R.F. Keating.

But this is a crime-fiction blog and not a confessional. I'll close with some questions: What role does speech play in creating setting? How far is too far when it comes to trying to capture the flavor of "ethnic" speech? How do authors strike a balance between maintaining an illusion of everyday speech on the one hand and creating memorable dialogue on the other? What happens when authors give up the effort at maintaining a balance? Who are your favorite writers of dialogue, and why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Case of the Missing Books, a different sort of mystery by Ian Sansom

I don't know what sorts of movies Ian Sansom watched in the early 1980s, but I'd bet Local Hero was one of them.

In that 1983 Bill Forsyth film, an oil billionaire sends a hotshot young executive to buy up a Scottish village where the oil company wants to build a refinery. Young hotshot is smitten with the village, billionaire with the sky above it, and all ends happily except, perhaps, for the young hotshot, who returns to America and longingly recalls his time in the village as a highlight of his life.

The Case of the Missing Books follows a similar course, except its version of the hotshot — a bedraggled young librarian named Israel Armstrong — stays on, and he and the village grow to embrace one another, if somewhat awkwardly. Armstrong has arrived in Tumdrum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland to take over as librarian for Tumdrum and District. Only the person who is supposed to meet Armstrong fails to show up, the library has closed, and his new job is to staff a mobile library van. Oh yes, and all the books have disappeared.

In short order, Israel loses his clothes, his money and his credit cards. A vegetarian, he struggles to find nourishing food he can eat, not to mention a good cup of coffee. He has trouble understanding the villagers' thick accents and odd expressions, and he gets punched in the eye when he inadvertently spies on a pair of lovers. Beset on all sides, he agrees to stay just long enough to flesh out his résumé and earn enough money to return to London.

His supervisor, as shameless a liar and as fatuous a sugar-coater as my — that is, as any corporate shill, assures Israel that "it is important for the borough to continue to provide information resources with a high service proposition combined with increased competitive flexibility." She also assigns him the unwanted job of finding the missing books and, oddly enough, Israel finds he enjoys the role of sleuth. Only most of his guesses are wrong, and just a few of the 15,000 missing books turn up.

The books do materialize eventually and, like any good mystery, this one has its villain. But the solution comes about not through any discoveries on Israel's part, but only once the villagers have come to trust him. I'll reveal no more except that not only does Israel eventually agree to stay on, he even gets a vegetarian feast. In short, this is less a mystery than an engaging fish-out-of-water story. Lurking within is a ruefully humorous and compassionate message:

"Stripped of his money, his clothes, his dignity, unable to understand what people were talking about half the time, unwilling to eat the food, forced to be doing a job he didn't want to do, and threatened, beaten, and in a state of some uncertainty, confusion and tension, he was now really enjoying the full immigrant experience: this was what it must have been like for his ancestors and relatives who'd made it to Bethnal Green and to America. No wonder they all looked so bloody miserable in the photographs."
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, June 09, 2008

The taking of Meme 123

I've just received a visit from an old friend, the Page 123 meme. You know that one. It's the one that asks you to:

1) Pick up the nearest book.
2) Open it to page 123.
3) Find the fifth sentence.
4) Post the next three sentences.
5) Pass the meme on to five more people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

This meme first came my way April 22 , and my reply gave rise to a stimulating interview with Megan Abbott, whose novel Queenpin I happened to be reading at the time. So I have fond feelings toward Page 123, and I thank Sidhubaba, from the city formerly known as Calcutta, for sending it my way again.

The meme has been around awhile, though, and I may be unable to come up with five people who have not been tagged already. But I am happy to fulfill the rest of the assignment, and shortly thereafter, I will add the book in question to the roster of Forgotten Books that deserve to be better remembered.

The book is The Etruscan Bull by Frank Gruber. Happily, Page 123 begins with a new sentence, which means no worrying over whether a sentence that spills over onto a second page is the last sentence of Page 122 or the first sentence of Page 123.

Sentences 6, 7, 8, Page 123 of this enjoyable, humorous, action- and history-packed thriller are:

"A gun in Carmela's fist roared and a bullet kicked some splinters from the wall only inches from Logan.

"Logan fired once at the car itself, shifted to cover Rocco again. `Stop him, Rocco, or you get it — "
Shooting is usually good for a dose of excitement, and the sentence's ending in a dash, breaking off before any of you find out what happens, is a nice touch. If only the Carmela in question were a woman! That might have nudged the passage into the Page 123 Hall of Fame.

And now, readers, let's blow this meme to the stars. I invite all of you to take the Page 123 challenge with your current book. Let me know what happens!

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Outdoor crime

The events department at Detectives Beyond Borders Central Command sent this one across my desk this week. It's all about a notorious series of crimes beyond my borders, and any event taking place "under the trees" is worth checking out. So why not check it out?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
12:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.
Word for Word
Author Series:

Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, The Monster of Florence

Crime novelist Douglas Preston’s chilling account of a legendary serial killer, known as the “Monster of Florence,” who continues to haunt the Italian police, courts, people, and himself even after 40 years. Mario Spezi is an Italian journalist who has been investigating the Monster of Florence case since the first murders in 1974. Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi will be interviewed by Sarah Weinman, author of the blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, followed by a Q & A and book signing.

Note: This will be the only venue in America here Mario Spezi will also be signing books.

Check out a video about the book at: http://www.bookvideos.tv/videoid/1153

The event is FREE and open to the public. For updates and additional information, please visit the Web site at www.bryantpark.org

The Bryant Park Reading Room located on the 42nd Street side of the park — under the trees — between the back of the NYPL & 6th Avenue. Look for the burgundy and white umbrellas. Rain Venue: Library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen 20 West 44th Street (between 5th & 6th Avenue). New York City.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

That didn't last long, did it?

A reader in Florida knew that Tana French credits her training in theater with helping her create her characters. His knowledge wins him a copy of French's novel In the Woods, newly released in paperback in the U.S. by Viking Penguin.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Win a copy of "In the Woods" by Tana French

Talk about making a splash! Tana French's debut novel, In the Woods, has been garnering praise and honors in numbers known in the publishing trade as "out the wazoo," an Edgar Award for best first novel among them. Now you can find out what the fuss is about without having to spend one thin dime.
To celebrate the novel's U.S. paperback release from Viking Penguin, Detectives Beyond Borders has a copy of In the Woods for the first person who can answer the following question correctly:
Tana French has credited her training and experience in a previous profession with helping her writing. What is that profession?
Send your answer along with your postal address to detectivesbeyondborders (at) earthlink (dot) net
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Make Forgotten Books a part of your life

I urge you to read Patti Abbott's Forgotten Books posts religiously. Each week she asks readers, writers and bloggers to post a short essay on their own blogs about a book that deserves to be better remembered. She then compiles lists of all the essays in a weekly summing up that is the only shopping list a serious crime-fiction fan will ever need. And it renews every week!

Why the excitement? Because the lists are a good idea, but also because I've used them. An author I had not heard of previously stuck in my mind from one of the lists. His name registered when I found an old copy of one of his novels at Philadelphia's own version of Aladdin's Cave, otherwise known as Port Richmond Books. I pulled it off the shelf, found a grabber within the first two pages, and bought the book. So, guarantee yourself a fistful of pleasant surprises every week, and don't forget to read Forgotten Books.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Interviews with CWA shortlist picks

The U.K.'s Crime Writers Association has announced the shortlists for its Dagger awards, which are to be presented in London next month.

The lists include two subjects of 2008 Detectives Beyond Borders interviews: Sian Reynolds, nominated with Fred Vargas for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger for her translation of Vargas' This Night's Foul Work, and Matt Rees, up for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for The Bethlehem Murders (The Collaborator of Bethlehem in the U.S.).

Other shortlistees include Colin Cotterill, Duncan Lawrie Dagger for The Coroner's Lunch; Andrea Camilleri and translator Stephen Sartarelli, Duncan Lawrie International Dagger for The Patience of the Spider, and Martin Edwards, Short Story Dagger for ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice.’

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

The most influential crime writer? — Jean-Patrick Manchette plus a question for readers

A year ago, I asked readers to name their choices for the most influential crime writer ever. Here's another name for the list: Jean-Patrick Manchette.

Manchette reinvigorated noir, inventing what French critics call the néo-polar, or neo-whodunnit, and if all that neo stuff makes you roll your eyes, stop and think for a minute: How many of the old-time hard-boiled writers make your blood run cold the way they presumably did for readers in the 1930s and 1940s? How mean, in other words, are Raymond Chandler's mean streets today?

Certainly Manchette's time, an age that saw assassinations, cover-ups at the highest levels, and revelations of the violence that attended colonialism and its end, could no longer be shocked by small-town or even big-city corruption of the Hammett and Chandler kind. Manchette restored that ability to shock, with tales of what power can do to those it finds convenient to crush. And he did it while remaining true to the roots of pulp. Heck, the guy even loved American movies and played the saxophone. How much more genuine can you get?

I was reminded of Manchette twice recently. The first reminder came in Duane Swierczynski's novel The Blonde, which names a character, or rather a part of a character, after Manchette. I suspect Swierczynski would not call himself a political writer. Still, he was attracted by Manchette's non-stop, man-on-the-run plots, and something of their energy infuses Swierczynski's own work.

The second arrived this week in the form of a tribute on the encyclopedic Ile noire blog on the thirteenth anniversary of Manchette's death. The article, in French, discusses the rage Manchette felt at political repression in the time after the political and social upheavals of 1968. The author himself coined the term néo-polar, according to one critic quoted in the article, not because he wanted to introduce a new school of French crime writing, but to emphasize that he was parodying the traditions of the genre's classics. The Ile noire article links to a Manchette Web site, also in French, that is as comprehensive as any I have seen. For a beautifully written appreciation, try this piece by James Sallis. (It's in English.)

As for Manchette's influence, how about Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels? And here's an open-ended set of questions for you, readers: If you've read Manchette, what's your take on him? If not, let's revive the old question of who the most influential crime writer is, only with a twist: Who is the most influential crime writer since the end of World War II? And why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The book, the blog and the baby

Declan Burke, of The Big O and Eightball Boogie fame, is a pretty busy guy these days, putting out a novel and raising an adorable, brand-new baby daughter. Thanks to the blogosphere, you can watch his progress at one of these tasks, as you follow him through A Gonzo Noir. Come to think of it, you can watch his progress at both of these tasks.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt" *

Michael Walters takes us to Mongolia for an opposing view to that put forth by the pro-spring lobby.

* — Margaret Atwood
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Blogging for the BBC

Rhian, keeper of It's a Crime! (or a mystery...), has been blogging about the Hay Festival for the BBC, which I think is way cool.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Noir at the Bar with rare, archival news footage

That's Duane Swierczynski (right) being grilled by Ed Pettit at the first Noir at the Bar reading this evening at the Tritone in Philadelphia.

Duane's the author of a slew of books, including The Blonde and the newly released Severance Package, about a boss who kills off his employees. Ed's an Edgar Allan Poe scholar and the instigator of the Poe wars, the battle to bring Poe back from Baltimore to Philadelphia (Blow this photo up, and you just might be able to see the Poe action figure peeking out of Ed's shirt pocket.)

Duane and Ed had the delightful idea of turning the reading into an event. So, instead of just an author reading his own stuff, Duane talked about his work and about his view of noir; Ed's actress wife, Kate, read the first chapter of Severance Package (you'll never guess what the murder weapon is); and Ed interviewed Duane, who then took questions from the audience.

The two are friends, and Ed's familiarity with Duane's work made for a free-flowing discussion that explored such topics as the influence of comic books on Swierczynski's fictional world (No surprise there; Swierczynski also writes comic books/graphic novels.)

The ambiance, too, was slightly rowdier than one normally finds at readings (The Tritone is a bar, after all), though I was pleased to note that even the bar's regulars paid respectful and interested attention.

The crowd? At least as good as expected, according to Rick at the Tritone, so stay tuned for Noir at the Bar II. A special treat for me was the attendance of Philadelphia writer Johnny Ostentatious, who presented me with a copy of a novel of his, for which I'd done the copy editing. It was nice to see my name between covers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Carnival of the Criminal Minds, #17

It's been to Canada, Germany, Ireland, Texas and South Philadelphia. Now the Carnival of the Criminal Minds puts down stakes in England in the form of Martin Edwards, author of mysteries set in the Lake District and Liverpool and blogger under his own name at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

Martin's carnival begins with a Beatles memory before taking readers on a tour that includes the Byzantine empire and a muddy island, among other stops in Crimefictionville. The tour includes a number of stops outside the world of crime fiction for those of us who need reminders that there is such a thing. I'll see you on the midway.

As always, visit the Carnivals of the past at carnival queen Barbara Fister's carnival archive.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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