Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Things to do in Denver when you're delayed, Part II

1) Be sure not to get too absorbed blogging and sending e-mail on a night when your flight takes off early without an announcement.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Things to do in Denver when you're delayed

1) Read Jo Nesbø. The Redeemer has a nice version of the old he'll-make-a-good-cop-one-day trope:

"In the last year, however, Skarre's self-confidence had evaporated somewhat, and Harry had begun to think it was not impossible that they would make a decent policeman out of him after all."
2) Wander the immense length of Denver International Airport's Terminal B, with its neon, its bi-level concourse, its smoking lounge, its massage chairs, and compare this to Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport, with its fast check-in and its gates with ground-level glass doors giving directly onto the runways. The terminals are narrow and parked smack amid runways and mountains, a small reminder of what aviation must have been like before code-sharing and hubs.

3) Wish that the airport's numerous slick Internet kiosks permitted saving and downloading of pictures, so I could show you some of the giant redwoods amid which I wandered yesterday. I don't go in much for awe, but those trees sure got the job done.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Carl Nielsens De fire Temperamenter, or Santa Cruz wears no shoes

I came to Santa Cruz expecting sun, ancient hippies, relaxed attitudes, and books, but not a symphony orchestra, so I was delighted to find that the Santa Cruz County Symphony was playing Carl Nielsen's Second Symphony, subtitled the "Four Temperaments."

That lively, harmonically interesting piece was a bit brassier than I remembered, but that could be because I was sitting close enough to the brass to easily have spit my gum into the tuba, had I chosen to do so.

The orchestra plays in a civic auditorium that is well set up for music but also hosts events of other kinds, including a women's roller derby game. The house was fairly full, and the evening's guest soloist, Chetan Tierra, who played Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, is a winner of international competitions, a performer at prestigious concert halls, and a Santa Cruz kid.

The audience had the endearing custom of applauding after the first movement of a piece rather than waiting until the end. But the evening's most memorable sight was a fellow concertgoer, a middle-aged gent wearing a T-shirt and pony tail, who attended the concert barefoot, a fact that neither he nor the friends with whom he conversed before the concert and during intermission appeared to find odd.

Could this start a trend? I will cast my eyes discreetly toward my fellow concertgoers' feet the next time I attend a concert in Philadelphia and report back on the results.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Matt Rees in the Philadelphia Inquirer

My review of Matt Beynon Rees' third Omar Youssef mystery, The Samaritan's Secret, appears in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

The book mines an ancient but little-known corner of history for its mystery, and it involves both secrets and some not so good Samaritans. Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Matt Rees here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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I'd like to thank ... Spinetingler

This humble blog has been nominated for the Second Annual Spinetingler Awards in the category of special services to the industry. Click this link, and vote, vote, vote!

One thing I like about these awards is that they recognize a wider range of authors and areas of publishing than many awards do. There are categories both for best new voice and rising star, for example, and an award for best short story published on the Web. Another thing I like is that they nominated me. Now, go vote your conscience. I'm sure you'll do the right thing.

N.B. I have just noticed that the Spinetingler ballot includes links to all short stories nominated in the category mentioned in the preceding paragraph. That's a pretty special service right there, I'd say.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XIV

"In here?"

"Yep. It's Philly's hottest new brew pub. We can talk without being interrupted by service."

Fifteen minutes later, Blake and I had our beer. Twenty minutes later, we had a plan: Get onto the construction site next to the building, cut a few utility wires, and get inside while everyone is trying to figure out what happened. No one would be suspicious if the lights went off suddenly; that sort of thing went on in Philadelphia all the time. The city's condo boom meant construction everywhere, and the crews worked fast, night and day. That meant forests of wires and pipes just waiting to get pulled, yanked, chopped or accidentally cut. Electricity, phone service, even water, if you swung your sledgehammer right.

"OK," Blake said, "what do we do once we get in?"

"We trash Joss's Porsche."

Blake looked at the ceiling then back at me. "All right, we spray-paint your mean boss's car, and then?"

"Then the real job starts."


======================

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here And remember: This is fiction. It never happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, March 27, 2009

What I did on my vacation

This is the wrong part of California, but something here puts me in mind of Raymond Chandler. Maybe it's the storefront Ocean View Card Room, or maybe the sun-bleached stucco of the Neptune Apartments -- just the place where a dame like that would live, I thought. People came here looking for paradise and found the end of the earth instead.

But they didn't come in brand-new Duesenbergs that must have cost five grand. And they didn't wear fedoras. And their name wasn't ... Eddie. I ducked behind a palm tree, but there were no palm trees in this part of the state, and that damned species wasn't even native to California. So I went next door, ordered a double mocha decaf latte, and sat down to wait ... and wait ...

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

One more word about Two Murders ...

Josef Škvorecký's novel Two Murders in My Double Life, a subject of discussion here in recent days, would make interesting fodder for a debate about crime fiction and mainstream or "serious" fiction.

The double life of the title refers to the narrator's current life as a professor at a Canadian university and his past as writer sucked into a labyrinth of betrayal and squalor in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia.

"North America leads, by a wide margin, in the worldwide statistics of murder," Škvorecký writes in a short introduction, "but North Americans have never experienced total crime. In Europe and Asia, millions of people fell victim to it, many millions in large countries, but it is not only the body that is murdered by this mega-assassin, it is the soul: the character of the community called a nation. However, one can hardly write a murder mystery about the assassination of souls. That's why the Edenvale [College] story has all the paraphernalia of the guilty vicarage, but the Prague sequence of events lacks them entirely. It characters, as the narrator says, are not in a detective story written for the entertainment of the reader, but in a very serious novel."
Lest a reader be tempted to think that a put-down of the detective story, consider that Škvorecký devoted an entire book of fiction, Sins for Father Knox, to affectionate engagement with detective stories, absurdity and all.

So, while perhaps few crime writers engage themselves with matters as serious as Škvorecký's, the man is willing to have fun, too, and I get the feeling that he regards this as a task of high importance.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sagas and crime fiction: A witness for the prosecution

Fired by my recent discovery that Josef Škvorecký also found affinities between Icelandic sagas and crime fiction, I dug out my copy of The Sagas of Icelanders, published in 2000 by, suitably enough, Viking.

Imagine the tingle of recognition when I read this, from the introduction:

"Saga heroes occupy a social space on the edges of society. The heroes of three of the sagas, The Saga of Grettir the Strong, Gisli Sursson's Saga and The Saga of Hord and the People of Holm, are in fact outlaws. Gunnar Hamundarson of Hlidarendi in Njal's Saga is also technically a criminal when he is killed. Most of the saga heroes are just barely on one side of the other of the law, but it also seems to be true that the law itself is being tested along with the finest men."
Substitute shorter American names for the long Nordic ones, and Raymond Chandler could have written that.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, March 23, 2009

More proto-detectives!!!

Yesterday's post about Nordic sagas and Dashiell Hammett quoted from pages 77 and 78 of Josef Škvorecký's Two Murders in My Double Life.

I've just read the following on page 103, and I leapt like Archimedes from the bathtub, though I wrapped a towel around my waist and dried myself before shouting, "Eureka!":

"I, too, received an honorary degree. For my detective stories, I guess. Most professors suffer from the secret vice of reading such stuff. even if in their courses they lecture on Elizabethan poetry and Shakespeare. But the bard, too, in a sense, wrote crime stories. Dickens, then? Well, Boz was the author of several thrillers. Mark Twain? What about Pudd'nhead Wilson, not to mention Tom Sawyer, Detective? Faulkner? Who concocted Knight's Gambit and Intruder in the Dust? For a while it seemed to me that everybody in English and American literature wrote crime fiction, except perhaps Victorian female novelists."
Longtime Detectives Beyond Bordersniks may remember my posts about Shakespeare and other proto-detectives. My own list goes back beyond Nordic sagas all the way to Gilgamesh. But then, perhaps Škvorecký's does, too. I still have about fifty pages left in the book.

(Click here and here for more about Škvorecký. I recommend his stories about Lieutenant Boruvka, and I expect to have more to say about his deeply human and humane views on the lingering effects of life under a totalitarian regime. And now, back to the bath.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Out of the past

I don't know when Linda L. Richards wrote Death Was the Other Woman, which appeared in 2008, and Death Was in the Picture (2009), but the timing of their publication is fortunate, if one can use that word to denote the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Richards' protagonist, Kitty Pangborn, is a woman in reduced circumstances. Wrenched by the Crash of 1929 from the life of ease her family had enjoyed, she goes to work for a private investigator, and she's glad for the job.

"It was the Depression," Richards wrote in an essay for Crimespree Magazine. "Money was scarce and jobs difficult to come by. If you had a job, yet the job itself was imperfect, you wouldn’t just chuck it and get a new one, as we would in the 21st century. Jobs were precious, something to hold on to. You would do whatever you could – whatever you had to do – to make it work out, even if that meant doing the boss’s job for him when he wasn’t looking."
It's grimly amusing to think that when Richards wrote that essay, the notion of clinging desperately to a precious job was something out of a horrible past. Perhaps Kitty Pangborn, conceived as a tribute to and more realistic reimagining of crime fiction's hard-working female sidekicks and secretaries of the 1930s, can be a solace to harried workers in the 2000s.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Beautiful deaths

The excerpt from José Latour's Havana World Series that I quoted yesterday reminded me of another of my favorite crime-fiction passages, the opening of Bill James' The Detective Is Dead. I make no apologies for quoting that passage yet again. Its humor and its sheer, unexpected beauty make it well worth repeated reading:

"When someone as grand and profitable as Oliphant Kenward Knapp was suddenly taken out of the business scene, you had to expect a bloody big rush to grab his domain, bloody big meaning not just bloody big, but big and very bloody. Harpur was looking at what had probably been a couple of really inspired enthusiasts in the takeover rush. Both were on their backs. Both, admittedly, showed only minor blood loss, narrowly confined to the heart area. Both were eyes wide, mouth wide and for ever gone from the stampede."
That shares with the Latour excerpt specificity of detail, wry detachment, and an unexpectedly lyrical punch line.

Now it's your turn. What are your favorite lyrical descriptions of killing in crime fiction? How do you feel reading beautiful words about such a grim, violent subject? What are your favorite gorgeous pieces of crime-fiction prose, whether about death or not?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

From Moore to Latour (Havana World Series)

I'm about halfway through this novel set in 1958 Havana. The big heist has taken place, and author José Latour has managed a beguiling combination of suspense and relaxed description, the latter often undercutting the former to humorous, gently mocking effect ("Wilbur `Lefty' Clark and his second-in-command, Tom Magenty, from Casino Parisien, drove down Paseo Avenue in a majestic '59 Cadillac De Ville at 11:29.")

Amused detachment comes through at unexpected moments and betrays a sense of leisurely wonder highly unexpected in a heist story. I don't how many readers will share my opinion, but I love this description of a killing:
"Grouse's Frankenstein didn't know a word of English, but having heard `No' twice, he made a sudden upward thrust. The bayonet went through skin, tongue, and the palatine and cranial cavities as if piercing a loaf of white bread. The left parietal bone finally stopped it. The hall supervisor hopped, his eyeballs bulged out, broken nerve connections lost control, sphincters yielded. Urine and excrement gushed freely, the body jerked convulsively, and life fled away in a whirlwind of contradictory impulses."
Read the first chapter of Havana World Series free at Latour's Web site.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Moore

I've been surprised from time to time by the popularity that crime fiction enjoys among graphic-novel readers. Based on nothing other than guesswork and prejudice, I once would have associated comics more with fantasy than with crime. But no longer.

First, cover copy on one of the Batman collections referred to the story's murder mystery. Then a staffer at my local comics shop, as slacker-like a slacker as any who ever called a customer "Dude," surprised me when he said he wished the Watchmen movie had played up the story's murder mystery more. And then there are writers like Duane Swierczynski, who write both novels and comics.

My latest eye-opener in this regard is Alan Moore's Top 10, which I discovered thanks to the comic-store dude cited above. The story has a typically fantastic Moore premise: A city called Neopolis is built after World War II to house a population that consists entirely of superheroes. Their population explodes. Unemployment and associated social problems proliferate. And a wild squad of cops with odd superpowers of their own is charged with keeping order in this messy world.

Moore, I have read, cited Hill Street Blues as an influence, which means that Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels were an influence, too. The books have extensive fantasy and science fiction trappings, but at their heart they're ensemble police stories. That an imaginative writer such as Moore finds this time-honored form fertile ground speaks well for the vitality of crime fiction.

The books are vehicles for Moore's humor and social commentary, and the fantastic setting makes a wonderful background for the stories. That setting? Think of the bar scene in Star Wars, with all those weird creatures drinking and socializing. That's a nice set piece, right? Imagine all those creatures with lives and problems of their own, inhabiting a New York-like city, trying to survive, committing crimes or trying to solve them. That's Top 10.

I expect I'll have more to say once I've read all of the books. For now, though, I'll share a snippet of dialogue from The Forty-Niners, a Top 10 prequel:

"`Uh, say, buddy, excuse me? This'll sound kinda nuts, I know, but ... are you a vampire?'

"`I'm a Hungarian-American with an inherited medical condition.'"

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I am watching the Watchmen

A narrative strand in Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen traces the sociopathology of the character Rorschach to his traumatic childhood. In one scene, Rorschach (when he was still a young boy called Walter Kovacs), is accosted by two bullies. He grabs a cigarette from one and grinds it into the attacker's eye.

The movie version, which I saw this evening, alters the scene. In the film, Kovacs kicks his attacker in the nuts, then bites out a chunk of his face.

What do we learn from this? That in the moral world of 2009, a movie can depict nuclear annihilation, graphic dismemberment, boiling cooking grease flung in a man's face, a pregnant woman shot dead at point-blank range, a man burying a meat cleaver repeatedly in another man's skull, and a blue mutant in full frontal nudity — as long as it does not appear to condone smoking.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice

I probably should read a bit of Louis MacNeice before I say much about Ken Bruen's Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice.

For now, though, I'd guess that fans of Bruen's leisurely pace, with pauses to admire the bucolic scenery, will probably like this early novel as well.

It's less tragic than Bruen's Jack Taylor books, and it manages a wonderful bitter, funny, resigned humor that — and God and Bruen forgive me for saying so — is positively life-affirming.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dutch views

Author A.C. Baantjer's DeKok and the Dead Harlequin includes some nice bits about Dutch habits and human geography. Here's DeKok on the trail of a person of interest:

"It was not difficult to find Pierre Brassel. He was, so to speak, on display. The Dutch have a peculiar habit of never closing curtains, except sometimes, bedroom curtains. Tourists make it a point to walk the streets of Dutch cities, peeking into rooms as they pass by. Nobody takes offense. On the contrary, the Dutch take great pride in their interiors."
(Jan Vermeer, Street in Delft, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

That's an accurate observation, acknowledged by the Dutch themselves. It calls to mind those great seventeenth-century Dutch paintings in which a viewer is invited not just to peer into a house or courtyard but to do so in depth. (Space being at a premium in the Netherlands, Dutch houses tend to be narrow and thus to seem deep.)

I especially like this observation, evocative of the distinctive Dutch settlement pattern in which there are few American-style suburbs and lots of rural village/bedroom communities:

"The place was pleasantly crowded.

"Farmers came from the outlying areas around the village. Civil servants and businesspeople came from the bedroom community. Shopkeepers came from the small town. All had responded to the invitation."
Oh, and this:

"Then he thought cynically that his path, at times, seemed to be literally strewn with beautiful blonde women. But of course, there were a lot of beautiful blonde women in Holland, and a lot of them looked alike."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Noir at the Bar: Canadians and coincidences

Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore included a panel on the private-eye novel at which Declan Hughes offered a ringing defense of the genre. Hughes' passionate theatrics are always a joy to behold, and they did at least as much as the hospitality-suite coffee to jar conventioneers out of their early-morning stupor.

I remember thinking at the time that defense implies attack. So when John McFetridge invited me to quiz Sean Chercover (left) and Howard Shrier (right) at Toronto's first Noir at the Bar, I thought about how these two writers both honor the venerable P.I. genre and keep it fresh.

They do it in some similar ways both small — Chercover's Ray Dudgeon and Shrier's Jonah Geller use computers and databases in their work — and large: both kill where their predecessors may only have felt like killing. Both also shed tears, which earlier tough P.I.s did not do.

The books share other features, too: Location (Both of Chercover's books and significant parts of Shrier's second are set in Chicago). And I don't remember Percocet previously figuring in the work of two consecutive authors on my crime-fiction reading list.

So John chose two well-matched authors. And if my reports on this Noir at the Bar are more disjointed than usual, I realize now that it's hard to take notes when one is asking the questions.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Dutch treat

It's hard to avoid A.C. "Appie" Baantjer if one is in the Netherlands or has contact with Dutch communities outside the country. He's written about sixty-seven novels featuring a rumpled police detective named De Cock (DeKok in English translations, for some reason). A successful television series based on the books' characters has aired for years in the Netherlands and Belgium. There are a Baantjer board game and a Baantjer museum, and the author's Web site offers novels, the game, DVDs and even a book about Baantjer's early days in the Dutch fishing town of Urk.

Here in the U.S., my Dutch teacher used both the television series and the board game as teaching tools. Though his country is small, Baantjer is a big star, in other words, in a way equalled by few crime writers anywhere.

Perhaps because of the television show's pace, humor and roster of skilled character actors, though, I've liked it better than I did the novel or two that I'd read in the series. But I think the books' appeal may come through better in DeKok and the Dead Harlequin, newly reissued in English translation by Speck Press. Here, De Kok muses about the Dutch national character:

"To form any sort of gang, or even a `group of guys,' is not all that common in this country. The Dutch criminal is by nature a pure individualist. He doesn't form groups; at most he'll work with a single partner,"
to which his occasionally impetuous but here thoughtful colleague, Vledder, replies:

"You know ... when NATO conducts exercises, the story is the Dutch army always gets the lowest ratings in unit maneuvers, but the Dutch soldier is always rated first in guerrilla warfare. Perhaps with the inspired leadership of Pierre Brassel, the so-called gang managed to overcome their natural aversion to cooperation. Who knows what he promised them."
That's a nice, low-key piece of observation, off-beat, yet pertinent to the investigation at hand. DeKok's rumpled appearance recall Columbo, but his compassion and sharp, wry observations may remind readers of Baantjer's late countryman Janwillem van de Wetering.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Extra time in Toronto, extra crime fiction

(From left: Sean Chercover, Peter "Deadbeard" Rozovsky, Howard Shrier)

My plane never made it off the ground, thanks to bad weather in my destination of Philadelphia, so I headed back into town to buy more crime fiction and Montreal-style bagels. Today's crime books come from England, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands.

On my way back to Sleuth of Baker Street, I saw a fellow passenger on the bus reading Howard Shrier's Buffalo Jump. She was reading the novel for a crime-fiction book group, and she also told me about a local university detective-fiction course that she said had been taught by Peter Robinson, among others.

"You should read this McFetridge guy, too," I said. "And this Sean Chercover guy, and this international crime-fiction blog, for which I just happen to have a business card right here."

Are crime-fiction sirens calling me to Toronto?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Toronto: International crime-fiction capital

Always carry a camera that works. Had mine not conked out today, I'd have posted a picture of an even better subway placard than the one I wrote about yesterday. This one bore handsome blow-ups of the covers of Nemesis by Jo Nesbø, Revelation by C.J. Sansom, Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell and This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas. All four are part of Vintage Canada's World of Crime series, and the ad's tag line did my heart good: "The Best of International Crime Fiction."

Howard Shrier's novels are published under the same imprint, one reason I was proud to have him as a guest at tonight's Noir at the Bar: T.O. Style (that's not him in the photo at left) along with Sean Chercover. All of us were there at the invitation of novelist/TV writer John McFetridge, who brought along a lively but well-behaved gang of authors and other interesting folks.

I did my second stint as a Noir at the Bar moderator, after October's session with McFetridge and Declan Burke, and I am beginning to realize that I love asking questions. I'll follow with a fuller report once I get some sleep. Suffice it to say that Chercover and Shrier both honor the P.I. tradition and renew it.

Until I can borrow some pictures from my fellow attendees, this post offers a photo of me buying some international crime fiction on Sunday at Toronto's Sleuth of Baker Street. The beard is now gone. Sorry, Arlene.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"CSI meets the Canterbury Tales"

Always carry a camera. Had I had mine with me today, I'd have taken a picture of the Toronto subway placard that bore the tag line I borrowed for this post's title. The placard was an ad for Grave Goods, third novel in Ariana Franklin's series of medieval mysteries that began with Mistress of the Art of Death.

Based on my reading of the first book, the tag line is appropriate. Franklin's Adelia Aguilar is a doctor from Salerno summoned to England, where medicine is less advanced and women certainly do not practice it, to investigate a series of murders. Her scientific approach does indeed make her something like a twelfth-century forensic investigator. But the main thing is that I saw a big ad for crime fiction on a subway car in a major city. How cool is that?

Speaking of Toronto, if you're within traveling distance of the city's waterfront tonight, Tuesday, come to Noir at the Bar, T.O. Style with Sean Chercover, Howard Shrier and John McFetridge. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Sleuth of Baker Street (Toronto)

Had a pleasant and productive Sunday afternoon at Toronto's Sleuth of Baker Street crime-fiction bookstore. I bought what promises to be some good Canadian, Norwegian and Cuban-Canadian books, and I enjoyed the easy, familiar interaction between the shop's owner and customers. More cities should have bookshops like this one.

I also met with John McFetridge to plan Wednesday's first Noir at the Bar outside the U.S., and I took a picture that could win me some free books in this contest at Central Crime Zone.

All told, a well-above-average crime-fiction day, though I seem to have lost an hour somewhere.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Baltimore Drive-By, Part XV: The big break-in

I set my briefcase on the concrete floor beside the yellow Porsche, and I extracted my tools: a bag of sugar, my old metal pica ruler, and three pounds of hamburger meat. I laid everything on the floor, and I pulled on a pair of rubber surgical gloves. I didn't expect to leave prints, but you can't be too careful.

"Posh car for an editor," Seamus said. "And what would you be planning with all that?"

"Break in, slip the meat under the passenger seat, then sugar the gas tank. Boom! Meat rots, car stinks, engine banjaxed."

Seamus leaned against the Porsche's left rear wheel well and lit a cigarette. "Been a while since you've driven a car, has it?"
======================

(Read the rest here. And remember: This is fiction. It never happened and never will.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Leighton Gage, S.J. Rozan at Philly crime-fiction brunch

Leighton Gage, author of the Chief Inspector Mario Silva mysteries, set in Brazil, joins S.J. Rozan at this Sunday's Robin's Bookstore Crime Fiction Book Club brunch.

The food starts at 1 p.m., followed by author presentations, discussion and questions and answers at 2 p.m. It all happens at Les Bons Temps, 114 South 12th Street, Philadelphia, 215-238-9100.

Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Leighton Gage here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, March 06, 2009

A bookstore plugs international mysteries

Props to the Borders at the Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, for its display of international crime fiction. It was nice to see display space allotted to my favorite reading and nice to see a personal touch at a chain bookshop. In the past I'd complained about unfortunate book placement at chain bookstores, only to be told that placement was dictated by corporate headquarters. In this case, the display was the initiative of a store employee.

Quite naturally this employee and I shared reading interests, and it transpires that we both attended an international crime panel at Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore. We exchanged recommendations, and I bought a book on her say-so.

Here's hoping more bookshops follow the Chestnut Hill example. This seems a fine way to draw attention to the wealth of crime fiction from other countries.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cuba: Libre or not, here I come

Now that American newspapers are drastically cutting their coverage of foreign news, readers may have to turn elsewhere to gain perspective. They could do worse than crime fiction.

First assignment: Adrian McKinty's new Fifty Grand and Lawrence Block's old Killing Castro, reissued by Hard Case Crime. Block's book is about a Dirty Dozenish gang of assassins who come together to do just what you'd expect from the book's title, and it offers relatively early discussion (the book first appeared in 1961) of where Fidel Castro went wrong. McKinty's is about one person's suffering and manipulation at the hands of a range of antagonists that includes the Cuban government, and he saves his ire for Raul Castro. Neither book is likely to earn its author a friendly reception at a Castrista piss-up.

Read the books back to back, then prepare a book report on both. Samples of each are available by clicking on the titles in the preceding paragraph. And now maybe I'll go read some Leonardo Padura. (Nathan Cain of Independent Crime links to a list of Padura's favorite Cuban novels. The Old Man and the Sea makes the list.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Getting behind "Fifty Grand"

Adrian McKinty, novelist, blogger, and scourge of factual inaccuracy, sheds light on the genesis of his new novel, Fifty Grand, and offers a chance to win a copy. Click, read, and win. Once you read this novel's opening pages, you won't put the book down. If I were choosing a baseball nine (or cricket eleven or hurling fifteen) of novels, this book would make the team for best prologue.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Elmore Leonard's cool, spare dialogue

Be Cool, a sequel to Get Shorty, seems not often to be mentioned among top-flight Elmore Leonard novels, but this reader liked it just fine. I enjoyed the author's apparent comfort amid the rock-and-roll world, and I especially liked the spare prose.

I'd tried just once before to read a Leonard novel, and I marveled at a lengthy scene built entirely of dialogue: no descriptions, no tags or attributions, no reactions. It was a virtuoso piece of writing, but a bit wearying to read. Be Cool contains similar, if shorter, scenes, and for me, they worked. My favorite example:
"Hi, I'm Tiffany? I love your movies. Tommy said I could be in the one you're gonna do about him? Only I guess you won't do it now."
Odds are you've read similar snippets of dialogue in which a character, usually female, ends her statements with a rising intonation that makes questions of them. Usually the author will have the narrator remark on this. But Leonard, avoiding any such commentary, let me hear that voice. And I hear it vividly.

I can also well understand why Detectives Beyond Borders favorites Declan Burke and John McFetridge revere Leonard. Like their novels, this one is less a straightforward crime story than a kind of adventure or odyssey along which the protagonist or protagonists encounter and maybe commit crimes. I'm betting they've both read this book.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, March 02, 2009

On Stieg Larssson's sources

My favorite post this week is from DJs Krimiblog, about the origins of Stieg Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist, complete with startling visual evidence.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Excursion to Tindari

Andrea Camilleri was over seventy years old when he wrote Excursion to Tindari. His protagonist, Salvo Montalbano, was fifty. The novel's closing pages contain as rueful and touching a meditation on age, crime and the passage of time as any I can think of. This passage is a tease, but a tease is better than spoiler, so don't complain:
"[Montalbano] himself had reacted the way he did, nearly suffering a stroke. Whereas Mimi had turned pale, yes, but didn't really seem too upset. Self-control? Lack of sensitivity? No, the reason was clearly much simply: the difference in age. He was fifty and Mimi was thirty. Augello was already prepared for the year 2000, whereas he would never be. Nothing more. Augello naturally knew that he was entering an era of pitiless crimes committed by anonymous people, who had Internet addresses or sites or whatever they're called, but never a face, a pair of eyes, an expression. No, he was too old by now."
There's a fair bit of understanding, insight and resignation there, I'd say. That paragraph is the early leader in the race for my favorite piece of reading of 2009, or maybe even my favorite since I started this crime-fiction thing.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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