Friday, July 31, 2009

It's Sunday! It's St. Louis! It's Noir at the Bar!

Ginchmaster Scott Phillips sends the following:

"It's the return of Peter Rozovsky's Noir at the Bar!

"Delmar Restaurant & Lounge
(314) 725-6565


"6235 Delmar Blvd Saint Louis, MO 63130

"Doors open at 8 PM on Sunday August 2nd. Reading will be [Scott], from [his] `Uncage Me' story, followed by Malachi Stone reading from his novel St. Agnes's Eve, followed by Jedidiah Ayres reading one of his short stories, followed by the evening's headliner, Chicago's Theresa Schwegel, reading from her new novel Last Known Address. If you're not familiar with Schwegel's work you should be. She writes the best cop novels since Richard Price."

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

On translating Andrea Camilleri

Earlier this year, I linked to an article by Stephen Sartarelli about translating Andrea Camilleri into English.

I singled out Sartarelli's assessment that Camilleri:

"writes in a language that he has been the first to grace with literary status. An invented language, in the sense that, though made up of existing manners of speech and writing, it has never before been assembled in quite this fashion."
The article turns up as a preface to Does the Night Smell the Same in Italy and in English Speaking Countries? An Essay on Translation: Camilleri in English by Emanuela Gutkowski.

The book is marred by a tendency to weigh down obvious statements with citations not just in footnotes but in the body of the text. If you can ignore that academic affectation, Gutkowski, a lecturer in English and translation studies at the University of Catania in Sicily, has interesting things to say to readers of Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano mysteries.

Her numerous quotations from Camilleri's L'odore della notte and its translation as The Smell of the Night (The Scent of the Night for delicate UK readers) highlight the sorts of choices a translator must make when literal renderings would make no sense in the "reception" language. Thus "Ho avuto una botta di culo incredibile, Mimi" becomes "I hit the goddamn jackpot, Mimi."

"The expression cannot be translated," Gutkowski writes, as the literal translation `I had a terrible ass-hit' appears to be nonsense." Sartarelli's choice is anything but nonsense, and he gets the tone just right.

Sartareli made wise choices as well in areas of linguistic untranslatablity, where Montalbano's distinctively Sicilian manipulations of grammar lack precise English equivalents. Such a locution, says, Gutkowski, is Montalbano's introduction of himself by "Montalbano sono" (literally "Montalbano I am") rather than the standard "I am Montalbano" or "It's Montalbano."

His choice of words thus violates normal word order in the interest of a strange, self-conscious formality. Just try getting that across in translation. Sartarelli's choice: "Montalbano the name." That, too, captures the tone, I'd say.

And then there's Catarella, Montalbano's thick, excitable, language-mangling colleague. I'd had ambivalent feelings about Sartarelli's rendering his speech in an English full of malapropisms and misspellings. Seeing his version beside the original, I appreciate the sensitivity he has to the strange, clanky sound of Catarella's speech.

"Vossia di pirsona pirsonalmente è?" becomes "Is that you yourself in person?" which both preserves the sense and offers an elegant substitution (you/yourself) for Catarella's cracked alliteration.

=================
Camilleri makes artful use of clichés, mostly to show how they drive Montalbano nuts. I wrote about those clichés and what Sartarelli does with them here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thud! jokes

I could cite any number of jokes and amusing lines from Terry Pratchett's Thud!, some of them pertinent to recent posts here. But I'll highlight one sequence because it's funny, because it packs a philosophical punch, and because it reminds me of something that once happened on a beach:
"`War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?' he said.

"`Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?'

"`Absol— well, okay.'

"`Defending yourself against a totalitarian aggressor?'

"`All right, I'll grant you that, but—'

"`Saving civilization from a horde of—'

"`It doesn't do any good in the long run is what I'm saying, Nobby, if you'd listen for five seconds together,' said Fred Colon sharply.

"`Yeah, but in the long run, what does, Sarge?'"
What do you think of the sudden turn toward fatalism in the last line? In any case, that's not what I meant by packing a punch. The philosophical oomph lies in Nobby's undermining of his sergeant's strict pacifist position.

Look what else the passage does. It makes a pop-culture reference, and it undercuts the solemnity of the reference with comic pacing. Adding to the humor is that the two participants in the little dialogue are comic foils, the last humans, dwarfs, trolls or vampires one would expect to have such a debate. So I'd say Terry Pratchett made a few words do lots of work here.
==========
What about the beach? One day my two nephews were building sand castles and, as boys will do when staking out territory, they began to fight. "War!" the older screamed in anguish, to which I replied, "What is it good for?" and a man on a neighboring beach towel called out "Absolutely nothing!" No prize to anyone who figures out that I cried: "Say it again!"

Something worked because, possibly amazed by their elders' invocation of Edwin Starr, the boys shut up and gave over their noisy quarreling in favor of a quiet sulk.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thud!

I begin my crime fiction/sci-fi fantasy explorations with Terry Pratchett's Thud! (Thanks to all participants in the recent discussions here on crime and sci-fi for opening my eyes, exercising my mind, and expanding my reading list.)

Pratchett's Discworld books are generally thought of as comic fantasy, but the opening pages of this novel offer enough crime-fiction tropes to keep any mystery reader or watcher smiling. From American crime, there is the besieged urban police precinct beset by racial tension in the station house and out. From British crime, there are the aristocratic police chief, his plucky, intelligent wife, and the plodding but capable sergeant.

From the world of graphic novels comes a nod to Alan Moore's Watchmen. From noir comes the cop involved with a stripper. From the art-world thriller comes the hint that a stolen painting could contain a secret code. For good measure, real life gets a supporting role, with seeming invocations of Northern Ireland's troubles.

That's a lot of allusion for forty-two pages, and if the victims, suspects and antagonists did not include trolls, dwarfs and vampires, it might seem a bit much. But it's good fun so far, and as I read, I'm sure I'll think about why and how fantasy is a good vehicle for exploring issues that might otherwise make for heavier going. For now, though, I'll throw it over to you. What freedoms does fantasy grant a writer?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Hamlet, our crime-fiction contemporary


I've written more than once about Hamlet as a crime story, about its noirish patterns of guilt and doom, and about its hero as both killer and sleuth.

An essay from 1951 helps explain why Hamlet comes across like a crime-fiction protagonist. It's called "The Imagery of Hamlet," and its author, W.H. Clemen, tried to debunk the popular conception of Hamet as an irresolute waffler:

"Hamlet does not translate the general thought into an image paraphrasing it; on the contrary, he uses the opposite method: he refers the generalizations to the events and objects of the reality underlying the thought. ... In contrast to Othello and Lear, for example, who awaken heaven and the elements in their imagery and who lend expression to their might passions in images of soaring magnificence, Hamlet prefers to keep his language within the scope of reality, indeed, within the everyday world."
Clemen cites a string of the harsh insults by which Hamlet lays bare to his mother Claudius' true nature ("A cutpurse of the empire and the rule ... a king of shreds and patches"). "Hamlet sees through men and things," Clemen writes. "He perceives what is false, visualizing his recognition through imagery"

Hamlet shuns elevated speech; he's earthy, and he speaks the truth, harshly when necessary. Sounds a bit like Sam Spade. Or Jack Taylor. Or Mike Hammer. Or— Who in crime fiction does Clemen's assessment of Hamlet remind you of?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bridgework


I took this photograph of Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge last year, and I hope you'll forgive the blurring. I post it now so I can link to it from a rambling discussion on another blog that has taken in post-quantum physics, science fiction and bridges. And also because it's a pretty cool bridge

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The decline of civilization

A blurb from the Times Literary Supplement included with my edition of Hare Sitting Up calls author Michael Innes "the acknowledged grand master of that civilized entertainment, the donnish detective story."

Page 62 of the novel begins thus:
"Judith Appleby, as it happened, had heard of Splaine Croft. Two of her friends had sent sons there, and had reported with satisfaction that it seemed a fairly civilized place. It was funny how, as civilization seeped away, the idea of civilization became all the go."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Michael Innes: Apocalypse then

Michael Innes' 1959 novel Hare Sitting Up feels oddly contemporary and queerly nostalgic at the same time.

It's contemporary because of the stunning immediacy of the opening chapter's six-way colloquy about nuclear and biological apocalypse. It's nostalgic because the fear of apocalypse seems so 1980s, if not positively Cold War. These days, our collective fears are less about the end of humanity than about wars that will never end.

Anyhow, here's a bit about Innes, real name J.I.M. Stewart. Here's a bit about his protagonist, Inspector John Appleby. Stewart was a Scottish-born academic who taught at Leeds, Adelaide and Belfast before settling in at Christ Church, Oxford.

This is the first novel I remember reading whose author was a don, and the donnishness comes through in two ways so far, both positive. Stewart taught English literature, and he took his title from Women in Love: "(D)on't you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass and a hare sitting up?" That's an appropriate thought for musings upon the end of the world.

But the chat about apocalypse is the real tour de force. Five of the talkers are new Oxford graduates, full of the brashness of youth. The sixth is a schoolmaster: "Juniper found himself taking a deep breath. He hadn't much cared for the conference; he wasn't in very good spirits; he was fifty-two."

==================
I'm not sure academic mysteries are as much in favor as they once were, and I think they were always more an English than an American phenomenon (though Amanda Cross wrote marvelously barbed academic mysteries set at a prestigious New York university). Still, I'll toss it over to you and ask what's your favorite academic mystery?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sci-fi and crime: What's the connection?

A post about mystery and the moon earlier this week elicited some interesting examples of crime fiction with a space theme or setting as well as the information, new to me, that Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, two science-fiction giants, had written mysteries as well. I also had never known that John D. MacDonald wrote science fiction.

So here's a question: What, other than money, might dispose a crime writer to turn to science fiction or vice versa? What features do the genres share, or is it just a matter of certain writers' simply liking to work in both forms?

==========
Late addition: B.V. Lawson's In Reference to Murder blog adds Stanislaw Lem to the roster of science-fiction/crime-fiction boundary jumpers with his novel The Chain of Chance.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maltese Falcons for the birds

I blame The Thin Man. Why else would anyone have wanted to film The Maltese Falcon not just once but twice as a comedy?

The movies in question are The Maltese Falcon (1931) and Satan Met a Lady (1936). Watch either at your peril, especially if you know Dashiell Hammett's novel or the celebrated 1941 film version with Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre.

On second thought, the 1931 version is odd less for its considerable comic moments than for its casting of Ricardo Cortez (real name: Jacob Krantz), who played Sam Spade as an eyebrow-raising Latin lover. Weird all around, to the point where the occasional displays of emotion seem strange and intrusive.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Stieg Larsson's apotheosis in America

A large chain bookstore here in Philadelphia currently displays in one of its windows the trade paperback of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo alongside a bunch of books about Michael Jackson.

In today's America (though maybe not tomorrow's or next week's), a book can receive no higher tribute.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More new and old stuff

If you live in a big city, you've seen graffiti tags. The overwhelming majority are ugly, boring and derivative; some small proportion are colorful and attractive. You see the stuff every day, and you probably describe it in terms no more precise or imaginative than I've just used.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what these tags really look like? Donald Westlake did, in an aside near the beginning of Get Real. The passage is yet one more example of the good things that can happen when an alert, experienced mind considers features of modern life from a period usually thought of as later than its own:
"Ah. The right third of the building, at street level, was a gray metal overhead garage door, graffiti-smeared in a language that hadn't been seen on Earth since the glory days of the Maya."
I also read a story this weekend that muses upon the declining power of the mainstream media and the ability of one person to blow a non-event into a news story of worldwide proportions. John Buchan published the story in 1928.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step ...

Forty years ago today, man set foot on the moon for the first time. Nineteen years ago, Reginald Hill published the novella One Small Step, in which Dalziel and Pascoe blast off into space to solve a murder on the moon. (It's a terrific story.)

What other crime stories involve the moon or other celestial bodies?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Unreal!

A few months ago, one Pat Miller alerted me to a passage from Michael Connelly's novel The Overlook:
"[Harry] Bosch was not adept in a digital world and readily acknowledged this. He had mastered his own cell phone but it was a basic model that made and received calls, stored numbers in a directory, and did nothing else — as far as he knew."
Elsewhere, Bosch is bemused by a BlackBerry.

Donald Westlake was also puzzled by a phenomenon of modern life: reality TV. His latest and, sadly, last Dortmunder novel, Get Real, involves Dortmunder and his gang with a producer who wants to make a show about the gang planning and executing a burglary. Westlake being Westlake, he mixes fun with the puzzlement:
"`Where do you want to do this, your office?'

"`No. We've got a rehearsal space downtown, we— '

"`Wait a minute,' Stan said. `You got a rehearsal space for reality shows?'"
I like Connelly's attitude, and I like Westlake's. Each is a happy medium between uncritical surrender and curmudgeonly rejection. A more bitterly funny Westlake comes through as well, the Westlake who wrote The Ax and who, despite being beloved of some conservative pundits, was given to profound sympathy with American workers. Here's the reality show's producer explaining to his assistant why she (the assistant) is not a writer even though she scripts "suggestions" for the reality show's stars:
"Because The Stand is a reality show, and reality shows do not have actors and writers because they do not need actors and writers. We are a very low-budget show because we do not need actors and writers. If you were a writer, Marcy, you would have to be in the union, and you would cost us a whole lot more because of health insurance and a pension plan, which would make you too expensive for our budget, and we would very reluctantly have to let you go and replace you with another twenty-two-year-old fresh out of college. You're young and healthy. You don't want all those encumbrances, health insurance and pension plans."
==========
BlackBerries, cell phones and reality TV. What other aspects of pop culture do your favorite crime writers make fun of or scratch their heads over?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

John Buchan on disappearances and returns

The introduction to this 2008 Penguin Classics collection of John Buchan's stories (You may know Buchan as author of The Thirty-Nine Steps) offers some incisive thoughts on disappearances and returns. Here's the opening of Buchan's story "The Strange Adventures of Mr Andrew Hawthorn":
"Any disappearance is a romantic thing, especially if it be unexpected and inexplicable. To vanish from the common world and leave no trace, and to return with the same suddenness and mystery, satisfies the eternal human sense of wonder."
Buchan wrote adventure and espionage stories, but the themes of disappearance and return have attracted spinners of all kinds of stories almost forever, crime novelists among them. (Brian McGilloway's novel Gallows Lane begins with a return, as does Håkan Nesser's The Return, to cite two recent examples.) It's a hell of a way to begin a story, fraught with mystery, wonder, and—

But you tell me: What's the appeal of tales of disappearance and return? And what are your favorite such tales?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, July 17, 2009

McGilloway's narrative chops

Brian McGilloway has his narrative chops down. Throughout Gallows Lane, his second novel about Inspector Benedict Devlin of the Irish Gardai, or police, I kept hearing the narrative cylinders clicking into place. "Here's a plot complication," I'd think, or "Here's a bit of romantic tension or a sub-plot echoing the main narrative thread."

Now, I sometimes groan when this happens, preferring to be lulled into an insensibility to all authorial string-pulling. But that wasn't the case here. I could see what McGilloway was doing with his story, but I liked the plot turns just fine — and there are plenty of them: multiple crimes, multiple roles, multiple suspects and multiple motives. McGilloway must be doing something right as a plotter, and if I ever feel more analytical than I do at this moment, I'll try to figure it out.

Until then, I'll let you do the work for me. What are your thoughts on plot? Do you like to analyze as you read, or do you prefer to be swept up and carried away?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Meet your CWA Dagger winners, plus a question for readers

The Crime Writers' Association in the UK presented its International Dagger, Short Story Dagger, Dagger in the Library and Debut Dagger awards tonight in London. (See information on the short-listed titles at the CWA Web site.) The CWA was also to announce its short lists for the Gold (the big prize), John Creasey (New Blood) and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers, about which more later.

Up for the International Dagger for best crime, thriller, suspense or spy novel translated into English for UK publication were:

  • Karin Alvtegen, Shadow, translated by McKinley Burnett
  • Arnaldur Indriðason, The Arctic Chill, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Crib
  • Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Played with Fire, translated by Reg Keeland
  • Jo Nesbø, The Redeemer, translated by Don Bartlett
  • Johan Theorin, Echoes from the Dead, translated by Marlaine Delargy
  • Fred Vargas, The Chalk Circle Man, translated by Siân Reynolds
Other short-listed authors whose names have popped up at Detectives Beyond Borders include Sean Chercover, Colin Cotterill, R.J. Ellory, Ariana Franklin and Peter James.
=============
Congratulations to the winners, thanks to Ali Karim for his live Twitter updates, and, on a personal note, an expression of amazement at how quickly the presentations went. At the Oscars, the winner for sound engineering in a short foreign-language animated film would be still be thanking his wife, his producers, God, and the good people of his hometown.
=============
And now, your opinions, please. What was the biggest Dagger surprise? That five of the six short-listed International Dagger books were from Nordic countries? That the one non-Nordic entrant won? That French novels have won every International Dagger? That three of those have gone to a woman named Fred?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Out of the Kitchin

It's been hours since I've written about Irish crime fiction and days since I wrote about authors joining the blogosphere, so here's news of an Irish crime author joining the blogosphere.

Rob Kitchin, author of The Rule Book, opens his new blog, The View From the Blue House, with three posts that indicate a fair diversity: an opening announcement, a review of Stuart Neville's The Twelve (to be titled The Ghosts of Belfast in the U.S.) that also points the way toward other intriguing Northern Ireland crime titles, and a short story of Kitchin's own that takes an ugly chapter in Ireland's recent and current history and hits like a kick to the solar plexus.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Rob.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Brian McGilloway's Northern Irish Western

Many in Ireland's talented wave of crime writers are forthright about their debt to American (and Canadian) forerunners. Ken Bruen has said: "All my influences are American. That's how to I learned to read. That's how I learned to write." Declan Hughes swears allegiance to Margaret Millar and Raymond Chandler. Declan Burke's Eightball Boogie is a faithful but thoroughly contemporary Chandler homage. And Adrian McKinty explores not one but several of America's seamy underbellies.

I don't know if Brian McGilloway likes Westerns, but the tumbleweeds practically whistle through the opening pages of his second novel, Gallows Lane. A mysterious figure from the past returns to town. A lawman is sent to suggest that he turn right around and head back out. And how about that title:

"(T)he lane along which the condenmed were led — Gallows Lane — still exists. The local kids believe it is haunted. They still claim, in an age when such beliefs are largely forgotten, that on a Halloween night the chains of the condemned can he heard rattling and, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the wails of the accused and the creaking of the long-dead branches."
That's not the only place McGilloway invokes death and myth. But then, the man has an eye for evocative locations, redolent of mystery and myth, even in the midst of a contemporary police procedural. His first novel, Borderlands, opens with a body dumped right on the border between two lands so recently divided. One can't get much more suggestive than that.
===============
And now, while I go on reading Gallows Lane, you can read my quasi-interview with Brian McGilloway here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

A novel with no heroes

As discussed in this space last week, the workers in Lorraine Connection make moral decisions, all right, but so do corporate executives at several levels in two companies, and the decisions are always callous and reprehensible. At all events, the story rapidly expands beyond the assembly floor at the Daweoo plant in Pondange, a old steel town in France's Lorraine region.

The workers do not get left behind, though. Author Dominique Manotti weaves them in and out of the story, as victims, conspirators and hangers-on, caught up in the deepening plot without being reduced to sentimental tools.

The plot is that of a corporate thriller ripped right from today's headlines: Two corporate rivals fight for control of a giant state-owned company about to be sold off by France's government. (It may be significant that no political party is named anywhere in the novel. That could lead to easy polemics, but power in Manotti's world has nothing to do with party lines.)

The weapons in the corporate battle are murder, drugs, bribery and sexual blackmail. Corporate and political battles like this must be waged at the whitest heat, yet Manotti's prose is cool, distant and choppy even when it probes its characters' emotional lives. Corruption and the risk thereof at the highest levels – in European Union privatization schemes, in the clubby nature of power in France – are cited briefly and matter-of-factly.

And, in the novel's most intriguing touch, the private eye is no hero. He's no villain either; that would be too easy. He's just one more figure in the story, employed by one of the rival corporate groups to discredit the other, a human with, like so many other characters in this short novel, a compromised past. It's not the least of Manotti's achievements that she has no truck with the ideal of the hero who can save the world through his own will or die trying. This may be the least sentimental crime novel I have read, and one of the most original and impressive.

============
Lorraine Connection won last year's CWA International Dagger for Manotti and translators Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz. This year's winner will be announced Wednesday, along with the winners of the short story, Dagger in the Library and Debut Dagger awards. Read about the 2009 International Dagger short-listed titles at the CWA Web site.

============
P.S. At the risk of being labelled excessively fastidious, I'll note that my only quibble with the novel is one incorrect reference to vocal chords rather than the correct vocal cords.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

What are tips for?

It was a whitefish salad with which no reasonable person could find complaint, but it came in a container on the side of my bagel. I had to spread it on the bagel myself. Milk for my coffee? I had to walk from my seat at the counter over to a separate table and get it.

Again, no complaint; the coffee was fine. But if I had to garnish my own bagel and fetch my own milk, why had the café's owners put a big jar marked "Tips" by the cash register? What did they think I ought to tip them for?

Or, if customers were now expected to do work employees once performed, was tipping etiquette similarly turned upside down? Did the jar contain the owners' grateful offerings to customers for work well done?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, July 10, 2009

A new blog about international crime fiction from folks who write the stuff

It's International Crime Authors Reality Check, a cooperative effort from Christopher G. Moore, Colin Cotterill, Matt Beynon Reese and Barbara Nadel, each of whom plans one post a week.

The opening lineup includes How the Devil Lost its Vagina from Cotterill, Quick, woman, go and get the Koran! from Rees, The Elements of Crime Fiction in Foreign Settings from Moore, and a modest greeting from Nadel.

The site also includes short biographies, information about the authors' books, and news links. I've written about three of the authors here on Detectives Beyond Borders, most recently about Cotterill's Curse of the Pogo Stick last week, and I'll look forward to adding Nadel to the list.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

A thick book(seller)

I visited my local comics store today to inquire about Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of Richard Stark's The Hunter. Here's what happened:

Me: "Do you have The Hunter?

Click-click-click-click. Silence.
"Darwyn Cooke, graphic-novel version of Richard Stark's novel?

More silence.

"Nothing?"

The help: "Our computer is slow."

I circle the shop, browsing.

The help: "Who's in it?"

Me (nonplussed): "Who– Why would you ask who's in a novel? It's a novel, by Richard Stark – Donald Westlake – adapted and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.

I circle the shop again and come back around to the help and the store's computer.
"Not getting anything?" (On a previous visit to the store, another employee had called up information on the book and given me an approximate delivery date.)

The help: "I'm getting too many titles."

Me: "Why are you looking for a book on IMDb?"

The help: "Oh, it's not a movie?"
========================
I'll find another place to buy the book. In the meantime, read about Darwyn Cooke and the Hunter comic at the Violent World of Parker Web site. And read some of my posts about Richard Stark here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Labor pains: Organized labor in crime fiction

"`Mr Amrouche, my predecessor told me you were a reasonable man, a man of compromise, able to make allowances. So I am keen for you to be the first to know this: in one week, the works council will meet and the question of the last nine months' unpaid bonuses will once again be on the agenda. If the company were to pay those bonuses today, plus the arrears, its financial stability would be jeopardised. The financial situation is still precarious, as you well know, and there's a risk the factory will have to close. So, management is going to suggest – and when I say suggest, you know what I mean – that all bonuses be cancelled for this year and paid next January.'"
Thanks goodness that's just fiction, from the opening chapter of Dominique Manotti's Lorraine Connection, winner of last year's International Dagger award from the Crime Writers' Association in the UK.

Mr. Amrouche is the union representative in a plant that makes cathode-ray tubes, and his presence reminded me how small a role organized labor plays in crime fiction. Evil corporations? Crime fiction has them by the score, generally of the real-estate development variety, but their adversaries and victims are usually lone-wolf private eyes, individual down-and-outers, or gentrified neighborhoods rather than unions. Even the few American proletarian crime stories I've read from the 1930s tend not to feature labor unions except as extensions of and counterparts to the mob.

The passage above is from very early in Lorraine Connection, and I have no idea how Mr. Amrouche or the union will figure in the novel's action (no spoilers, please). But he is one of the few labor-union characters I can think of in all of crime fiction, and the only one that comes to mind who is shown as a moral actor rather than a victim or villain.

And now, your thoughts. What crime stories give prominent roles to labor unions or unionists? What are those roles? Is labor underrepresented in crime fiction? If so, why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

McKinty reads

In one more piece of evidence that Belfast is the center of the universe,

No Alibis invites you to an evening with Detectives Beyond Borders favorite

Adrian McKinty

to celebrate the launch of his latest novel, Fifty Grand,
on Wednesday, July 8, at 6 p.m.

Cuban cop Mercado has a score to settle on behalf of a deadbeat dad, a ‘traitor’ who skipped free from Castro’s control to set up a new life working illegally in Colorado. He settled in a ski resort popular with the Hollywood Scientology set, where a façade of legality is maintained by the immigrant cleaners and laborers working for below minimum wage while the local sheriff is bribed to turn a blind eye. Mercado Sr.’s dreams of fortune and freedom are shattered when he is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Sworn to avenge his death, Mercado has some obstacles to overcome, not least getting out of Cuba, where visas are as elusive as constant electricity.

Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. He studied politics at Oxford University, and after a failed legal career he moved to the US in the early 1990s. He found work as a security guard, postman, construction worker, barman, rugby coach and bookstore clerk before becoming a school teacher. He now resides in Melbourne, Australia.

NO ALIBIS BOOKSTORE
83 BOTANIC AVENUE
BELFAST BT7 1JL
david@noalibis.com
ph. 02890-319601
========================================
Here's part of what I had to say about Fifty Grand:
"The book opens with what has to be the most gut-clenchingly tension-upping prologue in all of crime fiction, and it goes on to tell a story about Cuba, espionage and the human costs thereof.

"It's also about class distinctions, exploitation of immigrants and celebrity worship in America, which means it's always timely, and its protagonist takes a dizzying journey from privilege of a kind over to something quite opposite.

"In typical McKinty fashion, deadpan funny lines find their way into the action at the most desperate moments."
McKinty flew all the way from Australia for this reading. Go hear him, buy a book, and stake him to a pint of correctly poured Guinness. It's the least you can do.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Savage morning after: Allan Guthrie's Killing Mum

When we left our friends at the end of Allan Guthrie's Savage Night, the prospects for some were uncertain. Guthrie's new novella, Killing Mum, finds a career for one of that book's peripheral characters and looks more closely at the career of another, one work assignment in particular. Here they are, preparing to torch a van to dispose of evidence and hoping to disguise the blaze as joyriders' vandalism:

"When he'd finished, he walked over to watch Jordan's handiwork. Jordan had written FIREMEN on the side of the van and was standing staring at it.

"He noticed the beam of Carlos's torch, stepped back.
I'm stuck.

"`Suck,' Carlos said, around the torch.

"No, stuck.

"Carlos took the torch out of his mouth. `Suck,' he said. `Add "suck."'

"Okay. Jordan shook the can, sprayed out the word. `
Firemen suck.' Sounds a bit lame.

"`Cock,' Carlos said. `Add "cock."'

"Nice."
Guthrie has moved into darker territory with his latest novel, Slammer, but I'd like to think of Hard Man, Savage Night and Killing Mum as a fictional universe, a ****ed-up, affecting, funny, murderous family saga that does a bit of genre-jumping in the bargain.

Guthrie's Web site links to a purchase page for Killing Mum that quotes reviews of his other work. One blurb seems especially pertinent: “Guthrie’s control of this dark material is sheer wizardry.” Killing Mum contains a lot of twists for a book of about ninety pages, and they're good twists, throwing the plot in unexpected directions without seeming manipulative.

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N.B.: Killing Mum is part of a series of novellas called Crime Express from Five Leaves Publishing. Hat tip to Donna Moore's Big Beat From Badsville blog for heaping well-deserved praise on these slim, inexpensive, tough-as-nails books. And kudos to Five Leaves, too.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

More on Colin Cotterill's spirits

Colin Cotterill is the supernaturalist's answer to readers who don't like the supernatural in their crime stories. Here's a bit more from Curse of the Pogo Stick, fifth novel in Cotterill's series about Dr. Siri Paiboun of Vientiane, Laos:
"These small bamboo structures were miniature reconstructions of actual bridges but in this case they had no water to cross. They traditionally offered a shortcut for lost souls to return to their host. One was customary. Four suggested a hell of a lot of souls had gone missing from this particular house."
"A hell of a lot of souls" is wonderful, resonant, funny and unexpected. It nicely captures the simultaneous irreverence and respect with which Cotterill portrays the worlds of the supernatural and of those who believe in it. Dr. Siri is both a scientist – the chief and only coroner in post-Communist-revolution Laos – and a shaman, an unwilling conduit to the spirit world. Does he believe in the spirits with which he comes into contact and which sometimes help him solve mysteries? He has no choice:
"My biggest problem as a practicing cynic, however, is that I'm aligned, against my will and better judgment, to another world. ... I don't know how it's possible, but damn it, it's there. So I resort to the rules of the supernatural. I begin by seeing whether the incredible can be explained through their rules. And when that world tells me something is off-kilter and implausible, I know I have to think as a human. I have to use logic. My visit to the Otherwold told me I had to look for earthly solutions to this mystery."
That's one of the nicer accounts by a fictional detective of his own methods. Among the books' achievements, in addition to their engaging, sympathetic characters, their compassion, and their jabs at Communist bureaucracy, is that they invite respectful consideration, without dogma, mumbo-jumbo or embarrassment and with good humor, of the spiritual world and its role in human lives.

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The illustration of Curse of the Pogo Stick's UK cover comes from the author's own Web site, one of the cleverer and more amusing of its kind. Take a look.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Allan Guthrie: Family guy

I've just spent a long mid-week holiday break playing miniature golf and filling trash bags full of old shingles and insulation. This cut into my reading time, but I shall be back up to speed tomorrow. When I return, I'll have another post about Colin Cotterill's spirit explorations in Curse of the Pogo Stick, which I've just finished, and a remark or two about Allan Guthrie's Savage Night, which took up a nice chunk of my train ride back from the mini-golf and shingle-schlepping.

For now, a couple of thoughts on the Guthrie:

1) The man could write a mean sitcom or screwball comedy if he set his mind to it. I'd like to see him write a script for The New My Three Sons.

2) Page 157 contains the funniest line I have read about that staple of 21st-century crime writing, the changing urban landscape.

3) That line is not as funny as two on Page 160:
"Not that they were in a hurry, but still. Effie had a new respect for butchers."
and
"They'd all sat around drinking. Took awkward sips and smiled sadly at each other. Dad kept saying, `I can't believe he's dead,' till Effie told him to shut up."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Colin Cotterill has fun with the spirits

In previous books Colin Cotterill invoked the recent history and the spiritual traditions of Laos. In the early pages of Curse of the Pogo Stick, he has similar respectful fun with ancient history and spirits.

After narrating how the Hmong people lost their earliest written records, Cotterill offers this:
"The spirit of the first-ever Hmong shaman, See Yee, looked up from the Otherworld and was mightily pissed that his people could be so careless."
Good fun, I'd say though, on the evidence of my previous reading of Cotterill, not at all out of character.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Finnish crime comes to America

Readers in the English-speaking crime-fiction world like to gripe about the dearth of translated fiction in their language. Over at Pulpetti, Juri Nummelin reports on a Finnish crime writer who took matters into his own hands and, with his brother who works on Wall Street, started his own publishing house to get his work out in America.

First up from their new Ice Cold Crime is founder Jarkko Sipilä's own Helsinki Homicide: Against the Wall. And more is on the way. Says Juri:

"Ice Cold Crime is publishing next another book by Sipilä, whose work is strictly rooted in the police procedural and its hardboiled subgenre. Then they'll probably publish something by Harri Nykänen. Nykänen is slightly better known in the US, since the Raid TV series made from his novels was shown in some cable channels there."
See Sipilä's Web site for more info. Read a summary of Helsinki Homicide: Against the Wall here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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