Sunday, November 29, 2009

Crossing borders in Baltimore

Attended a reading and signing tonight with Jeff VanderMeer and Sandra Ruttan in Baltimore. VanderMeer is author or co-author of titles that include Why Should I Cut Your Throat? and The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, so you know his imagination ranges widely.

His talk and, more important, his fiction, including his current Finch, bring in fantasy, noir and hard-boiled, and why not? The man's all about crossing borders. In Finch, a non-human force has stepped in to occupy the city of Ambergris, rent asunder by civil war between competing merchant families.

Finch, a human, is "asked by the occupiers to solve a difficult double murder" amid the city's seedy underbelly, and if that reminds crime-fiction readers of Philip Kerr, John Lawton, Rebecca Cantrell, J. Robert Janes, David Peace and so on, great. VanderMeer could well get this crime-fiction readers reading fantasy, just as Brian Lindenmuth got me reading comics. Furthermore, VanderMeer cited John Burdett, Colin Cotterill and Derek Raymond among his favorite crime authors, and that prepares me for a richly detailed setting and a dark story for when I read Finch.

VanderMeer also said: "I don't really see any difference between the setting and the character," which endeared him to your humble blogkeeper.

Ruttan's Lullaby for the Nameless has just been released, the third novel in her Nolan, Hart and Tain series, and the triple protagonists are one indication of what she does differently. No surprise, then, that she expresses a certain nostalgia for Ed McBain and the large cast of his 87th Precinct novels. Oh, and the opening of Lullaby for the Nameless focuses as harrowingly and unsparingly on the victim as does any Scandinavian crime writer you'd care to name.

And here's a tantalizing hint of what she may be up to in the future: "I think I'm becoming a little more interested in the subtle crimes we tolerate day to day," italics mine.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Persistence of— Er, what was that again?

Last week I praised the makers of the Italian Commissario Montalbano television series, based on Andrea Camilleri's novels, for Montalbano's dance of hysterical joy when his scheme to lure a political fixer works.

I remembered the novel, The Shape of Water, only as describing Montalbano's thoughts when the scheme succeeded, and I gave the moviemakers credit for turning the thoughts into action. But I was wrong; the scene is an accurate transcription of Camilleri's original, as I've discovered on rereading the book:
"Montalbano covered the receiver with one hand and literally exploded in a horselike whinny, a mighty guffaw. He had baited the Jacomuzzi hook with the necklace, and the trap had worked like a charm ... Montalbano heard Rizzo yelling on the line.

"`Hello? Hello? ... What happened, did we get cut off?'

"`No, excuse me, I dropped my pencil and was looking for it. I'll see you tomorrow at eight.'"
I was so impressed with the filmmakers' adaptation that I credited them with invention when they were really just following the book. My favorable impression made me misremember. What tricks has your memory played on you? What scenes from books or movies have surprised you on rereading or re-viewing because they were not the way you remembered them?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Finnish lines

An American Detectives Beyond Borders favorite makes it into the Finno-Ugric language family. Read an interview (in English) with the author here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

More Montalbano: Good writing in novels and on TV

I've commented caustically about television crime shows, and Declan Burke has commented even more caustically on a highly successful agent's pronouncement that "Good writing is the last thing, and we can work with authors on that."

In a comment to Burke's post, John McFetridge notes that
"Sure, the movies still make money, but almost every prize-winner, almost every movie for grown-ups, almost every movie with real people and not cartoons or cartoonish stories is based on a novel filled with 'good writing' because it turns out that's the part you can't 'work with,' so you have to buy it somewhere else.The 'original screenplay' movies are for kids – cartoons or slapstick comedy, action and horror."
That's why I'm happy to be reminded that, given a good novel to work with, an intelligent screenwriter can adapt the material to the demands of a different medium and come up with something not quite identical to the original but true to its spirit. Call it good screenwriting, if you like.

The subject here is The Shape of Water, both Andrea Camilleri's novel and its adaptation for Italian television's Il commissario Montalbano series. The novel opens with two desultory trash collectors in an open-air brothel called "the Pasture" or La Mánnara. Camilleri then offers a pointed, funny social history of the Pasture, introduces the family of one of the collectors (the family will play a role later), and has the two workers make a pair of important discoveries and a critical phone call.

The TV film, on the other hand, opens with a prostitute witnessing the crime that gave rise to the action described above, and that was a good move on the filmmakers' part. Camilleri's opening is one of slow, leisurely, at times very funny discovery, and someone made the wise decision that such an opening would be difficult to translate to the screen.

Elsewhere, the filmmakers combine two minor characters into one and change her nationality. They also cut out a comic sexual/romantic subplot and work gracefully around the cut. Again, it's hard to argue with the decisions. The filmmakers knew their material, they knew the media of books and television, and they knew what each could do best.

Finally, I hope no one will accuse me of Communistic tendencies if I quote with approval and amusement Camilleri's description of the Pasture:
"Most of the meat came from the former Eastern Bloc countries, now free at last of the Communist yoke which, as everyone knows, had denied all personal, human dignity; now, between the Pasture's bushes and sandy shore, come nightfall, that reconquered dignity shone again in all its magnificence."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Arnaldur's latest, plus reasons to be thankful, Part I

I've just started Arnaldur Indriðason's sixth Inspector Erlendur novel to appear in English, Hypothermia, and I hope you'll forgive me for calling that a very cool title. Here are a few bits of the first chapter:

"She drove over Mosfellsheidi moor where there was little traffic, just the odd pair of headlights passing by on their way to town. Only one other car was travelling east and she hung on its red rear lights, grateful for the company. ... Karen was aware of the mountain Grimannsfell to her right, although she couldn't see it ... The red lights accelerated and disappeared into the darkness ... She had difficulty identifying the landmarks in the gloom ... "
What kind of story does that remind you of? Yep, me, too, and sure enough, after poor Karen discovers her friend's body, here's an investigating detective at the scene:

"He walked over to the shelving unit and noticed the brown leather spines of five volumes of Jón Árnason's Collected Folk Tales. Ghost stories, he thought to himself."
I don't know yet if ghosts will figure in the story, but Arnaldur sure knows how to create atmosphere, doesn't he?
On a more earthly plane, the Rap Sheet's J. Kingston Pierce offers a longish list of things he's grateful for as the United States heads into Thanksgiving Day. He saves for last a sentiment with which I agree wholeheartedly:

"Let me voice my appreciation, too, for the authors and critics who have made me feel welcome among them. ... I’ve been looking during my entire earthly existence for what sociologists would call `my tribe,' the folks among whom I fit best. I thought that tribe was made up of journalists, the professionals I trained with and learned from for so many years. But the fact is, I might have been looking in the wrong place. Turns out, where I feel most at home is in a crowd of crime-genre fans, all of whom have traveled the same dark (fictional) thoroughfares over which I’ve trod in my mind for decades. I hope to see you all again next October in beautiful San Francisco."
Amen, Jeff, and thanks, crime guys and gals. You've made my year. Happy Thanksgiving.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Montalbano on TV and in books

I've managed to avert technical glitches long enough to watch two episodes on DVD of the Italian Commissario Montalbano television series, starring Luca Zingaretti as Andrea Camilleri's choleric, intuitive, food-loving, commitment-avoiding detective.

Zingaretti was several years short of forty when the television series first aired on Italy's RAI network in 1999; Camilleri's Montalbano is around fifty in the first book and ages from there. Zingaretti is bald and clean-shaven; Camilleri's Montalbano is neither. Zingaretti looks less like a young Montalbano than like an older Jason Stethem. (Or maybe all bald men look the same.)

In any case, despite the startling physical departure from Camilleri's original, Zingaretti does a brilliant job, coming up with actions that match beautifully what Camilleri conveys through interior monologue and free indirect speech. One favorite example from the episode based on The Shape of Water has Montalbano silently pumping his fist and exulting when he receives a late-night phone call from a political fixer, a call for which he had laid the groundwork carefully by planting a leak to the media. Television can't convey thought and indirect speech except through the clumsy medium of a voiceover; Zingaretti and director Alberto Sironi find the perfect objective correlative for the delight Camilleri has the character take in his own schemes.
Katharina Böhm is less satisfactory as Montalbano's lover, Livia, but that must be a hell of a difficult role. In the novels, Livia is less a physical presence than a voice on the phone and a constant prod to Montalbano's conscience. I don't know how a screenwriter and a performer could capture this successfully.

Isabell Sollman as Ingrid, on the other hand, is as richly physical and humorous a presence on the screen as the character is in the books. I especially liked her accent, just strong enough to remind viewers she's no native without lapsing into over-the-top Swedishisms. The high, wide sweep of her cheekbones helps, too.

Which movie or TV characters do what Zingaretti's Montalbano did: surprise you by not looking or acting the way you expected based on the book while remaining faithful to the book's spirit? Which have matched exactly what you pictured from books?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Politics, smoking and bullshit

As soon as the man closed the door, Montalbano felt a violent need to smoke. But it was forbidden, and rightly so, since, as everyone knows, passive cigarette smoke kills millions, whereas smog, dioxin and lead in petrol do not.
– Andrea Camilleri,
Excursion to Tindari
As in Vigàta, so in Philadelphia. The city where I live was in the forefront of the movement to ban smoking in public places, and the most recent former mayor may be best remembered for urging the city to lose weight.

These are worthy goals, but I can't help suspect that they were at least in part diversions to take the city's mind off its shrinking population, constant threats of reduction in city services, and winking disregard of laws that are supposed to regulate billboards and mandate public access to sidewalks, among other things. One could make the case that Philadelphia has been in decline since the middle of the nineteenth century, but to acknowledge this would be unoptimistic – that is to say, un-American. Alternately, elected officials may have gravitated to mom-and-apple-pie issues like smoking and obesity because they felt helpless in the face of larger economic forces.

It's no stretch to suggest, as Camilleri does, that individual smokers make easier and safer political targets than do big industries.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Salvo Montalbano looks back at the 1960s

Excursion to Tindari, fifth of Andrea Camilleri's novels featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano (eleven of the books have been translated into English to date), contains an assertion of political maturity and independence surprising from a man of the left who has remained steadfastly so.

Montalbano is musing over the news that a friend from the heyday of European radicalism, has been named president of the second-most important bank in Sicily:
"What Montalbano remembered most from those days was a poem by Pasolini, defending the police against the students at Valle Giulia in Rome. All his friends had spat on those verses, whereas he, Montalbano, had tried to defend them. `But it's a beautiful poem.' If they hadn't restrained him, Carlo Martello would've broken his nose with one of his deadly punches. ... At any rate, over the years he'd seen his friends, the legendary comrades from 68, all turn `reasonable.' And by dint of reason, their abstract fury had softened and finally settled into concrete acquiescence."
In the U.S. confessions of radicals-turned-conservatives are an established sub-genre, I think. Less familiar are figures such as Montalbano (and Camilleri himself, perhaps) who can look back on the excesses of the 1960s, heap scorn on the perpetrators of those excesses, and remain a sardonic, committed man of the left.

Dominique Manotti's novels also cast a critical eye on the afterlife of 1960s activism. What other crime writers do this? What is their attitude toward those old days? Repentant? Scornful? Forgiving?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Not crap

Jedidiah Ayres' Hardboiled Wonderland blog offers If it's not Scottish – It's Crap!, an interview with author/agent/editor Allan Guthrie. By coincidence, the happy resolution of a mix-up at my post office brings a bumper crop of books, among them The Good Son by Dundee's own Russel D. McLean.

That novel's lead blurb from Ken Bruen says the novel has all the merits of Jean-Patrick Manchette "with the added bonus of a Scottish sense of wit that is like no other." Not crap, indeed.

Back to Guthrie. Ayres asks good questions, and Guthrie's answers are full of insight, humor and evidence of his knowledge of noir and its history. If he and Megan Abbott ever team-teach a course in noir, I'm going back to college.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

More novel graphics

Last month Jon Jordan sent along a generous package of graphic novels. Last week at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, I talked with Brian Azzarello, author of one of the books.

In the opening pages of Filthy Rich, Azzarello's words and Victor Santos' art combine to tell the story in ways words alone could not, at least not so concisely.

The art plays against Azzarello's captions and moves the book into disquieting irony. The narrator, a football player forced out of the sport by a knee injury and something shadier as well, wryly casts his life as a fairy tale and himself as "a handsome prince, that everyone loved." Santos' rich black-and-white drawings, meanwhile, show the same narrator engaged in decidedly un-fairy-tale-like acts.

In Muskego, I buttonholed Azzarello, told him I admired his work (which also includes 100 Bullets and The Joker), and said I was fascinated, as a novice comics reader, by the ways pictures and words work together. I was pleased that he singled out the opening pages of Filthy Rich, just as I had.

Pages two and three tell us the fairy tale has ended, page three in five panels of jump cuts, from long shot to two-shot to extreme close-up to two more long shots from sharply different points of view. It's kinetic and exciting, and we don't know what it all leads to until a panel that takes up all of page four. The pace tells the story, but so do the words and the hulking size of the page-four panel.

(See two previous posts about comics here and here. In the first, I discuss graphics carrying the opening of an original story. In the second, art adds new dimensions in the graphic-novel adaptation of a great French crime novel.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Murder is Everywhere in the blogosphere

Another group of crime writers from around the globe has banded together to form a collective blog. Murder is Everywhere is Leighton Gage, author of the Mario Silva series set in Brazil; Cara Black, whose Aimée Leduc investigations take readers all over Paris; Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, collectively known as Michael Stanley and the authors of the Detective Kubu mysteries, set in Botswana; Iceland's Yrsa Sigurdardòttir; and, from the exotic land of England, Dan Waddell.

Initial offerings include Gage's account of a crime reporter from northern Brazil, with emphasis on crime and reporter.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, Part 4: Wisconsin cozy

No one knows exactly what noir is, but everyone wants to be it. No one knows exactly what cozies are, but even authors who write them shy away from the term.

One panel at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego comprised writers whose work fits comfortably under the cozy umbrella, yet when the panel's moderator brought the subject up, he asked, "What about the c-word?" The ensuing discussion revealed that matters could be worse. In Canada, someone said, such books, low on graphic violence and usually with female amateur sleuths as the protagonist, are called fluffies.

On a 1-10 scale, cozy to noir, my own crime reading probably falls between 7 and 9. But I spent a good part of Bouchercon 2009 annoying people with my suggestions for clever titles, so I have a soft spot for the author of books such as Hail to the Chef and State of the Onion.

[Click here for one definition of a cozy mystery, here for Ruth Dudley Edwards' discussion of why the term is problematic — and almost uniquely American — and here for my own previous discussions of this question (scroll down).]

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Wisconsin noir: Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, Part 3

(Megan Abbott, F. Paul Wilson, J.A. Konrath, Joe Schmidt, Ann Voss Peterson)

Laura Lippman said something else I liked during her Murder and Mayhem in Muskego discussion with Jan Burke: "My pitch is, in the next year, read something out of your comfort zone."

Burke herself talked about the first line of her novel Goodnight, Irene. The line — He loved to watch fat women dance — deserves a place on any list of evocative openings, and Burke said the line gave birth to the book. "Two people and a plot in that line," she said.

In his own interview session, F. Paul Wilson said we might be in a second Golden Age of crime fiction. His evidence? The proliferation of graphic novels and noir.

Noir came up, too, in an informal chat at Casa Jordan. We threw out names of authors we thought wrote noir, and three of the first names among current writers were women: Megan Abbott, Vicki Hendricks and Christa Faust. What this means, I don't know, but their writing has that delicious, doom-laden embrace of the dark side that defines noir for me. Who else has it? Paul Cain and Jean-Patrick Manchette come to mind, and perhaps Yasmina Khadra as well.

Who is noir for you, and why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Murder and Mayhem in Muskego V, Part 2

Other than that photo of me swathed in a towel and just out of the shower already posted elsewhere on the Internet, Murder and Mayhem in Muskego V was everything I'd grown to love about crime-fiction conventions.

Intelligent people talked seriously about interesting matters, and those same intelligent people then mingled in warmth and good fellowship. This time they did not even have to pay for their own food or drinks.

I liked Laura Lippman's criticism of the oft-given advice that beginning writers write what they know. She said the advice served her poorly in one of her own embryonic, excessively autobiographical early efforts. "Write what you know," Lippman said, is "well-intentioned, but it's poorly put. [Better to] write what you want to know about."

Brian Azzarello said his characters "become really special to me after I kill them." Azzarello, author of, among others, the graphic novels 100 Bullets, The Joker and Filthy Rich, also said, "I don't write protagonists. They're all antagonists." Based on the first trade paperback collection of 100 Bullets, that's an accurate description.

(Judy Bobalik, Jeffrey Deaver)

Sam Reaves told one aspiring writer that "You don't want a tender-hearted agent, you want someone who will tell you the truth." And, for professional reasons, I had to enjoy Jeffrey Deaver's account of what happened when he rented a porno movie called Blonde on Blonde as research for a book he was setting in the porno world:

"Except in the editorial community these days," Deaver said, "the e [at the end of blonde] signifies that it's a woman." It did not so signify to the labellers of Deaver's porno movie, he said, and he and his girlfriend received a surprise when they slipped the tape into the Betamax. It's always pleasant to be reminded of what happens when copy editing goes bad.
The convention, largely centered on the efforts of the most excellent Ruth and Jon Jordan, also included its lighter moments. Here are my three favorite utterances from outside official conference proceedings:

"They've got your cookies."

"I'm a dick as a father, but people still like me."

"Sleeping and passing out aren't the same."
(More Murder and Mayhem snippets from Sandra Ruttan here.)

Finally, here's the picture referred to above. Don't blame me; I didn't take it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Murder and Mayhem in Muskego V

I finally made it off the ground after nine hours at Philadelphia International Airport. Ruth Jordan had driven to Milwaukee's airport to pick me up. Unfortunately I was in a taxi to the Jordans' house at the time, and I was at the top of the stairs to welcome Ruth back to her own hospitable home.

I've learned from Brian Azzarello the inspiration for 100 Bullets (a driver who cut Azzarello off) and that Sam Reaves, who also uses the name Dominic Martell for his Barcelona thrillers, likes that other Barcelona crime writer, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. (He likes Jean-Claude Izzo, too.)

I also found interesting C.J. Box's answer to a question about authors, blogs and social media such as Facebook: "Modern readers, I think, require some kind of interaction with the author."

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sitting back and watching the action

A little more than three chapters into Christopher G. Moore's Paying Back Jack, two hit men have been incinerated during a botched assassination, a woman has plunged to her death from a hotel window, and two mysterious military figures have arrived in town.

Yet even amid the bursts of action, the pace is relaxed, the dominant mood that of a slow feeling-out, an openness to Bangkok's strange and wonderful sights. Some amusing and telling lines help:
"A couple of yings dressed like Japanese geisha called out to him. They liked his jacket. They smelled money.

"`I'm not Japanese. I can't go inside,' he called back in Thai.

"`No problem. You not come in. We go out. Sure.'"
"He'd packed Graham Greene's The Quiet American -- on the basis that he'd never met such an American -- and George Orwell's Burmese Days."
"There were other private security contractors like them mixing in, looking for new recruits, talking about the situation in Baghdad and the bad old days of Desert Storm. That storm had left the desert and pretty much spread everywhere. That much everyone agreed on as they bought each other rounds of drinks and waited to crank up one more Cobra Gold exercise."
That last passage reminds me of a remark in Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Man of My Life about the "theology of security." What other crime fiction alludes or refers explicitly to our post-New World Order, post-9/11 worlds?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Christopher G.Moore crosses borders

Christopher G. Moore calls his P.I. protagonist, Vincent Calvino, "a cultural detective. He sifts through the evidence in a way that makes sense of the location and people living in Southeast Asia."

Moore lived, worked or studied in Canada, England, the United States and Japan before winding up in Bangkok. He writes of seeing Thailand come out its isolation, of people everywhere "inching closer to a common center."

Calvino is a former lawyer who similarly wound up in Bangkok. I'm not sure he has arrived at that center yet, but it's fun to watch his trip. Here's a bit from the opening chapter of the tenth Calvino novel, Paying Back Jack:
"They'd suggested that he try looking at things as if they were fresh, new, and of another time and place.

I've just arrived, and this is the first street in Asia I've ever seen. A smile crossed Calvino's face as he moved down the soi. Each step was a foot deeper into the freak show, starting with the huge banyan tree. Its large, twisted trunk wrapped with dozens of thin, colored nylon scarves, the tree had long, stringy veins that hung like gnarled tentacles over the soi. A dwarf stood on the broken sidewalk in front of a bar, dressed in a vest, a white shirt, and a bow tie. Holding up a sign for happy hour beer, he tagged along after each passing tourist for a few steps. Then, exhausted, he'd stop and retrace his steps to the bar and wait to strike again. `Come inside!' he shouted. `Many pretty girls!' The dwarf was right."
There are no twisted banyan trees in Philadelphia, and if the city has dwarf touts, I've missed them as well. But I'd call Calvino's approach a nice way of opening one's eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of a new place -- or to an old one whose initial excitement has begun to pall.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Augustus Mandrell is coming back!

Back between 1965 and 1971, Frank McAuliffe brought out three collections of linked stories about an amazing international hit man and master of disguise named Augustus Mandrell. Another Mandrell book lay unpublished for more than forty years, scuttled, it is said, by the unfortunate coincidence of its title with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Shoot the President, Are You Mad? will finally see the light of day in the first quarter of 2010, thanks to The Outfit, a new crime-fiction publisher headed by JT Lindroos and Sean Wallace. The book will take its place beside the first three Augustus Mandrell books: Of All the Bloody Cheek, Rather a Vicious Gentleman and For Murder I Charge More.

Here's what I wrote after reading Of All the Bloody Cheek:
"McAuliffe must be one of the slyest, hippest, funniest, sharpest, most satirically minded writers who has ever written crime fiction. He offers the reader thrills, surprise endings, laugh-out-loud jokes, and a memorable protagonist. Mandrell may remind you of the Saint or of James Bond, but he's deadpan funnier than both without being at all groaningly spoofy. And he's not all thrills and laughs, either. The third story in Of All the Bloody Cheek, for example, has a rather poignant moment just before its end."
Read all my raves about Frank McAuliffe and Augustus Mandrell to learn why I'm so delighted that another book is on the way.

N.B. The forthcoming book is usually discussed under the title They Shoot Presidents, Don't They? but Lindroos says The Outfit is publishing it with the title McAuliffe intended.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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A few more Houston pictures and your chance to win a book

Here's something Houston has lots of.

Here's a celestial body with which Houston will forever be linked.

The third scene, slightly expanded, reveals a clue at lower right. The clue suggests, correctly, that the pattern is in a roadway. The colorfully painted crosswalk is one of several such in Houston's Museum District. Two readers guessed accurately enough to win book prizes. Congratulations.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Plots without guns

Five stories into The Big Score, a collection by Australia's godfather of crime fiction, Peter Corris, I'm struck by the low number of killings.

One story involves a con, one a counter-con and another vandalism against trees, believe it or not. All work because of the amiable but tough P.I. protagonist, Cliff Hardy, and the deft, sympathetic pictures of the con artists and victims -- with a wink for the plucky souls who come out on top, which ever side of the law they're on.

Hardy has a certain admiration for the smaller-time criminals whose world he shares: "It takes all kinds," Hardy muses about one imprisoned client, "and he was far from the worst."

I also enjoy the occasional slang and colorful turn of phrase, as I do with much Australian crime writing. Here's a character complaining about the boredom of life post-work: "As I said, this retirement stuff's got whiskers." That's a nice way of saying "It's getting old."

And here's Corris/Hardy poking fun at Americans who don't get the wordplay: "Being American, irony and puns aren't Hank's strong suit. I suppressed a laugh."

Now, your question: Name crime stories that don't involve murder.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

I found my kicks on Route 59

For me, Houston will always mean the sweetish scent of fried food and auto exhaust.

Saturday night flat on my back in a pickup truck by the Gulf of Mexico. More later.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

More great first lines

Two days ago I wrote about my haul of five books at Murder by the Book in Houston (since augmented by four more titles).

I've been flipping through my new acquisitions feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. The first three of them reminded me how important it is to grab the reader from the start, whether with the title, the opening line, or both -- and how thrilling it is to be so grabbed.

Colin Cotterill's Aging Disgracefully is subtitled "Short Stories About Atrocious Old People." Know that, and you'll love the title of the first story: "Gran Larceny."

Bill James' Off-Street Parking pulled me right in by addressing and challenging me directly: "I'd like to put you right on something. OK?"

Tower, by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman, offers two grabber opening lines, the first to a short prologue, the second to the novel proper:
"Griffin coughed blood into my face when I made to slip the chains under his shoulders."
"`He beats me.'"
What are your favorite openings? How did they pull you into the story? Why did you like them?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Old and new

(Right: Female figure, attributed to the Ashmolean Master, Greece, Cycladic Islands, Naxos Early Cycladic II, Dokathismata variety, 2400–2300 B.C. The Menil Collection, Houston. Below: A building considerably newer in another part of town.)

You know what Houston is, don't you? It's an intoxicating mix of old and new.

The new I knew about (Houston has no zoning to speak of, and residents say it eats its old buildings for breakfast); the not-so-new I didn't know until now.

The not so new came in the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum and the Menil Collection (neither of which is depicted at left). The latter is home to the Cycladic woman pictured above and to collections from the Byzantine and Medieval worlds, Africa, the Pacific Islands (notably a giant anthropomorphic slit drum from Vanuatu and a war and hunting god from Papua New Guinea), the Pacific Northwest, and, from closer to our own time and place, rooms devoted to Cy Twombly and surrealism.

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum offers an evocative setting for some thirteenth-century church paintings that have an interesting history.

The two museums are recent foundations, both having opened since 1987. The founders came from oil-drilling money. It's always good to reflect on the wealth and power that brought great art collections together, whether in the museums and the National Gallery founded by the railroad and steel barons from Boston to Washington, or in the Vatican museums. It's one more layer of pulsating life behind all that art, and it's nice to know that rich people can find good things to do with their money.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

A rage in Houston

One thing I love about crime bookstores like Houston's Murder by the Book and Belfast's No Alibis or Toronto's Sleuth of Baker Street is the sense of community among workers and readers. Here in Houston, it's de rigeur to belong to at least two crime-fiction book groups, and some people are in more.

Tonight it was the noir group's turn, and they discussed Chester Himes' A Rage in Harlem and The Jook by Gary Phillips, led by the capable Anita Thompson.

Before and after, I bought books by Bill James, Peter Corris, Reed Farrel Coleman and Ken Bruen, and Colin Cotterill. David Thompson is no relation to Anita, but he does help manage Murder by the Book, and he founded Busted Flush Press, and he'll recommend mysteries if you tease it out of him. He suggested The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch, and I bought it.

Oh, and Houston also has good Mexican food.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Final Bouchercon photos

Here's my last batch of photos from Bouchercon 2009. Some are from me, 1, 4 and 6 are from Anita Thompson, and I may add some from Ali Karim if he puts them up.

(Left: A wary waitress.)

(Right: Anita Thompson in profil perdu.)

(Left: The rubber duck that came with my room. The duck looks less cheerful than it ought to, as if wistful for the wide-open ducky spaces far from this bath tub in Indianapolis.)

(Right: Another episode of The Bridesmaids' Quest.)

(Left: Ali Karim, Martyn Waites, Christa Faust on the Sunday comics-buying expedition.)

(Right: Jon McGoran, Scott Phillips, Anthony Neil Smith)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

Yep, there's no crime in this post and no beyond borders, either, just frontiers.

But I'm telling you about this eye-opening little collection of four essays by Frederick Jackson Turner for a shopping list of reasons:

1) The man came from that great age when historians could write.

2) It's a commonplace now that the American frontier had closed by 1890, but Turner said it in 1893, and he teased out the implications of the centrality of the frontier back to the first European arrival in what later became the United States. Great ideas haven't always been around. Someone had to think them first.

3) The format. The book is a slim volume, part of a Penguin series called Great Ideas. It dispenses with introductory material, footnotes, end notes and bibliography. It permits intimate, portable, easy acquaintance with one of the great historical thinkers ever. What a great idea.

4) The essays, written between 1893 and 1910, are full of statements and propositions that remain richly suggestive today. Here's my favorite:

"So long as free land exists, the opportunity for a competency exists, and economic power secures political power. But the democracy born of free land, strong in selfishness and individualism, intolerant of administrative experience and education, and pressing individual liberty beyond its proper bounds, has its dangers as well as its benefits. Individualism in America has allowed a laxity in regard to governmental affairs which has rendered possible the spoils system and all the manifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit. In this connection may be noted also the influence of frontier conditions in permitting lax business honor, inflated paper currency, and wild-cat banking."
Hmm. Maybe this post is about crime and crime fiction after all.

(Read Turner online here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Publisher saves on costs, passes savings on to authors (Just kidding)

Macmillan is is lowering its royalty payments to authors on e-books, the New York Times reports.

I thought the whole point of e-books was to lower production, shipping, storage and distribution costs — to save money, in other words. Would it hurt Macmillan to throw a bit of that extra money to the people who write the books instead of squeezing them even more? I have only the most cursory acquaintance with publishing, but it's my understanding that authors are now expected to assume (and pay for) promotional and even editing responsibilities that publishers once assumed.

From my outsider's perspective, one quotation in the article makes a lot of sense: “I don’t really understand the logic since e-books really do not require any additional work on the part of the publisher.”

(From my insider's perspective, the Times article refers to a cut of 5 percent when it really means 5 percentage points. Who needs copy editors, anyhow?)

(Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Crime fiction of the past that looks to the future

A discussion on Adrian McKinty's site takes me back to an eye-catching passage from John Buchan's spy thriller Greenmantle:

"The ordinary man again will answer that Islam in Turkey is becoming a back number, and that Krupp guns are the new gods. Yet — I don't know. I do not quite believe in Islam becoming a back number."
Such a passage, a prediction that Islam is not quite a spent force, has to capture the attention of anyone who reads Greenmantle today, yet Buchan published the novel in 1916.

What other striking foreshadowings or predictions have you found in your crime or other reading? (I can think of one especially chilling one that I'll tell you about if you're good.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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