Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canned fruit cocktail: The key to telling detail in crime fiction

At Bouchercon 2009, Martin Limón said the years between the Korean War and South Korea's more recent economic and social success offered "tremendous conflict of gangs, the black marketeers ... In the interim there was a lot of room for crime."

I've thought about that remark while reading The Wandering Ghost, fifth of Limón's novels about Ernie Bascom and George Sueño, a pair of U.S. Army investigators in South Korea in the 1960s and '70s, especially when I read these bits:
"Small rooms open, no doors. Jam-packed with black-market merchandise, cardboard cases of canned fruit cocktail imported from Hawaii. In the next room, cases of crystallized orange drink were piled almost to the ceiling. The next held boxes of bottled maraschino cherries and about a jillion packets of nondairy creamer."
and
"The entire facility reeked of damp canvas and decayed mothballs. A cement-floored walkway was lined by square plywood bins, each bin filled to overflowing with steel pots, web gear, helmet liners, wool field trousers, fur-lined parkas, ear-flapped winter headgear, rubber boots, inflatable cold-weather footgear, ammo pouches, and everything the well-dressed combat soldier needs to operate in the country once known as Frozen Chosun."
The sheer profusion gives a convincing idea of the staggering amount of stuff it takes for a wealthy country to provision a modern army, and of the temptation to crime that must come with it. You can keep your submachine guns and briefcase-size nuclear devices for cotton-headed thriller fantasies. If I want a convincing mystery, rich with criminal possibility, I'll take a warehouse full of crystallized orange drink, nondairy creamer, and canned fruit cocktail by any day.
***
A quibble: Sueño refers to the "sexual harassment that women at the 2nd Division live with day in and day out." The term sexual harassment might not yet have been current enough in the early 1970s for anyone to use it as casually as Sueño does.
***
News flash: The Associated Press reported Tuesday that "As much as $60 billion in U.S. funds has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade through lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption, an independent panel investigating U.S. wartime spending estimates."

I suspect Martin Limón would not be surprised.

***
Limón will be part of my “NEVER LET ME GO: PASSPORT TO MURDER” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricane-related Bob Dylan songs and albums

1) "All Along the Watchtower." One of Dylan's best and most chill-inducing songs.  "Two riders were approaching / And the wind began to howl."  If only all weathermen  could deliver their forecasts with such apocalyptic flair. But then ...

2) "Subterranean Homesick Blues." You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.

3) "Shelter From the Storm." I divide Dylan's career in three, with the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks marking the climax of the more introspective middle period, just before he veered off into overblown story songs (See #9) or, as Lester Bangs said of one song from the period, "repellent romanticist bullshit."   "Shelter From the Storm" is the highlight of one of Dylan's best, most mature, most affecting records.

4) Before the Flood. Spectacular 1974 double live album with The Band backing Dylan. Its version of "Like a Rolling Stone" may be the most exuberant rock and roll song ever recorded, a worthy companion to the song's 1965 original version.

5) "Idiot Wind." More appropriate to the ritual pre- and post-storm television and newspaper overkill than to the storm itself.

6) "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." An obvious choice, but a fine song nonetheless.

7) "Blowin' in the Wind." See comment for #6. This ranks lower because the action in its title is not quite as violent as a hurricane ought to be. Of course, neither was Irene once it got to where I was.

8) "Buckets of Rain."

9) "Hurricane." Nicely arranged in its original appearance on the 1976 album Desire, but full of strained rhymes and ungainly allusions ("We want to put his ass in stir / We want to pin this triple MUR / der on him. He ain't no Gentleman Jim."), and it falsifies history. Carter was not the "number-one contender for the middleweight crown" at the time of the triple murder that sent him to prison, apparently wrongly convicted. He was on his way downhill as a boxer at the time. He lost three of four fights against contenders in 1965, the year before the killings.

Any further contenders for this list?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Martin Limón, or crime goes to war

The opening pages of The Wandering Ghost, fifth of Martin Limón's military crime novels set in 1970s South Korea, offers this:
"If the coddled staff at 8th Army headquarters looked down on their snooty noses at the 2nd Infantry Division, the combat soldiers up here at Division returned the animosity tenfold. Anybody stationed in Seoul, they believed, lived in the lap of luxury and would be no more useful in a firefight than a hand grenade with a soldered pin."
That answers one question about what makes the U.S. military a good setting for a crime story: There are opportunities for conflict one could not dream of in civilian life. Limón himself answered another such question on a panel at Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis.

What other unexpected settings are fertile ground for crime novels, and why?
***
Martin Limón will be part of my “NEVER LET ME GO: PASSPORT TO MURDER” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m., at Bouchercon 2011

Marty, write to your moderator. He's worried about you.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

My local bar is open through the hurricane ...


... (complete with at least one crappy-weather special), which is a welcome surprise and brings to mind yet another weather-appropriate Bob Dylan song that's better than "Hurricane."

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Trouble in Paradise

Chris Ewan's Good Thief's Guide to Venice does what Ernst Lubitsch did at the beginning of his great 1932 movie comedy Trouble in Paradise: It shows the gritty side of a fairy-tale city.

In the Lubitsch, we get a crane shot of a canal at night, palazzi in the background, complete with a gondola or two, and perhaps opera being whistled on the soundtrack. The travelling camera then reveals a trash collector picking up canalside refuse and dumping it into his garbage gondola.

In Ewan, we get damp, dark alleys, cold rain, and freezing rooms (yes, Venice has winters), a setting at times more like Carol Reed's Vienna than like Venice. This provides an unexpected background for the novel's comedy, and it helps make the menace believable. This is a crime novel, after all, albeit one whose protagonist combines the unlikely careers of crime writer and thief.

Hmm, the two chief characters in Trouble in Paradise are also thieves.  Did Ewan have the movie in mind when he wrote the book? I'll have to ask him during the “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel, which I'll moderate and of which Ewan will be a member, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, at Bouchercon 2011.  
***
The illustration to the left in this post is a first edition of The Maltese Falcon. Such a book figures prominently in Ewan's novel.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Bad manners and Colin Cotterill: Whom would you kill?

Colin Cotterill has, like me, fantasized about killing off people with bad manners. In my case, the victims include the slouching youth who blasts music in the subway and the self-important lawyer bellowing into his cell phone on the Paoli local to the Main Line. Here's a post I made in 2009 about Cotterill's Aging Disgracefully, along with a question to readers.
***
"Hilda knew the lass would be making people's lives a misery when she was sixty. She'd decided then and there to make an example of her."
The perp/protagonist of "Gran Larceny" is a senior citizen, which is the point of Colin Cotterill's Ageing Disgracefully, a collection of short stories about "murderers, bank robbers, practical jokers, serial killers, perverts and just plain liars, all of whom are old enough to know better."

She also shares a trait with the killer in Ken Bruen's Calibre: She targets people with bad manners.

(It is just coincidence that I am trapped in the Pen & Pencil Club with a roomful of a) flacks and political operatives who [though it's redundant to say so] are b) unnecessarily loud and are also listening to c) reggae.)

Who would you bump off, rob or set up because of their rudeness, thoughtlessness, lack of consideration and other offensive carrying on? How would you do it?
***
Colin Cotterill will be part of my “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

F——— Peter Rozovsky!

Hell, why don't we do that?'

"`Because it's y'know, Peter Rozovsky's idea.'

"`Fuck Peter Rozovsky.'

"`Yeah, fuck him.'

"Noir at the Bar in St. Louis was on."
====
That's from the foreword to Noir at the Bar, a collection of stories by authors who have appeared at a reading series of that name in St. Louis inspired, in turn, by a reading series of that name I started in Philadelphia.

Why a bar? Why noir? In part because the guy I first discussed the idea with was a bartender, and his bar had black walls. But also because, as Jedidiah Ayres (co-editor with the mad Scott Phillips), writes: "The dark was an integral part. It hides blushes, obscures trouser tents, and makes you look more attractive. The drinks are self-explanatory."

Here's the beginning of the collection's first story:
"That's the biggest cock I've ever seen."

Here's how that section of the story ends:
"I turned around to face the huge rooster that was staring me down and I thought about shooting him too."
One day I'll give these guys the thanks they deserve. For now, though, I feel like a proud father sending his kid off to school, then being called to the principal's office a few hours later to find a smirking kid, a cop taking a statement, and a tearful teacher pulling thumbtacks out of her butt.
====
Read about the collection here. Order it from Subterranean Books. And read about the original Noir at the Bar here at Detectives Beyond Borders.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I diss like: A plea to authors

I, like, don’t like like in real-life conversation or, like, books, but at least in real life, you can, like, look at the person you’re talking to or, like, think about the sound of his or her voice, or stare into, like, space to, like, take your mind off your interlocutor’s grating conversational tics. Not so when like is on the page. Then you’re, like, stuck with it.

 So, authors: Please find another way to indicate your character is, like, self-consciously hip  or delightfully footloose or drug-addled or a beatnik or younger than 30. Or give your character one like, let your protagonist or narrator roll his or her eyes, then leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.

Like, thanks.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The rich really are different — a non-crime post

Are rich people like this in other countries?

I edited a story at work this week about a man who turned against the crass, wasteful materialism of American holiday shopping. The revelation came to him on a hiking holiday in Nepal, where he was touched by the simple lives of the Sherpa people, untroubled by jobs with huge American corporations. Or erstwhile jobs. At age 48, the man is a former marketing executive.

Having presumably made his pile, he came back to America so he could tell others how to get rid of theirs. He founded a Web site that encourages people to make charitable donations rather than give gifts. "Your friends don't have to slog through the malls finding you stuff you don't want," he told a reporter at my newspaper. "Your friends get a tax deduction. The environment loves you for not using gas, packaging, and wrapping paper."

What do I think is especially American about this story? That the man started a Web site to link givers and charities, for one thing. Americans proverbially have an entrepreneurial bent that's lacking in other countries. They also, proverbially, worship money but feel guilty about it. So, make enough money to be a former executive while still in your forties, jet off to hike in the Himalayas, then come back and preach simplicity.

Is this man a wanker?
In England, folks wear their class more comfortably. So, when British Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet secretaries and London's mayor talked about cutting rioters' welfare benefits and barring them from riding public transportation free, Cameron nonetheless proved that class will tell.

"Moral decline and bad behavior is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society," he said. "In the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting."

Is David Cameron like that all the time? Or does he show his true colors at moments of stress, his apparent belief that the rich exist to set moral examples for the depraved poor?   I mean, the man didn't even try to hide the dripping condescension, the suggestion that poor people are like recalcitrant children whose betters must show them the right way.

Is that noblesse oblige talking, or is Cameron just a twit and a wanker?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, August 22, 2011

The world's sanest crime-fiction protagonist?

Last week I mentioned protagonist Guido Guerrieri's midlife angst in Gianrico Carofiglio's A Walk in the Dark. Things are not going so well for Guerrieri in Involuntary Witness, the series' first book, either, but the angst is funnier.

Here's Guerrieri on his profession, that of a lawyer, or avvocato:
  • "[I]n my office, the routine went as follows: my secretary called me, in the presence of the person who urgently needed to see a lawyer. If I was busy -- for example, with another client -- I made them wait until I was finished.

    "If I was not busy, as on that afternoon, I made them wait all the same."
  • "People think that lawyers often have important meetings."
  • On a previous client, "a drug pusher for whom I had managed to negotiate a disgracefully light sentence."
I quite like the amused detachment of those passages. Naturally, Guido's wife leaves him, and 
For several months I lived a wild life ... I kept outlandish company, went to fatuous parties, drank too much, smoked too much and all that."
He can't bring himself to say the word psychiatrist, yet he persuades himself to visit one, who tells him:
"I must try to find distractions. I must avoid dwelling on myself. I must attempt to see the positive side of things and avoid thinking there was no way out of my situation. I must hand over 300,000 lire, there was no question of a receipt, and we'd meed in two months time for a check-up."
If that's not enough, when you see what Guerrieri does with the drugs the psychiatrist prescribes, you'll realize that has to be one of crime fiction's saner and more level-headed protagonists.
==================
Gianrico Carofiglio will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?"  on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

A book that takes death seriously

(R.J. Ellory picked from the
crowd at
convivial al-fresco
dinner, Bouchercon 2008
)
Lurking behind this week's question about comic crime fiction was the risk that authors run of appearing not to take death and murder seriously.

R.J. Ellory is unlikely to run such a risk. I don't know that I've read any crime novel that takes death more seriously than does Ellory's A Quiet Belief in Angels. The deaths mount: Nine (so far) girls murdered in rural Georgia. The protagonist's wife. His mother. A neighbor's daughter. The neighbor's apparent suicide in expiation of guilt over the killings.

Protagonist Joseph Vaughan is haunted from a young age by an unnatural guilt over the killings without, however, taking the easy way out of losing his mind. Rather, they become a driving force in his life, pushed aside by circumstances, but always flaring up again.

Redemption? I'll tell you tomorrow.
***
R.J. Ellory will be part of my “NEVER LET ME GO: PASSPORT TO MURDER” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Friday, August 19, 2011

When authors leave home

My third panel at Bouchercon 2011 will consist of three British and two American authors who set their mysteries abroad. This brings to mind some questions from the early days here at Detectives Beyond Borders, so I'll ask them again:  What are the advantages of writing about a country other than one's own? What are the disadvantages? What will a visitor or short-term resident see that a native might miss? And vice-versa?
***
Lisa Brackmann, R.J. ElloryAnne Zouroudi, David Hewson and Martin Limón will be part of “NEVER LET ME GO: PASSPORT TO MURDER,” with your humble blogkeeper as moderator, Saturday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thomas Kaufman on the streets of Georgetown

Yesterday's post was full of serious discussion about humor. Today you get a sample of the stuff.

Willis Gidney, protagonist of Thomas Kaufman's Drink the Tea, is lying low in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood in a disguise that renders him virtually invisible — the ragged clothes of a homeless man. The vantage point affords him ample leisure to observe the passing foot traffic:
"Mostly young people, Georgetown students who were wealthy and seemed to be born with an innate sense of how to enjoy themselves. ... All the young men were robust and trim, all the young women were shapely and smiling. And if they had a thought among them, it was on a time-share basis."
That, it says here, is a nice observation. It's the sort you or I might make, only it's just a bit funnier, with hints of envy rendered poignant by the character's rugged backstory.
***
Thomas Kaufman will be part of my “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two authors of comic crime fiction and a question for readers

Crime isn't funny, but some crime fiction is. How do writers of comic crime fiction keep the laughs coming without trivializing the crime?

Chris Ewan's Good Thief's Guide to Vegas, a smooth and funny caper, has its protagonist witness a shocking act of violence. Ewan does not play the scene for laughs, and he manages at the same not to upset the novel's mood. How does he achieve this? Perhaps by staging the scene behind soundproof glass; neither we not the narrator hear it. It's a delicate balance, and I say it works.

Thomas Kaufman's Drink the Tea does it in part by giving protagonist Willis Gidney a past that includes a grim childhood spent in orphanages and foster homes and by a series of gracefully executed flashbacks to that past.

If you read comic crime fiction, how do your favorite authors maintain the balance between the comedy and the crime? 
***
Chris Ewan and Thomas Kaufman will be part of my “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gianrico Carogiflio's angst in Italy

A Walk in the Dark, second of Gianrico Carofiglio's four novels about Italian lawyer Guido Guerrieri, is at least as much  middle-aged angst trip as it is legal thriller.

Guerrieri's meeting with an old friend induces melancholy over his own current lack of companions ["Maybe that's normal, when you get to your forties. Everyone has their own affairs — family, children, separations, careers, lovers."]. The revelation that the friend's wife has died induces an emotion-choked phone call to his own girlfriend in which he can't quite bring himself to say, "I love you."  But we already know that Guerrieri is sensitive because the pop music he listens to is pensive stuff: Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen's  "The Ghost of Tom Joad." 

Carofiglio readily acknowledges that a midlife crisis sparked his writing career. But A Walk in the Dark is more than a New Yorker short story blown up to novel length. The book brings to life the conflicts between Italy's overlapping police jurisdictions better than do some other Italian novels, and it takes righteous shots at corruption and nepotism. And if you've ever wanted your crime-fiction protagonist to work out part of his angst by kissing a nun, this may be your book.

The trial and hearing scenes are exciting, as one might expect from an author who used to be an anti-Mafia judge. And the courtroom color is even better. It's easy to imagine Magistrato Carofiglio being distracted by the carnival around him and wishing he could plunge into it instead of getting ready for a trial:
"The entrance hall was packed: women, young men, carabinieri, prison wardens and lawyers, most of them provincial. It was the first day of the trial of a group of drug dealers from Altamura.  The background nouse was the kind you hear in a theatre before the show starts."
==================
Gianrico Carofiglio will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?"  on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, August 15, 2011

The incredible expanding actor

I'm back from seeing The Guard. Any movie with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle in it stands a fair chance of being worth watching, and The Guard (not to be confused with Ken Bruen's novel The Guards or any production based on it) was; I may put up a post about it one of these days. But first a bit about the pre-movie matter.

It had been a while since I'd seen a movie in a theater, and I was gobsmacked that the first five or seven minutes of coming attractions were all for television programs. The theater is an art house; does its management subscribe to the belief, occasionally expressed in reputable circles, that television, rather than movies, is where intelligent viewing is now to be found?

We did eventually get trailers for several movies, one described as "quirky" and another as "charming." (Both, I need not add, were French.) And Gérard Depardieu is not so much getting fatter as he is, like the universe, expanding rapidly in all directions.

P.S. The guy who did the voice-over for the Depardyew trailer should work on his French pronunciation.

P.P.S. At least two of the movies could also safely have been described as "life-affirming."

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The new (Benjamin) Black in my newspaper

My review of A Death in Summer, by John Banville writing as Benjamin Black, appears in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer:
"John Banville distinguishes between the artistic pleasure he derives from the literary novels he writes under his own name and the craftsman’s pleasure he gets from the crime fiction he writes as Benjamin Black. This makes it fair to ask a craftsman’s questions of the Black books: How well do the parts fit together? How smoothly does Black execute them? Are they beautiful? Do they work? Does the finished product perform the functions essential to an object of its kind?"
Read the complete review for all the answers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Zealand mystery solved

Crime writers choose their favorite characters by other crime writers

Does that title make my meaning clear? I don't know if it does, but it's better than the headline on the original article, "Partners in crime fiction," which has nothing to do with the article's intriguing subject: Who are crime writers' favorites among characters created by other writers?

The article appeared last month in the Guardian, and I've just found out about it now, courtesy of the Violent World of Parker blog. Benjamin Black/John Banville picks Richard Stark's Parker, and Lee Child, adding some commercial sheen to Black's literary oomph, proves himself a bit of a wanker before making the excellent choice of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck.

Arnaldur Indriðason likes John Le Carré's George Smiley, especially as played on television by Sir Alec Guinness: "Watching him play the detective/policeman/spy by doing as little as humanly possible in the form of acting is pure joy."

Derek Raymond's unnamed protagonist of the Factory novels gets a thumbs-up from David Peace and from one or two readers who commented on the article.  Read the complete list here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Variation on a Swedish crime theme, plus a Bouchercon hosanna

There may be something to this Scandinavian crime fiction hoopla. I've just read Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström and Agnete Friis & Lene Kaaberbøl in preparation for a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2011 next month, and readers of this blog will know that I've been impressed.

Most recently I noticed that even as they build the tension in Three Seconds, Roslund and Hellström shoot the novel through with social concerns and tell their story from multiple points of view. Each of these is characteristic of Nordic crime writing, though their sympathy for individuals crushed by a system prepared to dispose of them when they are  longer useful makes R&H distant cousins of Jean-Patrick Manchette's as well. So, even though Three Seconds does not read like much of the other Swedish crime fiction that comes immediately to mind, it shares with it certain thematic interests.
***
I'll take time between books to send Bouchercon bouquets to Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik, in charge of programming for this year's convention. They should be thanked on principle for their hard work on this and other cons over the years, but they've done two especially nice things this time: They got panel notifications out early, and they scheduled multiple panels on similar themes. This will increase chances that convention goers get to attend at least one session on their topics of special interest.

Thanks, ladies, and may every one of Bouchercon's  1,600 attendees buy you at least one drink.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Test detects a trace of humor in Swedish crime novel

Did I say Danes were the funniest of the Nordic peoples? No, not really; it was a commenter who said it, but I did not disagree.

But those tension-ratcheting Swedes, Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström, get in a good one, too, in an otherwise grim passage about prison life in their novel Three Seconds:
"Every day in every prison, every waking hour was about drugs: how to get them in, and how to use them without it being discovered by the regular urine tests. A relative who came to visit was also a relative who could be forced to smuggle in some urine, their own, urine that was clean and would test negative. Once, in his first few weeks in Österåker, some mouthy Serb got his girlfriend to piss into a couple of mugs, the contents of which was then sold for a great deal of money. None of them tested positive, despite the fact that more than half of them were under the influence, but the tests did show something else, and that was that every man in the unit was pregnant."
***
Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?" on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The North will rise again: Roslund and Hellström's world

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, those progenitors of modern Nordic crime writing, sent Martin Beck to Hungary in The Man Who Went up in Smoke, but they generally kept him at home in Sweden as they probed the dark underside of that country's welfare state.

Henning Mankell, the next generation's leading light, wrote books "that connect crimes in Sweden to the rest of the world," according to one review, but there is always a sense in the books of national borders to be crossed.  The White Lioness, for example, divides its plot into two segments, one South African, one Swedish.

For the current generation of Nordic crime writers, borders might as well not exist, and not necessarily because of "globalization" either. (How quaint, naive and archaic that word sounds today.) Three Seconds, the Dagger-winning novel by the Swedish authors Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström, offers a Swedish-Polish co-protagonist of Russian/German background infiltrating the Polish mafia in a case that involves Danish as well as Swedish police. His opposite number is a police detective whose name, Grens, is the Dutch word for border. (The Swedish-Polish protagonist has twin sons whose names are those of two of the greatest Dutch Renaissance humanists. I have no idea what significance this has, but it contributes to the novel's strong pan-Northern Europe feel.)

We get ferry trips between Poland and Sweden, sudden plane trips to Denmark, and crowded scenes at Warsaw's airport, and the authors make no big deal about this. It's how their world works.

I like to think that globalization in their world (and in that of Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl, where Lithuanian streetwalkers are part of the Danish human landscape) is neither new nor monolithic, but rather a reawakening of old, even ancient economic ties previously obscured by wars and revolution. In this case, the ties are those that bind the Baltic and North Seas and the nations that surround them. Once they traded herring and salt; today's commodities are methamphetamine and hookers.

The authors rarely make this point explicitly or didactically, and that's part of what makes their books exciting. They really do take readers into a new/old world.

(For an entertaining exposition of the view that Northern Europe constitutes an overlooked cultural and economic sphere, watch Jonathan Meades' documentary Magnetic North.)
***
Anders Roslund, Börge Hellström, Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?" on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Has Gianrico Carofiglio ever been a copy editor?

"At first he'd corrected everything: syntax, grammar, spelling, even punctuation. Then he realised he couldn't go on like that. The men were hurt, he'd spend hours on end trying to correct texts that were usually impossible to correct, and none of his superiors, in the Prosecutor's Department or anywhere else, ever noticed the difference. So, after a while, he adapted. He would still change a few things here and there, just to show them that he read everything, but. mostly, he adapted.

"Anyway, he'd always been very good at adapting."
-- Gianrico Carofiglio, The Past is a Foreign Country
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Gianrico Carofiglio will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?"  on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Bouchercon 2011 panels announced

When Bouchercon 2010's organizers gave me two panels to moderate, I wrote: "Any more panels, and I'll be able to furnish a rec room."

This year I furnish that room in Scandinavian modern, with plenty of shelves for interesting objects from almost everywhere. I'm moderating three panels at Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis next month. Here's my lineup:
  • Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, it’s “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” wherein I shepherd Eoin Colfer, Colin Cotterill, Chris Ewan, and Thomas Kaufman through a discussion of fictional killing, real humor, and the interesting ways they mix.
So there it is: Writers from Agnete to Zouroudi, with an equally wide range of settings and styles and, for me, an exciting mix of old favorites, authors new to me, and even a surprising take on Shakespeare.

Here's the complete lineup of panels.  It's not too lated to sigh up, and if you happen to be in St. Louis, Sept. 15-18, stop in and say hi.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Peter Temple to be adapted for television

Courtesy of Australia's Boomerang Blog is this news that Peter Temple's Jack Irish novels will be adapted for a television mini-series. I don't know how the series will turn out, but the source material is just fine.

(Guy Pearce has been cast as Jack Irish. He was fine in Memento and L.A. Confidential, so this might not be a bad choice.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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A bit more on The Boy in the Suitcase

Two more quick observations about The Boy in the Suitcase:

1) The novel's occasional explicit "message" passages, about missing children or the treatment of immigrants, are so neatly slipped in among shifting points of view that one never minds them.

2) Though this is a grim tale of high tension (and very nicely executed), authors Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl do nothing to disprove a DBB reader's comment this week that "Danes are definitely the funniest of the Nordics."  There may be just two jokes in the novel's first 230 or so pages, but both are good.
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Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?" on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Friday, August 05, 2011

The way some people die ... and die ... and die

134. 135. 75. 10. 0.

That's how many people die in some popular South African crime novels by the authors' own counts. Well, in one case the author relays tallies combined by a reviewer. (134? 135? I've read both books, and the tallies seem a bit high.)

Read all about it on Crime Beat (South Africa) courtesy of the bloodthirsty Mike Nicol.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

The good crime writer's guide to self-reference

Circumstances have me reading several books at once,  one of them The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas by Chris Ewan. Since all the reading keeps me from writing, I thought I'd bring back this post I'd made about an earlier book in Ewan's "Good Thief's Guide" series. Ewan also figures in an article by Colin Bateman that sparked one of this blog's longer comment strings.
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I've written with some ambivalence about self-reference and in-jokes in crime fiction. Done well, they can be clever. Done poorly, they can be clever – winking, nudging, back-patting and over the top.

Chris Ewan's The Good Thief's Guide to ... novels, the second of which was the occasion of yesterday's post, are bound to contain some self-reference; Ewan's protagonist is a crime writer/burglar whose novels include The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, the title of Ewan's own first novel.

I like the first big block of self-reference in Ewan's The Good Thief's Guide to Paris. For one thing, its introduction is a bit of a surprise. The good thief in question, protagonist Charlie Howard, introduces the self-referential note when a reader might well expect him to be raising quite another matter. For another the reference is full of good humor that ought to make all thriller and suspense readers smile.

Howard is worried about his current book, whose plot involves Rio de Janeiro, Carnival, a bank vault, and a robbery, all to be carried out by his series character acting alone. He seeks a spot of advice and sympathy from his agent, who replies:
"Honestly, Charlie, I have clients who need their hands held from time to time but you can really push it. You're concerned about credibility in one of your Faulks novels? Next you'll be telling me Ian Fleming made a few things up."
There are multiple in-jokes here, Sebastian Faulks being among the authors who have written James Bond novels as successors to Fleming. In any case, the reference is an affectionate nod to the stories that I suspect Ewan and many of his readers love.
And now, your thoughts, please, on self-reference and genre in-jokes in crime fiction. Do you like them? Dislike them? Does your reaction vary? Feel free to offer examples good, bad, interesting or indifferent.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009
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Chris Ewan will be part of my “CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?” panel on Saturday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12:30, at Bouchercon 2011.  

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

More on "The Boy in the Suitcase"

Either Agnete Friis or Lene Kaaberbøl told an interviewer that their novel The Boy in the Suitcase is about powerless people, those who enjoy no social protection.

I'm not far enough into the book to know how this plays out, but there's a nice bit of foreshadowing early on. I'll avoid spoilers, but the punch line is a woman emerging from unconsciousness, struggling to make out a nurse's face, and seeing this:
"There was something there, in the tone of her voice, in the set of her jar, that was not compassion, but its opposite. Contempt."
Discussions of Nordic crime novels always say the books probe the ugly reality beneath the welfare state's placid surface, and they have been saying it for more than forty years.  Friis and Kaaberbøl here find a fresh way to show it.
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Another early scene has a character recalling a doctor's rage over a rape victim's horrific injuries. The authors handle the subject with commendable restraint that only enhances the horror. The same has not always been said of, say, Stieg Larsson. So, while it's early yet to pronounce judgment on the novel, I'm developing respect for it already. Too bad the title doesn't lend itself as easily to parody as does The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
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Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?" on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A good line, and goodnight!

This is an early night, so I'll leave you with just one line from the book I've begun reading along with a thought about what makes it good.

The book is The Boy in the Suitcase, the authors are Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl, and the set-up is a rich man musing upon the obstacles he overcame to have his cliffside house built. Here's the line:
"(H)e had even conquered the representative of the local Nature Society with a donation that nearly made her choke on her herbal tea."
That's not a knee-slapper, but it's a functionally amusing line that keeps the narrative going, hints at the point-of-view character's susceptibility to amusement at his own situation and, at the same time, just hints at the corrupting influence of money. That's not a bad day's work for one humble line.

Godnat!
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A helpful commenter suggests that, given recent events in Norway, I ought to point out that the boy in the suitcase is alive.
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Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl will be part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?" on Thursday, Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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