Friday, September 30, 2011

Christa Faust, new books, and the remembrance of things past

I've always thought authors must feel weird, at least early in their careers, promoting books that they may have written two or three years earlier.

The book is new and exciting to readers, but the author has long since moved on to new projects. Do you remember what you were working on two years ago? Do authors find it difficult or odd to talk with enthusiasm about something that may be old to them? (Authors' comments welcome.)

I got a taste of this temporal dislocation when I read Christa Faust's Choke Hold this week. A couple of years ago, Faust made a blog post or Tweet that she was off to do research on the effects of traumatic brain injuries. Hank, a major supporting character in Choke Hold, very likely suffers from such injuries, and Faust does a hell of a job showing their effect rather than telling us about them. I'd bet a week's worth of bagels and whitefish salad that Hank is the product of that long-ago research trip.

This has also made me think about social media. The biggest effect of social media on our lives is the blizzard of speculation about the effect of social media on our lives, but in a small way, Faust long-ago blog post/Tweet makes me feel that I've had a glimpse into the gestation and genesis of a book.

P.S.  The book packs an emotional punch, and that's no cheap joke about its characters' involvement in Mixed Martial Arts.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Martin Limón and Raymond Chandler?

I asked a few days ago how crime-fiction series change over time, using the first of Martin Limón's novels about U.S. Army investigators in Korea as a case in point.

I finished the book, Jade Lady Burning, last night, and I think I found one way Limón has changed: He shed some of Raymond Chandler’s influence as he found his own voice. Granted that every hard-boiled writer since Chandler has been compared to him, and that such comparisons can be glib and facile, I'd say they’re valid here.

The ride from Seoul into the countryside in Jade Lady Burning, the scenery changing from urban to thinly settled rural, is pure Chandler. The novel’s wistful ending has a whiff of Chandler about it as well, and co-protagonist/narrator George Sueño is a bit more the lone wolf here than he is in later books, when his colleague Ernie Bascom comes more to the fore.

Maybe Limón never borrowed from Chandler. Maybe he did, but unconsciously. But if he did use Chandler as a model, he did so effectively and well. And a remark that Limón made during our panel at Bouchercon 2011 demonstrated that he is highly conscious of his own efforts to find his voice.

Limón's publication history has closely paralleled American military involvement during the post-Cold War era, with spurts of books following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and then the second Iraq war. I suggested that interest in his military mysteries might have waxed and waned along with public interest in military news.

Nope, he said, the occasional gaps in his output (seven books in nineteen years) are due to his efforts over time to figure out how to be a novelist. I say that he’s gone a long way toward figuring out and that Chandler was part of the process.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

After Bouchercon II: The Delmar Loop plus more books

I'm on my way to pick up the box of books I shipped home from Bouchercon (titles by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Derek Raymond, Christa Faust, Scott Phillips, Gianrico Carofiglio, Roslund & Hellström, and Jakob Arjouni, among others, plus goodies from the book bag that I haven't looked at yet). While I'm away, here's a bit more from St. Louis.
=======================
Wikipedia tells me that the Delmar Loop in St. Louis is "One of the 10 Great Streets in America," according to the American Planning Association. But I already knew it was great; I was there last week after Bouchercon 2011.

I wrote briefly about Delmar Boulevard's America's-coolest Walk of Fame; here are some of the street's signs. Delmar Boulevard is also home of the Meshuggah Café, site of St. Louis' version of Noir at the Bar; and of Subterranean Books, one of three(!) independent bookstores I visited over the course of the week. (The others were Big Sleep Books and Left Bank Books. Read about them and others on this list of dealers who set up shop in Bouchercon's book room.)

Meshuggah Café is a fine place for a reading, to judge from the clientele the night I visited: beautiful evening around 10, crowds out and about, the sidewalk in front of the store lined with people reading. Not jabbering on their phones or sending apps flying around their iPad screens, but reading books. It was probably the most startling and definitely the most heartening sight of my Bouchercon week.

(Photos by your humble blogkeeper)
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gianrico Carofiglio, Howard Curtis, and a translator's challenge

(Games People Play)
A reader's complaint, an incautious reply, and a translator's thoughtful explanation have revived one of this blog's oldest questions: What cultural and linguistic challenges does a translator face?

The complainer objected to the name chosen for a poker game in the Gianrico Carofiglio novel translated in English as The Past is a Foreign Country:
"The fat man cut the cards and said, 'Five card stud.' He said it in the same tone of voice he'd used all evening. What he thought of as a professional tone. A good way to recognize an easy mark at a poker table is to see if they use a professional tone.

"He dealt the first card face down and the second one face up. A professional gesture, as if to prove my point."
"Who is Carofiglio kidding?" my reader objected. "There's no other way to start a game of five card stud. Playing the first card face down and second one face up wouldn't tell you jackshit about anybody."

I speculated that five-card stud might be a rough English equivalent for a game in the novel's original version whose Italian name English and American readers would not recognize, and it turned out I was right. Rather than a lapse on Carofiglio's part, I wrote, "We've uncovered some sloppy work by the translator, then."

Today the translator weighed in with a reply that made me ashamed of my flip comment. That translator is Howard Curtis, and here's what he had to say:
"Sorry I've only just seen this thread. As translator of The Past is a Foreign Country, I'd like to comment on the above remarks about my `sloppy work' on the poker aspects of the book. Not being a poker player myself, I had to do some research when translating these sections, and `five card stud' did seem to be the most accurate translation of what was being played at that point. The poker references were checked and approved by someone at the publishing house who knew about poker, and the original UK edition carried a preliminary note explaining that this was an Italian version of the game, employing a 32-card deck. I haven't seen the US edition, so I don't know if this note was reproduced."
Having written about the challenges translators face, I should have speculated about Curtis' choice rather than dismissing it. In any case, it appears this problem was difficult, if minor. The U.S. edition of the book does, indeed, offer an explanatory note, but is that enough? I'd read the novel without noticing the note.  The poker references passed muster at the publishing house, but not with a reader out there in cyberland (Ireland, actually). Could translator or publisher have chosen another way to explain the game?

I suggested that the translator might use the original Italian name a time or two in the text, perhaps with an unobtrusive explanation, and let context take care of the rest. Would that have worked? I don't know, but I am reminded once more of how bloody difficult a translator's job can be, especially if the work in question is popular fiction, where ease of reading is paramount.
***
Howard Curtis is an experienced translator from French, Italian and Spanish. Among novels discussed here at Detectives Beyond Borders, his translations include works by Carofiglio, Jean-Claude Izzo, and Caryl Férey.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Martin Limón, or How do authors' voices change over time?

I read two of Martin Limón's novels for my “PASSPORT TO MURDER” panel at Bouchercon 2011, of which Limón was a member. Now I'm reading his first book, Jade Lady Burning, and I've noticed (or thought that I noticed) some slight shifts in tone between it and the later books.

All the books feature George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, a pair of free-wheeling U.S. Army investigators in Korea in the 1970s. But this book seems a bit more explicit about the two protagonists' sexual adventures with Seoul's "business girls" (though well short of X-rated). Its language is a bit saltier than I remember from the later books, and its attitude toward Korean business practices and the Americans who investigate them a bit more, er, jaded.

I have no idea what significance this has, but it does raise this question: How do crime-fiction series change? I've asked this question before, but this time I don't mean obvious devices, such as aging the protagonist or getting him or her married or divorced. This time I'll focus on authors and narrators rather than on characters, and I'll ask How do crime writers' narrative voices change over time in a long-running series? 

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

After Bouchercon: St. Louis, where America began

(The Old Courthouse in St. Louis, where Dred Scott and
his  wife  sued to gain their freedom from slavery in 1846.)

With the last Bouchercon 2011 attendee safely out of town, and even the Jordans and Judy Bobalik on their way home, I set out for the Museum of Westward Expansion under the Gateway Arch  in St. Louis, figuring I'd discover America there.

I found more than I expected; I'd had no idea that Dred Scott began his legal fight for freedom from slavery just a few hundred yards away.


(A meeting with the Shoshone from
The Journals of Lewis and Clark)
 
(The Gateway
Arch)
Think of it: Barely forty years after Lewis and Clark left St. Louis on the expedition that opened North America to westward expansion, the same city saw the beginning of a legal fight that hardened the lines between North and South, and led to the rise of the Republican Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War.

Sure, the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts and the nation's founding documents were written in Philadelphia, but Missouri is where modern America started.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bouchercon 2011 highlights

But first say hello to two friends I met (left and right) at the St. Louis Art Museum after Bouchercon. And now, further highlights of my favorite edition to date of the world's biggest mystery and crime fiction convention:

1) The restaurant near the convention hotel that delighted my three English lunch companions by serving corned-beef bollicks (sic).

2) Quaffing a Schlafly Oktoberfest or two at the hotel bar with Eric Stone, an author new to me whose books I will begin reading once I get done with Bouchercon posts.

3) Trying to keep up with Eoin Colfer and Colin Cotterill during Saturday's CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?panel.

4) The waitress who yelled at Jon Jordan and who, having no truck with tagliatelle, served me instead a plate of "tailgate pasta."

5) St. Louis' Walk of Fame, along Delmar Boulevard in the Loop. Many cities have Walks of Fame, but how many include Betty Grable, Bob Gibson, William S. Burroughs, and Phyllis Diller — on the same block?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Detectives Beyond Borders is five years old

When Detectives Beyond Borders was born, the United States was in economic slowdown and mired in a war in Afghanistan. Today, I look back with pride on the progress we have made.

Amid the hubbub of Bouchercon and its aftermath, I forgot to mention that Wednesday was the fifth anniversary of the first Detectives Beyond Borders post.

Here are this blog's first post, and the posts from its first, second, third, and fourth anniversaries. Topics of those posts included war, Peace, hurling, birthdays and, to start things off, in Post #1, a statement of purpose and a list of some of my favorite international crime fiction at the time. Has this blog lived up to that purpose? I haven't the foggiest.

What are your favorite mysteries with five in the title or whose titles are five words?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bouchercon 2011 audio recordings available!

The panels I moderated at Bouchercon 2011 included a fair number of memorable moments. Börge Hellström spoke calmly and movingly of being both a criminal and a victim of crime. Agnete Friis was amusingly insistent that I stick to the promise of our panel's subtitle ("How important is whodunit?"). Anne Zouroudi explained why she calls her Greek god the fat man.

Now you can hear it all (or most of it) on CD or MP3 recordings of Bouchercon's ninety-plus panels available from VW Tapes, which specializes in recording conferences and seminars. Here's a printable list of panels; mine are numbers 10 and 80.

Unfortunately my panel on comic crime fiction was one of three panels for which a recording is unavailable because of technical glitches. That means you won't get to hear Eoin Colfer or Colin Cotterill, which is a damned shame. But you ought to find plenty to tickle your ear and stimulate your mind. I can recommend, among others, panels moderated by Jeremy Lynch and Benjamin Whitmer.

Happy listening!

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Bouchercon 2011 in pictures

(Photo by your humble blogkeeper)
(At right, Bouchercon stragglers head to Laclede's Landing in St. Louis for dinner Sunday night. Below, Ali Karim [left] with Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: Friis and Hellstrom on whodunnit?

After a bit of unintentional comic byplay, my first Bouchercon panel finally got around to the question in its subtitle: How important is whodunnit?

Not at all, said Agnete Friis, co-author of The Boy in the Suitcase. Very, said Anders Roslund, one half of the team whose novels include Three Seconds and Cell 8.

The two don't necessarily disagree. Friis maintains that the social predicament of her book's (and her country's) unprotected victims, rather than the solution of a crime, is paramount. Roslund had stressed earlier that the novels he writes with Börge Hellström do not star the Stockholm police detective Ewart Grens, but rather feature him as "one of two," in a kind of dialectic with a different partner in each book.

In Three Seconds, the partner is a police informant working under such deep cover that his government handlers' refusal to acknowledge him very nearly dooms him to a death in which Grens would have been unknowingly complicit. The book's point? Police and informant/criminal are equally actors and victims. So, while "whodunnit?" in the traditional sense of "Who knocked off the duke in the library?" may be unimportant, "Who's doing it?" is the book's moral center.
***
Anders Roslund and Agnete Friis were part of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?" at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: The insomniacs' (fictional) bookstore

Gianrico Carofiglio's protagonist, Guido Guerrieri, sometimes visits a bookstore called Osteria Caffe Latte when he can't sleep. That establishment is a Bari bookshop run by an insomniac who opens his doors around 10 at night, closes them around six in the morning, then finally falls asleep in the apartment upstairs as the rest of Bari is well into its daily business.

At times in my life I'd gladly have lived in such a place, and the prospect is still enticing. Alas, unlike the midlife crisis and legal detail so much parts of the Guerrieri novels, this bookstore/coffeeshop/nocturnal refuge is fiction, Carofiglio says.  I'd have been ready to make pilgrimage, if not to sign a long-term lease.

What sort of commercial establishment do you most wish were open twenty-four hours a day?
***
Gianrico Carofiglio was a member of my panel "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT?"  at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: "Punctuation is your friend"

 The post's title was Thomas Kaufman's response to an intelligent question from an audience member at my Bouchercon 2011 panel on CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER?

The panel's subject was comic crime fiction, and the questioner wanted to know the novelist's equivalent of the timing so essential to a good stand-up comedian's success. Kaufman knows that punctuation is essential to pace and that pace is essential to comedy. The man knows how to use his dashes and his commas, and I can offer no higher praise to a fellow human.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: Off-stage antics at my panels

Up early to prepare, moderated two panels, had an appointment or two, then it somehow was late afternoon and I had neglected to eat all day.

To come, highlights of the panels I moderated Saturday:

CRANKY STREETS: WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT MURDER? with Eoin ColferChris Ewan, Thomas Kaufman and, for most of the hour, Colin Cotterill.

NEVER LET ME GO: PASSPORT TO MURDER, with Lisa Brackmann, R.J. ElloryAnne Zouroudi, David Hewson, and Martin Limón.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: Boobs, brains, and bald guys

I moderated no panels today at Bouchercon 2011, which meant it was time to break out the aloha shirt; shed the customary stiff,  professional demeanor; and attend other folks' panels.

The day's highlight was Russel McLean, David Corbett, Megan Abbott, Wallace Stroby, and Todd Ritter shephered by able moderator Jeremy Lynch through a discussion of crime movies. How smart and entertaining was this lot?  Even though Corbett and I are 180 degrees apart on Hitchcock and a bit less than that on Chinatown, he offers plausible reasons for his antipathy in the first case and his enthusiasm in the other.

Corbett calls Hitchcock's work mere exercise, and I presume he refers to that director's technical mastery. I think he's wrong, but it's a plausible reason not to like Hitchcock; the man was famously a master of every aspect of moviemaking and a player of technical games.  Oddly enough, I find Corbett's beloved Chinatown equally calculated. To me, that movie is a  calculated effort to shock by being more explicit about the dark family secrets that underlay so much American writing around the middle of the last century. But you know what? Corbett, the bald guy of this post's title, is so sharp a commentator, so reasoned in his criticism, and so forthright about his own predisposition toward passionate storytelling that I just may give Chinatown another try.

More later. For now, though, I'll reprise a comment I made at my first Bouchercon, in 2008:
"Carousing is good. Brainy, funny people are better. Carousing with brainy, funny people may not be the highest form of human activity, but it will sure as hell do until something better comes along."
***
Other highlights:

"I love Tom Cruise, but have you seen Far And Away?"
-- Eoin Colfer

"I always carry have tuna."
-- Sara J. Henry on the packaged food that sustains her on the road.

"Watching craftsmen at their job is, I think, inherently interesting."
-- Peter Spiegelman on the appeal of the caper novel.

"I was all over that like a money shot on big tits."
-- Christa Faust's enthusiastic reaction upon being asked to join the first night's panel on "Sex, Violence, and Everything That Makes A Book Great." This is nothing more than savvy self-promotion, of course. Christa's best-known novel is Money Shot.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

What I've learned at Bouchercon 2011

I still don't know what Yrsa Sigurðardóttir will do the next time she has to introduce me,  but I do know that my first panel, at Bouchercon 2011,  "A QUESTION OF DEATH: HOW IMPORTANT IS WHODUNIT"?, went exceedingly well. Some highlights:

1) Anders Roslund's anticipating my question about the significance of the protagonist's name in the series of thrillers he writes with Börge Hellström.  That protagonist is named Ewart Grens, he appears in such books as the Dagger Award-winning Three Seconds and the Cell 8, among others, and grens does apparently mean border in Swedish, as it does in other Germanic languages. I had assumed the name suggested, ironically or otherwise, that Grens is a bulwark against international crime in the books' borderless Baltic world, but Roslund chalked it up to Grens' actions that sometimes straddle the border between good and not good.

Note that Grens is not the stereotyped tough-guy cop who stops at nothing to get the job done, the cop so tough the law can't contain him, and so on. No, his misdeeds raise real moral questions. For an example, read Box 21.

2) Gianrico Carofiglio's insistence that he surprised when an enthusiastic Italian critic said his first novel, Involuntary Witness, was the best legal thriller ever written in Italy. "I never thought I wrote a legal thriller," he said. As successive novels did will commercially and critically, he said, he decided that "I write legal thrillers." The same was the case when readers would ask if his books were autobiographical. No, he said at first. Then, once the books turned out to be hits, yes.

3)  Lene Kaaberbøl  cowrote The Boy in the Suitcase with Agnete Friis. She also translated the novel from Danish into English. That's why I asked her if the book's reference to a brutal pimp as "the man with the serpent tattoo" was a message to Stieg Larsson ghost and to his English-language readers. No, she said, though she did appear to enjoy the suggestion. Intentional or not, it adds one more layer of meaning for readers, just as the multiple implications of Grens.

4) A Hendricks and tonic at the hotel bar costs $12.98.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Bouchercon 2011: My first highlight

Sometimes it's not just
what's said, it's who says it
:

"This is Peter ... Rokofsky? I have so much trouble with that name."

-- Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

There goes the bride: A Bouchercon 2009 chase scene

The old cozy writers say that when the wind blows cold in the nighttime at Bouchercon, you can hear the rustle of satin and the click of white high heels ...

=======================
(Photos courtesy of Anita Thompson)

Our small gang had set out for a late lunch and agent's party at Bouchercon when we met what appeared to be a body of vestal virgins delivering pizza.

"Have you seen a bride?" one of them asked me.

Alas, I had not.

I don't know if they ever found what they were looking for, but Bridesmaid #1 seemed determined to lead the satin-swathed entourage through every park and monument in downtown Indianapolis if she had to.

Later we saw a banquet setting up at the restaurant where we'd gone for the lunch/agent's shindig — a wedding reception, perhaps? — but no bridal party.

Sounds like a mystery to me.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Martin Limón on cleanliness and Korea

Bouchercon starts Wednesday night. While writing a list of questions for my panelists (and checking it a lot more than twice), I found these cultural observations from Martin Limón. The first is from his novel The Wandering Ghost. The second is from Buddha's Money:

"`She's very clean,' the landlady told us, `for an American.'"

and

"If anyone in the West thinks of them at all, it is as rice farmers or merchants or tae kwon do instructors. But Koreans have been sailors and fishermen since before history began."

One does not normally think of Korea as a seafaring nation, so that second passage gets me curious about the country's history. Who says crime fiction can't be a spur to learning?
***
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.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eoin Colfer, or What's in a nickname?

Like me, Eoin Colfer mourns the decline of the clever nickname. I spent my formative summers at a camp outside Montreal where the nicknames included Hack, Ankles, Ekra, Madman, Eyebrows, Goblow, Rabbi, Smedley, Truck, and Mini-Mack, the last two of them women, and not at all unattractive despite possibly carrying a few extra pounds around the hips. I raise a glass to the folks who bestowed all those names, even though one of the names was mine. 

Then I worked a summer at a different camp, where the feeble diminutives that passed for nicknames warned me that my childhood was at an end and that I was passing into a duller, more disappointing world. Greenberg was called Greenie. Sherman was Shermie, and Dubinsky Dubs. OK, there were Schlong and Kid Pubes, but those enjoyed limited circulation, for some reason.

Here's Colfer, from his new novel, Plugged:
"E Bomb? Christ, what have nicknames come to? The problem is that these guys are inventing their own names. No one christens themselves Four-eyes, or Shit-breath. One guy back in Dublin, did six months for Peeping Tom offenses, guys called him Windows 2000. Now, that's a nickname."
What are your favorite nicknames, whether from real life or fiction?
***
Eoin Colfer 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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Saturday, September 10, 2011

A return trip to Lisa Brackmann's Chinese half-world

Lisa Brackmann's second novel will take its protagonist to Mexico, but that book is not due until spring 2012, so for now I'll think of Brackmann as an old China hand. Her first book, Rock, Paper, Tiger, is set there; she's a frequent visitor to Shanghai (where she finds Starbucks a welcome refuge); and, if I recall correctly, she'll return to China for her third novel.

Here's some of what I wrote last year about her first:
"Rock, Paper, Tiger offers some of the most unexpected views you're likely to get of China short of visiting and hanging out with its squatters, scene-makers, disaffected artists, and others who struggle to stay one step ahead of the country's ruthless capitalistic socialistic-with-Chinese-characteristics wrecking ball."
Everyone know that China is the new economic giant, the titan of state-sponsored capitalism, and so on. Everyone knows, too, about the country's party apparatchiks and new entrepreneurs. But what of the folks who are neither of the old China nor eager members of the new? That's the world Brackmann writes about, and that's the world I'll quiz her about next week, when she makes her second appearance on a Bouchercon panel moderated by your humble blogkeeper.
***
Lisa Brackmann 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, September 09, 2011

Win Arnaldur Indriðason's "Hypothermia"

Arnaldur Indriðason and
your humble blogkeeper
at Bouchercon 2008.
Here's a post that has nothing to do with Bouchercon. It's your chance to win a copy of Hypothermia, Arnaldur Indriðason's sixth Inspector Erlendur novel, to be released in paperback in the U.S.A. next month by the good people at Picador.

Among other things, the book offers a neat solution or two to the problem of maintaining what readers like about a series while keeping the narrative fresh.

I will send a copy to the first reader who answers this skill-testing question correctly:

What is the name of the unfamiliar letter in Arnaldur Indriðason's second name?
***
Liz in the Mid-Atlantic United States knew that the ð in Arnaldur Indriðason's second name is the letter eth (its sound is like that of the th in them.) She wins the U.S. softcover edition of Arnaldur's Hypothermia, a fine novel with a cool title. Congratulations, Liz.
***
Read all my posts about Arnaldur. And read my essay about him in Following The Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

David Hewson's Roman stories

I've posted often about authors who set novels in countries other than their own. What do they miss because of their outsider status? What do they gain?

David Hewson sets books in contemporary Rome but, in The Fallen Angels, ninth and newest in his series about the young Roman police officer Nic Costa, he makes use of the historical period that has most shaped the way the city looks today: the Baroque era.

Hewson chose for his taking-off point the hair-raising tale of Beatrice Cenci, whose life, legend, and horrific death offer enough material for a hundred painters, a million tear-jerkers, and scores of Romantic dreamers. I worried for a while that Hewson would content himself with simple, pat parallels between Beatrice's case in 1599, and that of young Mina Gabriel, whose family lives in a reduced state on a street named for the Cenci.  

But Hewson is up to more than that.   Costa, his colleagues, and receptive readers will learn salutary lessons about the dangers and the necessity of stories. And those readers just might pick up some tips about good places to eat around the Campo dei Fiori and what to order when they get there.
***
David Hewson will be part of the “NEVER LET ME GO: PASSPORT TO MURDER” panel, with your humble blogkeeper as moderator, Saturday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m., at Bouchercon 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Martin Limón, real war, and fictional crime

Martin Limón's novels have a Cold War setting (Korea in the 1970s), but they began appearing around the time the United States resumed large-scale combat involvement for the first time since the Vietnam War.

Jade Lady Burning, Limón's first novel about U.S. Army investigators George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, appeared in 1992, which means he may have been writing it during the Persian Gulf war of 1990 and 1991. Two more books appeared by 1998, and the series resumed in 2005, by which time the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were underway.

Limón's novels give a rich picture of U.S. troops' daily (and nightly) life. Have American readers grown more interested in such matters since they've been reading and seeing war news every day for almost ten years? If so, was this is a factor in Limón's decision to write his books and his publishers' to issue them? Perhaps I'll find out late next week.

 And now, what are your favorite crime stories with military settings? Why  is the military a good setting for crime writing? (Limón weighed on this subject at Bouchercon 2009). If you don't think war and crime fiction mix, why not?
***
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.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, September 05, 2011

McGeachin and Cleave are tops down under

The Detectives Beyond Borders research branch has been so busy preparing for Bouchercon that it has neglected some antipodean crime-fiction honors.

Congratulations to Geoff McGeachin, whose Diggers Rest Hotel took Australia's Ned Kelly Award for best novel. McGeachin is a funny guy whose novels Fat, Fifty & F***ked  and D*E*D Dead! I've discussed here, and he once sent me some Vegemite along with a package of books, for which I should thank him, I think.

Over in New Zealand, Paul Cleave's Blood Men is the second winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. Cleave told New Zealand's Herald on Sunday newspaper last week in an article that bears the headline "Paul Cleave: Too dark for home market"  why he was surprised to win the award. As always for things New Zealand, a hat tip to Craig Sisterson.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Eoin Colfer writes an adult novel and joins my Bouchercon panel

Eoin Colfer’s first adult crime novel has just appeared in the United States, but I knew he could write adult crime long before I ever heard of Artemis Fowl.

Colfer’s story “Taking on PJ” led off Akashic Books' Dublin Noir collection, and a fine job it did. I looked for more by this Colfer guy and was disappointed to find that his previous writing was YA – for young adults. Then I started reading the books. The Artemis Fowl series and Half Moon Investigations are full of intelligent nonsense and, unlike comparable series by other authors into which I looked briefly, they don’t ever appear to be talking down to their young readers.

So I was pleased to learn some months ago that Colfer had written an adult crime novel and even more pleased last month to learn that he 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, along with Colin Cotterill, Chris Ewan, and Thomas Kaufman.

That novel, Plugged, has already answered a question I hope to raise during the panel and one that hovers over all comic crime fiction: how to balance the crime and the comedy without trivializing the first or overwhelming the second. He does it by giving protagonist Daniel McEvoy, a soldier-turned-bar doorman; funny, rueful lines that McEvoy doesn't know are funny. And a scary wartime past. And an amusing vulnerability. (He's self-conscious about his hair transplant.)

But the YA writer in Colfer sneaks through every couple of chapters, in bits of delightful adolescent silliness, of which this is my favorite so far:

"‘Kronski, you asshole,’ she calls out, in a voice ravaged by thousands of cigarettes. ‘Your tablets gave me the shits. Twenty-six fifty for the shits? Open the door, dammit. I can see you moving.’"
So far, fun.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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