Philadelphia, city of bad nicknames
But then, Philadelphia is the city whose public transit agency sounds as if it means putrefaction or sewage.
© Peter Rozovsky 2014
"Because Murder is More Fun Away From Home"
"1. Crime, adopted from OF-F, derives from L crimen, *that which serves to sift (hence, to decide), decision, esp a legal one, hence an accusation, finally the object of the accusation—the misdeed itself, the crime ... "The next day a sentence came to my attention in which a buyer "could not ... pay the ... price tag" for an item, emphasis mine.
"Juventus slap £53m price tag on Man United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal target Paul Pogba."There, slap works with price tag to create a vivid image. The examples I generally remove from the stories, though, are on the order of:
"Finally, there's a paragraph that amounts to an explanation of just what makes for a $24 hamburger, the price tag for Harvey's product."in which tag is unnecessary, but easily removed with damage neither to the sentence's rhythm or sense nor to the writer's pride. But "pay the price tag" suggests a shift, in which the writer imagines tag, rather than price, as the object of pay.
|(From the excellent Bucks County |
Bookshop in Doylestown, Pa.)
"1. Crime, adopted from OF-F, derives from L crimen, *that which serves to sift (hence, to decide), decision, esp a legal one, hence an accusation, finally the object of the accusation—the misdeed itself, the crime: for *cernīmen (cf regimen from regere, s reg-), from cernere, to sift: f.a.e. CERTAIN, para 1."
|No, I'm not|
"derives from MF roberie, robber from MF robeor, both F words coming from OF-ME rober, to rob, whence, ME robben, E `to rob'; OF rober comes from OF robe, booty, whence, in MF-F—from booty in the form of robes—a gown, a robe, adopted by ME: and OF-F robe comes from W Gmc *rauba, booty: cf OHG roub, MHG roup, G Raub, spoil, robbery, and OHG roubōn, MHG rouben, G rauben, Go bi-raubōn, to which are prob akin the Go raupjan, to pluck, and OHG roufēn, MHG roufen, G raufen, to pluck, to fight, and perh akin, the ON riūfa, L rumpere (nasalized *rup-), to break.""I know what you mean," she said, sighing. "I'm bedraggled. See draggle at DRAW."
|Another atmospheric hideout |
on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"This Philo Vance is in the Sherlock Holmes tradition and his conversational manner is that of a high-school girl who has been studying the foreign words and phrases in the back of her dictionary. He is a bore when he discusses art and philosophy, but when he switches to criminal psychology he is delightful. There is a theory that any one who talks enough on any subject must, if only by chance, finally say something not altogether incorrect. Vance disproves this theory: he managed always, and usually ridiculously, to be wrong."Can you imagine caring enough about what you read that you would write something like that?
"Scotland Yard promises to `safeguard the safety' (page 29, if you think I spoof) of an American inventive genius who has business with the British government."Now, what is a reader to do, especially if that reader happens to be a copy editor in his professional life and, moreover, a copy editor who has heard authors complain that publishers expect authors to pay for editing that publishers would have paid for twenty years ago? Shrug off mistakes with the bland acceptance that nothing is perfect? Bang one's head against the wall and shout that the world is going to hell?
|Don't be bad because |
that would feel good
|Be good, but not too good|
"When the gunmen killed someone like Adnan Shahine, it looked as though they were upholding the morals of the struggle against Israel. But there was something stronger at work: the lack of democracy and due process that eventually turned everyone against the Authority, including Arafat’s own ministers."
"Muhammad Dahlan ... is officially a man without a job or any visible means of support. But he glides through the West Bank in a bulletproof black Chevrolet Suburban supplied by his friends at the CIA bearing the official red and white license plates of the Palestinian Authority. Everywhere he goes, a phalanx of armed bodyguards surrounds him, sealing off the floor of his Ramallah Hotel and waiting on him with food and drink. The source of their salaries is unclear. Their loyalty is unquestioned.© Peter Rozovsky 2014
"Dahlan is on a break from an extended visit to Cambridge, where he is perfecting his English, courtesy of the British taxpayer."
"...she'd just turned twenty one, but had obviously signaled for the turn a long time ago.... she wore a V-necked white blouse as if she were the gal who'd invented cleavage.”That's why the opening of Gat Heat is so much fun. The book appeared in 1967, when the Shell Scott franchise had been around for more than fifteen years. Prather, presumably, had to strike a balance among giving the readers what they had come to expect, making each book different enough from what had gone before to keep the readers buying, and maintaining his own interest in a character who had been around a long time.
|(Feasting Scene, Jalisco, Proto- |
Classical 200 BC-AD 250. Earthen-
ware, red-slipped resist painting,
appliqué 20 1/4 x 19 3/4 x 17 in.
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.)
2000 BC. Terra-
cotta. H: 5 3/8
x W: 2 3/4 x
D: 1 5/16 in.
“[Ellroy] exhorted a class of aspiring screenwriters to quit smoking, get rid of their tattoos and piercings, and always address their elders as Mr. or Mrs. `Do this, and people will say to themselves, This kid knows his shit and understands that there is a social contract.'”Also of note: Ellroy's comment on why crime is important in American writing:
"We’re a nation of immigrant rabble. A great rebellion attended the founding of this republic. We’ve been getting into trouble for two-hundred-and-thirty-odd years. It’s the perfect place to set crime stories, and the themes of the genre—race, systemic corruption, sexual obsession—run rife here. In a well-done crime book you can explore these matters at great depth, say a great deal about the society, and titillate the shit out of the reader."And his preference for Dashiell Hammett over Raymond Chandler:
"Chandler wrote the kind of guy that he wanted to be, Hammett wrote the kind of guy that he was afraid he was. Chandler’s books are incoherent. Hammett’s are coherent. Chandler is all about the wisecracks, the similes, the constant satire, the construction of the knight. Hammett writes about the all-male world of mendacity and greed. Hammett was tremendously important to me."One might disagree with Ellroy's choice, and one might argue that writing about what he wanted to be rather than what he was is the whole point of Chandler's writing: "Down these mean streets a man must walk who is not himself mean." But I was relieved to see a Chandler vs. Hammett comparison based solely on the two authors' work, rather than on politics.
"The only thing that turned me off a bit in the early pages was that repetition of `In the winter-time. In the night-time.' It was not clear to me why Peace did that. Perhaps it will become so later."It has.
"Then you should have stayed here!" replies Shankly. "You should never have moved to Birmingham."7) The soccer. Peace gradually works discussions of soccer strategy into the book, so telling and so sparing that they held my attention, and worked as part of the novel's action, even though I'm no particular soccer fan.
"She spoke in a low, bitter tone."
“`Hello, Deth,' he said in a casual tone."
“`Think so?' he said in a strange tone." [ed. note: What is "a strange tone"?]By today's standards, that's the stuff of an early, rough draft. Then there's swearing. Publishing mores in the 1930s did not permit curse words, and the results can look odd to readers today, our eyes and ears assaulted by four decades of artistic and literary cursing. "The skunks!" exclaims a character in Nebel's Crimes of Richmond City, and a reader today can't help but smile.
"`You can’t—not that way,' he said in a hard tone."
“`At Old Andy’s,' he replied in a low tone."
"He said in an uncertain tone: `Watch what you do, Kid.'”
"He spoke in a low, easy tone."
"He said in a grim tone: `Yeah? Did he do that job?'”
"The Kid swore."Granted, the brisk, monosyllabic swore conveys the right, er, tone for a hard-boiled story, but at the risk of a certain sameness. Chandler, on the other hand, turned the prohibition on swearing to entertaining, creative advantage in The Big Sleep in 1939, as Hammett had in "The Girl With the Silver Eyes" in 1924 — seven years before "About Kid Deth."
"Joey Deth lowered his hands and swore."
"Kid Deth swore."
"Rands swore hoarsely."
"He swore shakily."
"Then he sat back and swore softly and more steadily."
and"Roger Smith knows how to play up the good, old-fashioned virtues of honor, persistence, redemption, and love of adventure. He also keeps the bullets flying, the blades flashing, and the spinning tires kicking up dust on sun-baked South African roads."The result in Dust Devils ... is as much unabashed fun as I can remember having had reading a crime novel."
"Roger's Smith's Capture gets out into the streets in and around Cape Town's forbidding Flats more than his previous novels do, and the results make Capture feel more sociable than its predecessors.
"The grim shacks remain, and grim things happen inside them (and in rich sea- and hillside houses, too), but characters also punch out drunks in crowded strip clubs or risk their health dodging cars. ...
"But in the main, the story is Smith's customary mix of damaged characters interacting in dangerous ways, then rushing hellbent to redemption, romance, or messy death. And Smith even offers some laughs along the way."Release date is Feb. 20.
|Old meets new in a cool chair|
at the ALA 2014 Midwinter
Meeting. Photo by your
"not only introduces us to Chinatown's newer Fukienese arrivals, with their wide ideological separation from the neighborhood's longer-established residents, but he portrays dangerous criminal rivalries among these relative newcomers."That, in turn, led me to some reflections on an affinity between Chang and Dashiell Hammett:
"The San Francisco papers had been full of her affairs for a couple of days. They had printed photographs and diagrams, interviews, editorials, and more or less expert opinions from various sources. They had gone back to 1912 to remember the stubborn fight of the local Chinese—mostly from Fokien and Kwangtung, where democratic ideas and hatred of Manchus go together—to have her father kept out of the United States, to which he had scooted when the Manchu rule flopped. The papers had recalled the excitement in Chinatown when Shan Fang was allowed to land—insulting placards had been hung in the streets, an unpleasant reception had been planned.
"But Shan Fang had fooled the Cantonese. Chinatown had never seen him. He had taken his daughter and his gold—presumably the accumulated profits of a life-time of provincial misrule—down to San Mateo County, where he had built what the papers described as a palace on the edge of the Pacific."
"`The skunks!' exclaimed Kerr. `Can't we run the pups down?'"or
"`Drive to that old brewery,' he clipped."It won't do simply to chalk up the first example to its era's greater reticence than our own with respect to swearing. Chandler in The Big Sleep and Hammett in "The Girl With the Silver Eyes" devised entertaining, evocative ways to suggest swearing without the archaically comical touch of "The skunks!" Perhaps one definition of greatness in a writer is the ability to solve narrative problems in ways that would not occur to lesser authors, and to turn those problems to his or her advantage. So here is your philosophical question, readers: What distinguishes a great author from one who is merely good, even very good? Examples welcome.
"Several months ago, James was in moral high dudgeon again, this time outraged at Bill Clinton's sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and his rather bizarre pronouncement that a blow job really isn't sex. James was itching to rip Bubba, and I, perhaps unwisely, declined."Why "rather bizarre"? Was Clinton's pronouncement bizarre, or wasn't it? And where's the introspection beyond the suggestion that Cooper "perhaps unwisely" declined Ellroy's offer to write about Clinton? A neutral observer might suspect fear or political partiality.
"O.J. Simpson will have truly transcended race at that moment when Blacks and Whites get together and recognize him as a cowardly piece of shit who may or may not have murdered two innocent people and left two Black and White children devastated for the rest of their lives."My other favorite moment so far in this 1999 collection of fiction and