Sunday, August 31, 2008

Another chapter, this time from Adrian McKinty

Crime Scene NI (may its tribe increase!) posts this reminder that the opening chapter of Adrian McKinty's next novel, Fifty Grand, is available here. The chapter has much of what I loved about McKinty's Michael Forsythe novels: rhythm, tension and, amid the grimness, a brief, funny exchange of dialogue.

McKinty talks about Fifty Grand and other interesting subjects, including crime fiction, dumbing down and Dan Brown, in this interview on Crime Always Pays.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

A little bit of The Big O

Declan Burke has been waxing even more enthusiastic than usual these days, and why not? His second novel, The Big O, called a "tour de fun" by Detectives Beyond Borders and a lot of additional nice things by a lot of additional reviewers, has its U.S. release from Harcourt Sept. 22.

I singled out the novel for its opening, and now you can read the first three chapters on the book's Amazon page. I recommend that you do so. Then I recommend that you read the rest of the chapters as well, and if you suspect that that's a suggestion you seek out the whole book, you're right.

I wrote last year that "the deliciously complicated plotting, the wry dialogue and the sympathy Burke engenders for his cast of characters made this one of the most fun and purely pleasurable reads I've had in a while." I've had no reason to repent that opinion. The Big O is still one of the two or three funniest crime novels I've ever read.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, August 29, 2008

A day without crime fiction and with Ireland

Irishmen are proverbially great drinkers and great tellers of stories. After reading a bit of Irish history, I can understand why. That history may be no more violent than most (perhaps it just seems that way because so much of the violence is so recent), but it sure is confusing.

To an intelligent but inattentive and relatively ignorant North American, such as your humble blog keeper, Irish history has heretofore been simple: English = Protestant = Unionist, and Gaelic = Catholic = Nationalist. But even a short introductory history may disabuse you of some of these notions as it did me.

Start with the "English" invaders of the 12th century, whose language was French. Move on to John de Courcy, one of their number, who, in one commentator's words, "was converted into a true Irishman." This "Englishman," among other things, commissioned a life of St. Patrick. Add the great 18th-century Irish Protestant nationalists, such as Wolfe Tone, or the Act of Union of 1800 to merge the Irish and British parliaments, a move opposed by some Protestants wary of English interference, favored by some Catholics who anticipated better treatment from the English than from Irish Catholics.

Or splits between Presbyterians and the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. Or the violent divide between Irish nationalism and republicanism. Or my favorite, a historical fact that might earn anyone who cited it an arse-kicking on either side of the sectarian divide: that William of Orange was a political ally of the pope's when he fought the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. (Their common enemy was Louis XIV of France.)

This blog will return shortly to its regular programming. Until then, may the wind be always at your back except when you're coming toward me from the opposite direction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cover stories

I posted a comment last week about the phenomenon of different books with sometimes startlingly similar covers. This week Belinda Mountain of MIRA Books, whose cover for Paul Johnston's novel The Soul Collector sparked the discussion, weighs in. She offers a short comment on my post, then holds forth at greater length on her own blog.

Her comments will speak for themselves, but they did put me in mind of something obvious that I had nonetheless not thought of before: Books with similar themes may well lead to similar covers. Johnston's book, she writes, "features a character named The White Devil, and a killer who draws pentagrams near his unfortunate victims, so the pentagram/star icon was incredibly well suited to this book."

Pentagrams and the fear of Satanism figure prominently in Jo Nesbø's The Devil's Star, which helps explain the similarity between its cover and that of Johnston's novel. But then, Nesbø's book itself is just one of several Scandinavian novels translated in recent years in which Satanism plays a prominent part. Helene Tursten's The Glass Devil and Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm (The Savage Altar in the U.K.) also come to mind.

Belinda offers some sensible reasons for publishers' decisions, so thank her for weighing in. And the next time you think about "copycat" covers, think about "copycat" books, too.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Weighty expectations

I've recently started one book and borrowed another, both of which raise great expectations in the fiction-to-be-taken seriously department.

Abdelilah Hamdouchi's The Final Bet is the first Arabic-language detective novel to be translated into English, according to the jacket copy, and its author one of the first to write detective fiction in Arabic.

Chingiz Aitmatov's The Place of the Skull not only bears a jacket blurb from Arthur Miller, but the Times Literary Supplement called it "arguably the most representative text of the Gorbachev thaw." Not novel or book, but most representative text, mind you.

Now, while I see if these novels live up to their weighty promise, I'll ask you to ponder this difficult question of weightiness.

Leonardo Sciascia comes to mind for his acceptance and impeccable credentials both as an important crime author and as an important author, period, no qualification.

What crime writers enjoy similar acceptance both as masters of their genre and as important writers even to those who may not read crime fiction? How do you feel about claims for importance on behalf of crime stories?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who says Ian Sansom writes cozies?

Ian Sansom's Mobile Library mysteries sound as if they should be cozies: Nerdy London librarian moves to rural Northern Ireland, hates it, has zany adventures with colorful characters, and gradually succumbs to some of the charms of local life.

But Sansom's humor can have a hard edge. In Mr. Dixon Disappears, the librarian/protagonist, Israel Armstrong, undergoes a police interrogation that includes the following:

"You're called Israel and you have no connections with the state of Israel or with the Middle East?"

"No I don't."


"So why are you called Israel?"


"I thought I'd just explained! My mother's Jewish, and she thought it was a good idea at the time. It was the 1970s. We had family there. It was all the rage."


"So you claim you have no contact with the Middle East and yet you have family there?"
and

"Can you name three Glens of Antrim?"

"What?"


"It's funny: you claim you're not an immigrant here, Mr. Armstrong, and yet you don't seem to know very much about the country in which you're living."

The bumbling police officer is a staple of English village mysteries. Sansom keeps the humor but infuses the scene with a touch not just sinister but thoroughly contemporary.

Elsewhere, Sansom has an amateur magician describe the splintering of the area's magicians' groups into a succession of rival factions, most of whose names have three initials. Even at this late date, the jape at Northern Ireland's grim history of paramilitary factionalism has a whiff of daring about it.

And I was pleased to find that the novel contains a nod to a contemporary Irish classic that I will begin reading soon: Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, August 25, 2008

A clever, practical title change

I've written from time to time about title changes, whether in translations or between U.K. and U.S. editions of books in English. One of my longer comments concerned the Swedish novel published as Sun Storm in the United States and The Savage Altar in the United Kingdom.

On aesthetic grounds, the American title for Åsa Larsson's fine book is superior. The British title sounds like the name of a fourth-rate Black Sabbath tribute band.

A reason lies behind each title, however. Sun Storm, an accurate translation of the original Swedish, refers to the Northern lights, which appear several times in the book in descriptive passages. Savage Altar is presumably an allusion to the murder that drives the plot, which takes place in a church, though not at an altar.

The French publisher, Gallimard, took a similar tack to what Delacorte Press did in the U.S. and went with the Northern lights theme. The result was fortunate. The French title, Horreur boréale, is a play on aurore boréale, French for aurora borealis, or Northern lights. Consider that the h is silent in French, and you have one of the cleverer changes in book titledom.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

No country for old men

I'm bound for Ireland, and I recently made a post about the poetry of crime. Imagine, then, my surprise when I opened a book of Yeats' poetry and found these lines from "John Kinsella's Lament for Mrs. Mary Moore":

A bloody and a sudden end,
From gunshot or a noose,
For death who takes what man could keep,
Or leaves what man would lose.
He might have had my sister
My cousins by the score,
But nothing satisfied the old fool
But my dear Mary Moore."
As it happens, the poem is not narrative, and there is no indication that bawdy Mary Moore met her death in anything but a natural fashion. But those eight opening lines evoke the atmosphere of comically grim or grimly comic crime fiction. Since Ireland produces so much crime fiction of that description, maybe the passage will turn up as an epigraph to a crime novel one day. Maybe it has already.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Crime Scene Europe and Beyond

Bob Cornwell of Crime Time magazine in the U.K. sends news of a project that should interest anyone reading this blog.

Crime Scene Europe, produced under the auspices of the Asociación Internacional de Escritores Policiácos/International Association of Crime Writers and published in Crime Time, will offer practical guides "to the crime fiction of what I hope will be many European countries — and beyond."

The first, on France, downloadable here, offers a brief history of French crime fiction, an overview of the French crime novel today, a directory of key publishers, lists of crime-fiction festivals and prizes, selections of French crime writing available in English, and rosters of bookstores, Web sites and publications of interest to crime fiction readers.

That's a lot of useful information in one small package, and more countries are to come. The Netherlands and Switzerland are up next, with Spain, Germany, Austria and Italy to follow. A roster of other European countries is being assembled, and Cornwell says he hopes to expand the idea beyond Europe, possibly to Japan and Latin America.

What countries do you think belong on the list?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, August 22, 2008

How to be literary, self-conscious and readable

Two passages early in Ian Sansom's second Mobile Library mystery, Mr. Dixon Disappears, show that it's possible for an author to exhibit literary self-consciousness and remain readable, even amusing, at the same time.

In one, the seemingly hapless protagonist, the librarian Israel Armstrong, in desperate need of something to read, contemplates the walls of a jail cell in which he has found himself, through no fault of his own:

"He tried reading the graffiti on the walls and on the back of the door. But there wasn't enough, and it was too small, and anyway it was all acronyms defying one another and performing sexual acts on one another, the IRA doing this or that to the UVF, who were doing this or that to the UDA, and PUP versus the SF, and up the INLA, and down the UFF, and RUC this and PSNI that: where were the great wits and aphorists of County Antrim, for goodness sake? Where were the imprisoned scribes? Where was the Chester Himes and the Malcolm X of the jail cells of Northern Ireland? Where were the Gramscis of Tumdrum and District?"
That's clever and amusing, proclaiming the joys of reading while at the same time poking fun at inflated claims that critics sometimes make for it. These reflections also precipitate a crisis of confidence on Armstrong's part (though, to be fair, he has such crises frequently).

The other reference is just plain amusing:

"This was way beyond anything Israel has ever experienced before: being in the back of a car, early in the morning, listening to someone reading out an account of what had happened to you over the past half an hour, but from an entirely different perspective to your own; it was like being on some kind of extreme creative writing course."
So here are two ways to make the delicate tactic of self-reference work: Make it amusing, and make it important to the story.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Carnival of the Criminal Minds, the XX-rated edition

The Carnival of the Criminal Minds pulls into southwestern Minnesota, hosted at its twentieth stop by Anthony Neil Smith's Crime Dog One: The Virtual Dive Bar. It's a stop with a difference. Says Mr. Smith:

"Since most sideshows are visually oriented, you'll see a lot of video here.

"So, what exactly is on my mind? Biker pulp, grind-house,
Pentecostals, war comics, Minnesota, `transgressive' fiction, and High School Satanists. I can't talk about all of that (some of it deals with the novel I'm currently writing), but on we go into the unlocked passageways of the Freakshow."
Smith is an author, which means he offers not just a guide to some of the more useful and intriguing sites on the dark side of crime fiction, but also some thoughts on genre itself, on noir, on crime fiction and on "transgressive" fiction. (He uses the inverted commas himself; I'm not making fun of him.)

As always, visit Barbara Fister's Carnival archives for summaries of and links to all previous carnivals.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Well Donne

Patrick in New Mexico and Norm "Uriah Robinson" in Devon were the first with the correct answer that Dave White's novel When One Man Dies, featuring private investigator Jackson Donne, takes its title from John Donne's "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions":

"When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language."
They each win a copy of When One Man Dies.
Norm also knew which other Shamus Award-nominated novel took its title and its protagonist's name from the work of an English poet: Richard Aleas' Songs of Innocence, featuring investigator John Blake. He wins a copy of Dave White's newest novel, The Evil That Men Do (title from Shakespeare).

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Noir at the Bar III plus a chance to win books!

What did I learn from Noir at the Bar III with Dave White? For one thing, that the Tritone is a noisier place on Tuesdays than it is on Sundays, when we'd staged the previous Noirs at the Bar. But above the sounds of clinking mugs and no doubt interesting conversations, I also learned how an author faces the challenge of keeping an established genre such as the P.I. story fresh.

I learned that Dave picks up ideas from listening to his students. (He teaches eighth grade when he's not writing fiction, and he related the tale of a young man who had been banned for life from Costco for stealing a video game and was at his wit's end because he liked their pizza so much.) And I learned that Sarah Weinman knows how to ask good questions. (That's Sarah quizzing Dave in the photo above.)

That's what I got out of the evening. What can you get? A free book or even two. I'll send a copy of Dave's Shamus Award-nominated debut When One Man Dies to the first reader who can tell me which English poet lent the novel its title and the protagonist his name. Tell me which other Shamus-nominated author also borrows a great English poet's name for his protagonist and his title, and you'll also get a copy of Dave's latest, The Evil That Men Do.

Send your answers along with a postal address to detectivesbeyondborders(at)earthlink(dot)net.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hey, publishers, what's behind the covers?

Euro Crime notes the near-identical cover designs of The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø and Paul Johnston's upcoming novel The Soul Collector. In this case, the copycatting seems more blatant than usual, right down to a word in the subtitle of the Johnston novel.

Euro Crime has highlighted a number of such copycat covers, as have other blogs, and the issue has sparked discussion throughout the blogosphere. Some seem to think that publishers, looking for ways to save money, find it easier to use stock photos than to pay artists or photographers. But I haven't heard publishers weigh in.

If you're a publisher, how do you explain and justify this practice? How do you answer the accusation that copycat covers make publishers look cheap, cheesy and foolish ? And when did the phenomenon begin? When did publishers start relying on stock photos for their covers?

Once again, a bouquet for Hard Case Crime, which commissions paintings for all its covers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Irish crime writers speak: The Books 2008 Crime Fiction series

Crime Always Pays posts notice of The Sunday (Irish) Independent's Books 2008 Crime Fiction Series, September 5 and 6 in Dublin. Topics include "Heroes and Villains: What We Love and Hate about Crime Fiction," "Forty Shades of Grey: Real Fiction, Real Ireland" and "Sex & Violence: How Far is Too Far?" plus John Connolly in conversation with Declan Hughes.

The author and moderator lineup also includes Gene Kerrigan, Tana French, Alex Barclay, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Paul Johnston, Brian McGilloway, Arlene Hunt, Declan Burke and "Critical" Mick Halpin.

Crime fiction is also on the agenda outside the formal crime fiction segment of Books 2008. Derek Landy, author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, will appear at a children's event, and John Banville will speak at a "Meet the Author" event under his pseudonym Benjamin Black. Why he is billed under his crime-fiction alias but is not part of the formal crime fiction segment, I don't know. Perhaps this reflects this fine author's equivocal reception in the crime fiction world.

So come on out to if you happen to be in the area. If you can't make it, read Detectives Beyond Borders for reports from the scene and maybe an interview or two.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Noir at the Bar in Philly with Dave White this Tuesday

The weekend's out of the way, and now the fun can start. This Tuesday, join us for Noir at the Bar III at the Tritone in Philadelphia, featuring Dave White, author of The Evil That Men Do and the Shamus Award-nominated When One Man Dies.

Dave will read from his work, take questions from the audience, and sit for a question-and-answer session with Sarah Weinman of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Where:
The Tritone,
1508 South Street,
Philadelphia
215-545-0475

When:
Tuesday, August 19
6:30 p.m.

"Noir at the Bar: Where the crime is hard-boiled, and the candy bars are deep-fried"

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

A fourth volume in Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy

A recent comment on this blog brings the welcome news that Carlo Lucarelli is at work on a fourth novel about Commissario De Luca. The news comes from an interview with Lucarelli in the the Italian online magazine Milanonera ("Il primo Web press in noir"), which is worth a look even if you don't read Italian.

Lucarelli does not say when the book will appear, nor does he give a title. The first three De Luca novels, Carte Blanche, The Damned Season and Via delle Oche, appeared in 1990, 1991 and 1996. English translations from Europa Editions appeared in 2006, 2007 and this year.

The books evoke with great economy and tension the grimness and paranoia of late- and post-Fascist Italy. They work as lively history lessons and superb thriller and crime stories. (Read my review of Via delle Oche here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another kind of joke from Jasper Fforde

I posted a comment last week about the entertaining jibes at crime-fiction plot devices in Jasper Fforde's novel The Fourth Bear. But there's more to Fforde's jokes than good-natured, self-referential literary japery.
There are also jabs at political correctness and conspiracy theorists, among other things, and, lest you think these are easy prey, Fforde's humor is always a bit more probing than you might expect from jokes directed at such targets.
And then there is the following, which is just plain funny, no explanation needed:
"`Lovers,' repeated Bartholomew. `Goldilocks and I. For more than a year now.'

"`Wait, wait,' said Jack in a state of some confusion. `You were, to great fanfare, Westminster's first openly gay MP and have remained a vociferous mouthpiece for all kinds of minority-rights issues for the past twenty-five years, and now you're telling me ... you're
straight?'

"Bartholomew covered his face with his hands, and his shoulders shook with a silent sob.

"`You don't know what it's like,' he said miserably, `living a lie.'"
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Matt Rees reads on the radio

Matt Rees is the guest and subject on an installment of National Public Radio's Crime in the City series. Host Eric Westervelt walks with Rees through Nablus, site of Rees' upcoming third Omar Yussef mystery, The Samaritan's Secret. The segment suffers that annoying trait of so many radio features — excessive talk from a host who thinks he's painting vivid word pictures — and Westervelt misuses the word ply.

But Rees is a compelling guide, and he has an apparent love for his setting. Click here to listen to the segment and to read a transcript. You'll also find links to Rees reading from The Samaritan's Secret and to an excerpt from Rees' first novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem (called The Bethlehem Murders in the U.K.).

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The poetry of crime

Gerald So sends notice of an intriguing collection, of which he is the editor: The Lineup: Poems on Crime.

This chapbook is the first of a projected annual series, and if the idea of crime poetry seems odd, consider the final two lines of the collection's opening poem, "Latest Victim" by Graham Everett:
"Even the media /
talks about you in the past tense."
That packs all the chilling punch of good noir.

Contributors to The Lineup come from an interesting mix of backgrounds — crime fiction, poetry, the police — and the collection serves as salutary warning against erecting mental boundaries between these fields.

Click here for some samples from The Lineup. Click here for information about submitting your work for Issue 2.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Bloomsday Dead's best paragraph

Adrian McKinty suggested in a comment on this blog that the great Northern Ireland crime novel will be written by a woman. Declan Burke called David Park's The Truth Commissioner "a very brave stab at writing ‘the great post-Troubles Northern Irish novel’," whereupon I immediately added it to my to-read list.

Both those gents, being Irish and having grown up there, one in the North, one in the South, are obviously far more qualified than I am to speculate on this matter. But the notion of "the" great anything is dangerous, at least in the hands of an outsider such as your humble blogkeeper. It carries with it the whiff of a suggestion that once one has read "the" great novel, one can move on to other subjects. I hope that the great Troubles or post-Troubles Northern Irish novel will mark a beginning for discussion and examination, not an ending. After all, life will go on in Northern Ireland even after the great novel appears.

In the meantime, McKinty has written a worthy contender for best post-Troubles Northern Irish paragraph, in The Bloomsday Dead, after the protagonist, Michael Forsythe, has returned to Belfast:

"They say the air over Jerusalem is thick with prayers, and Dublin might have its fair share of storytellers, but this is where the real bullshit artists live. The air over this town is thick with lies. Thousands of prisoners have been released under the cease-fire agreements — thousands of gunmen walking these streets, making up a past, a false narrative of peace and tranquility."
I have my own ideas about why that paragraph works, but I'd like to hear yours. Let us discuss! While you're at it, let me know what you think about the whole notion of The Great Novel.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, August 11, 2008

The Origin of Styles

"(H)e gives a laughable account of their behavior and strange grimaces. On the following morning they were very cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands, and wore a most pitiable expression; when beer or wine was offered them, they turned away with disgust but relished the taste of lemons. An American monkey, an Ateles, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus was wiser than many men."

"He who rejects with scorn the belief that the shape of his own canines, and their occasional great development in other men, are due to our early forefathers having been provided with these formidable weapons, will probably reveal, by sneering, the line of his descent. For though he no longer intends, nor has the power, to use these teeth as weapons, he will unconsciously retract his `snarling muscles' ... so as to expose them ready for action like a dog prepared to fight."
The first passage could be from Watson's account of a heretofore unknown case of Sherlock Holmes'. The second could well be Holmes explaining his methods, and one can almost see his condescending smile. But both are from a book published a decade and a half before the first Holmes stories, and their author was one of that relatively small group of Victorians whose influence exceeded Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's. Dwarfed it, in fact. This author was also working on a mystery far more momentous than any of Holmes' cases. He was Charles Darwin, and the book is The Descent of Man.

It is pleasant to see that the breeziness characteristic of much Victorian prose style crossed the boundaries of fiction. It is thrilling to see that for all the mystique, misconception and slander that surrounds the name of Darwin, his thought was grounded in simple, empirical observation, just like that of another Victorian, a fictional one who wore a deerstalker.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Noir at the Bar with Shamus Award-nominated author Dave White Aug. 19

Our little issues are out of the way, and we are ready to stage Noir at the Bar III, originally scheduled for last week. While we waited out the delay, our guest, Dave White, was nominated for the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award for best first novel for When One Man Dies. So come on out to the Tritone in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 6:30 p.m. to congratulate Dave and hear him read, and stick around for the best mahi-mahi burgers and fried candy bars in all of crime fiction.

Dave White, author of When One Man Dies and The Evil That Men Do, will be guest of honor at the third Noir at the Bar reading on Tuesday, Aug. 19, at the Tritone in Philadelphia.

Why not fill the time until then by reading Dave's novels? Or take a look at his short fiction here.

"Noir at the Bar: Come for the mystery, stay for the mahi-mahi."

Where: The Tritone, 1508 South Street, Philadelphia
215-545-0475

When: Tuesday, August 19, 6:30 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Plot devices by number and two questions for readers

Here are two short passages from The Fourth Bear, the second novel in Jasper Fforde's Nursey Crimes series:

"He explained the news to Mary, who said, `How about if we do a plot device number twenty-six and pretend not to look for him?'

"`So you're suggesting we look for him against orders, catch him, cover ourselves with glory, and the by-the-book officers look like idiots?'

"Mary nodded enthusiastically. `Pretty much.'

"`No, we're going to follow plot device number thirty-eight.'

"Mary narrowed her eyes. `Which one is that again?'

"`We wait until they beg for our assistance, then save the day. For now we follow orders."
and

"`The Gingerbreadman is not an NCD investigation, Sergeant. You know that.'

"`It was a coincidence, sir,' she responded confidently. `Do you think I would be crazy enough to talked him on my own?'

"`Perhaps not you,' said Briggs, glancing at Jack. Briggs thought for a moment and narrowed his eyes. `This isn't plot device number twenty-seven, is it?' he asked suspiciously.

"`The one where my partner gets killed in a drug bust gone wrong and I throw in my badge and go rogue?' replied Jack innocently. `I don't think so, sir.'

"`No, not that one,' countered Briggs in a state of some confusion. `The one where you try and find the Gingerbreadman on the sly and make Copperfield and me look like idiots.'

"`That would be a twenty-nine, wouldn't it?' put in Mary, who wasn't going to miss out on the fun.

"` No, no,' said Jack, `Briggs means a twenty-six. A twenty-nine is where the bad guy turns out quite inexplicably to be the immediate superior.'"
Jasper Fforde knows his crime-fiction plot devices. How well do you? What crime novels, stories, movies and television shows uses the devices he has his characters discuss? And what are the implications of having fictional characters discuss plot devices, particularly Jack's tentative "I don't think so, sir"?

(The Fourth Bear follows Fforde's first Nursery Crimes book, The Big Over Easy. It's highly entertaining reading, despite a stupid blurb from the Washington Times that Fforde is "our best thinking person's genre writer." (See critical clichés.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

A cool, clean, well-organized Scandinavian-crime Web site

Barbara Fister, creator of the Carnival of the Criminal Minds, is also a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. Both the name and the place are clues: They take their Swedish heritage seriously there.

That's why Barbara has created a page devoted to Scandinavian crime fiction on the college library's Web site. "Since I work at a Swedish heritage college in Minnesota with a Scandinavian Studies program," she writes, "I thought we had an obligation to host a site for Scandinavian crime fiction." A touchingly simple recognition of a sizable Scandinavian contribution to current culture, I'd say.

The site is clean and well-organized, as one would respect from a librarian, and broken down by authors and countries. This ought to help readers keep track of the tremendous roster of Nordic crime writers, particularly new authors or those whose work is being translated into English for the first time.

Barbara has also started a companion blog, where you are hereby ordered to post comments frequently.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, August 08, 2008

The simple art of murder

(Sidney Nolan, Death of Constable Scanlon, 1946, National Gallery of Australia)

A comment about the Carnival of the Criminal Minds' current stop in Australia got me thinking about Ned Kelly. That, in turn, cast my mind back to some memorable crime art I saw a few years ago: Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly paintings, chilling and whimsical at the same time.

What examples can you think of? What other fine crime art ornaments the world's museums, galleries, churches and public squares?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Beyond pundits and onto politcs

I so enjoyed the jabs at the Boston Red Sox and conservative media blowhards in Adrian McKinty's The Dead Yard that I devoted all of yesterday's comment to them. (Since I wasn't writing for the Media Formerly Known as Mainstream, I'm allowed that sort of thing.)

Now I'd like to say a few words about politics and history, since Northern Ireland's Troubles may well haunt the imaginations of Irish writers for quite some time. That prime minister of Northern Irish crime fiction blogging, Gerard Brennan, wondered recently why The Dead Yard was the least popular of McKinty's Michael Forsythe novels in the U.K. Here's part of what he wrote:

"Maybe it’s because this is McKinty’s ‘Troubles’ book. ... We have seen a hell of a lot of work based on the ‘Troubles’. Ireland and the UK are coming down with IRA stories. Some are better than others, and in this case, much better, but at the end of the day, people are looking for new settings and themes. America, however, still has quite an interest in this kind of thing, especially among the Irish-American communities. With the luxury of distance, they maybe have a romantic idea of the struggle and are open to more from this sub-genre. And McKinty has given it to them in spades."
The Dead Yard sees Forsythe infiltrating a breakaway IRA cell in the United States on the verge of the Good Friday Agreement in 1997. At this stage, everyone wants to silence these guys (and women), not least the main IRA, and McKinty manages the not easy feat of making them pathetic and terrifying at the same time.

I suggested to Gerard that if we in America still have an interest in stories about the Troubles, it might be because we're ready for McKinty's deromanticizing of them. Of course, though my name is Peter O'Zovsky, I'm not Irish. I don't know how crime fiction about the Troubles resonates in the numerous large Irish communities in America.

(For another view of the Troubles and their afterlife in Northern Irish crime fiction, see Brian McGilloway's comments to this blog about his novel Borderlands. McGilloway wrote, in part, that

"I wanted to write a non-Troubles book but, around the Border, it would be unrealistic to assume that they're not there somewhere — thus the only representation of the Troubles in Borderlands is the disembodied voice, talking about the past. It's there, but increasingly insubstantial. Or that was my intention, at least.")
I don't know what if any relevance this has, but I think McGilloway is about ten years younger than McKinty.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Dead Yard

The Dead Yard, second in Adrian McKinty's three-book series about Michael Forsythe, moves in harsher, more serious territory than its predecessor, Dead I Well May Be.

For one thing, the first book's third act, a long section in which Forsythe recovers from an ordeal, regains his place in the world, and gathers the physical and emotional resources he needs to resume his adventure, is here compressed to 2 1/2 pages — or, more strictly speaking, to a single brutal and vital sentence. That leaves more room for the central narrative, and a violent narrative it is.

For another, the betrayals are more numerous, and they hit harder. This book's violence is more graphic as well. But the main difference is that The Dead Yard is more direct in its harsh judgment of a nation battered for ages by a foe of overwhelming power, sentimental about its failures, overweening in the pride at its meager successes:

"`Sorry, I don't know much about baseball, nothing actually. We don't play it in Ireland. I've only heard of Babe Ruth, oh, and Joe DiMaggio of course, because of Simon and Garfunkel, and yeah, Lou Gehrig because of the disease. Oh aye, and Yogi Berra, you know because of the cartoon.'

"`What did I tell you about Yankees players?' Kit snapped, her face turning bright red ... '

"They were all Yankees? Jesus. Sorry. Who are the famous Red Sox?' I asked.

"`I don't want to talk about it now,' Kit said, still a little ticked off. Petulant and furious, she looked even more fetching.'"
Oh, yeah: In a moment of extreme stress, Forsythe also thinks harsh thoughts about Ireland and some of those who presume to fight for Ulster against the British.

Yankee fan McKinty's dig at the Boston Red Sox and their hysterical fans is the book's second-cleverest (and just maybe a metaphor). The cleverest concerns a trio of American conservative media pundits.

Highly recommended.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"A solemn thriller is really rather a bore": Raymond Chandler speaks; Ian Fleming listens

The more than generous Paul Davis replied to last week's Around the world with Raymond Chandler post and sent a link to this 1958 BBC interview with Chandler. The interviewer was Ian Fleming and, though Fleming was a bit diffident and Chandler apparently a bit tired or ill or drunk, it was a thrill to hear the voices of these two men who so greatly influenced 20th-century popular culture.

Their mutual admiration is obvious, and Chandler in particular says much of interest. A few highlights:

"I don't think I ever in my own mind think anybody is a villain."

"A solemn thriller is really rather a bore."

"The private investigator is that catalyst, the man who resolved the situation. He doesn't exist in real life."

"It's almost impossible to imagine an absolutely bad man who is not a psychopath."
That last was a reply to Fleming's astute question about the difficulty of creating an evil villain for whom the reader will not feel sorry because that villain is sick. One could write books (or at least blog posts) on each of several aspects of that exchange. For me, it reinfused Chandler with the harsh edge that time and nostalgia had stripped away. It also reminded me how thoroughly the notion of the mental had replaced that of the moral by the 1950s.

One caveat: The broadcaster who introduces the interview gets the date of Chandler's death wrong. It's March 26, 1959, not March 23.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, August 04, 2008

"Hail, Hail, Australia!": Carnival of the Criminal Minds XIX

Some call Australia the Land Down Under, but it's really the Land of Crime Fiction Databases and Proud Crime Fiction Fans.

You can see it a bit of both as Damien Gay's Crime Down Under hosts the 19th installment of the Carnival of the Criminal Minds. Damien links to those two wide-ranging resources: his own Australian Crime Fiction Database and to Australasian Crime.

He also links to and discusses a number of Australian authors' Web sites, and he offers a more ringing statement of mission than do most carnival hosts:

"Now, when you get a whiff of all of the mouth-watering reading sitting in front of you there grows a burning desire to track down those books and read them all. And then, when you’ve read those books and you know that those authors are largely unknown, there’s another urge to let everyone in on the rewarding reading they may be missing out on.

"So here’s my opportunity to again sing it to the world about Australia’s fine collection of authors, largely unheralded and probably unknown outside our shores."
Once the initial gush of Aussie fervor has passed, and you're done singing "Waltzing Matilda" and gorging yourself on Vegemite, you can read about and link to all 19 carnivals at the Carnival of the Criminal Minds archive.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Pix: More dark, gorgeous prose from Bill James

This twenty-fourth novel in Bill James' Harpur & Iles series focuses a bit less on Panicking Ralph Ember and a bit more on Mansel Shale. Detective Chief Inspector Colin Harpur's daughters take their usual helping/hindering comic turn, and they are delightfully, if somewhat darkly, echoed in the drug-dealer Shale's more high-strung children. Pix also contains a bit more suspense and mystery than previous books in the series.

Beyond this, the novel revisits a number of characters and situations from earlier novels: The evasive cross-talk between Harpur and his supervisor, Iles. The vital informant Jack Lamb, fond of grand gestures, nighttime meetings and military trappings. Another probing, insistent woman who worries all with harrying, dangerous, occasionally effective prodding of the police to find her villainous, disappeared, perhaps dead boyfriend.

Mostly, though, there is James' prose, dark, funny, baroquely gorgeous, unequalled in crime fiction and perhaps elsewhere as well:

"`The house — in a poor state? Some intrusion? Is that what you're saying, Manse?'

"`You know the state it's in, you sodding smarm prince,' Shale replied. `You know about intrusions.'"
or
"`These are instinctive with me, Harpur —humanity and perception.'

"`Anyone can see those in your face, sir.'

"`I do notice people in here staring at me, perhaps reading those qualities.'

"`No, that's because most of them recognize and hate us, sir.'

"`Equally?'

"`You more, because of rank,' Harpur said.

"Iles smiled, gratified. `But undercurrents, Col.'"

Here is a Bill James bibliography. Books seven through sixteen in the Harpur & Iles series, Astride a Grave through Eton Crop, may be the finest sustained piece of storytelling in all of crime fiction. Here's an interview with James from Crimespree Magazine to read before you go shopping for the books. And you will, I hope, do that shopping.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Classic crime-fiction situations and two historical questions for readers

I've started E.W. Hornung's The Amateur Cracksman (also known as Raffles) for a reading group to which I belong. I’ve enjoyed the devious humor and smiled at the gentlemanly ways depicted in the story, first issued in book form in 1899.

But here’s what caught my attention. The scene is an empty second-story apartment into which the cool, cricket-playing, Keats-loving burglar of the title has made his way along with his high-strung, impecunious friend Bunny. Why an apartment? Because of what lies below, at street level: A jeweler’s shop.

“I know the shop,” [Raffles] whispered, “because I’ve got a few things there. I know this upper part, too; it’s been to let for a month, and I got an order to view, and took a cast of the key before using it. The one thing I don’t know is how to make a connection between the two; at present there’s none. We may make it up here, though I rather fancy the basement myself. If you wait a minute I’ll tell you.”
How to make a connection between the two. How to get at a heavily protected jeweler's first by breaking into another, more vulnerable apartment in the same building, and then having to figure out how to get to the main target. Here, in the nineteenth century, is the basic situation at the heart of heist movies of the twentieth. Three that come to mind are Asphalt Jungle, the superior Rififi, and the spoof Big Deal on Madonna Street, which is better than both.

I have two questions for readers this time: What other caper movies or stories follow this basic plot line? And what other plot lines from crime fiction’s earliest age have reproduced in our own time?

While you're thinking, here's an article about E.W. Hornung and Raffles written by Simon Brett.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, August 01, 2008

NoirCon 2010

Here's the first announcement of a sequel I've been looking forward to since before NoirCon 2008 was over. That first NoirCon was a blast. The next one should be at least as good. And note the addition to the conference's name.

=========================
NoirCon 2010 –
International Noir

November 4-7

Johnny Temple – Recipient of the Jay and Deen Kogan Award for Excellence In Publishing

George Pelecanos – Recipient of the David L. Goodis Award

NoirCon 2010 Headquarters: Society Hill Playhouse
507 South 8th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147

Registration Information:

$180 (Award Banquet included) BEFORE December 31, 2009
$200 (Award Banquet included) AFTER January 1, 2010
$50 (Award Banquet for Spouse of Registrant)
$50 Last Call Panel – Sunday for Non-registrants
$ 160 per night at the Doubletree Hotel Philadelphia

NoirCon Hotel: Doubletree Hotel Philadelphia
237 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107-5686
215-893-1600
More information to follow.

Watch http://www.noircon.com/ early and often!

NOIRCON®

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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