Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part VIII: After overwrought heartstring-tugger, anguished journalist asks, "Why?"

Ex-journalist Nix Kauffman flees Baltimore ahead of two authors with crime on their minds. But don't believe a word he says. It's fiction. It never happened.
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The waiter brought another round. "Cheerio, mates!"

"Knob!" muttered Romar, but he said it with affection; the waiter's English accent was good. Or maybe it just sounded that way to me. After six gin and tonics, my head had become a giant buzzing wad of wet cotton. The waiter might have sounded Australian. Or from the Midwest.

"You got a few hours?" I asked – Romar, not the waiter – "because I'll tell you."

"Tell it!"

"One night I'm in the sports department, and this story says the Ravens' quarterback shattered his knee. Thing is, he'd torn a ligament. Torn, not shattered! So I tell the night editor, but he looks at me like I was from Mars. Then this reporter says, `It's a matter of semantics.'"

I smacked the table as hard as Romar had. "Well, yeah, it goddamn was. Semantics. Meaning. You figure out what you want to say, you choose the right word, you say it."

"Let me guess who this night editor was: Your old friend, Mr. Joss."

"Too damn right. J-bloody-oss. Same Jimmy Joss who became editor twelve years later and fired my ass. Said I showed him up in front of President Obama." I slumped back in the metal lawn chair and took a contemplative sip of gin.

"An outrage, my friend. Obama was only running for president when you showed Joss up."

"Tosser!" I shot a wadded napkin at him. This was a man I could work with.
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(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Words, words, words

(Eugène Delacroix, "Hamlet sees the ghost of his father")

I'm rereading a crime story I've written about before, notably about its probing of killers' psyches. This time I'll highlight a device by which the author heightens tension:

And now, Laertes, what's the news with you?
You told us of some suit; what is't,
Laertes?
You cannot speak of reason to the Dane,
And loose your voice: what wouldst thou beg,
Laertes,
That shall not be my offer, not thy asking?
The head is not more native to the heart,
The hand more instrumental to the mouth,
Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.
What wouldst thou have,
Laertes?
Doesn't the repetition tell you that the speaker is nervous? Another character, too, likely has something on his mind:

Hamlet: Sir, my good friend; I'll change that name with you:
And what make you from
Wittenberg, Horatio? Marcellus?

Marcellus: My good lord!

Hamlet: I am very glad to see you. Good even, sir.
But what, in faith, make you from
Wittenberg?
Both selections are from Hamlet, Act I, scene ii. I suggest again that crime fiction might usefully be invoked in discussions of Shakespeare and Shakespeare in discussions of crime fiction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, December 29, 2008

They won "The Redbreast"

Readers in Texas and Colorado knew that Jo Nesbø's The Redbreast includes an amusingly vapid radio interview with a U.S. president just arrived in Norway for the 1993 Oslo conference. They also knew that Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat attended.

This knowledge wins them each a copy of the U.S. paperback release of The Redbreast. (Click here to learn why I liked the book.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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More good lines to ease you into the new year, and a chance to win a book

I quoted one good line from Liam O'Flaherty's The Assassin yesterday. Here's another, this one more typical of the novel:

"(W)hen man feels weak and timid, it is then that he broods lovingly over misery, sin, death and the violent salvation of upheaval."
And lo, it transpires that Declan Burke took the working title of his big new Irish crime-fiction project from O'Flaherty's very next paragraph.

Yesterday's line was funny; today's is chilling. I'll wrap up the roundup up of good lines with one of each type from Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand, and then later this week, a gem from Bill James.

First, McKinty:

"Listen to me, buddy, I can make you rich. I can get you money. A lot of money. Millions. Do you understand? Millions of dollars. Goddamnit! Why don't you understand, what's the matter with you? Millions of dollars? Do you speak English? Do you understand the goddamn English language?"

I do. It was my major.
and

Damn it. The other line you get when I can find the note where I wrote down what page it's on.

What good lines have you come across in your recent reading?
=====================

U.S. readers, you still have one chance to win a copy of Jo Nesbø's The Redbreast if you can answer this question correctly:

The novel's opening chapters include an amusingly vapid radio interview with a U.S. president just arrived in Norway for a major international summit conference. In what city did this real-life conference take place? What two other world leaders also attended?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Don't mind him, Kitty. He's mad. Have a sausage."

Or, to give the full text, "Sit down or I'll throw a chair at you. Don't mind him, Kitty. He's mad. Have a sausage," and it's my favorite line from a crime novel this week.

The novel is The Assassin, the author is Liam O'Flaherty, and the subject matter is a good deal grimmer than this whimsically out-of-context example would suggest. Click here to find out why Declan Burke calls The Assassin "arguably the bravest Irish novel ever written."

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Trip: Baltimore Drive-by, Part VI

Fictional character Peter Rozovsky leaps from a moving train and rolls down a grassy bank in Delaware, barely escaping desperate fictional fictionists John McFetridge and Declan Burke. He has the clothes on his back; a partly used, non-refundable train ticket in his hand; and one thought on his mind: Where do I go next?
=============================

"It's New-ARK."

"Excuse me?"

"New-ARK, Delaware; NYEW-urk, New Jersey. You're in New-ARK."

"Give me one from Nyew— from New-ARK to Philadelphia at 5:04, please. And one to Baltimore at 5:08."

An intake of breath at the other end of the line, and the clicking on her keyboard stopped. Just for a moment, though.

"Will that be round-trip or one-way, sir?"

"Which one? Never mind. One-way, both."

A few more clicks, and I was done.

"Pay on the train, sir. Whichever one you take. Thank you for choosing Amtrak."

It wasn't quite four o'clock, so I found myself a shady tree on the platform, and I lay down with a good book — not Burke's or McFetridge's. Those were sharing a non-quiet car to Philly with their authors and my luggage.
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(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here or here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmas contest

Season's greetings, and may the new year bring you peace and happiness.
A Detectives Beyond Borders favorite has its U.S. paperback release this week, and if you live in the U.S., you can win a copy.

The book is Jo Nesbø's The Redbreast, which explores a string of killings in 1990s Norway precipitated by strange activities on the cold, lonely Eastern Front during World War II. Among the novel's delights are its sly political humor, and that humor provides the question that can win you the book.

The Redbreast's opening chapters include an amusingly vapid radio interview with a U.S. president just arrived in Norway for a major international summit conference. In what city did this real-life conference take place? What two other world leaders also attended?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Carnival of the Criminal Minds, No. 28

(Photo courtesy Carnaval de Québec)

It's the Christmas edition of Carnival of the Criminal Minds, and boy, does the Rap Sheet ever stuff your stockings on this one with everything from publishing news to seasonal crime to a question about “senior sleuth novels” to a naked magazine-cover photo.

There's enough reading here for the twelve days of Christmas and well beyond. As always, visit the ghosts of carnivals past at carnival mastermind Barbara Fister's Carnival of the Criminal Minds archive.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A thinking man's exploration

That's two critical clichés in one post title; I must be a weak-minded critic. Maybe the coincidence was too much: that two consecutive books on my crime-fiction list should each exemplify what I think reviewers mean when they use a particular critical trope.

The thinking man's crime novel in this case is Adrian McKinty's Fifty Grand, for its nuanced view of migrant life in the United States and for its final pages. The novel offers a bang-up prologue of even higher tension than those to McKinty's Michael Forsythe books. Its final twist resembles those in Jean-Patrick Manchette's novels, in which the powerless are stripped by the powerful of almost everything that anchors them in this world.

In between, McKinty's first-person narrator/protagonist lives the life of an illegal Mexican immigrant in Colorado, a life replete with indignities, but also with astute observation and quiet moments of daily life and the odd behavior of one town's movie-star colony. The author is at least as interested in imagining his way into the lives of people different from himself as he is in telling a suspenseful story.

The exploration belongs to Bill James' In the Absence of Iles, twenty-fifth novel in the superlative Harpur and Iles series. The middle novels of the series especially, from Astride a Grave (1991) to Eton Crop (1999), are dark and humorous explorations of aspirations to respectability among the criminal classes and of the strange lives of odd, sometimes improvised families on both sides of the law.

Before that, James had written about a police undercover operation gone wrong, in the series' third book, The Halo Parade (1987). He returned to the theme several times in later novels, notably Kill Me (2000), in which an officer selected to infiltrate a criminal gang meets an exceedingly weird psychologist at a training course intended to prepare her for the operation.

Now, though, James explores the issue more thoroughly, concentrating and consolidating his fascination with police undercover work, its perils and its effects on those who send officers into harm's way.

Thus, an officer demonstrating for a gathering of police chiefs, particularly Assistant Chief Constable Esther Davidson, the skills required to work under cover:

"The cloth held to his shoulders in the affectionate, unruffled, congratulatory way a midwife might present a just-born baby to its mother. ... Not much of the waistcoat showed under his buttoned-up jacket, but Esther could tell it fitted right, and the pockets contained nothing bulky to destroy the general line. ...

"But then he turned his back for a moment and when he slowly spun and faced them once more seemed suddenly ... seemed suddenly what she'd originally expected: nervy and hesitant. ... His body signalled prodigious cringe now. ...

"Esther realized they were watching a performer who could have made it big in the theatre."
or

"Esther felt she had fallen into a sort of voodoo superstition, as if scared that to flout any part of the instructions from A and B and the rest of the Fieldfare performers would bring big punishment — big punishment signifying loss of the Out-located officer and failure of the operation."
James makes several interesting choices to narrow the focus on the officers who plan the undercover operation that drives the book, not all of which can be revealed without spoilers. One that can is that, shockingly for an author who has given crime fiction some of its funniest, grubbiest and most shabbily noble criminals, James gives no criminal anything more than a passing mention through the novel's first hundred or so pages.

==================

More later, but for now, the novel's finest example yet of James' typical dark, wry humour, this from Officer B, the cool-headed counterpart to the flamboyant Officer A discussed above:
"Family enmities are generally more vicious than any others. Think of the punch-ups and knifings at typical weddings, christening parties and funerals."
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

More new(ish)-media babble

I inched a bit closer to the 21st century this week, not only signing up with Twitter, but also taking my first careful read of one of those blogs that tell the truths you won't hear in the mainstream media. The discussion started deep in the comments to a post I made called "Welcome back, bloggers," and I'll reproduce it here, because I think it deserves a post of its own.
====================================
Peter Rozovsky said...
As it happens, I've found another example to cite in the content/context argument. I gave the Daily Kos a fairly thorough read last night for the first time. I found this stimulating but wearying.

The viewpoints were congenial, the strength of the opinions bracing, and the commenters by and large intelligent. But it was a gathering of the converted. Everyone agreed with everyone else, not a perfect recipe for the democracy these folks think they are championing, and fatiguing to read.

Newspapers may be bland and limited, but at least they pay lip service to the idea of offering a range of views. And what will the righteous Kosites kick around when the mainstream media die?

One of the Kos articles also made an extremely common mathematical error, the sort of thing good copy editors are trained to catch. But then, copy editors are so mainstream media. (I wrote to the Daily Kos about this error. I will let you know when I receive a reply. I will not hold my breath.)

seanag said...
I do think the problem of the sameness and general consensus of self-selected communities is a big unanswered problem of the current era. While newspapers and magazines do tend to hew to a certain predictable part of the political spectrum, a lot people who are not that close to that cast of mind may still read them, and send a pointed comment to the editorial page, which others are then quite likely to read and comment upon in turn. It's not the same with the niche market internet media. But I don't know what the solution is.

Peter Rozovsky said...
My sentiments exactly. I invoked the editorial page in a discussion today. An editorial might be lame, and letters disagreeing with it might be from whack jobs, but the forum creates something like a debate. Even such a fine Internet site as the Daily Kos, on the other hand, looks like a vigorous, eloquent debate with just one participant.

In this light, one might see niche media as an unfortunate reification of an instant-gratification, Me-decade mentality: I want to read only what I want to read, written only by people who agree with me. We will suffer if this media model becomes prevalent. How much and in what ways, I can't say.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bull****!

"I was provided with a receipt, and duly and officially accepted as an excursionist. There was happiness in that, but it was tame compared to the novelty of being `select.'"

...

"Occasionally, during the following month, I dropped in at 117 Wall Street to inquire ... how many people the committee were decreeing not `select' every day and banishing in sorrow and tribulation."
— Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Our coarse age can do no better than scream "bullshit!" at the daily abuse of language perpetrated by management, business, politics, advertising, media, celebrity journalism and those of us who take their cues from them.

How much more elegantly Mark Twain expressed his disdain! One can almost see the sneer in the quote marks he wraps around the word select, and Twain published those sentences in 1869. That must make him one of the first to recognize the calculated appeal to snobbery that select as an advertising adjective embodies.

But the best thing is that Twain both recognized the snobbery and threw himself into it headfirst and with great zest, joining the "select" passenger list for the pioneering trans-Atlantic tourist cruise that became the occasion for The Innocents Abroad. And that, friends, is one of the most enviable tasks a man can take on: to take part fully in what the world has to offer and to make fun of it at the same time.

Of course, Twain himself helped make the passenger list "select," a celebrity by the time the boat sailed, thanks to his lectures and to "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." I shall read with interest to see whether he notes this irony.

===============

The Twain paragraph marked my second recent discovery that an annoying word, expression or usage was older than I'd thought. (The first was the gratingly earnest Clinton-era "part of the (national) conversation," of which I was surprised recently to find an instance from the 1950s or '60s.)

Have you ever found that an expression or phrase you hated or loved turned out to be older than you thought? While you're at it, why not find some newer grating commonplaces at Patti Abbott's Expressions you could do without?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Modesty Blaise and graphic storytelling

This one's from back in the days when men were men, women were lethal weapons, and graphic novels were comics.

I'd written about the first Modesty Blaise novel and the godawful 1966 movie, but Yellowstone Booty was my first experience with Modesty's original medium. I already knew about Modesty's platonic relationship with sidekick Willie Garvin and about her beauty, her physical prowess, her ingenuity, and her skill with odd weapons, so I paid special attention in these stories, collected from the "Modesty Blaise" daily comic strip, to author Peter O'Donnell's technique: How did he sustain a longish narrative when he had to tell his story in tiny, daily-comics-size chunks?

Here are lines or dialogue exchanges with which O'Donnell ended some of the 126 installments of the story "Idaho George":

"WHY DID I EVER BECOME A CON MAN?"

"So where's the sting? Who gets conned?" / "That comes later, honey ..."

"Holy bloody smoke ...! The crazy old biddy means it!"


"Get back! No — !"

"Uhh!"

"Ooh!"

Something is always happening, in other words, and that's the strip's lesson in storytelling: Always leave the reader wondering what will happen next.
===========================
Back when I read the novel Modesty Blaise, whose publication followed the comic strip's inception by two years, I wondered how daily newspapers had got around the occasional nudity in the book and some of its sequels. The answer is that they didn't — except in America, of course.

Yellowstone Booty, a three-story collection that contains "Idaho George," also includes a portfolio of Modesty Blaise art by John Burns, one of several artists who drew the strip over the years. Three of the drawings include a topless Modesty.

Yet a Wikipedia article on Modesty Blaise says that "The strip's circulation in the United States was erratic, in part because of the occasional nude scenes, which were much less acceptable in the U.S. than elsewhere, resulting in a censored version of the strip being circulated."

One can only speculate what depravity Americans would have got up to had they been permitted to see a naked cartoon breast from time to time.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

All come to look for America

"He has no personal name at all. His dadda is in far Amurikey."

"Which of the two Amurikeys?" asked MacCruiskeen.

"The United Stations," said the Sergeant.

"Likely he is rich by now if he is in that quarter," said MacCruiskeen, "because there's dollars there, dollars and bucks and nuggets in the ground and any amount of rackets and golf games and musical instruments. It is a free country too by all accounts."

— Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman
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A strip mall. 7-Eleven. Liquor store. Smoke shop.

Bits of tire. Fenders. License plates.

A gender reassignment clinic.

What is this place?

"America."

America.

"I don't feel good."

— Adrian McKinty, Fifty Grand
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part V: Too many strangers on a train

Did the milling crowds that packed Baltimore's hotels for Bouchercon only write about crime? And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.
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I'd split a cab to the station with someone I’d met at the convention, someone I hoped I could use as a source. I looked forward to the peace of the train’s quiet car. I hadn’t got the box, didn’t know how I'd get it now, but I had to learn what she knew about Burke and McFetridge.

The train was way more crowded than a train has the right to be on a Sunday, so we grabbed whatever seats we could find, quiet car or otherwise. We couldn’t even find two together. I was annoyed, a bit nervous, even, but the train wasn’t due in Philadelphia for an hour. I had plenty of time to get what I needed.

Across the aisle, a man had opened a book. The cover was Hard Case all the way: long-legged woman in green and yellow bodysuit, sleeveless, left leg raised high in a roundhouse kick. Bodily proportions that would make her eight-foot-three in real life. Title and author in stark block letters above and below the long, hot woman: Luchadora Be a Lady Tonight by Fista Krauss. I smiled. The reader probably had no idea who was sitting right in front of him.

Just outside Newark, Delaware, the woman next to me started having a family crisis over her cell phone. I commiserated, kept silent, tried to hold my temper. Then I slammed my own book down on the plastic seat tray and headed for the café car.

On my way back, the train took a sharp curve. I juggled my coffee and tuna, and the heavy metal doors between cars clanked open. From in front came the last voice I wanted to hear: “Geez, you’d think an American train could sell you a decent doughnut.” From behind, a voice I wanted to hear even less: “Quit yer fecking whining and hand me a cigarette, will you?”

The train pulled out of Newark with a long, shrill whistle. I mopped the coffee stains and tuna flecks from my shirt, and I watched it disappear.
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(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here or here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, December 15, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part IV: Thus spake Ali

Fictional characters John McFetridge and Declan Burke set out from Toronto to Baltimore for the Bouchercon crime writers' convention. A character loosely based on Peter Rozovsky is headed the same way. Burke and McFetridge hold up stores, Rozovsky holds up Burke and McFetridge, and soon the only question is — Who's chasing who!!!!
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"A knob," he said, annoyed, "is a COCK — you knobs."

Laughter floated out over the Inner Harbor. "I cannot — cannot! — understand why these tossers have carried on the way they do about bloody boxes of sodding books. Can they not get more?"

"Must be something special in the books."

"Must be something special in the boxes!"

"And who are these knobs anyhow? Declan Burke? Jonathan McFetridge?"

"John."

"What?"

"John McFetridge, not Jonathan. He's Canadian, Burke is Irish. They're crime writers, in town for Bouchercon."

"Do we know anything about them? Pass me that newspaper."

"Oh, you won't find anything in there." I walked over from the bench where I'd been eavesdropping. "I'm Peter Rozovsky, soon-to-be-ex-copy editor for the Baltimore Gazette. The culture reporter is filling in on night police duty and clerical work this week. No one's covering Bouchercon."

"That's a bloody outrage! This is a big event. Big!" He brought a meaty fist down on the metal patio table. Silverware jumped. "What kind of bloody fucking tossers run this newspaper of yours anyway?"

"You got a few hours?"
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(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here or here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

In other news ...

John McFetridge (the author, not the fictional character) posts notice that his novel Dirty Sweet is now available as an e-book. So, no more excuses. Order the book now, and be reading it before I log off.

The day's other news concerns one of the more creative ideas for a crime-fiction anthology that I've heard of. Co-editor Gerard Brennan explains:

"Morrigan Books aims to put out the very best in dark genre fiction, and who does dark crime fiction better than the Irish? Nobody, in my opinion. And luckily, Mark was willing to accept this opinion. It left one small problem, though. How to set this collection apart from Ken Bruen’s excellent Dublin Noir and Colin Bateman’s forthcoming Belfast Nights? Well, it’s Morrigan Books, right? Morrigan is the Celtic goddess of war. Why not ask for stories with an Irish mythology theme? Why not, indeed?"
Gerard says he has stories in hand from Ken Bruen, Adrian McKinty, Garbhan Downey, Sam Millar and Tony Bailie and in the works from even more of the talented cohort of Irish crime writers. About the only thing the book lacks is a title. But you can change that. Click here for details.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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The Baltimore Drive-by, Part III: Femme fatale, my ass!

Fictional characters John McFetridge and Declan Burke set out from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon. Why not pull a few armed robberies to pass the time? Then they meet up with Peter Rozovsky and a whole lot of folks with crime on their minds.
=============================

It took discipline to punch like that: upper arms still, forearms whirling like a Wankel rotary as she danced lightly on the balls of her feet. All the power came from her elbows and the deadly backhand flick of her wrists. I didn't know why I was there, but I liked watching her work.

"Femme fatale?" Thwack. "Femme-effing fatale?" Thwack. Thwack. "You know what a femme fatale does? She brings the world crashing down on any man who comes near her." Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. "Sometimes she brings it down on herself, but let me tell you: I'm not bringing it down on anybody. You want to save yourself trouble? Look in that box you ripped off from Burke and McFetridge." Thwack. Thwack.


Burke wore a red T-shirt and blue jeans. He hunched forward, hands jammed in his pockets, moving fast. McFetridge held the rolled-up Leafs jacket in the crook of his elbow, the Tim Hortons bag half falling out of one pocket. He ambled and shambled but still kept up with his friend somehow. He put a hand on Burke's shoulder, and they stopped.

McFetridge indicated a door, and Burke shook his head. McFetridge held up one finger and ducked into the doorway. Burke shrugged, leaned against a pillar, and lit a cigarette.

=============================

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here or here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fifty Grand

Honor-bound as I am by my fervent belief in the mainstream media and everything they give us, I must obey the injunction on the back of my copy of Adrian McKinty's new novel, Fifty Grand: "This is an uncorrected proof. Any quotes for publication must be checked against the finished book."

Honor-bound as I am by said media's professed belief in full disclosure and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, I hereby acknowledge that:

a) The author and I have for some time exchanged comments of a friendly nature on each other's blogs

b) He sent me the book, signed, with a note I presume he wrote himself

c) I have drunk Guinness in his sister's pub, and

d) Sod the mainstream media. I'm writing about the book anyhow.

I can't quote from the novel, but I will say that its prologue tiptoes to the precipice of death and peers over. And this prologue thing — McKinty makes votive offerings at the shrine of Ernest Hemingway, but I'd bet he's read an old horror tale or two as well. He knows how to lure a reader in.

More to come.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, December 12, 2008

On surprise endings

I like Deon Meyer's sentences, and I like the glimpses his novel Dead Before Dying offers of daily life in post-apartheid South Africa.

The novel's Mat Joubert is also a believable example of the damaged police protagonist, his everyday struggles perhaps easier for the reader to identify with because of their very homeliness. A damaged protagonist need not be a total wreck in order to involve readers.

I'm less sure about the novel's ending, its solution to a string of killings that have galvanized much of South Africa's media and thrown a nervous police hierarchy into near-panic. The killer is, in fact, plausible, and Meyer lays some especially convincing false trails. I never guessed beforehand who the killer was, but I didn't slap myself in the forehead either and exclaim, "Oh my god, that's right!" when I did find out.

So, what makes for a successful shock ending? For an unsuccessful one? Give examples — if you dare.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

A prox on both your houses and a miscellaneous note

Oz Mystery Readers (click that link for information and a free sign-up) has a good discussion going with author Katherine Howell.

Here's Howell on a case from her career as a paramedic. The question: Was a man she'd comforted on the job but who turned out possibly to have killed his wife ever called to account?:
"Worst thing is, I don't know! Usually in coroner's court they want to decide if anybody has to answer for the death. If they'd then charged him then we would have gone to criminal court to testify again. We were never called, so I have to think that either — maybe he died himself before the case reached the court — or there was not enough evidence to charge him — or the coroner decided there was no case. So is he really a murderer and still out there? Or did she accidentally or deliberately overdose herself? Hmmmmmmmm .... "
Closer to home, Whose role is is anyway? gives me a Proximidade Award, which means she likes this blog. Thanks. Like all honors, this one brings responsibility: I have to pass the honor along. This is a good occasion to single out Sucharita Sarkar's Past Continuous for its touching and sharply observed meditations on memory.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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The Baltimore Drive-by, Part II

Fictional characters John McFetridge and Declan Burke set out from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon and decide to do some armed robberies on the way. What a hoot!

Then they meet up with Peter Rozovsky.

=============================

Her voice told a smoky tale of cigarettes and whiskey, but it lied. She never touched either.

"Think I'd be able to do this if I wasted all my time hanging in bars with you and Burke and McFetridge?"

"But — "

She whipped her fists into the speed bag so hard and fast that I felt sorry for the bag. Chin tucked, knees flexed, back straight. Elbows in, back heel lifting slightly each time she struck. Her two fists became four, then six, her breath short, spitting wheezes with each punch. I got tired watching her.

But she did hang in bars. But I didn't hang with Burke and McFetridge. I'd never heard of them till we set up the connection and I ripped them off. But —

"But why the hell all this? You write crime fiction. You — "

She stopped punching, and she smiled as she blew a wisp of platinum hair from her left eye. "Would you want to be whipped by a fat dominatrix?"

=============================

(Read the rest of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here or here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Louis Bayard at Philly's Sunday mystery brunch

Louis Bayard, author of The Black Tower, reads (and eats) at this Sunday's Crime Fiction Club Brunch sponsored by Robin's Bookstore in Philadelphia.

Find out why Bayard's writing is:

"Delicious. [Bayard] inbues(s) his characters with real soul. You may find yourself, more than two centuries after the fact, aching over the fate of the pitiful young Dauphin. A-"

Come hear why the Christian Science Monitor calls The Black Tower one of the best novels of 2008.

It all begins at 1 p.m. at Les Bons Temps, 114 S. 12th Street, 215-238-9100. For more information on the restaurant and to browse the menu, click here. Brunch is à la carte.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Drive-by fiction

John McFetridge is writing a piece of online fiction about his ramble from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon with Declan Burke. In McFetridge's version, a pair of crime writers named John McFetridge and Declan Burke ramble from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon and pull off armed robberies along the way. McFetridge's third installment ends with the pair setting out for Philadelphia to hook up with one Peter Rozovsky — a minor character so far, mentioned but not seen. But Rozovsky has other ideas.

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I jabbed the .45 at the base of McFetridge's skull, and I cackled as his eyes grew wide.

"Bet you didn't think this was real. You hide guns in doughnut bags up there, don't you? No one would be stupid enough to wave a real gun, would he? What can I tell you; I don't like doughnuts. Now, out of the car. And leave the boxes."

I jerked the barrel to the right as Burke went for his jacket. "Hold it right there, Tiger."

Burke's hand froze. "Tiger? The fook?"

"Tiger. You're Irish, what am I going to call you? Paddy? Mick? Now, out of the car, Celtic, and keep your hands away from your — "

"From my bloody Marlboros, you Yankee gobshite. All right, I'm getting out."

I waved out the window of McFetridge's black 2008 Lexus as I pulled away. "See you later, gents. Put this in your books."


Two nights later I'm shouting to be heard above the seething crowd at a hotel bar in Baltimore, hooting and cheering as a sexy dominatrix lifts her blouse to reveal her tattoos. The crowd gathers in around her, all except two guys heading the other way, toward the door ...

The snake tattoo is flicking its tongue at its owner's scapula, but I've got one eye on the two guys.

One of them shouts: "I said, `I'M AFTER FECKING OUT OF HERE FOR A CIGARETTE, MATE!'."

His friend, a husky, saltish-pepperish dude with a Maple Leafs jacket and a Tim Hortons bag stuffed in his back pocket, shrugs and follows. Shit, it's McFetridge and Burke.

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(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here or here. Disclaimer: It's fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I'm a fictional character

For real!

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Noir at the Bar VI: Sandra Ruttan (and a chance to win free books)

(Brian Lindenmuth, Sandra Ruttan)

Sandra Ruttan, author of What Burns Within, The Frailty of Flesh, Suspicious Circumstances and the forthcoming Lullaby For The Nameless, drove up from Maryland for last night's sixth Noir at the Bar reading.

I enjoyed the reading and discussion so much that I realized toward its end I'd neglected to take notes. That's a testament to the intelligence and seriousness with which Ruttan discusses her matter and her craft. I urge all bookstores and event promoters to give her more chances to do so.

It's a testament to her intelligence, too, and that of the attendees that talk ranged over: gender differences in fiction, native peoples in Canada and the United States, cross-border crime, and the frustrating perception that Canada is safe, benign and a bad home for crime fiction with a hard edge. Ruttan also discussed a subject that I had not mentioned in my earlier posts about her work: the potential for conflict offered by an area of sometimes clashing police jurisdictions.

Now it's time to win some books. I'll send signed copies of What Burns Within and The Frailty of Flesh to the first reader who answers this question correctly: Ruttan sets her novels in the Lower Mainland region of which Canadian province?

***

And the winner is ... Congratulations to Marco in Italy, who was the first with the correct answer: British Columbia.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why we fight


(U.S. Army recruiting poster, Tasker-Morris Station, South Philadelphia)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

My dumb city: Philadelphia nicknames

Here in Philadelphia, fans and media have for decades conspired to confer on the city's athletes the lamest, most pathetically unimaginative collection of nicknames in all of sports.

Steve Carlton, a star lefthanded baseball pitcher, was called — get this — Lefty. And that's as creative as Philadelphia's sports minds get. Beyond that, Mike Schmidt was called Schmitty. Bobby Clarke was Clarkie. John Kruk was, if you can believe it, Krukker.

Just this week, an article about Flyers (hockey) forward Jeff Carter took the trouble to note that his teammates call him "Carts." Basketball's Julius Erving was Dr. J, but he got that evocative nickname before he came to the Philadelphia 76ers. Had he started his career here, he no doubt would have been called the Juler.

Where have you gone, Yankee Clipper, Splendid Splinter, Galloping Ghost, Night Train, Rocket? Sure as hell not to Philadelphia.

Hell, if Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known the world over as Pelé, had played soccer here, Philadelphia would have called him Edsie and been pleased with itself for doing so.

What are the lamest, feeblest, least creative, most Philadelphia-worthy nicknames, sports or otherwise, that you can think of?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Carnival of the Criminal Minds No. 27: Buy more books

(Flags from ScandinavianBooks)

Do you really need all that electronic crap that's going to be outdated in six months? Give books as gifts instead.

Carnival Queen Barbara Fister calls on Scandinavian Crime Fiction blogkeeper Barbara Fister for the twenty-seventh edition of the Carnival of the Criminal Minds, and Blogger Babs offers a more than usually hortatory, at times solemn, at times delightfully cranky carnival. This is true both of her own comments and of the blogs to which she links. One special treat: the picture of young girls with candles on their heads.

As always, visit the Carnival archives for a review of the current and all previous carnivals, plus a gorgeous photograph. And buy more books.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

From a whisper to a meme

Just when I thought memes had gone the way of non-Blu-Ray discs, here comes a new one that is easy, fun and almost painless: Brian Lindenmuth, of the you-should-read-it Observations from the Balcony blog, tagged me with one that asks readers to:

1) List the authors that were new to you this year, regardless of year of publication.
2) Bold-face the ones that were debuts (first novel, published in 2008).
3) Impose these conditions on others.

I like that. It's simple, and it brings back memories of some of the year's exciting crime-fiction discoveries. I'm not sure which were published in 2008, but here's the list of authors I've read for the first time this year:

Matt Rees
Giles Blunt
Steve Hockensmith
Jasper Fforde
Michael Pearce
Arthur Morrison
Michael Gilbert
Scott Phillips
Duane Swierczynski
Christa Faust
Vicki Hendricks
Leighton Gage
Timothy Hallinan
Sandra Ruttan
Robert Bloch
Mehmet Murat Somer
Megan Abbott
Brian McGilloway
Frank Gruber
Ian Sansom
J.F. Englert
Howard Engel
John McFetridge
Adrian McKinty
E.W. Hornung
Garbhan Downey
Flann O'Brien
Linda L. Richards
Henry Chang
John Lawton
Jason Aaron
Alan Moore
Deon Meyer
Amara Lakhous
Carlo Emilio Gadda
Jacques Chessex


I'll tag Whose role is it anyway?, Linda L. Richards, Past Continuous, Crime Scraps, and the polyblogal seanag, all of whose blogs you ought to read. If you're not on that list, feel free to reply anyway and let me know which authors you have read for the first time this year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Letter from South Africa, Part III

The excerpt from Deon Meyer's Blood Safari in yesterday's post was courtesy of the indefatigable Mike Nicol of Crime Beat (South Africa). He had sparked my curiosity with his observation that:

"We have also watched a venerated liberation movement slide rapidly off the high moral ground to wallow in greed, arms-deal kickbacks, fraud, corrupt land deals, you name it, without being of much help to a huge population of poor people for whom life hasn't changed. But I rant now. It's best to leave these things for funny asides between one's characters."
Naturally I asked for examples. Yesterday's excerpt was one. Here's the rest of Mike's letter:
"As crime has become a major problem in South Africa, and the state has neither the will nor the means to protect the citizenry, the private security industry has grown in leaps and bounds. Cop stations even have armed-response contracts with private security companies. An off-shoot of this has been vigilante groups, especially in the black sectors of society. Richard Kunzmann brought this phenomenon into his latest novel, Dead-End Road. In this scene Harry (his cop protagonist) gets told about a vigilante group called the Abasindisi that operates in the rural areas. The conversation plays about between Harry and one of his contacts in the townships, Makhe.

"`[…] you have a uniform, you have a gun. You are a symbol of violence that is state-sanctioned,' [said Makhe].

"`Yes?’

"`So any man that wants to protect his home when the state won’t do it has to create that same symbol for himself. He must be feared as a police officer is feared. Perhaps the Abasindisi’s methods involve what you might call crimes, but then the threat of violence you cops use to earn respect on the streets might also be considered criminal, only you can hide behind the barricades of laws and bureaucracy. You warp the process of justice to protect each other. No, English,
[Harry is an English-speaking South African] these men, they exist because our state has forgotten us, because you cops only have your own interests at heart, and because not much has changed for us poor, apartheid or not. We are still left to fend for ourselves.’"

"The new crime writers have also turned their attention to the industrial giants. One of these is the diamond-mining concern, De Beers, which has long been accused of nefarious practices in their bid to control the diamond market. In his 2007 novel about blood diamonds,
The Fence, Andrew Gray thinly disguised De Beers behind the name of his fictional Brano. In this extract the head of security at Brano, known only as The General, briefs an operative, Jan Klein, using the euphemistic double-speak that hides a language of violence:

"`I have said that Brano is a commercially-driven organisation, Jan Klein. This means, as you will soon discover, that we are also, necessarily, incentive-driven, conferring greater autonomy on employees, encouraging initiative and innovation, creativity but without prejudice, as it were.'

"He was smiling now as he used the legal term. `Without prejudice to the important notion of accountability.”’

"
In my own novel, Payback, I was handed an arms scandal on a plate. An investigative journal, Noseweek, had discovered that despite a cabinet order to destroy an ammunition surplus, some officials had decided to make use of this surplus to run a small arms trade on the side. They were dealing with a company called Industrial Spreewald Lubben and had netted themselves some R12 million. In the extract a government agent, Mo, explains to two former arms dealers, Mace and Pylon, how it’s done.

"`What they’re then doing, the Krauts,’ [Mo] explained, `is selling it on to the United States. Guys there can’t get enough of our surplus for practicing and hunting. Mostly 5.56mm and 7.62mm. We got maybe a billion rounds supposed to be destroyed or dismantled. Which is a waste when you consider there’re people willing to pay for it.’ He drew on the Montecristo, blew the smoke out in a plume.

"Pylon said, `Makes you wonder what the boers
[Afrikaners] were thinking producing all those rounds. Like they were heading for a major war.’
"`Silly buggers,’ said Mo. `On the other hand what we’ve got here is what we call unofficially The Opportunity. Not something the minister wants to hear about, but then not something he’s inclined to stop either supposing he has heard about it. Which he must’ve. Income is income.’ He flicked off a stub of ash, glanced from Pylon to Mace. `Welcome to The Opportunity. We’re happy to do business with you.’

"`Again,’ Mace said.

"Mo chuckled. ‘` suppose you could say again, in a manner of speaking. I suppose should you look at it in a certain light the cause is the same: the upliftment of the people. Fair trade. Guns ‘n ammo for houses.’ He pulled out the shopping list Pylon had hand-delivered earlier in the week. `I can get these,’ he said, tapping it with the damp end of his cigar, `any time you want, as the man said.’"
© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Prose style and a South African pro's style

I like Deon Meyer's sentences. I'm barely fifteen pages into his 1996 South African police procedural Dead Before Dying, and there's been much to enjoy so far, notably the laying of ground for an intra-police-force rivalry that crackles with potential for action, violence and all kinds of tension. But mostly I like the way Meyer and his translator, Madeleine van Biljon, put their words together.

Here, protagonist Mat Joubert has walked into a squad meeting where he and his colleagues are to meet their new supervisor:

"Benny Griessel greeted Mat Joubert. Captain Gerbrand Vos greeted Mat Joubert. The rest carried on with their speculations. Joubert went to sit in a corner."
Meetings are a routine part of police life, or at least of police procedurals, and Meyer echoes that routine in the repetition of Joubert's full name and in the identical syntax of the first two sentences. Eleven words. That's a pretty economical way of showing what other authors might have taken many more words to tell.

And now, a bit more on Deon Meyer from an expert: Mike Nicol of Crime Beat (South Africa):

In his latest novel Blood Safari – due out in the US next year – Deon Meyer takes some pot shots at the Afrikaners (effectively, the apartheid government was drawn almost solely from their ranks). As Meyer’s an insider, the criticism is particularly trenchant. His first-person narrator is a man known simply as Lemmer, and Lemmer has various laws. Thus:

"Lemmer’s Law of Rich Afrikaners: If a Rich Afrikaner can show off he will.

‘The first thing a Rich Afrikaner buys is bigger boobs for his wife. The second thing a Rich Afrikaner buys is an expensive pair of dark glasses (with brand name prominently displayed), which he only removes when it is totally dark. It serves to create the first barrier between himself and the poor. “I can see you, but you can’t see me any more.” The third thing the Rich Afrikaner buys is a double-storey house in the Tuscan style. (And the fourth is a vanity number plate for his car, with his name or the number of his rugby jersey.) How much longer will it be before we outgrow our inherent feeling of inferiority? Why can’t we be subtle when Mammon smiles on us? Like our rich English-speaking compatriots whose nose-in-te-air snootiness so offends me, but who at least bear their wealth in style. I stood in the dark and speculated about Carel-the-owner. […]

"The Rich Afrikaner does not use bodyguards, only home security – high fences, expensive alarms, panic buttons, and neighbourhood security companies with armed response."

=======================
[Watch and hear Krimi-Couch's interview with Deon Meyer here. Among other things, Meyer has interesting thing to say about the newness of South African crime writing, and: "Crime fiction only works, I think, in a normal,stable sociey, and that is what happened in South Africa."]

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Noir at the Bar VI: Sandra Ruttan

Noir at the Bar is proud to present Sandra Ruttan, author of What Burns Within, The Frailty of Flesh and Suspicious Circumstances.
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The Frailty of Flesh tore me asunder. Rarely has a novel of such art and skill reduced me to a wreck. It moved me in ways I didn’t even know I felt. It’s a kick in the head that is underwrit with sheer compassion.”

– Ken Bruen

"[Ruttan] is talented in the way that a natural musician is talented, making all the notes seem effortless. Characters that feel very real, and a wonderful sense of timing, Ruttan brings it all and leaves it on the page."

– Jon Jordan, Crime Spree Magazine

"The next stage in ensemble procedurals is here, and Sandra Ruttan is in its vanguard."

– Peter Rozovsky, Detectives Beyond Borders
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Where: Tritone
1508 South Street
Philadelphia, PA
215–545–0475
http://www.tritonebar.com/

When: Sunday, Dec.7, 6:00 p.m.

"Noir at the Bar: A Philadelphia Tradition Since 2008"

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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