Monday, November 09, 2009

Plots without guns

Five stories into The Big Score, a collection by Australia's godfather of crime fiction, Peter Corris, I'm struck by the low number of killings.

One story involves a con, one a counter-con and another vandalism against trees, believe it or not. All work because of the amiable but tough P.I. protagonist, Cliff Hardy, and the deft, sympathetic pictures of the con artists and victims -- with a wink for the plucky souls who come out on top, which ever side of the law they're on.

Hardy has a certain admiration for the smaller-time criminals whose world he shares: "It takes all kinds," Hardy muses about one imprisoned client, "and he was far from the worst."

I also enjoy the occasional slang and colorful turn of phrase, as I do with much Australian crime writing. Here's a character complaining about the boredom of life post-work: "As I said, this retirement stuff's got whiskers." That's a nice way of saying "It's getting old."

And here's Corris/Hardy poking fun at Americans who don't get the wordplay: "Being American, irony and puns aren't Hank's strong suit. I suppressed a laugh."

Now, your question: Name crime stories that don't involve murder.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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22 Comments:

Blogger Declan Burke said...

I humbly suggest THE BIG O ...

As for American's not 'getting' irony: some of the best comedy of the last few years (Larry David, Jon Stewart, Arrested Development, Family Guy, The Office et al) is drenched in it, and get / got big audiences.

Cheers, Dec

(v-word: audincer)

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I stand corrected, and I hereby acknowledge that some of the best violence in The Big O indeed does not involve guns, and that the novel's key illegal acts are not murder.

I'll give Peter Corris a pass, though. For one, I don't know when he wrote the story in question. For another, I am told that Australian authors are sometimes bedeviled with suggestions that they tone down or translate slang and dialect for English-reading but non-Australian audiences. I can understand that he might want to take a gentle poke at Americans.

It's axiomatic that we bemoan our own culture at the expense of others', so thanks for the reminder that some good things go on in the U.S.

Wiat a minute, I'm not exactly American ...

My v-word: ablaut

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

I just finished Lawrence Block's Grifter's Game and was completely surprised by the bloodless ending. Yes, there's a single murder about, oh, halfway through, and the way Block was building things up I expected lots of hot lead to fly in the ending. But it didn't. No killing at all, just this unexpected twist that chilled me far more than a death could have.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

John Mortimer's Horace Rumpole does not often encounter cases involving death, which makes Mortimer's stories a refreshing change of pace. Moreover, the writing and characterizations are superb.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

A classic: Dorothy Sayers´ The Nine Taylors.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, Grifter's Game has one of the most chilling endings I've read. It's one of the books by which I define noir.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

For me, that ending came as unexpected and cold as a knife between the ribs. Amazingly done. If this is what Hard Case Crime publishes regularly (it's my first read from them), I'm looking forward to working my way through their output.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I've read just one collection of Rumpole stories, and I don't recall any murders. At least one of the stories involved no crime at all. I thought of the stories as acutely observed, funny or rueful (and very will written) observations by a character who happens occasionally to be involved with criminals. I am always surprised when i see Mortimer included among crime fiction.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren: I've read around fifteen of Hard Case's titles, I think. Not all are as hard and cold as Grifter's Game, but then not much of anything anywhere is.

You'll probably have found your way to Hard Case's fine Web site by now. Here's another good source for noir: Allan Guthrie's list of 200 of his favorites. Hard Case publishes titles by a number of authors on Guthrie's list.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Simona said...

In The Patience of the Spider, Montalbano does not investigate a murder.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Most of your pal Dortmunder's exploits are bloodless.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, I've read just one Sayers novel, the excellent Murder Must Advertise. But I've just read a short article about The Nine Tailors, and I'm intrigued by the title, the premise and the prominence of one of my favorite place names: Fenchurch.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a fine suggestion, Simona, and it sets me to thinking about why kidnapping follows closely behind murder in its appeal to crime authors (other than authors of heist and caper stories).

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, it's interest to reflect on how Westlake was able to get away with including so little killing in those books.

For one thing, they're caper novels, so murder is not central. Still, those books are so funny and so wildly (though often tightly) plotted that Westlake never had to resort to the old advice of producing a man with a gun to keep the plot going.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Oh, but The Nine Taylors is hereby recommended. The fen setting and the campanology theme are quite remarkable.

As a vicar´s wife, I also enjoyed the character Reverend Venables who may seem bland and confused but shows some unexpected skills later.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had not known you were a vicar's wife. I had also not known the word campanology. But I knew bells figured prominently in the novel, and I knew the Italian word campanile, and then bells went off in my head. I had figured it out.

November 09, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Perhaps I'm wrong here, but I thought there was one murder in Sayer's _The Nine Tailors_.

By the way, _The Nine Tailors_ is my favorite of the Wimsey tales.

A number of Sherlock Holmes' cases do not involve a murder.


v-word: promo

November 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I believe "The Yellow Face" is one of those murderless Holmes cases.

November 10, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

That looks like a great list, Peter. Thanks! I'm adding it to my reading tickler.

November 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome. The question and the suggested titles got me thinking about crime fiction, why we read it, and why authors choose the crimes that they do. If I can ever get these in a coherent, non-pompous form, I may set them down.

I've only read a few of the titles on Guthrie's list, but it looks like a good list. He zeroed in on some of the best Parker novels, for example. I'd ask him why he did not include Paul Cain's Fast One.

November 10, 2009  
Anonymous Garbhan Downey said...

Irish writers tend to be a bloodthirsty lot. Dec Burke is the only one I can think of who has actually managed an entire book without somebody ending up on the carpet. The cissy.

November 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Must be that wife of his who keeps putting healthy food into him.

November 11, 2009  

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