Thursday, April 29, 2010

Edgars beyond borders: Awards night

The 2010 Edgar ceremony begins in about twenty minutes. Here's a post I made in January about two beyond-borders nominees for the top U.S. crime fiction prizes. And here's a link to all nominees at the Mystery Writers of America Web site. Good luck and congratulations to all.

Nominees for the 2010 Edgar Awards include two beyond-borders books previously discussed here: Jo Nesbø's Nemesis, translated by Don Bartlett, for best novel, and L.C. Tyler's The Herring-Seller's Apprentice, for best paperback original.

Here's part of what I wrote about Nemesis last year:

"Nemesis may be Jo Nesbø's best novel, more tightly constructed, sticking more closely to its central story than his others, with only hints of the flashbacks that are such an integral part of The Redbreast. It muses philosophically but unobtrusively on revenge both personal and national and, as usual with Nesbø, it contains wonderful deadpan humor."
Tyler surprised me at Crime Fest 2009 when he said he admired Allan Guthrie – unexpected for a self-described author of comic cozy mysteries. The Herring-Seller's Apprentice sparked much lively discussion on this blog, including a quiz for which Tyler graciously offered a copy of his follow-up novel, Ten Little Herrings, as a prize. (Revisit that discussion here.)

Winners here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

There's a money shot in Donna Moore's book

There are also a Big O, a two-way split and probably lots more I haven't noticed or have not got to yet.

Moore's book is Old Dogs, and Money Shot, The Big O and Two-Way Split are novels by her fellow crime writers Christa Faust, Declan Burke and Allan Guthrie, respectively.

Moore's salutes to her friends are unobtrusive and will bring a smile to those who have read the novels (I recommend all three). And now your question: What other writers pay similar tribute to the titles of their own favorite books?

P.S. I'll enlarge this list of Moore's tributes as I discover more of them.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, April 26, 2010

"Thick as mince and a clatty bastit"

Readers of this blog know how much I love varieties of English other than my own, the slang especially.

Here's some of what I've found in Donna Moore's Old Dogs (I've boldfaced my favorite bits), and this is just in the first twenty-nine pages:

  • The line that gives this post its title.
  • "Naw, man, they're gonnae have this exhibition thing ther, with shitloads of expensive stuff. Would be a skoosh to nick something, I reckon."
  • "`Haw, fannybaws.' He poked Raymie in the side.

    "`Fuck's sake Dunc, I was sleeping. I was out on the randan last night and my head's still loupin'. This had better be fuckin' good or I'll batter you.'

    "`I'd like to see you try, ya mad rocket. You know that art gallery and museum place in the West End?'

    "`What art gallery Do I look like that Picasso bawbag, ya mad nugget?'"
The author's Big Beat From Badsville blog is good reading, too, ostensibly a guide to Scottish crime fiction but really a highly entertaining account of her adventures in Glasgow, with guest appearances from her parents and the unusually colorful lot that use the city's public transportation.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Posts and outposts

Welcome to the Gutter
Crime Always Pays brings the happy news of a new crime-friendly bookstore in Dublin. The Gutter Bookshop, conveniently situated in the happening Temple Bar district, has hosted or will host the likes of John Connolly, Arlene Hunt and Colin Bateman. Give store owner Bob Johnstone a round of applause, and give the store lots of support and money.

Out of the frying pan and into the Shrier
Former Noir at the Bar star Howard Shrier is up for Canada's best-novel Arthur Ellis Award for High Chicago. Shrier won the best-first-novel award last year for Buffalo Jump.

High five for Ghosts
Finally, Stuart Neville's criminally neglected debut novel, Ghosts of Belfast (called The Twelve in the UK, where the name Belfast apparently makes folks shuffle awkwardly and stare at the floor), has won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category. Well done, Irish Stu.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Strip for Murder, or when did comic strips turn crap?

Max Allan Collins's 2008 novel Strip for Murder was inspired by a real-life feud between cartoonists Al Capp (Li'l Abner) and Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka).

It's a genial tale of 1950s New York, where Broadway is big, and boxing and music rub shoulders in the Brill Building. It's a world where artists and writers of daily-newspaper comic strips live in penthouses and inspire bidding wars for their services and arguably deserve it because their art rises to the level of art:

"I gestured to a Crash Landon Sunday-page original that leaned against the wall next to the drawing board—a beautifully rendered page with swooping spaceships and bold men and beautiful women, done in Alexander's distinctive style known as dry brush and more appealing, to me at least, than the museum's worth of paintings in his living room."
That's a touching tribute from Collins to an art form he loves, and it reminds me of the gorgeous Sunday panels of George McManus, creator of Bringing Up Father, featuring Maggie and Jiggs.

The association of comic strips with high artistic quality may seem bizarre to readers of today's blandly written, indifferently drawn, relentlessly unfunny, demographically-driven newspaper strips, and that leads to today's question:

When did daily-newspaper comic strips turn crap, and why? Which went to the dogs first, the writing, or the art?

P.S. Read about the early history of U.S. newspaper comic strips at

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Declan Hughes you can use: All the Dead Voices

Declan Hughes has offered ringing defense of the P.I. novel's continuing relevance, so it's fair to ask how he keeps his own version of the genre fresh.

All the Dead Voices, Hughes' fourth novel featuring Dublin investigator Ed Loy, is peppered with pointed, clever, plot-relevant contemporary references. My favorite is this thoroughly contemporary wisecrack: "The text message is a mode of communication ideally suited to lies. Donna adored it."

Other references and asides mordantly assess Ireland's post-Celtic Tiger economic bust and its tendency, like the boom that had gone before, to benefit bankers.

As a journalist, I like Hughes' jab at the "spontaneous" shrines that get left at sites of unfortunate deaths and to which newspapers and television unaccountably devote valuable picture space and screen time: Bits of police tape "and a few drenched bunches of polythene-wrapped convenience-store flowers propped against a wall were all that remained of the crime scene."

Above all Hughes confronts the P.I. story's hoary conventions and embraces them with even more zest than did his hard-boiled predecessors. Take the set piece about the client, almost always a woman, who surprises the P.I. in his office.

We experienced readers know just as well as the P.I. does that the dame is trouble, but a few laconic words of foreboding and resignation from the narrator/protagonist usually suffice to convey this. Not for Hughes. Here's how Ed Loy's two-chapter meeting with Anne Fogarty ends:
"I could hear the sound of the blood in my ears, breathe her scent deep inside me. Stupid, I told myself, stupid, stupid, but I didn't believe me, or I did, but I just didn't care. Worse still, I allowed myself hope."
Does a Philip Marlowe have an undertone of romanticism? Ed Loy has an entire orchestra, and Declan Hughes has the writing chops to pull it off.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Copy-editing error turns up in classic movie

Alfred Hitchcock's movie Shadow of a Doubt is all about a young California woman's realization of the shocking truth about her beloved Uncle Charlie.

Just as shocking is bald evidence that bad copy editing goes back at least to 1943. A pivotal scene has Teresa Wright's Charlotte learning from a newspaper article about the past that Joseph Cotten's Charles, for whom she was named, so desperately conceals.

The article trumpets the quest for the notorious Merry-Widow Murderer (with a hyphen), who is referred to later in the same article, however, as the hyphenless Merry Widow Murderer. A competent copy editor would have caught this inconsistency. The reassessment of Hitchcock's critical reputation begins now.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eco chamber: Is your favorite crime series a closed text?

Patti Abbott and Gerald So have been blogging about The Hero, and not just any hero, but Superman.

Patti started it, paraphrasing Umberto Eco to the effect that
"a classic Superman story is 'closed,' in Eco's terminology, because it is designed to elicit a predetermined response — the mythological iteration of the Superman character. Therefore, nothing can happen in a Superman tale which advances the hero along the life-path: he cannot marry, reproduce or grow old."

"Has this held true with Superman comics?"
Patti asks. "Is he still catching bank robbers and stopping trains circa the nineteen forties? Or has he been free from his `closed' environment and allowed to do 21st century deeds? Has his character grown?"
Are your favorite crime series "closed"? Do their protagonists grow? Does the "growth" hurt the series or help it? Bonus points if you give examples of each.

Extra bonus points if you answer this question: Should Arnaldur Indriðason's protagonist, Erlendur, ever conclusively determine the fate of his missing brother?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is crime good for crime writers?

Does real violence inspire crime fiction?

Yes, says Ken Bruen, who said he "didn’t want to write about Ireland until we got mean streets. We sure got ’em now."

Yes, say Roger Smith, who told Detectives Beyond Borders that "During the apartheid years, writing crime fiction in South Africa seemed beside the point. But now, sadly, South Africa is one of the most crime-ravaged countries in the world, and writing crime seems all too appropriate" and Wessel Ebersohn, who said: "If violence is what you want to write about, South Africa is the place to be."

Maybe, says Deon Meyer, who tells BOOK Southern Africa that "Real world crime (everywhere) is mostly sad, sordid, domestic, related to alcohol and drug abuse and tragic socio-economic circumstances. Crime fiction asks for intriguing, often sensational, always wrapped in riddles ... the sort of thing that is very scarce in reality."

Over in Iceland, where almost no one gets murdered, authors such as Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurdardòttir have said that such killings as there are tend to be similarly petty, a drunken brawl that gets out of hand, say. Maybe that's why they turn to history, geography, hints of the supernatural — and their own imaginations.

Smith, cited as exemplifying the proposition that real-world influence on crime fiction is decisive, filters that belief through a rich lens of techniques and influences from crime fiction, so there may be no one right answer.

What do you think? Does real-life crime influence crime writers? In what ways?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Publisher attacks readers who complain about sloppy editing

You may well have heard of the Australian cookbook that called for "salt and freshly ground black people" — instead of black pepper — to be added to one recipe.

Penguin Group Australia had to recall 7,000 copies of the Pasta Bible because of the error, according to news reports, and publishing head Bob Sessions was not pleased. His target was not what one might expect, though.

"We're mortified that this has become an issue of any kind and why anyone would be offended, we don't know," he said, according to The Age newspaper of Melbourne. "We've said to bookstores that if anyone is small-minded enough to complain about this ... silly mistake, we will happily replace [the book] for them."

Has recession eaten into editing budgets?

Mr. Sessions is half-right. Trouble is, he may also be hiding something. The error was a silly mistake, and I suspect that it was unintentional and indicates no racism on anyone's part. But before I absolve him, I want to know how much time and money Penguin Australia devotes to editing now, and how much it devoted five, ten and twenty years ago.
(Mr. Sessions received kid-glove treatment from several media outlets that edited out or paraphrased his insult that complainers are small-minded. Read one such example on the BBC News Web site.)

The BBC is even more protective of Mr. Sessions than I realized. As of this writing, the photo caption on the site to which I link immediately above reads: Penguin said it was "mortified" over the "silly" mistake in its pasta cook-book. In fact, as Mr. Sessions' statement makes clear, Penguin is mortified not by the mistake, but rather that the mistake has become an issue.

That's a subtle though importance difference, and I trust the BBC will correct its honest but silly mistake.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back to crime — tomorrow, maybe

I was going to get back to crime fiction today, but I keep coming across wise and striking observations from The Way of the World. Here are two more.

The first is that nothing remains of true Islam "now that fanaticism has re-emerged." Predictable stuff today, or at least up until recently, but Bouvier wrote those words in 1953. And this:
"Alexander, a recent coloniser, brought Aristotle to the barbarians; thus the widespread mania for believing that the Graeco-Romans invented the world; and thus the contempt — in secondary education — for things Eastern (just a bit of Egypt, Luxor and the pyramids, so that children can learn to draw shadows). The Graeco-Romans themselves — see Herodotus, or the Cyropaedia — were not so chauvinistic. They greatly respected Iran, to which they owed much: astrology, the horse, the postal system, many gods, a few good manners, and no doubt also that carpe diem of which the Iranians are such past masters."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Writers on the wall

A local outlet of one of the major chain bookshops displays in its café two murals of great writers at a café of their own, coffee being almost as serious a pursuit as Literature.

Alone among the depicted authors, John Steinbeck shows something approaching a healthy complexion. He also smiles knowingly and raises an eyebrow at William Faulkner, who gazes out over the spectators' heads, as remote as Jesus in Piero della Francesca's Resurrection.

At the next table, I.B. Singer smiles and Pablo Neruda rubs his chin (his own, not Singer's) and daydreams with a vague, insinuating grin. And that's it for anything like gaiety or amusement. The rest of the gang is pasty-faced, green and sullen. That may be fine for Henry James, but James Joyce? Dorothy Parker? Oscar Wilde, for the love of God?

Why is this? Great writers create worlds, and since when does the world not include laughter, fun, and skin that looks as if blood has recently circulated beneath it? Why did Barnes & Noble choose to depict the authors as such a solemn, worried lot, like Thomas Hart Benton (top) or George Tooker (left)?

In post-literate America, writing, at least of the Serious Literary variety, apparently retains a vestigial aura of solemnity and awe even as the folks in the real café below the mural read the New Yorker, Symptoms and Remedies and Obsessive Compulsive Order for Dummies, not a novel in sight.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Life on the road

My current reading is not crime, but it shares a striking sentiment with one of the great espionage adventure novels.

The current book is Nicolas Bouvier's The Way of the World; the classic adventure tale is John Buchan's Greenmantle, about which I wrote here.

Buchan's Richard Hannay, exhausted when he reaches Constantinople, finds the city
"a mighty disappointment. ... I had forgotten that winter is pretty much the same everywhere. It was a drizzling day, with a south-east wind blowing, and the streets were long troughs of mud. The first part I struck looked like a dingy colonial suburb — wooden houses and corrugated iron roofs, and endless dirty, sallow children."
Later, cleaned up and rescued, Hannay sees the city differently and draws a lesson from this:
"What had seemed the day before the dingiest of cities now took on a strange beauty ... A man's temper has a lot to do with his appreciation of scenery. I felt a free man once more, and could use my eyes."
Bouvier is brought to similar reflections by bouts of dysentery in Macedonia:
"With sweating foreheads, we'd rush to the Turkish-style toilets and resign ourselves to staying there, despite hammering on the door, because dysentery grants only brief respites.

"When I found myself in this low situation, the town would get me down. It was very sudden; it was enough to have a lowering sky and few drops of rain for the streets to be transformed into quagmires ... Everything in it that was misshapen, nauseating and deceptive would emerge with ightmarish clarity. ... In my mind I poured acid over the street, cauterizing it. ...

"When I got over that, I would see through the window, in the evening sunshine, the white houses still steaming from the downpour, the mountain chain spread out beneath a washed sky and the army of tobacco plants, which surrounded the town with their reassuring sturdy leaves. Once again I would find myself in a solid world, at the heart of a gilded lion. The town had revived. I could dream."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Way of the World

I take a brief break from crime with this post, with a tip of the hat to the crime writer who directed me toward its subject.

The subject is Nicolas Bouvier's The Way of the World, and I'm reading it slowly. That's just as well; though the book is a journal, a factual account of the author's trip from Switzerland to the Khyber Pass in 1953, it is full of images redolent of poetry and mystery — a song about a soldier "who, on returning from the war requested a pancake to be kneaded until it was `as white as this man's shirt.'"


"We set up the machine and looked up to meet a hundred pairs of magnificent eyes; the whole tribe was on tiptoes around us."

I can read those lines and feel I've read an entire story. What lines make you feel that way?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wake Up Dead reviewed in Philadelphia Inquirer

My review of Roger Smith's Wake Up Dead appears in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
"The thriller," I write, "the second novel from its South African author, is chock-full of types from those movies. An adventurer who comes home looking for what’s his. A woman in trouble and living by her wits. A crook who tries, too late, to make good. A hint of redemption. Even, after a fashion, a doomed story of obsessive love.

"Only the scene is not New York, San Francisco, or some nameless Midwestern town; it’s violent, deeply divided Cape Town, mostly the deadly slums known as the Flats. The setting recaptures all the blood and menace that time and nostalgia have effaced from Raymond Chandler’s mean streets — and redoubles them."
I also sneak in a plug for two more of my favorite crime authors, list a few more names from South Africa's flourishing crime fiction scene, and point the way to a good source for even more information. Read the complete review here after 3 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and, in the future, on a good database near you.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Great minds ...

(Misleading Italian poster for Big Deal on Madonna Street, right)

I was excited when Donald Westlake called the 1958 Italian heist movie Big Deal on Madonna Street a post-graduate workshop for comedy writers and lamented that future Americans might miss similar opportunities to absorb and learn from foreign influences. "New writers' brains are not being mulched in this way," Westlake said. "What will be produced by people who think a good time is Spiderman?"

Among other things, Big Deal...'s absurd caper gone wrong, its odd anti-climax, and its affection for its gang of robbers may have inspired Westlake's own Dortmunder novels. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when I found the following exchange in Harvey Pekar's Our Movie Year (you'll have to imagine the drawings):
Joyce: How's this Big Deal on Madonna Street?

Harvey: Oh, that's great. It's got Vittorio Gassman an' Marcello Mastroianni in it ... it's one of the best comedies I've ever seen.

Joyce: You've seen it before?

Harvey: Yeah, but it's been a long time. Take it out. I'll enjoy it again.
Among the many pleasures of Pekar's comics are that the man takes art seriously, and he has impeccable taste. These days, the former is even more important than the latter, I'd say.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Nostalgia and consumerism in post-Communist China

Qiu Xiaolong's sixth Inspector Chen novel is full of interesting and melancholy reflections about China. The author happened to be in the United States during the uprising at Tiananmen Square and the violent reaction to it, and he decided to remain.

Twenty-one years on, his work remains suffused not just with nostalgia but with reflections upon nostalgia. In rampantly commercializing China, such a once-taboo subject as Mao's ex-mistress becomes a public, commercial attraction.

And, in a vicissitude of Chinese history, even Mao, briefly out of favor after his death, recycles into popularity, "becoming a brand name in the materialistic age, with Mao restaurants and Mao antiques and people collecting Mao badges and stamps for their potential value in the market."

Oddest, perhaps, is the old house presided over by an impoverished grandee of a kind who throws parties dedicated to recapturing the grand atmosphere of 1930s Shanghai. Is nostalgia a capitalist thing?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Join the cast!

Will you be in Ragusa today? If so, you can be an extra on Italian television's splendid Il commissario Montalbano television series, based on Andrea Camilleri's splendid novels. Details here.

If you're content to watch the series rather than appear in it, episodes are available in Italian on the RAI Web site or on DVD with English subtitles from the U.S. and Australia.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

TV, movies — what next for Stuart Neville?

Stuart Neville (right), author of The Ghosts of Belfast (The Twelve in the UK), will be a guest on CBS-TV's The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on Thursday, April 8.

Neville is the latest crime writer to appear on Ferguson's show, joining a list that includes Ken Bruen, Lawrence Block, Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly and Lee Child.

Ferguson has taken an option for movie rights to Neville's book. Congratulations to Neville, and let's hope this means Ferguson will plug the hell out of his investment and offer an entertaining, substantive discussion. The book deserves no less.
Update: Boy, I sure hope Stuart Neville is good. He'll have to be to make up for Jennifer Love Hewitt.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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The great ball of China

“So you are a newcomer here, young man. I would like to give you a word or two of advice. Life is short, sixty or seventy years, no point worrying away your days till your hair turns white. Heartbroken for a woman? Come on. A woman is just like that smoked fish head. Not much meat but too many bones, staring at you with ghastly eyes on a white platter. If you're not careful, you get a bone stuck in your throat. Think about Mao. Such a man, and yet he, too, was ruined by his woman—or women. He fucked his brains out in the end.”

— Qiu Xiaolong, The Mao Case

The Mao Case is Qiu's sixth novel. His first, Death of a Red Heroine, is one of my favorite crime novels and one of the spurs to my interest in international crime fiction. The author no longer lives in China.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Influence peddling

I posted some innocent speculation a few days ago about possible stylistic connections between Raymond Chandler and 1960s film making. Then I found another evocative passage from Chandler, only this time I won't tell you what it reminded me of. (I'll save myself some grief that way and let readers make their own connections, if they choose.)

The passage is from "Goldfish," published in Black Mask in June 1936:

"She was a tall, seedy, sad-eyed blonde who had once been a policewoman and had lost her job when she married a cheap bouncer named Johnny Horne, to reform him. She hadn't reformed him, but she was waiting for him to come out so she could try again."
(Even spell-checkers are politically correct these days. Mine flagged blonde. Of course, the programmers could simply have been ignorant of the grammatically valid distinction between blond and blonde. Computers, alas, are no smarter than the people who program them.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010


Friday, April 02, 2010

Augustus Mandrell is back!

Frank McAuliffe greets readers from beyond the grave, and we laugh our keisters off:

"Before Clifford Waxout died escaping my arms, he screeched, ` lousy bastard...' It was a farewell fraught with genealogical inaccuracy, but one of enviable vigor, under the circumstances. (The brisk descent from the picturesque cliff; the sudden, definitive embrace of the rocks...)"
That's the opening of Shoot the President, Are You Mad?, the very long-awaited fourth book about the amazing international hit man Augustus Mandrell. (How long awaited? The first three in the series, Of All The Bloody Cheek, Rather A Vicious Gentleman and For Murder I Charge More, appeared in 1965, 1968 and 1971. The usual explanation for the delay is sensitivity over President John F. Kennedy's assassination. McAuliffe himself died in 1986.)

I raved about the first three Mandrell books in the early days of this blog, and I'm pleased that the opening of Shoot the President ... lives up to one of my early remarks, namely that:

"I'd assumed from Mandrell the narrator's cheeky tone and Mandrell the character's cool demeanor that Frank McAuliffe was British. ... Then I looked at a biographical note and read that McAuliffe was born in New York — and worked as a technical writer for the Navy. The surprise was delightful, just another of the joys of reading these stories."
Mandrell has the sang-froid and heated libido of a well-known British fictional spy, only no Bonds for him, just cash. He's an American creation, after all, and his main worry is money. He has to earn his living, and his worries about getting paid are yet another of the surprises that contribute to McAuliffe's absolutely unique voice.

Read all my raves about Mandrell and McAuliffe here (scroll down). Read a short biographical sketch about the author here. And give a hearty high five to JT Lindroos and The Outfit for getting McAuliffe back into circulation. This is an event, folks.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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