Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Novel by Stansberry! Cover photo by Rozovsky!

Domenic Stansberry's novel The Confession, winner of the Edgar Award for best paperback original in 2005, is out again from Molotov Editions, available for pre-order now from Kindle and soon in other reputable e-formats.  This e-edition includes a cover photo by me.

My previous book-cover shots:


© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Listening to an audiobook in French

I'm listening to an audiobook in French for the first time, Fred Vargas' Debout les morts, the novel translated into English as The Three Evangelists. My French is far from perfect, yet, to my surprise, the partial attention with which one can listen to audiobooks meshes nicely with the partial understanding imposed by the deficiency of my French. I can let the story roll by, getting the gist, without stopping to agonize over words I don't know, the way I would if reading. Already context has taught me the meaning of a few words or expressions. So I recommend audiobooks for second-language students.
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A Climate of Fear, Vargas' ninth novel featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, is high on my to-read list. And The Accordionist, an English translation of a 1997 novel about the characters known as the Three Evangelists, will appear this summer. In the meantime, here's a two-part interview I did with Fred Vargas in 2013: (http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/search/label/Fred%20Vargas%20interview)

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly: Why Adrian McKinty is better than that crime writer you're reading

Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series, now six novels into what was once called the Troubles Trilogy, keeps getting better and better.

The language is gorgeous, the characters are endearing, the atmosphere full both of humor and of off-hand, everyday life, menacing and otherwise. With this much good crime writing coming out of Northern Ireland, how can anyone mention the Nordic countries in the same breath? Hell, how about the rest of the world? With McKinty ably supported by a cast that includes Stuart Neville just as a start, why is Northern Ireland not routinely numbered among the world's great crime fiction locations?

McKinty's books portray their settings as vividly as do Arnaldur Indriðason's Erlendur novels, set in Iceland (and they're a lot funnier). His Sean Duffy is as endearingly flawed as Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano (Poetry and music are to Duffy what food is to Montalbano, and the two characters lead similarly complicated romantic lives, although— but you'll have to read Book Six, the recently released Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly, to complete that thought.)  McKinty's Belfast is every bit as vivid a crime fiction locale as Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseille.  And he turns as unsparing an eye on that locale as Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö did on Sweden in their Martin Beck novels

Not only that, but McKinty deftly takes on any number of traditional mystery and crime tropes, and the Duffy series and their protagonist are erudite without being condescending. McKinty has also long attacked the notion that a writer's style ought to be workmanlike and invisible. He champions David Peace and James Ellroy, for example, so you know you're bound to find a gorgeous passage or two, prose you can relish for its own sake, in every book.  And if you listen to books, you're in for a treat. Gerard Doyle, the reader of the Sean Duffy audiobooks, is a master of accents, and he gives each character a distinct voice without ever descending to bathos and exaggeration. The audio versions pair the best of crime novels with the best of audiobook readers.

(The five previous Sean Duffy novels are The Cold, Cold Ground; I Hear the Sirens in the Street; In the Morning I'll be Gone; Gun Street Girl; and Rain Dogs. I've been a McKinty fan for years. Read all my Detectives Beyond Borders posts about his work.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Because everyone else is doing it ...

Most Hated Movie: Dressed to Kill/Batman Begins
Movie I think is overrated: The Big Lebowski
Movie I love: Big Deal on Madonna Street
Favorite Horror: Freaks
Favorite Comedy: Annie Hall
Favorite Sci Fi Movie: Blade Runner
Favorite Super Hero Movie: Superman II
Favorite War Movie: Foreign Correspondent
Favorite Western: The Searchers
Favorite Japanese movie: Stray Dog
Favorite Italian movies: Amarcord/Big Deal on Madonna Street
Favorite French movie: Grand Illusion

Favorite Hindi musical heist-gone-wrong movie: Kaante
Favorite silent movie: The General
Childhood Favorite: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (or one of those Sinbad movies, anyhow)
Favorite Franchise: I don’t like “franchises.”
Favorite Director: Alfred Hitchcock/Howard Hawks
Takashi Shimura
Favorite Actor: Takashi Shimura
Favorite Actress: Myrna Loy
Favorite genre/character actor: Elisha Cook Jr.
Most talented cinematic figures: Buster Keaton/Alfred Hitchcock
Favorite movie seen recently: Elevator to the Gallows
Favorite movie of all time: Trouble in Paradise
Special award: To Sight and Sound which, out of Citizen Kane fatigue, named Vertigo the best film of all time. Memory tells me that Vertigo, while a fine movie, is not even one of Hitchcock's three best.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bollywood goes to Hollywood: DBB watches Kaante

I watched Kaante (2002) at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles this week. A few well-chosen and well-executed Bollywood production numbers helped make the movie's 2 1/2 hours fly by. Perhaps more heist movies should incorporate such numbers.

The major characters were all good, as were some of the minor ones. The solution to the movie's central mystery is arbitrary, but that's a red herring; the question drives the movie. The answer is beside the point.

The movie is in Hindi, liberally interspersed with English. All but one of the lead characters speaks both languages, and the script turns the linguistic duality into plot points both serious and comic. The film was shot in Los Angeles and incorporates several picturesque Los Angeles locations, among which is not, as far as I can tell, the Bradbury Building.

The New Beverly is Quentin Tarantino's theater, and Tarantino has been been quoted as rating Kaante high among movies influenced by his own Reservoir Dogs. I suspect that the occasional waves of what sounded like knowing laughter at the New Beverly reflected the audience's recognition of particular nods to Tarantino's movie, but knowledge of Reservoir Dogs is no prerequisite to enjoying Kaante.
 
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Rozovsky Meets Holmes: The Adventure of the Occasionally Attentive Listener, Part I

The most venerable of detective protagonists is relatively new to me. Now, thanks to the superb delivery of Stephen Frye and the desultory attention that audiobooks allow, I am drifting in and out of the complete Sherlock Holmes canon and quite enjoying what I come up with.

First, a few out-of-context gems:
"I can never bring you to realize the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumbnails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot lace."
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "A Case of Identity"
"Forgive this weakness, Mr. Holmes. I have been a little overwrought. Thank you. If I might have a glass of milk and a biscuit, I have no doubt that I should be better."
-- "The Adventure of the Priory School"

"... ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca—an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope—down to his arrest of Wilson, the notorious canary-trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East-End of London."
-- "The Adventure of Black Peter"

"I read death on his face as plain as I can read that text over the fire."
-- "The Adventure of the Crooked Man" (This one works better if one recalls the sense in which text seems most often to be used these days. It would not shock me if some people think text means only text message.)

"Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell."

"'Data, data, data!' he cried impatiently. 'I can't make bricks without clay!'"
-- "The Adventure of the Copper Beaches"
I've realized during my listening that Doyle dangled participles and modifiers all the time, and that this doesn't matter much. So, if you can write as popular and enduring a character as Sherlock Holmes, and if you can read as well as Stephen Frye, you can go ahead and dangle all you like.

(More on Holmes to come)
© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"When my man came in with the steaming cup of tea, I rolled out of bed and said (in a marked manner), `Oh, I say!'": How Richard Stark is like P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves, like Richard Stark's Parker, goes by a single name. Jeeves, like Parker, manages heists that do not go as planned (think of the silver 18th-century cow creamer in The Code of the Woosters, for instance, and the rare coins in The Rare Coin Score). Jeeves' work, like Parker's, is often complicated by incompetent amateurs.

Setting is frequently a major plot point, the focus of all action, whether Cockaigne or Totleigh Towers.  Nocturnal break-ins abound in both the Jeeves stories and the Parker books, and Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster refers back to previous Jeeves and Bertie stories, just as Stark's Butcher's Moon is an all-star cast of characters from the Parker novels that had gone before.

More to come. In the meantime, in what other ways are Richard Stark and P.G. Wodehouse alike? 

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Audiobooks: Listening isn't reading, but it will do

The audiobooks I've listened to in the past month and a half:

James McClure: The Blood of an Englishman
John McFetridge: Tumblin’ Dice, Dirty Sweet, Let It Ride, One or the Other, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
E.C. Bentley: Trent's Last Case

Donald Westlake/Richard Stark: The Outfit, The Hunter, The Sour Lemon Score, The Man With the Getaway Face, Why Me?, The Hot Rock, Get Real, Deadly Edge, The Green Eagle Score, Good Behavior, Bank Shot, Butcher's Moon, Plunder Squad
P.G. Wodehouse: Psmith in the City, Leave It to Psmith
Adrian McKinty: Gun Street Girl, Rain Dogs
Mick Herron: Dead Lions


Dan J. Marlowe: Four for the Money
John Farrow: City of Ice
Linda L. Richards: Death Was the Other Woman
Jay Stringer: Runaway Town, Old Gold
Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased
Ken Bruen: Calibre
Mike Knowles: Darwin’s Nightmare, Grinder
Andrea Camilleri: Montalbano’s First Case

Plus big chunks of Gibbon and Montaigne, the latter of whom is excellent consolation for problems that include not knowing how to fill one's leisure time.
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The first known use of the word audiobook was in 1953, according to Merriam-Webster.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

The longue and the short of it

I recently sent a verbal high five to author Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) and narrator Joe Barrett for their correct spelling and pronunciation of chaise longue in Stark's novel Butcher's Moon and its audio book version. That's why I was surprised today to hear the term pronounced chaise lounge in the audio book of Stark's novel The Sour Lemon Score. Could Stark, that most literate of crime writers, have spelled it wrong?

Nope. I checked the novel, and Stark got it right. But the narrator, Stephen R. Thorne this time, pronounced longue as it were written lounge, the way the word is pronounced so often in America. OK, the sort of people who refer sneeringly to "language police" will blandly declare that "language changes," and they're right. But how do they explain Thorne's correct, French pronunciation of chaise?
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I've congratulated Marlon James and John Lawton for using the correct term, and I feel so strongly about the matter that I once wrote a story called "The Longue Goodbye."

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Richard Stark, or a discussion about a writer that touches on writing

I never cease to be amazed by how seldom discussions of writers turn to writing and by how frequently readers seem to equate overwriting with good writing. That's why I was so pleased by the response to my citation on Facebook of a simple, beautiful bit of description from Richard Stark's novel Deadly Edge.

Here's the passage:
"Keegan had thick dry brown hair and the outraged expression of a barroom arguer." 
Here's the discussion so far:

Sam Belacqua "barroom arguer" is a mouthful Unlike · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky It's a beautiful, telling, concise bit of description, far better than bits of crime novels often cited as examples of fine writing. The opening of The Last Good Kiss comes to mind. Like · Reply · 4 · 3 hrs

Diane Williams Shaw lots of rrr's! Unlike · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky R is the fourth most common consonant in English for a good reason! Like · Reply · 3 hrs 

Jack Getze "He looked like a high risk, the kind of guy who falls asleep smoking in bed." -- Elmore, the opening of Cat Chaser. Unlike · Reply · 4 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky That's terrific. I haven't liked Leonard as much as some readers do, but I may give Cat Chaser a try. One bad sign: A reviewer called it "quirky," but that's not Leonard's fault. Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs · Edited 

David Magayna I don't care for that simile, but then who am I to "argue" with Richard Stark? I might have used "barroom agitator". Unlike · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky Your suggestion of "agitator" reinforces what a master stroke "arguer" is. The word is mildly jarring; no one would use it. That makes the reader sit up and take notice. A writer has to be pretty confident of his or her chops to try something like that. Like · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky "Agitator" is also a bit elevated for what barroom loudmouths do, isn't it? That's another reason Westlake's choice works, I think. He is yet another crime writer upon whom reviewers, critics, and writers heap praise, without, however, highlighting the writer's prose style. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

David Magayna Well, I approached it from two different angles. One, it rolls off the tongue easier and sounds better, but, Two, the guy he seems to be describing (in my head) is someone who doesn't look to argue a point, but just run his mouth and take the opposite viewpoint of whatever might be discussed. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

David Magayna And I guess "arguer" could fill that bill, too. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky David Magayna Your guess describes the character perfectly, which is evidence that Stark made the right choice. To my mind, an agitator looks to start arguments, as opposed to an arguer, merely a peevish type who disagrees with everything. Stark knew what he wanted, and he knew the right word to get it. Like · Reply · 2 hrs · Edited 

Lanny Larcinese Peter Rozovsky re your point "arguer" as master stroke: I agree, and such word selection is critical to authorial voice. It makes me crazy when others purport that words "that make the reader sit up and take notice" pull them "out of the story." When I see unique (not including torrents of weird) language I want to keep reading. Vanilla may work for intensely plot-driven, but when it comes to character, give me rich. I'm down with "arguer." See More Unlike · Reply · 1 · 1 hr 

David Biemann How about, barroom goad? Too agitatorish? :) Like · Reply · 1 hr · Edited 

Peter Rozovsky Hey, everybody: I'm enjoying this discussion. Do any of you mind if I turn it into a blog post? Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs 

David Magayna Fine by me. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky David: Thanks. I love discussions like this. I never cease to be shocked by how infrequently discussions of writers deal with writing. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

David Biemann ...and the outraged expression of a man four drinks into a five drink barroom argument (?) Barroom too much like broom (?) arguer - agree with the too many r's. Still works... just gives pause (?) Like · Reply · 2 hrs · Edited 

Peter Rozovsky David Biemann Those are not bad, but Westlake's choice was better. He chose well when he chose the pen name Stark for the Parker novels. Like · Reply · 2 hrs David Biemann Less is better. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky David Biemann I'm similarly predisposed. But the question is not less (or more) is better, but rather of creating a tone appropriate to the story and of sticking to that tone. Westlake did that, and, for all the deserved praise he gets, that aspect of his work is rarely recognized. I suspect this is because people don't know how to talk about writing. Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs 

David Biemann True. Lines out of context are hard to judge on their merits in general but when you're creating context with them, it's a different story. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs 

David Biemann Did you see Erin Mitchell's, if you could ask any living author question? I wish Westlake were still around to join this conversation. Like · Reply · 2 hrs 

Peter Rozovsky I'd have been happy to schmooze with Westlake, but he was good enough that his work can speak for him. Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs 

Linda L. Richards It seems a bit self-conscious to me. Like he had to work a bit too hard to get there. Also it puts me in mind of The Rural Juror: a bit too much of a mouthful. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 1 hr 

Peter Rozovsky I think the word shows signs of being a deliberate choice, so I understand your observation that it seems self-conscious. But that self-consciousness only accentuates how well chosen the word is, Like · Reply · 1 hr · Edited 

Linda L. Richards To my mind, a metaphor should evoke something effortlessly. You read it and just get it in your gut or heart or wherever good metaphors are digested. To me, this type is heavy handed. Klunk. It lacks delicacy and/or subtlety and makes me think about it too much. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 41 mins 

Peter Rozovsky I got it in my gut with a brief stopover in my brain. I've seen debates over whether style ought or ought not to be noticeable. It probably ought to be invisible most of the time except im rare instances where it calls the reader's attention to new possibilities. This example does that for me. Like · Reply · 24 mins 

Steven Parker I go for "brawler", obvious I suppose, but it goes with being an arguer... Like · Reply · 1 hr 

Peter Rozovsky Brawler is several steps beyond arguer and not at all what Stark wants to convey about the character. Like · Reply · 1 hr 

Steven Parker I must admit I was visualizing Trump in that role: "“Trump had straw like hair and the outraged expression of a barroom brawler.” It's the eternal outraged expression that gets me... :-) Unlike · Reply · 1 · 24 mins 

Steven Parker Besides, having run a few rock clubs while in my youth, in my experience the difference between an "outraged arguer" vs. "outraged brawler" is rougly 2 seconds! ;-) Unlike · Reply · 1 · 22 mins · Edited 

Darren Shupe Perhaps not quite the same as resembling a blond Satan, but hey. ;) Unlike · Reply · 1 · 5 mins 

Peter Rozovsky Though the image of Humphrey Bogart has driven the blond Satan description from most people's minds. My favorite part of the description is the Hammett says Spade looked "rather pleasantly" like a blond satan, which shows that in the hands of a deft enough writer, adverbs can do wonders. Like · Reply · Just now 

Thanks to everyone who has weighed in. And here's a blog post in which I suggest that "reviewers and other people are uncomfortable talking about writing at best or wouldn't know good writing if they saw it at worst."

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Monday, February 06, 2017

The Longue Goodbye

In honor of author Richard Stark, reader Joe Barrett, and their correct rendering of chaise longue in the audiobook version of Stark's novel Butcher's Moon, here's a story I wrote a few yearback.
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Rick Ollerman enjoys a
moment of nail-biting
suspense. Photos by
Peter Rozovsky for
Detectives Beyond
Borders.
Here are more photos from Sunday's Noir at the Bar in New York along with the other story I read there. I've included a face from earlier in the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that would not have been out of place at the reading. (See if you can spot the interloper.)  See my other story and the first batch of photos on the previous post here at Detectives Beyond Borders.)
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The Longue Goodbye


Nick Kolakowski, Suzanne Solomon.
I pushed open the door to the pool deck and inhaled chlorine and death. Fen slumped in the chase lounge. He looked smaller and sicker than he had when I'd seen him three days before.

Hellenistic dramatic mask
Spit and blood caked around his broken mouth, and for a moment I thought he was dead. "Got anything to tell me, Fen?" I knelt by the chair.


Jeff Markowitz
His lips cracked when he tried to talk, and I knew Fen was more than halfway to where he was going. I leaned closer.

"It's chaise longue, not chase lounge, you illiterate fuck," he said. "It means long chair."


Jen Conley
He died happy.

— Peter Rozovsky


Albert Tucher, Jen Conley, Suzanne Solomon, Terrence McCauley
© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Friday, February 03, 2017

My first seven audio crime books

Audiobooks are a cool medium: They don't compel engagement the way a real printed book does; one drifts in and out or does other things, the reading fading into background music. So here's a fragmented discussion of my first batch of audiobooks, appropriate to their fragmented medium:

1) Gun Street Girl and Rain Dogs, by Adrian McKinty. The author is a friend. He's also one of the very best of all crime writers, far beyond silly discussions about whether crime fiction can be serious literature. His probing, funny, beautifully written novels are unafraid to use traditional crime fiction forms, including the locked-room mystery. Whichever crime writer you're reading, McKinty is better.

2) Grinder and Darwin's Nightmare, by Mike Knowles. Some of the most exciting and intelligent action stories you're likely to read, exciting because they're intelligent and intelligent because they're exciting.  Readers who like Richard Stark's Parkerd novels or "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai" might like these.

3) One or the Other and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, by John McFetridge. No one better and more seamlessly combines character, story, and history, in this case that of Montreal and Toronto in the 1970s and '80s.

4) Montalbano's First Case, by Andrea Camilleri. Among the delights of this short-story collection is one harrowing meta-fiction that at once demonstrates Camilleri's ability to write hyper-violence and shows why he chose not to do so.

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

What are you reading to help you cope?

Among my slice of the American population, recent events appear likely to benefit the ACLU and real newspapers. Could they also spark interest in the liberal arts and the humanities in general and history in particular? I mean the sort of thing that offers perspective beyond the capacity of even the most penetrating Tweet.

Montaigne's Essays have been an even greater balm than usual, and Edward Gibbon and Thomas Paine have helped, too. WHAT HAVE YOU READ to help you cope with and at the same time escape the current tumult?

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Stop the presses: Crime stories are no longer just whodunits, or crime novels that transcend transcending the genre

Professor David Schmid has posted a link to an interview whose headline announces that "there's nothing crime fiction can't do." The statement came from Ian Rankin, who proceeds to offer some interesting thoughts on his evolution as a crime novelist, notably his coming more and more to ponder what makes humans commit crimes:
“I think at first my books were whodunits, but as I got more confident about the form and about what the crime novel could do, I thought, ‘Well there’s nothing it can’t do.’ If you want to talk about politics, if you want to talk about society, if you want to talk about good and evil, if you want to talk about big moral issues, big moral questions: here’s the perfect form for doing that.” 
That's an unexceptionable thought, but why, fifty-two years after Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Roseanna first appeared, after decades and decades and decades of Dominique Manotti and Jean-Claude Izzo and Andrea Camilleri and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and Didier Daeninckx and Carlo Lucarelli and Adrian McKinty and Jean-Patrick Manchette and Leonardo Sciascia and Ross Thomas and Garbhan Downey and Stuart Neville and John McFetridge and Gary Phillips and Alan Glynn, do the article's author, Daneet Steffens, and publication, Lit Hub, think crime novels' ability to do more than tell a whodunit story is so newsworthy as to be the story's main subject and the subject of its headline? And that's not even to mention, say, Georges Simenon, who probed human psychology and the margins of society long before Daneet Stevens discovered that crime stories can be more than whodunits.

This is no knock on Rankin, who singles out some of the authors on my list as noteworthy practitioners of the crime story. The problem is that Steffens and Lit Hub are either ignorant of crime novels' evolution over the past fifty or or so years, or, worse, assume that their readers are so ignorant. At least Lit Hub did not tell us that Rankin's work transcends its genre.

Much more interesting are those crime novelists whose books work as character studies and dissections of society and all those things that intellectually respectable crime novels are supposed to do these days and at the same time are so confident of their writerly chops that their books work as locked-roomed mysteries or whodunits or some other traditional form at the same time. You might say that they transcend transcending the genre.  Adrian McKinty does this in In the Morning I'll Be Gone and Gun Street Girl, part of his Sean Duffy novels.

Or take the traditional English mystery, a genre so out my wheelhouse that I was surprised when I discovered that Martin Edwards, that award-winning practitioner of and expert on traditional mysteries, dealt with certain social problems much more subtly than, say, Stieg Larsson.
"I've just opened Martin Edwards' Waterloo Sunset," I wrote a few years ago, "and I've noticed reflections on urban growth and boosterism, not to mention a character who just might be disturbingly demented. I hadn't expected this from an author who has proclaimed his allegiance to traditional mysteries. Heck, the man even named his novel for a song by the Kinks. 
What are your favorite crime novels that are thoroughly contemporary in subject and tone yet brave enough to explore traditional crime fiction forms at the same time?

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

What makes this great beginning great?

Here's how Lester Dent opens Chapter Three of his 1956 novel Honey in His Mouth:
"The hospital was as noisy a place as Harsh had ever been in."
To my mind that's one of the best opening sentences ever. Do you agree? If so, why? Disagree? If so, why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why "Underworld, U.S.A." is better than "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (the movie)

My recent observation on Facebook about two crime movies turned into a symposium on movies, books, style, history, and other interesting subjects with comments from some of the sharpest crime fiction minds I know. The movies were Underworld, U.S.A. and The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I called the former superior because it wastes fewer words. Here are highlights of what ensued:

Michael Carlson attributed my observation to the writing style of the novel on which Eddie Coyle was based. "That's [George V. ] Higgins," he wrote. "There's more words, but I wouldn't call them wasted."  Fair point, except that the movie isn't Higgins, or at least not just Higgins. It's also Peter Yates, who directed the movie, and Robert Mitchum, who starred. among others.

Mike Dennis, commenting in his Don Donovan persona, called the movie version of Eddie Coyle "IMHO, one of the greatest noirs of all time ... without question, Robert Mitchum's finest hour." He's half-right. Mitchum does what words on a page cannot: His physical eloquence and facial expressions alone make the character. As good as the rest of the movie is, nothing else in it comes close to doing what movies alone can do.  The rest of the movie is at best a good adaptation of a good or great or seminal crime novel.

Underworld, U.S.A., on the other hand, is full of cinematic touches: shots lingering on nervous eyes, atmospheric lighting, and such. Scott Adlerberg, a novelist who lectures regularly on movies, understood this when he wrote:
"I like the Eddie Coyle film, but Underworld, U.S.A. is definitely the better film, in my view. But Sam Fuller is indeed a great director, one of the best crime/action directors of them all, and solid as Peter Yates is, he's no Fuller when it comes to packing a cinematic punch. Still, those two movies are hard to compare because their styles are so different. Fuller's the master of pulpy tabloid style, very kinetic crime stories, and Eddie Coyle is, as said here, the flip side, to all that."
I take Scott's comment as supporting my position for two reasons: One is that he speaks more knowledgeably than I can about Samuel Fuller's superiority as a director. The other is that with the exception of Scott's comments and, to a lesser extent, Mike Dennis/Don Donovan's, the commenters replied to my (perceived) slight of Eddie Coyle the movie by defending Eddie Coyle the book. What does that tell you about the movie?

And that gets to my problem with Higgins and, to a lesser extent, Elmore Leonard. I love any number of crime writers who swear allegiance to Higgins and Leonard -- Charlie Stella, Garbhan Downey, John McFetridge, and Declan Burke, to name a few -- but I've never warmed to Higgins' crime novels, and I don't know why.   Have I grown so accustomed to working-stiff gangsters who can crack a joke without necessarily knowing they're being funny that I fail to appreciate the writer who created the type? Has Higgins perhaps not aged as well as he night have? Your thoughts on the matter are welcome.

In the meantime, here's some of what Stella posted on Facebook:
"You know where I stand on Higgins (you fucking communist!) :) but to be fair, there are a number of his other works I had (to quote William Buckley discussing Atlas Shrugged) “to flog myself” to finish (and some never were finished). That said (you fucking communist!), I’ll have to read the other author you mentioned. The musings on the Boston common, if I’m thinking about the same scene, I’m pretty sure is Dillon (not Doyle) … I read a bio on Higgins last summer (I think) … the guy had issues, no doubt, and he probably would’ve hated me and my politics, but I remain a sycophant to his dialogue and ability to portray what the real world of organized crime was like (very different from the horseshit in The Godfather, for instance)."
And here's what he has to see about Higgins, in a guest post at The Rap Sheet .

© Peter Rozovsky 2017

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

What turns a good joke into a good story?

I asked that question Friday on Facebook, and some fascinating replies ensued. I wanted to know how crime writers make a story work despite an improbable conceit, and also how they make their stories something more than nonstop yukfests.

Garbhan Downey, whose novels and stories about Derry in Northern Ireland I've written about often, said: "I just watch the news, then dial it back to something more plausible."

John McFetridge, whose crime novels set in Montreal and Toronto are unmatched in their seamless combination of story, history, and character, has this to say about the wild Christopher Brookmyre: "Lots of humor and some improbable conceits but they do work. Very good character development is the reason why, I think."

David Magayna, a big wheel behind Bouchercons, says: "I'd recommend Lawrence Shames and Carl Hiaasen. I believe they make their stories work because among all the absurdity there is enough truth about human nature. ... I think those who do it well, blend it in with the natural elements of the story: plot, setting, character development. I don't think they lead with humor, but incorporate it where they can."

"Plot," said David Biemann, to which McFetridge responded, "Yes, I think the plot is important, too. Brookmyre is very good at grounding his characters and plots in mostly believable, everyday stuff so the more improbable conceits don't overwhelm the book."

Mary Harris had this to say about Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels: "The characters, hapless ones in Westlake's case, react to ridiculous situations in a way they think is normal."

Travis Richardson mentioned Jim Thompson's great novel Pop. 1280, about which I added that "Everyone mentions Jim Thompson's nightmare visions, but no one seems to talk about his dark, dark humor. What sets Thompson's psychopaths apart is the deadpan way in which they think themselves normal. That can be pretty funny."

Elsewhere on this blog, I call Pop. 1280 "Dark, hilarious, a stunning performance that sustains its mood in every word, far and away the best of Thompson's work that I've read." So, good choice, Travis.

I asked the question for a personal reason. Several years ago I encountered a series of sights around which I built an improbable and entertaining situation without, however, thinking about turning into a story. Where was the conflict that could turn the funny situation into a funny story? What makes the result a story rather than a drawn-out SNL sketch? The e-mail part of this discussion got me started on the story, and the comments here and on Facebook will stay with me as I write. It gets published, and you'll all get acknowledgments. Thanks, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and enjoy the season.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Friday, December 16, 2016

"Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Goodis Night" (An annual holiday tradition)

Turn over, baby. You’re burning up," she cooed. “Let me do your front.”

 The fat red man purred. Then he opened his mouth and screamed. He awoke from the dream jammed down the chimney, flames licking at his back. From above, a shaft of weak, sooty light and murmured voices.

 “But, Rudy, what about—”

“Leave the fat guy. I’m out of here. Who’s with me?”

“I’m in,” a voice said.

“Dasher?”

“Yeah.”

"You on, Dancer? Prancer? Vixen? Comet? Good. Let’s go.”

 Back down in hell, the fat red man shut his eyes and heard them exclaim as they drove out of sight …

— Peter Rozovsky 
© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Don't hold it against Adrian McKinty that he can write

I have begun browsing Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly, sixth of Adrian McKinty's novels about Northern Ireland police officer Sean Duffy. Ian Rankin loves these books, and he's not wrong; I'm a fan, too.

I've read far too little of Police at the Station ... to write a review, and, since I'm reading an advance reading copy, I'm honor-bound not to quote from it in any case. I can tell you, however, that the book demonstrates once again McKinty's flair for suspenseful, funny surprisingly lyrical opening scenes, sometimes all at once, other times in varying proportions. This latest is up there with the opening chapters of Cold Cold Ground, Rain Dogs, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, and Fifty Grand. Moreover, the parts of his books that come after the first chapters are pretty good, too.


Adrian McKinty. Photo by Peter
Rozovsky for Detectives
Beyond Borders
Reviewers praise crime novels for their plots, their themes, their characters, their sociology, their psychology, their politics, their settings, their conformity with or deviation from trends, where they fit in the publishing landscape, and whether or not they're from Scandinavia.

Writing? That doesn't get mentioned much. I suspect this is because reviewers and other people are uncomfortable talking about writing at best or wouldn't know good writing if they saw it at worst.  McKinty has noted something like a puritanical aversion in some writing  circles to writing that exists for its own sake, that shows off a little. He is not constrained that way in his own work, which is one reason you should read him. That, and all that good stuff about Northern Ireland, and the jokes.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

A post about Angel Colón's "No Happy Endings" that includes just one ejaculation/masturbation joke

Angel Colón reads.
Photos by Peter Rozovsky
Good fun was had by all at Friday's launch of Angel Colón's new novel at Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. We also had at least as good a time afterward, the novel's title to the contrary. The book is called No Happy Endings, a reference to the (planned) sperm-bank heist that drives the plot. Our evening, on the other hand, ended in good fellowship, crepes, and wine in the West Village.

Look closely. That vessel next to
the book is not a gift-set jam jar.
Wine was served at the launch in plastic specimen cups (Angel got them cheap), and the evening included its share of ejaculation jokes, but I was more impressed by the author's distinguishing the novel's very human protagonist from the other lead character he writes about, the ex-IRA hard man Blacky Jaguar. "Blacky's a cartoon," Colón said.

Fantine Park, on the other hand, the new book's protagonist, is an epigone: She's not nearly the safe cracker her mother was. And her relationship with her father (said Colón and some attendees who had read the book) is a thread running through the novel and one reason I'm looking forward to reading it. Farce and character is not always an easy combination to, er, pull off, and I'll be eager to see how Colón does it here.

From left: Scott Adlerberg, Angel Colón, Dave White
Later a gang that included Colón; his wife, Jeanette; Scott Adlerberg; Suzanne Solomon; Jen Conley; and me repaired to Shade Bar for dinner, drinks, and conversation that ranged over Shakespeare, politics, crime writing, the teaching of history, and (says Jen) Nine Inch Nails and Donald Trump. The most excellent bartender, Laurie, remembered my name, Todd Robinson showed up, and I realized that I dig hanging out with gregarious, intelligent, opinionated New Yorkers. I was feeling so expansive that I passed up the 10-year aged tawny port and bought myself a glass of the 20-year instead.

For me, though, the evening's most trenchant observation came from Scott as we rode the subway from the bookstore to the bar. True crime, said this crime writer, is depressing in its brutality, banality, and stupidity, if I recall his words correctly. Crime fiction, he said, avoids this because it is highly stylized. That is the most thought-provoking observation I've heard about crime fiction in quite some time, and I'll be thinking about it and quoting it.  So thanks, Scott.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Max Allan Collins has fun with history

Max Allan Collins has his usual fun with history in Quarry in the Black, published in 2016 and set in 1972, during the Richard Nixon-George McGovern presidential campaign.

One example is Quarry's dismissive reference to Watergate as a third-burglary — fun because that echoes Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler's dismissal of the scandal that would bring his boss down, and also because Collins is a liberal Democrat.

In a grimmer vein, the novel cites a legacy of anti-black discrimination in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb I suspect many people never heard of before the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, 42 years after the time of the novel's setting.


Max Allan Collins.
Photos by Peter
Rozovsky
Historical novelists, or those who simply set their books in the best without necessarily exploring that past seriously, have the disadvantage of hindsight: They know how the history turned out, and their job then becomes to wield that knowledge lightly, to remember at all times that the characters cannot possibly know what the author does. Collins' Ferguson passages veer close to bookishness, to my mind, but the Watergate references as well as an allusion to Rosa Parks are delightful, a wink from Collins to his readers right over the unsuspecting heads of his characters.

Your question is who else does this well? Who else writes crime fiction set in the past, uses history lightly, and never forgets that the characters do not know how events will shake out? John Lawton provides a beautiful example in A Little White Death. Who else does it as well or almost as well?

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Crime writers I have shot in November

Rob Brunet (right) and me (left) in Toronto.
I shot him right in his kitchen.
I haven't read many crime writers the past few weeks, but I have shot a bunch of them. I shot them in the street, I shot them in public places, and I shot them in their homes.   One of them had a broken ankle by the time I left, though he also had a broken ankle when I arrived.

John McFetridge at the Art
Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. I
shot him at the museum.

Clea Simon with Jon Garelick in
Harvard Square, Cambridge.
I shot them at the bookstore.
Linda L. Richards and your humble blopkeeper
captured by a young crime writer about whom you
may hear much in the near future. She shot us
in a bar.
That's all OK; some of them shot me.

(Click this link and this one for more crime writers I've shot so recently that the forensics results are not back from the lab yet.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2016
Rob Brunet almost fell on his ass
answering the door. I shot him anyhow.

Linda took me up to a gorgeous bridge
in Vancouver. Then she shot us both.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Detectives Beyond the U.S.-Canada Border

In Stanley Park, Vancouver.
Photo by Linda L. Richards

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