Friday, June 14, 2013

Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Crime Novel After You

There's been a lot of talk lately, both here on my blog and out in the world, about the intersection of crime fiction and music.
For the most part, I vehemently disagree with Adrian McKinty's argument that Crime Fiction is "the new punk". McKinty is a hell of a writer, though, so I'm willing to listen to whatever he has to say. No kidding, he really is one of the best young* crime fiction writers going right now, and his latest book, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, has a great title, so I think we really oughta hear him out, at least, before we dismiss the idea.
Because he's wrong, of course. We've already established that Crime Fiction is the Country Music of literature. Or possibly the Jazz of Literature. Today I'm leaning more toward Country. And, y'know, in his defence, McKinty's Irish, and I think that, especially for people of his generation, Punk Rock** might be the Irish version of Country Music.
But let me prove my point unequivocally. Take this John Prine song, "Lake Marie", originally released on his 1995 album Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings, but really, really, you gotta hear it live (or hear a live recording as below) to get it. I first heard it when I saw him in Regina in, um, 2001, I think it was--no, September 6, 2002. I might have heard it before, it sounded kind of familiar, but I'm almost certain I'd never listened to Lost Dogs at that point, having been fairly content to sequester my Prine listening to his first three records. I remember hearing it in 2002, thinking that it didn't really sound like a John Prine Song as I had come to understand John Prine Songs. It had very little of the playfulness I loved about "Dear Abby" or "Spanish Pipedream" or the in-your-face sadness of "Hello In There" or "Souvenirs". It was too subtle for me, then 25, I didn't get it, and wasn't sure if I liked it.

Nearly a decade later, May 5, 2012, I saw John Prine in Vancouver, in a concert hall that may be about to become a megachurch. I went with my dad, who was in town, who had also been to that Regina concert. I had since become a father myself, three times over. The twins had been born the previous fall and I had worked a 12-hour shift the day of the concert, so I was, I don't know, uniquely receptive to what was going on onstage. I fought to stay awake, didn't always keep my eyes open, but even if I slipped into unconsciousness momentarily, I was with the music. Everything is metaphysical when you've got twin infants. At least it feels that way through the fog of fatigue.

I'm not going to pick the song apart for you here, or even get into what, exactly it means to me, but I do want to comment on the Crumley-esque narrative. Particularly the line:

You know what blood looks like in a black and white video? Shadows. 

I love this evocation, this intimation, that shadows are more terrifying, more gruesome than blood. Blood is knowable, blood is definite and often final. Shadows. Country music, at its best, is all shadow. Same for detective fiction.

*He's about ten years older than me, so when I call him a "young writer", I'm trying to say that I'm a really young writer whose best is yet to come.
**I'll give him this, though, Derek Raymond's Factory novels are Punk Rock. Just ask Joyce Carol Oates

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

I dunno, that's when I decided.

Close enough for a Tweet, anyway. I spend a ridiculous amount of time whittling, editing, compromising, and condensing my original until it met the space restrictions. A truer statement would be more like:
My favourite detective novels read like a joke told by an intimate friend who forgot the details of the set-up but relishes your attention and so rambles on, piling digression on top of digression, spilling everything he knows, ever careful to keep you entertained, in hopes that he'll stumble on to the set-up and eventual punchline. 
Or something like that. The idea was inspired by the first dozen or so pages of The Shape of Water, the first Inspector Montalbano book. I immediately took to Andrea Camilleri's tone as he describes the socio-political circumstances that created the opportunity for the series of events that led to the discovery of the body. Camilleri is clearly a fellow traveller of Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö (particularly their scenes with Kvant and Kristiansson), Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Wolf Haas, and Wayne Arthurson. All of them writers particularly in tune with their setting and not afraid of allowing a bit (or in the case of Haas, a lot) of personality to show through in the narrative. Of the gang I've mentioned, only Arthurson writes in the first person.

In my mind, at least, they are all descended from Georges Simenon--a noted characteristic I'd use to describe two more of my favourite crime writers, K.C. Constantine and Ian Rankin. Reading Constantine last winter, I remarked that Mario Balzic was basically an American Martin Beck. But he can't be--strictly speaking. The first Balzic book, The Rocksburg Railroad Murders came out in 1972, the same year that the seventh book in the Beck series, The Abominable Man, came out in English. It's probably much safer to say that Balzic is an American Maigret in the same way that Beck is a Swedish Maigret.
I haven't read as much Maigret as I'd like. There's only so much time in a day, a week, a year. I read a lot of Maigret (there's a lot of Maigret) when Nicole was pregnant with the twins. I wasn't writing crime novels then. I was working on my picaresque coming of age literary novel. I don't know what it means. But those books spoke to me. Everything I read between the birth of my first daughter and the birth of the twins affected me like nothing before. Richard Price, Taibo, I read a bunch of Paul Auster books, some Miriam Toews (whose A Complicated Kindness I was shamelessly pilfering for my ridiculous 2011 book, Dianne Warren's Cool Water (which bears some distant kinship with Constantine's Rocksburg novels), Sjöwall & Wahlöö, especially Sjöwall & Wahlöö--them and Richard Price was where I realized how much a crime novel could be, and then Taibo showed me it could be even more, and that's when, I dunno, that's when I decided.
Sorry, what was the question?