Monday, July 28, 2008

Comments on recent Crime Always Pays posts

A couple of recent posts on Declan Burke's estimable Crime Always Pays blog moved me to post replies. One is in regard to the speed and effectiveness of blogs vs. mainstream media (Declan's post was itself a reply to comments by Peter Rozofsky on his Detectives Beyond Borders blog). I'm quite happy to see my article in the new Mystery Readers Journal Mysteries Set in Ireland issue (a bit of a plug for myself there--but thanks are definitely owed to Janet Rudolph for accepting my humble offering); I certainly still stand behind anything I say in the article, but it's frustrating (as a blogger) not to be able to keep writing it--to include books published since I wrote it, changing opinions about some authors, etc. Writing a blog spoils one in terms of being as current as possible when an "article" is "published" (not sure if those words from the old-media world really apply to the blog-o-sphere). A blog is certainly a more immediate (if unjuried, unedited, and therefore less "published") venue, not only in terms of staying up-to-date, but also in terms of carrying on a conversation (from Peter to Declan and beyond).
And regarding my article, Declan Burke also aims a friendly diatribe at one of my comments therein, regarding a list of "Irish novels that aren’t exactly crime novels" including "Seamus Smyth’s QUINN (featuring a career criminal and a lot of even blacker comedy).” To wit, quoting Declan: "Glenn? I love you like a mother from another brother, etc., but I have no idea of how Hugo Hamilton’s Pat Coyne tales, and that of Seamus Smyth’s QUINN, ‘aren’t exactly crime novels’. Hamilton, you could argue, offers a crude but quixotic protagonist raging against the world at large, and one who could just as easily be a middle-management figure as an Irish police detective tilting at the windmills of Irish justice or lack of same. But QUINN (1999), a first-person account of a killer-for-hire, is one of the defining Irish crime fiction novels of the current outpouring."
Point taken: but I still think of Quinn as a farce or a picaresque comedy (with murders and other assorted violence) more than a crime novel--I guess it's something about the hit-man-narrator's voice that's very seductive and natural, but more in a comic vein. But maybe it's just not that productive to try to draw distinctions like the one I was (evidently in vain) trying to make: Quinn is certainly a novel of crime, and a very violent and very funny one at that--enough said? Comments?

8 comments:

Peter Rozovsky said...

Happily I am sitting in a library as I make this post. I shall look for Seamus Smyth forthwith.

I have one foot planted firmly in each of the blogging and the mainstream media worlds. The closest thing to the advantages of blogging available in the mainstream would be the range of expression offered to a columnist. For the rest of us, though, I can post an essay on my blog as soon as I have marshalled my thoughts and facts on a given subject.

Wearing my mainstream hat, I have to query an editor, wait for his or her reply, follow up on my query and then, if I am lucky, see my essay or review published sometime in the next three months. It's not hard to see the attractions of blogs as a forum for impatient writers. That many of these writers may not be worth reading, an argument often made by nervous denigators of blogs, is true and utterly beside the point.

Declan Burke said...

Hi Glenn - I agree completely that QUINN is very funny, albeit very blackly funny ... I think a novel is a crime novel if its narrative is propelled by criminal acts, or pursuit of same, which QUINN certainly is, and that the narrative's delivery - comic or not - is secondary. Am I being too literal then? And should I be looking at it the other way around? Cheers, Dec

Anonymous said...

So "A Fish Called Wanda" would be better described as a crime film than a comedy?
Genre labelling is kind like taxonomy.
All goes well until you encounter platypuses.

Glenn Harper said...

The previous comment hits the nail on the head: not only is Quinn clearly a clearly a platypus, but there are limits to the kind of taxonomy I was relying on in my original comments. It's ultimately subjective: for me, Quinn was more about the comedy and the character of Quinn than about the (admittedly abundant) crime--but the comedy is clearly not for the faint of heart.

Mike Cane said...

How would you categorize Ken Bruen's Brant series, then, if that's how you dismiss Hugo Hamilton's two books? Hamilton's guy wouldn't have those problems as a mid-man Suit.

Glenn Harper said...

OK let's not get too tied up in this category thing. Imagine a sliding scale from pure pulp crime fiction (say, I, the Jury) to novels that have a crime in them (say, Crime and Punishment)--no value judgment intended on either end of the scale. Brant is closer to the left side (the crime novel side) because of the story vector, the genre models that Bruen is consciously following (from Ed McBain on), the focus on the cops & murderers. Hamilton is further down the spectrum toward Crime & Punishment, maybe because of the focus on character instead of plot? Just suggestions--like I said above, it's ultimately a subjective judgement, and only useful if you're recommending a book to someone and you know where their usual reading falls on that Spillane-to-Dostoevsky scale. Sound reasonable?

krimileser said...

Glenn,

I agree with you.

Any book is a mixture of elements. You can compare it with a wine. A good Riesling with a high content of sugar does not taste too sweet if its acidity is high enough, but without acid even a wine with a lower amount of sugar can be dull and broad and tiresome.

Bruen is a good example. In my eyes the Jack Taylor books contain as much fun as the Brant books but the latter appear funnier because they are (in my eyes) less dark. And his books with Jason Starr are even less noir and more comic. In my eyes they are too sweet because the balance of the elements has been disrupted.

Glenn Harper said...

Well said. From the comic end of the spectrum, none other than Flann O'Brien agrees with you, krimileser: Speaking of Joyce's humor, O'Brien wrote: "Rabelais is funny, but his stuff cloys. His stuff lacks tragedy." It's that human blend that makes the humor or the crime work best. And I agree about the Jason Starr/Ken Bruen collaboration: THEY're obviously having fun, but...