Friday, January 29, 2010

Good news for the Kindle-deprived (not to mention Declan Burke fans)

Good news for those who, like myself, don't own a Kindle (and thus have up to now not been able to get Declan Burke's Kindle-only crime novel, Crime Always Pays). Kindle is now available as an i-phone or ipod-touch app (free), and Crime Always Pays is quite legible on an ipod-touch screen (plus it's only US$1.25. PLUS Kindle is now also available as a free downloadable application for the PC, and soon to be available for Mac. Is this Kindle-strikes-back, after the rollout of the iPad?
For info on the Kindle app click here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spam in your comments?

Does anyone else (using Blogspot or other blog sites) have trouble with spammers inserting themselves into your comments? I'm getting three or four of these a day, some in English and some in Chinese and other languages. It's not too difficult to prevent them getting through, with the moderation tools, but it's still annoying to have that many trying to get posted every day. Any thoughts on how prevalent this is, or on what to do about it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wallander: The Joker

From late in the Swedish TV series's first season, Kurt Wallander: Jokern is one of the liveliest so far. There's a visiting cop, Frank Borg, who is more like an American loose cannon type cop (or perhaps a Gene Hunt-type) than is typical in this series or in Scandinavian crime fiction generally. Borg is implicated in the murder of a restaurant owner in Ystad and a theft from The Joker restaurant in Malmö, an establishment with organized-crime connections. There are numerous twists and turns in terms of the identity of the murderer, and Stefan (played by Ola Rapace) has a bigger role than usual (albeit showing him following the lead of the rogue Borg in an way that at first is unflattering to Stefan and ultimately career-threatening). Wallander (Krister Henriksson) is spiky in this one, frequently irritated by Stefan, Borg, and the organized crime figures in Malmö, as well as irritable toward his daughter Linda--perhaps in fact a bit closer to the Wallander of the novels than is typically the case in this TV series. There is a fleeting, comic homage to Sjöwall and Wahlöö's Beck novels, or more specifically to the film made of The Abominable Man (retitled as Man on the Roof) by Bo Widerberg: Borg says to Stefan that someone they have under surveillance is always in uniform, like "that character in Man on the Roof" who even wears his uniform at home, off duty. Perhaps Borg is more likely to have seen the movie than read the book, but the reference to the film rather than the novel also pays homage to Widerberg's movie, recently singled out in interviews with Sjöwall as the only adaptation of the Beck character and the novels that was in her mind satisfactory. Jakob Eklund, as Borg, is rather prominently featured in the poster seen here--perhaps a better-known "guest star" in the series? Or just a nod to the character's importance in this episode, perhaps. This episode, and the series, are in any case highly recommended.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Piling on: my review of Rome Noir

The reviews that I've seen for the Italian entry in Akashic Books excellent city noir series, Rome Noir, edited by Chiara Stangalino and the estimable Maxim Jakubowski, were almost entirely negative. Bruce Grossman at Bookgasm, here, complains that almost none of the entries are actually crime stories, and A. Ross complains at that none of the writers are from Rome or are much interested in portraying the city. I have to say that I agree with both. Rome Noir is the first of the Akashic collections that I've been disappointed with. After Bitter Lemon's excellent translation of Giancarlo De Cataldo's Crimini collection, I was salivating over the possibility of another crop of stories by hitherto untranslated crime writers and new stories by writers who are already accessible in English. I read on to the end of Rome Noir, though it was a hard slog in many cases, hoping that the next story would justify my hopes. The collection includes several stories that are really science fiction, a number that are noir in the moodiness and language but without crime as the centerpiece, and the two by well known writers (to an English-language audience), Carlo Lucarelli and Gianrico Carofiglio, are short and perfunctory. Giuseppe Genna, whose interesting In the Name of Ishmael has been translated, offers a conspiracy tale in line with the sensibility of that book, and Marcello Fois, whose historical mystery The Advocate is available in English, offers a tantalizing tale of an interrogation across lines of generation and gender. The best of the stories is Antonio Pascale's complex, almost novella-like, tale of greed and genrifiation. Several others were at least mildly interesting, but not really memorable. All of the stories are well written, and the editors are to be commended for including so many women writers (5 out of 16, which doesn't sound like much until you start comparing that proportion to other collections of translated crime fiction). Several stories turn on sudden twists that seem tricky or contrived, and the "crime" in a couple of them is actually suicide. What I initially missed in the collection was the "placed" noir writing of Crimini and other entries in the city noir series, and what occurred to me later, while mulling over my disappointment, was that the collection gave a sense that the writers were more interested in "writing," in an intellectual sense, than in the genre to which they were ostensibly contributing. Not that good writing and intellectual writers cannot create great noir fiction (they can and do), but that seemingly these and certainly other writers who dip into noir without giving its history and terms due consideration (even in the violating of them) don't frequently achieve great noir or great fiction. Has anyone else read this collection? Any comments about it, or other volumes in the Akashic series, or other collections of noir short stories?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wake Up Dead, by Roger Smith

The story told in Roger Smith's new Cape Town noir novel, Wake Up Dead, is chock-full of violent acts, some casual, some sadistic, and a lot of it up close and personal. Smith provides a catalogue of the ways that characters in a crime novel might meet pain and death, from serial murder to gang violence to rape (of both male and female victims) to immolation to revenge both long-considered and of momentary impulse. A car-jacking as Joe and Roxy Palmer arrive home brings them together with the beautiful Disco and the ugly Godwyn, denizens of the Cape Flats slums on the prowl in the wealthy Cape Town suburbs. But the highjacking gives Roxy the opportunity for a life-changing act as well as bringing her on a collision course with Billy Afrika, a mercenary to whom Joe owes money (not to mention Disco's prison-loving gangter lover or rapist (depending on whose point of view), a would-be African insurgent leader, and a dirty cop determined to escape his dangerous Cape Flats beat. That's only part of the large cast, drawn from the various racial communities of the Flats (the somewhat less violent and definitely more scenic city of Cape Town only makes brief appearances here as the action spills over from the "informal settlements" and the more substantial communities still separated racially and financially from the city). The violence and the authenticity of Smith's novel remind me a bit of George Pelecanos's novels of Washington DC, but without the moral center that has become increasingly central to Pelecanos's novels. In that respect, the frequent comparisons of Smith's two novels to Elmore Leonard is more apt (and Smith shares not only the amorality but also the convincingly twisted plotting of that master of the crime novel). Wake Up Dead is one of the most violent books I've read in recent months, but also one of the most complulsively readable: Smith's style is clean and well-constructed, and his characters are convincing if not sympathetic, even when quickly sketched (inevitable with such a large cast). Smith frequently uses physical characteristics to indicate personality as well as to stitch characters into the story: the dirty cop at the center of the story is drawn as a grotesque, the tragic meth addict who has attracted the love of the imprisoned gang leader is transcendentally beautiful, Billy Afrika is covered in burn scars inflicted on him by that same gang leader in their youth in the Flats, Roxy is a former model, and so on--each character is drawn visually in vivid terms that reinforce their speech and actions, but their appearance has in each case also pushed them into their current way of life. That device is yet another way in which a crime story can be cinematic (see my previous post on Police, Adjective for more on this topic) and it's also an effective and time-honored literary device. Used poorly, it's a device that produces cliche, but used effectively, as in this case, it adds a visual and even metaphorical dimension to the characters. So, do I recommend Wake Up Dead? How violent does a book have to be for a reviewer to need to supply a warning? Are there crime novels that you've found unreadable, regardless of other virtues, if the violence is too much? And is is the responsibility of a crime novel to reflect the brutality of one of the most violent cities in the world (also one of the most beautiful)?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Inspector Coliandro and Inspector De Luca

MhZ Networks in the U.S. ran the first in a series of Italian police dramas drawn from an untranslated novel (Day of the Wolf) by Carlo Lucarelli, author of the very different De Luca and Ispettore Negro novels that have been translated into English. Coliandro is very different from either, it's a tongue-in-cheek TV comedy-drama about a young cop who thinks he's a super cop when in fact he's an inveterate screwup (in the first story, he's been demoted to running the supply room after arresting an undercover Carabinieri). The parody in the series can be seen even in the attached poster for the "pilot" episode's mannerism. In looking for info on Coliandro on-line, I discovered that there's also an RAI (Italian TV) series based on Lucarelli's De Luca novels (which follow a detective during and after the fall of the Fascist regime at the end of World War II). The "Chief Detective De Luca" series is a prequel, at least in the beginning, following De Luca's career as a cop in prewar Bologna, before the events of the trilogy (now a tetralogy in Italian, I think) of De Luca novels. The series website states that its period is 1938-48, which means that it will eventually catch up to the published novels. While the Coliandro series is amusing, and it's interesting to see Bologna from a cop's perspective (a TV cop anyway), it would be great to have an opportunity to see the De Luca series, which is a very good story as written in the novels.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Police, Adjective

Calling a crime novel “cinematic” usually means that it’s graphic, with lots of scene changes and action. Corneliu Porumboiu’s new Romanian film Police, Adjective (which ran here recently in the E.U. Film Festival and is now in a few theaters and on pay cable) turns that notion of cinematic, as well as the structure of the police procedural, on its head. The plot of Police, Adjective is minimal, there are mostly long, quiet and nearly static camera shots, and the story is told almost entirely visually in the beginning (in perhaps a more genuine sense of “cinematic”)—in slow shots of uneventful surveillance, though at the end the structure flips over and the story is carried almost entirely verbally, in two written reports that the camera pans across and in two encounters at the very end in Cristi’s boss’s office (up to then Cristi has been avoiding the boss). Cristi is a plain-clothes cop in a small city in contemporary Romania, assigned to do surveillance on a teenager who has been denounced as a drug dealer. But Cristi (and the viewer) only see the target walking back and forth from school and standing in a schoolyard with two friends (the denouncer and a girl) smoking. Several times, Cristi goes into the schoolyard after the 3 have left and scours the ground for cigarette butts, so he can test them for hashish, a telling instance of the lack of glamour and action in what Cristi’s life as a cop actually amounts to. Most reviewers remark on the patience required of the viewer: in one scene Cristi telephones someone who was supposed to meet him in her office at the police station, and she tells him she’ll be there in 10 minutes. After a moment of watching him standing in the hallway, we begin to fear that it will actually be 10 minutes before we see her arrive—an entirely different sort of “real time” than, for instance, Jack Bauer’s 24. The plot turns on the cop’s reluctance to bust the kid on a petty charge that will nonetheless send him for jail for up to 7 years and ruin his life. Cristi’s wife is a schoolteacher, who corrects his grammar when she happens to read his report, and the boss lectures Cristi pedantically (using a dictionary) on the meaning of “conscience,” “police,” and other words. So this very visual movie is about words, and how they have consequences (even how they create or corrupt moral dilemmas). One reviewer compared Police, Adjective to the more eventful (but still slow-paced) The Lives of Others, comparing the moral dilemmas of that film’s Soviet-era German setting to the post-Soviet, bureaucratic morality of the new film. The comparison is apt, but the slowness of Police, Adjective will probably prevent it from being as popular as The Lives of Others has become, but Porumboiu shows that a great deal can be accomplished with minimal means, if an audience is patient enough to follow his story through to the end.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The book I referred to in my last post...

OK, the consensus seems to be that bad books should get bad reviews. The book I was referring to claims to be a best-seller, though not of the Dan Brown level, and it's about 5 years old. It's Liz Allen's Last to Know, a first novel, and the reviews from the Irish papers are excerpted at Amazon as follows: "'Gritty and engrossing' -- Irish World 20040618 'This well-researched crime thriller turns the spotlight on a world that most of us will be grateful never to visit.' -- Irish Independent 20040529 'A terrific read ... the plot sweeps along, never missing a beat ... we might even have a Minette Walters in the making here. More, please.' -- Irish Times Weekend Review 20040612 'Deftly plotted, the book bristles with the pace of a good news story ... It would be a crime not to read it.' -- Ireland on Sunday 20040613 'All the compelling elements of a bestseller' -- VIP 20040613" I should have instead relied on Critical Mick, whose review granted Allen points for research and for the authenticity of the criminal and police activities (but deducted points for the constant anal rapes reurring throughout), but also decries the coincidences and cliches (see his review at What bothered me more than the incredible coincidences (which as Mick we see long before the characters do) is the bad writing--I expected more from a journalist: but then it seems that bad writing (see Dan Brown and many others) is a requirement of bestsellerdon. Last to Know is pulp-y without honest immersion in that sub-genre, and ambitious without the talent to do for the material what other Irish journalists-turned-crime-authors have done in more recent books. Please, if anyone has an alternative opinion about this book (or can explain the reviews in the Irish papers--are they misquoted? carefully excerpted from perhaps more honest reviews?), please let me know. I think I'm going to donate this one to the library, if they'll accept it. Is that too brutal a review? Mick recommended it, with massive reservations, in the end. I'm afraid I can't, regardless of authentic details...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do you review badly written books? bad books? Do you publish bad reviews?

I'm about halfway through what is without doubt the worst crime novel that I have read (or tried to read) this year. It's a book that languished in my tbr pile, and when I finally got around to it, it has emphatically not been worth the wait. My dilemma is, do I identify the book, or review it honestly? What do you do with a bad book (full of cliche's of plot, character, and language, characters without distinctive voices, pointless intrusions and repetitions by the narrator, and so on)? Should the crime reviewers/readers of the blogosphere pass over bad books in silence, or call them (and their publishers) to account? My usual practice is just to stop reading and pass judgment with silence. Is that the best way? Does anyone want to know the novel I am slamming without naming?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Affairs of State, by Dominique Manotti

Dominique Manotti sets each of her crime novels in a particular historical milieu of late-20th-century France (she is, after all, a professor of economic history), and the most recent novel to be translated into English (by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz), Affairs of State, is set in 1985 and deals with the political and social conditions of the late Mittérand administration. The main characters (among a large cast) are Noria Ghozali, a North African female cop (doubly unwelcome by other officers) and François Bornand, a pro-American leftist who is a behind-the-scenes advisor to the president. The plot (far too complicated, or perhaps intricate is the word, to summarize here) deals with the international arms trade (specifically involving Iran, under an embargo at the time because of the Iran-Iraq war), a high-end brothel, competition among police and intelligence services, murder (deliberate and accidental), and the impossibility of prosecuting certain people for crimes ranging from prostitution to murder (because of their political influence). This is the first of Manotti's translated novels to feature a woman in a leading role, but the blurb on the cover, "Featuring Investigator Noria Ghozali," is a bit misleading--Noria is a constant thread through the story but there is really no single "main character" much less hero. Noria, however, is the one character who learns from the sleazy process of politics, crime, and investigation--I don't know if there's a series based on her, but it wold be a strong counterpart to Manotti's series featuring Daquin, a sometimes brutal cop who is none too straight in terms of his sexuality or his police methods (though Daquin is more of a central character in those books). Affairs of State is very French, but also resonates with dirty politics and specific historical circumstances (trade with Iran also featuring in Reagan-era U.S. politics in complex and not very savory ways). It's a terse, short book with few sympathetic characters and with sudden changes of direction and no simple or pat conclusion. And it's one of the best crime novels to appear in 2009 (though my copy didn't arrive until a few days before 2010). Manotti demonstrates how a crime novel can effectively incorporate social events and political realities without sacrificing the story, as well as how a noir story can deeply investigate social circumstances. Arcadia, the publisher of the EuroCrime series in which Affairs of State appears, seems to be changing its covers at the last minute these days. The two that appear here are the one on the copy I received (the map of Africa composed of guns) and the one advertised (the one showing a woman who appears to be a corpse). I would have preferred the one advertised, I think, for its restrained color (the African map is black and white) and its oblique relation to the events of the story (Africa is even more oblique, but definitely involved).