Nathaniel

Mysteries and Detective Stories

136 posts in this topic

Thanks for posting. Mr. George is the best. I am way to proud to not note that the car chase in The Cut drove down my block and past my house!

How cool!

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Crow mentioned writer J. Mark Bertrand over here. I've just learned a lot more about him after reading his take on noir fiction, or what he dubs "writing about reprobation."

As a crime novelist, I know there’s more than one problem of evil. Setting aside the philosophical question, which has more to do with how to justify evil’s presence in the world, there’s the matter of how to live with evil, how to cope with its ever-present taint.

We can resolve to be good. But when it comes time to measure our actions against a moral yardstick, we’re forced to decide just how pure a deed must be in order to qualify. Nobody’s perfect, after all. If we’re honest, even our whitest whites can look a little gray.

To some, though, to admit even that much suggests despair, or at the very least cynicism. We all make mistakes but, we’re tempted to think, that doesn’t mean we’re all evil. Sure, there are evil people out there, and they do terrible things, but most of us are basically good--aren’t we? Just because things aren’t always black-and-white doesn’t mean we have to surrender to moral ambiguity, looking for ulterior motives behind every good deed.

Which means that when nice, churchgoing people find out the kind of books I write and start offering up creative ways to commit a murder, eyes glowing with delight, I shouldn’t read too much into it.

But I do. Because the tone of my work has been classified as “dark.” The word “gritty” was used so often to describe my first novel, Back on Murder, that I started to wonder if I had sand in my teeth. And there are philosophical––indeed, theological––reasons for this orientation of vision. It reflects my own take on reality, which for lack of a better term, I’ll describe as “noir.”

The article bio cites Bertrand's books:

J. Mark Bertrand is the author of two crime novels, Back on Murder and the forthcoming Pattern of Wounds, and the nonfiction title Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World. He's the writer behind Bible Design Blog, a site dedicated to "the physical form of the good book." Bertrand is also a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

This encourages me, given my struggles, related elsewhere on the board, with this type of fiction. I'm interested enough in Bertrand's writings to even rethink my distance in the past few years from any book with the word "Worldview" in the title.

Also, it's interesting to see Bertrand's comments below the main article, in response to someone who thinks more balance might be called for in noir fiction:

Taken as a whole, noir fiction might be more balanced that you realize, especially if you allow the broadening of the definition I attempt in the article, seeing noir more as an influence than a formula to repeat (which these days can only end in pastiche). Having said that, in fiction "balance" isn't always the objective. We illuminate the whole of life not only through breadth of scope, but by focusing deeply on just one of its parts.

I've had Bertrand's Pattern of Wounds on my GoodReads "to read" list for months. I almost bought it for, like, $2 at the Borders closeout sale, but figured I could always get it at the library (home bookshelf space was at a premium at that point). Today GoodReads informs me that another Roland March mystery, Nothing to Hide, is now out. I'm behind!

UPDATE: Books & Culture's podcast on Bertrand's latest novel.

Edited by Christian

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I'm reading my fourth Patricia Highsmith novel in as many months, and it's only reinforcing my opinion that she's one of the great American novelists of her era. I'm not comparing her just to other genre novelists, but to mid- and late-20th century novelists, in general. I'd take her language and her observations about suburban American life over Updike's, for example. Last night I hit the point in The Cry of the Owl when the inevitable thing happened and now I want nothing more than to go home and read. These books leave me crippled with anxiety -- but in a good way.

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I'm reading my fourth Patricia Highsmith novel in as many months, and it's only reinforcing my opinion that she's one of the great American novelists of her era. I'm not comparing her just to other genre novelists, but to mid- and late-20th century novelists, in general. I'd take her language and her observations about suburban American life over Updike's, for example. Last night I hit the point in The Cry of the Owl when the inevitable thing happened and now I want nothing more than to go home and read. These books leave me crippled with anxiety -- but in a good way.

What would you recommend as a starting point with Highsmith's novels?

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So this is happening: The Return of the Thin Man: Two Never-Before-Published Novellas featuring Nick & Nora Charles.

Dashiell Hammett was a crime writer who elevated the genre to true literature, and The Thin Man was Hammett's last--and most successful--novel. Following the enormous success of "The Thin Man" movie in 1934, Hammett was commissioned to write stories for additional films. He wrote two full-length novellas, for the films that became "After the Thin Man" and "Another Thin Man". Bringing back his classic characters, retired private investigator Nick Charles and his former debutante wife Nora, who return home to find Nora’s family gardener murdered, pulling the couple back into another deadly game of cat and mouse. Hammett has written two fully satisfying "Thin Man" stories, with classic, barbed Hammett dialogue and fully developed characters.

Neither of these stories has been previously published (except for a partial in a small magazine 25 years ago). The Return of the Thin Man is a hugely entertaining read that brings back two classic characters from one of the greatest of mystery writers who ever lived. This book is destined to become essential reading for Hammett's millions of fans and a new generation of mystery readers the world over.

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I've been hearing good things about THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH by Ariel S. Winter, which is a novel in three sections, each one styled after a different crime author (Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson). It seems almost too ambitious to succeed, but the reviews I've seen are full of praise. To make things even better, the publisher, Hard Case Crime, has provided the novel with a delightfully pulpy cover.

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I've been hearing good things about THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH by Ariel S. Winter, which is a novel in three sections, each one styled after a different crime author (Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson). It seems almost too ambitious to succeed, but the reviews I've seen are full of praise. To make things even better, the publisher, Hard Case Crime, has provided the novel with a delightfully pulpy cover.

I've heard good things, too. It's on my list, and has been since I read a review of it (unfortunately, I can't remember where) about a year ago.

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Bumping this thread to give a shout-out to Michael Dirda's excellent On Conan Doyle; or, The Whole Art of Storytelling. The book's a scant 210 pages long--easily readable in an afternoon--but it's a marvelous appreciation of Doyle's fiction (not just the Holmes stories) and of Doyle as a person. I laughed several times while reading; it's a warm-hearted, convivial book well worth checking out.

Edit: some excerpts that key in, I think, to the essentially Romantic nature of the Holmes stories:

The Sherlock Holmes stories are never just murder mysteries, they are moral fictions. Down Baker Street and every mean byway of London a man boldly goes who is neither tarnished nor afraid, though he wears an Inverness cape rather than Philip Marlowe's trench coat. Holmes, for all his eccentricities and neurotic tics, will never bow to cant, will always do what he believes to be right, and will faithfully ride to the rescue of the suffering and desperate. (22)

To Sir Arthur Conan Doyle what matters most in literature isn't aesthetic perfection: What counts is that books be thrilling lessons in heroism, sacrifice, and virtuous action. (84)

And one more, on a different topic:

As a potential English major, I was naturally enrolled in an array of literature classes, for which I produced essays and term papers based on the close-reading techniques of the New Criticism. Not that these techniques seemed particularly new to me. Weren't they merely Holmes's usual modus operandi applied to poems and stories? One simply needed to pay close attention to the words and look carefully at anything particularly odd or distinctive. "Singularity," as the Master often observed, "is almost invariably a clue." Holmes's success, as he told Watson more than once, lay in "the observance of trifles." I soon realized that Sherlock Holmes "read" a person or crime in the way a critic such as William Empson read poetry. (102)

I've seen Holmes compared to psychoanalysts more than once, but this may be the first time I've seen him aligned with literary critics outside my own fevered brain.

Edited by NBooth

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Ok, so this is really good news: Mysterious Press is about to unload a whole bunch of Ellery Queen novels--and one short story collection--on Feb. 5. Titles below:

Ten Days' Wonder (basis for the Chabrol film of the same name)

The Chinese Orange Mystery

The Adventures of Ellery Queen (short stories)

Cat of Many Tails

And on the Eighth Day

The American Gun Mystery

The Egyptian Cross Mystery

The Dutch Shoe Mystery (N.B. the first Queen novel I ever read, myself.)

The French Powder Mystery

The Siamese Twin Mystery

The Greek Coffin Mystery

The Spanish Cape Mystery

The [nation] [noun] Mystery books are all early Queen, as are the stories collected in The Adventures. I've not read all of them, but I would be inclined to push Chinese Orange and Dutch Shoe and recommend a miss for French Powder. Cat of Many Tails is a serial killer book after the manner of Christie's ABC Murders rather than Silence of the Lambs (which, of course, it predates). And on the Eighth Day is weird--more parable than mystery story--but good.

If nothing else, I recommend The Adventures. More than anything else I read when I was first starting on Queen, those were the stories that made me a fan.

Edited by NBooth

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I'm little bit short on time this morning, otherwise I'd scan through the first few pages of this thread to check. BUT...has anyone read any of Georges Simenon's Maigret novels? I'm watching the 1990s BBC adaptations (with Michael Gambon as the titular detective), and I'm really enjoying the tone and pace. I'm hoping the books are the same way.

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I'm little bit short on time this morning, otherwise I'd scan through the first few pages of this thread to check. BUT...has anyone read any of Georges Simenon's Maigret novels? I'm watching the 1990s BBC adaptations (with Michael Gambon as the titular detective), and I'm really enjoying the tone and pace. I'm hoping the books are the same way.

I've got one or two stacked somewhere, but they're waiting to be read. I've heard good things--it's a daunting series, though, since Simenon was insanely prolific.

Fun fact: Charles Laughton played Maigret in the 1949 movie The Man on the Eiffel Tower:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1J74WlrBlFM

Edited by NBooth

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Ok, so this is really good news: Mysterious Press is about to unload a whole bunch of Ellery Queen novels--and one short story collection--on Feb. 5.

So, my niece was born yesterday, and her first name is Ellery. My brother has heard of Ellery Queen, but he said they didn't pick the name because of him.

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Ok, so this is really good news: Mysterious Press is about to unload a whole bunch of Ellery Queen novels--and one short story collection--on Feb. 5.

So, my niece was born yesterday, and her first name is Ellery. My brother has heard of Ellery Queen, but he said they didn't pick the name because of him.

Congratulations!

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Not to keep forcing my obsessions on this thread, but Open Road Books has a video on Ellery Queen up to promote the new e-book editions:

Edited by NBooth

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Crime fiction: the new punk?

Perhaps because of their crowd-pleasing origins, crime novels have an unjustified reputation for literary shoddiness. Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe weren't the first or the last authors to beg posterity to ignore their crime fiction and concentrate on their "more serious" works. Julian Barnes and John Banville, to name but two, have taken the precaution of assuming pen-names when publishing in the mystery genre. But it's unfair to tar all mystery novelists with the James Patterson brush – there are good books and bad ones, well-drawn charcters and shoddily-written ones.

[snip]

The crime fiction novel (and the occasional football novel) is about the only place where you'll read about Birmingham or Manchester – or Reykjavik or Botswana, come to that. And it's in the English murder, not the English literary novel, that you are much more likely to hear authentic blue collar voices and dialogue. In the crime fiction section you may just find a novel that talks about the place where you're from, and speaks to you about your life – or the life yours could have become if a little misfortune had come your way.

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I recently downloaded Jo Nesbo's The Snowman, which I noticed J. Henry Waugh had read, or planned to read, last January. Any thoughts on the book, or the series, J.?

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Hi, Christian. I remember liking it and, though I'll note that I have not read more Nesbo since then. That's a bit qualified because there were enough reviews saying the next one in the series (The Leopard) wasn't as strong and then I forgot about the others. I have been such a ebook reader lately that I rarely visit my library in person, but was there recently to pick up new books from Walter Mosley and Richard Lange on hold and went ahead and grabbed the latest in the series (The Phantom). The other in the series I've read is The Devil's Star, and I read The Snowman right around the same time so they blur together.

My favorite from Nesbo is Headhunters, which is not in the Hole series. I saw the movie version recently and was struck by the violence and mayhem, which is similar to the book but doesn't hit me in nearly the same way when I read it.

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To clarify, you can't get ebooks through your library? That's where I got The Snowman, although I checked out the e-audio version.

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E-books and audio are available at the library, which is great. This was just a case of the hard copies being available sooner through the holds list.

I have a difficult time with audio versions of thrillers, though, particularly longer ones. The pace gets maddening since I listen in 30 minute bursts while commuting.

I've settled in to mostly reading fast-paced books of the sort you can finish in a weekend, particularly if the kids take a nap or the lawn isn't too messy, and listening to long "I'd love to read someday but..." books (Bolano, DFW, Hilary Mantel, non-fiction) alternated with books less than 10 hours long.

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"Books less than 10 hours long": I can hardly ever find these, although I'm actually listening to one right now. Billed as a YA novel, FWIW.

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Crow mentioned writer J. Mark Bertrand over here. I've just learned a lot more about him after reading his take on noir fiction, or what he dubs "writing about reprobation."

As a crime novelist, I know there’s more than one problem of evil. Setting aside the philosophical question, which has more to do with how to justify evil’s presence in the world, there’s the matter of how to live with evil, how to cope with its ever-present taint.

We can resolve to be good. But when it comes time to measure our actions against a moral yardstick, we’re forced to decide just how pure a deed must be in order to qualify. Nobody’s perfect, after all. If we’re honest, even our whitest whites can look a little gray.

To some, though, to admit even that much suggests despair, or at the very least cynicism. We all make mistakes but, we’re tempted to think, that doesn’t mean we’re all evil. Sure, there are evil people out there, and they do terrible things, but most of us are basically good--aren’t we? Just because things aren’t always black-and-white doesn’t mean we have to surrender to moral ambiguity, looking for ulterior motives behind every good deed.

Which means that when nice, churchgoing people find out the kind of books I write and start offering up creative ways to commit a murder, eyes glowing with delight, I shouldn’t read too much into it.

But I do. Because the tone of my work has been classified as “dark.” The word “gritty” was used so often to describe my first novel, Back on Murder, that I started to wonder if I had sand in my teeth. And there are philosophical––indeed, theological––reasons for this orientation of vision. It reflects my own take on reality, which for lack of a better term, I’ll describe as “noir.”

The article bio cites Bertrand's books:

J. Mark Bertrand is the author of two crime novels, Back on Murder and the forthcoming Pattern of Wounds, and the nonfiction title Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World. He's the writer behind Bible Design Blog, a site dedicated to "the physical form of the good book." Bertrand is also a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

This encourages me, given my struggles, related elsewhere on the board, with this type of fiction. I'm interested enough in Bertrand's writings to even rethink my distance in the past few years from any book with the word "Worldview" in the title.

Also, it's interesting to see Bertrand's comments below the main article, in response to someone who thinks more balance might be called for in noir fiction:

Taken as a whole, noir fiction might be more balanced that you realize, especially if you allow the broadening of the definition I attempt in the article, seeing noir more as an influence than a formula to repeat (which these days can only end in pastiche). Having said that, in fiction "balance" isn't always the objective. We illuminate the whole of life not only through breadth of scope, but by focusing deeply on just one of its parts.

I dug around a bit more for information on Bertrand after reading this glowing write-up on his Roland March trilogy: http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/divine-deduction_740061.html (the URL embed feature isn't working for me at the moment.). In looking at Bertrand's site for confirmation about future March stories as mentioned in the linked article, I saw that Bertrand has a nice blog that touches on noir fiction and Christian faith. "Noir as Moral Instruction" seems worth quoting here:

 

The appeal of noir, from a theological and moral standpoint, is that it offers a version of reality pretty much cleansed of such certitude. Noir fiction doesn’t assume a Manichean division between good and evil. It acknowledges the individual and systemic extent of human corruption, which touches even the good guys.

 

Societal solutions that rely on an alliance of the good people against the bad are naive (at best) because they tend to be especially blind to the evil they themselves do. These are the evils which the noir mindset can’t help bringing to light. David Brooks is right to recommend Chandler, Hammett and others as a corrective to un-nuanced optimism. And Sam Bowden is right to be a little appalled by this “very moral crop of kids.” If there’s one thing noir can teach you, it’s never to get too comfortable in the presence of those who think they’re always in the right.

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Christian, I see, from the Fiction for Men thread, that you actually read at least one of Betrand's books.

 

He certainly has some interesting things to say, but what is your personal opinion of his actual writing?

 

Noir is a genre I've always loved.  But I've tried multiple popular noir authors, and honestly, most of them just aren't very good writers.  Chandler and Hammett set the standard.  James Ellroy is, to me, the modern master at it.  Dennis Lehane, Richard Price and George Pelecanos all write very good prose.

 

There were occasional moments when I could enjoy Lee Child, James Patterson or Michael Connelly, but when it really comes down to it, they bore me.  They just don't have the mastery of language that Ellroy or Price have.

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Bertrand also doesn't have the mastery of language as far as I can tell, but I haven't read widely enough in the genre to be certain of how Bertrand compares. That's why I've posted a few different times about his work; I'd hoped others here might have a more informed view of his writing in the context of noir.

 

I consider myself a novice in terms of understanding the genre, but I responded to Bertrand's books on their own terms. They're certainly much more up my alley than other Christian fiction. Seeing his books gain traction and attention among more mainstream outlets confirms, to some degree, that he's not easily dismissed. But I don't want to oversell his work. I suspect Bertrand himself wouldn't boast that he's the equal of the writers you mention, but then again, who is? Does he have to be on a par with the cream of the crop to be worth reading?

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Christian, I see, from the Fiction for Men thread, that you actually read at least one of Betrand's books.

He certainly has some interesting things to say, but what is your personal opinion of his actual writing?

Noir is a genre I've always loved. But I've tried multiple popular noir authors, and honestly, most of them just aren't very good writers. Chandler and Hammett set the standard. James Ellroy is, to me, the modern master at it. Dennis Lehane, Richard Price and George Bernanos all write very good prose.

There were occasional moments when I could enjoy Lee Child, James Patterson or Michael Connelly, but when it really comes down to it, they bore me. They just don't have the mastery of language that Ellroy or Price have.

You should give Westlake a shot.

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Christian, I see, from the Fiction for Men thread, that you actually read at least one of Betrand's books.

He certainly has some interesting things to say, but what is your personal opinion of his actual writing?

Noir is a genre I've always loved. But I've tried multiple popular noir authors, and honestly, most of them just aren't very good writers. Chandler and Hammett set the standard. James Ellroy is, to me, the modern master at it. Dennis Lehane, Richard Price and George Bernanos all write very good prose.

There were occasional moments when I could enjoy Lee Child, James Patterson or Michael Connelly, but when it really comes down to it, they bore me. They just don't have the mastery of language that Ellroy or Price have.

You should give Westlake a shot.

 

And, on the Yorkshire Noir end, David Peace. Definitely David Peace.

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