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Mysteries and Detective Stories


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#41 NBooth

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 03:14 PM

You'll enjoy this, then! From the Leverage Facebook page, side-by-side photos of the two Huttons dressed as Ellery. :)


That's terrific. I'm looking forward to checking out the episode on Saturday (Amazon Unbox is a marvelous thing).

#42 NBooth

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Posted 01 August 2011 - 06:55 AM

Lawrence Block does a blind reading of several thriller/mystery novels. Along the way, he shares his thoughts on the different authors:

On Agatha Christie:

I admire Christie tremendously, and I’ve read most of her work and have read more than once the Jane Marple books, which the Carolyn character in [The Murder of Roger Ackroyd]is somewhat reminiscent of. (I would’ve looked far brighter if I had pointed that out a moment ago.) But I think that Christie was extraordinary in several respects.

There were a couple of books she wrote that became the first and last word on the subject. For example, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Once she’d done that, no one could ever do it again, and no one had done it before. And the same thing with And Then There Were None, or Ten Little Indians, what everyone calls it. These were extraordinary accomplishments. I’ve also heard it said—I don’t know if this is true or not—but that on at least two occasions, Christie published a book which immediately caused one or more writers to throw out a book in progress because she had gotten there first and it was something you could only do once. So she was quite brilliant that way.

But it also seems to me that—although the books are cozies and not to be taken as realistic in the same way that say, oh, realistic crime novels are—the books on one level are very serious. Christie was very much writing about evil and the nature of it, and the human capacity for it. So that she was, I think, a very tough-minded writer for all that she’s writing what we’re calling cozies.


[One of those authors who threw out a novel after Christie published one was, IIRC, "Ellery Queen." But I can't recall which title it was--it was published some years later].

On Rex Stout:

The thing with the Nero Wolfe books is not that the stories are wonderful. There’s nothing much to them, mostly. The deduction is often arbitrary and not too much worth paying attention to, really, and for all that we’re given to understand that Wolfe has this astonishing brain, it’s not entirely in evidence during the story, and none of this would happen except that Saul Panzer or somebody can miraculously go and turn up with information that is not revealed to us.


Edited by NBooth, 01 August 2011 - 06:56 AM.


#43 Jason Panella

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Posted 01 August 2011 - 07:51 AM

Whoa, it just dawned on me that the interviewer is the Ethan Iverson from the Bad Plus. This is just too cool. Thanks for posting this!

#44 Christian

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Posted 04 September 2011 - 03:47 PM

I just learned his latest novel, starting a "hot new series," releases later this summer:

The Cut is George Pelecanos’s chance expertly to introduce Spero Lucas, an irresistible 29-year-old Marine turned private investigator, at the start of a hot new series. It arrives in August.

An online friend who doesn't care for Pelecanos asked what he should read to give Pelecanos another try. One of the responses (from Bilge Ebiri) included a link to this interview promoting The Cut, which restates what I've written earlier about Pelecanos' work, based on the author's own comments:

Q. Your stuff almost always seems to work at issues of redemption—the son finding his path back in The Way Home, Spero sort of working to transform some darker aspects of his war duty in The Cut. Do you see/feel a particular proclivity for redemption, or is that a misread? (I know it’s generally a part of all good plot-driven stories, sure, but the way your characters work toward redemption seems fundamentally different, deeper, than what I see in, say, Connelly’s stuff)

A. Yes, it’s part of my personal worldview. I shake my head when people call my work “dark.” My books, especially as they’ve gone along, have always ended with a great degree of hope. The characters have to crawl on some bad roads to get there, but hey. I’m saying, I believe that it’s a long life, and we have the capacity to change. ... I’ve been in trouble myself. Among the many knucklehead moves I’ve made, I shot someone when I was a teenager, and if people had given up on me, I wouldn’t have come through to the other side. So the redemption thing in my books is more than a plot device. It’s me.


FWIW, I recommended the friend try Pelecanos' Drama City.

Edited by Christian, 04 September 2011 - 03:50 PM.


#45 NBooth

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 11:31 AM

Soul Circus is currently $1.99 in Kindle format.

#46 M. Leary

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 08:52 PM

I am ashamed to say that I had not read any Pelecanos before this thread. I am not sure whether to thank Christian or not for his insistence. Now I am convinced that St. Louis needs a Pelecanos.

#47 Christian

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 08:54 PM

I am ashamed to say that I had not read any Pelecanos before this thread. I am not sure whether to thank Christian or not for his insistence. Now I am convinced that St. Louis needs a Pelecanos.

Which book(s) did you read?

#48 M. Leary

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 09:04 PM

The Stefanos novels, Big Blowdown, Right as Rain, now reading Soul Circus. In between bouts of Secret Garden with my daughter.

#49 Christian

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Posted 09 September 2011 - 09:08 PM

The Stefanos novels, Big Blowdown, Right as Rain, now reading Soul Circus. In between bouts of Secret Garden with my daughter.

You've blown past me. I've never read the Stefanos novels or Big Blowdown, but have read the Derek Strange books and several novels of his that aren't part of a series.

Strangely, the first book of his that I read about and that made me want to read his stuff, King Suckerman, is one I've never gotten around to reading.

#50 NBooth

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 07:31 PM

P.D. James announces her new novel: Pride and Prejudice and murder.

"The year," runs the press release, "is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the Pemberley nursery, Elizabeth's beloved sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live within seventeen miles, the ordered and secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable, and Elizabeth's happiness in her marriage is complete. But their peace is threatened and old sins and misunderstandings are rekindled on the eve of the annual autumn ball. The Darcys and their guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley's wild woodland, and as it pulls up, Lydia Wickham, an uninvited guest, tumbles out, screaming that her husband has been murdered."


Not that no-one's thought of mixing Jane Austen and murder before....

FWIW, this move doesn't surprise me. James is in the Sayers school of detective fiction, which values the format as a way to explore social relationships--and which, therefore, feels a natural kinship with Jane Austen (both James and Sayers have sung her praise, iirc). So I can definitely see why James would want to do this.

Edited by NBooth, 03 October 2011 - 10:30 AM.


#51 NBooth

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 10:30 AM

3QuarksDaily reminds me that I really need to pick up Inherent Vice:

Why a private eye book? Well, the mystery genre is a rubric, an outline, a template, a skeleton, and as such is always a serviceable platform to riff on, to improvise with. (Consider “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler, for instance. Boy, did he wander off the reservation.) As with any genre, it has its conventions, its touchstones that are comfortable and immediately acceptable for its readers. (This past summer Harry Potter and his nemesis Voldemort did a Reichenbach Falls jump together in the series finale.) And then there is the love of the genre itself. Pynchon does love the genre. No smirky, snarky dilettante descending from an ivory literary tower.



#52 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 03 October 2011 - 02:38 PM

I have read Inherent Vice. I guess it is worth your time if you read 100 crime novels a year and this is one of the many. But it is not worth your time if it comes at the expense of reading new novels from Roger Smith, Don Winslow, Walter Molsey, Jim Sallis, Dave Zelsterman, etc.

Pynchon's detective fiction jokes were done better by Sesame Street and (even more damning) the Capitol Steps.

#53 NBooth

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Posted 23 October 2011 - 08:31 PM

It has come to my attention that two Ellery Queen novels will be hitting the world of ebooks this week:

The Roman Hat Mystery

The first Queen novel, Roman Hat introduces the Philo Vancish Ellery Queen as a pince-nez wearing fop; characterization is minimal (in true Van Dine mode), but the plot is pretty satisfying.

If you're interested in getting into Queen, though, I would recommend trying out Calamity Town. It was published in 1942, and the shadow of war hangs pretty heavily over it. The novel was the first of what Francis Nevins characterizes as Queen's "third period"--a run of books where well-built plots were pretty successfully merged with rounded, believable characters. I just re-read it in preparation for a seminar paper, and it's intense; more tragedy than mystery, in some ways, with a hardheaded look at small-town America in the years immediately preceding WWII.

EDIT: Since I'm linking Queen e-books, I might as well throw these here:

Halfway House

The Door Between

The Devil to Pay

Of these, I've only read Halfway House--it's pretty good (it's either the last of "first period" Queen or the first of the "second period"--it's very like the first few "Nation-Noun" mysteries, but takes a turn toward better characterization. The string of deductions at the end is pretty terrific, though).

Edited by NBooth, 23 October 2011 - 08:37 PM.


#54 NBooth

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Posted 06 November 2011 - 08:52 AM

P.D. James announces her new novel: Pride and Prejudice and murder.


And now James herself has a piece up on the book:

For me, one of the joys of writing Death Comes to Pemberley was revisiting once again the world of Longbourn and Pemberley and finding, as I always do, fresh insights and delights. It also gave me an opportunity to address a problem of plotting that I found in the original novel, but I was concerned to write a true detective story with clues to the truth of what happened available to the reader and, I hope, an ending that is both believable and satisfying.



#55 NBooth

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 01:26 PM

Over in the comments section at Filmwell, ELRambo posted a link to a recent article in Books and Culture on "God and the Detectives."

The genre will contain only so much seriousness, will support only so much heaviness, before it collapses. If you want to write a genuinely rich, genuinely profound investigation of innocence and guilt, you need to build a different novelistic frame.

Still, the mystery story as a literary form is sturdier than some of its critics admit (notably Edmund Wilson in his famous 1945 attack in The New Yorker, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?"). Genre fiction will support some weight, and the trick in all its permutations—in spy thrillers, in Westerns, in science fiction, even in pulp romance—is to discover exactly how much. Religion can live in mysteries to a reasonable degree, if the analogy of the supernatural is allowed to superimpose itself on the natural world. God can visit the detectives, if the author has the sense to permit it.

All it takes is a little grace.


FWIW, in my reply to her comment, I had this to say:

I think Bottum's on to something, especially here:

"A detective story is religious if it superadds an awareness of redemption to the fallen world assumed by all mysteries. If it sees the chance of God's grace down in a universe of sin."

My own contention would be that the act of detection is itself, somehow, redemptive; it's "making sense" in a dual way: both in creating sense (artistic redemption) and in discerning it (prophetic redemption). Hopefully, I'll be able to delve into this a little further in future.


--which is to say, I think the detective story is innately religious, but not in the sense that Bottum seems to mean of being innately Christian. He's right when he says it isn't; to suggest as much would be to go a bridge too far.

Edited by NBooth, 10 November 2011 - 01:26 PM.


#56 Christian

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Posted 26 November 2011 - 10:24 PM



... Richard Price, James Sallis, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Dan Chaon, George Pelecanos ...

With a few of the Pelecanos early detective novels being republished this year, I think I'll have to start over my reading of his work. I keep forgetting he was also part of the David Simon/Richard Price/Dennis Lehane writing team for The Wire. I'm reserving a bookshelf for collecting them all in my library.

I just learned his latest novel, starting a "hot new series," releases later this summer:

The Cut is George Pelecanos’s chance expertly to introduce Spero Lucas, an irresistible 29-year-old Marine turned private investigator, at the start of a hot new series. It arrives in August.

Grabbed a copy at the library today -- there were three copies sitting on the "New Releases" shelf. I don't usually think much of laudatory dust-jacket quotes, but this book has some quotes from genre heavyweights that have me thinking The Cut might be something special.

#57 NBooth

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 11:13 PM

"All Things Considered" has a good piece up on "The Enduring Popularity of Sherlock Holmes". Interviewees include Les Klinger and Laurie King, who says:

"He's a man who has given himself body and soul to the conquest of evil and that's something that speaks to us across the ages."


--a description that, incidentally, isn't that far removed from Chandler's knight or Ellery Queen's play on the detective-as-prophet.

Edited by NBooth, 19 December 2011 - 11:13 PM.


#58 Christian

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 12:47 PM




... Richard Price, James Sallis, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Dan Chaon, George Pelecanos ...

With a few of the Pelecanos early detective novels being republished this year, I think I'll have to start over my reading of his work. I keep forgetting he was also part of the David Simon/Richard Price/Dennis Lehane writing team for The Wire. I'm reserving a bookshelf for collecting them all in my library.

I just learned his latest novel, starting a "hot new series," releases later this summer:

The Cut is George Pelecanos’s chance expertly to introduce Spero Lucas, an irresistible 29-year-old Marine turned private investigator, at the start of a hot new series. It arrives in August.

Grabbed a copy at the library today -- there were three copies sitting on the "New Releases" shelf. I don't usually think much of laudatory dust-jacket quotes, but this book has some quotes from genre heavyweights that have me thinking The Cut might be something special.

The Cut was OK, but I've also gone ahead and picked up Pelecanos' What It Was as a $0.99 ebook. Turns out I'm far from alone.

The novel, released on Jan. 23, enters USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list at No. 36, the highest debut for Pelecanos, who has written 18 novels.

FWIW.

EDIT: I see J. Henry Waugh wasn't a fan of What It Was.

Oooo! Also #13 on the NY Times combined print/ebook fiction list!

Thing is, I have to read this on my laptop, using my newly downloaded Kindle reader (required to purchase the novel from Amazon). I've yet to read more than a chapter or two of a few books on my laptop. I just don't like reading books that way. Maybe the Kindle app will make for a more enjoyable experience.

Edited by Christian, 03 February 2012 - 12:53 PM.


#59 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 04:24 PM

Hi, Christian.

Wasn't a fan, is waaaaay too strong. I am absolutely a Pelecanos fan. The pre-ordered book hit my Kindle at 12:05 at 24 hours later I'd devoured it.

But if I were introducing the non-initiated to Mr. George, there are an easy seven books of his I would pick before Red Fury. My favorite of the batch is The Sweet Forever.

Edit to add that I am enough of a fan that I would only dare criticize Pelecanos because he's achieved enough success that my quibbles are meaningless. I want him to be successful and I push everyone I know who is interested in this sort of thing to read and buy his books.

Edited by J. Henry Waugh, 03 February 2012 - 04:27 PM.


#60 Christian

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 08:35 PM

Fair enough. The post I linked to said you wouldn't recommend it for Pelecanos newbies, not that you weren't a fan.

I've never read The Sweet Forever or, sadly, King Suckerman.