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Kevin Cryan
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Clive on crime fiction
« : 03.04.07 at 08:09 »
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Clive, who seems to get more industrious by the day, with a little help from a little credited help from his youngest daughter, examines the condition of  American and European crime fiction and crime writing for the current (April 9th) issue of The New Yorker.  
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #1: 05.04.07 at 13:45 »
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As a relative 'beginner in genre-writing' myself, I was fascinated and entertained by Clive's overview, which is characteristically insightful, even if he's a little hard on the now sadly late Michael Dibdin.  Clive is spot on about the crime novel as guide-book.  My first - and forthcoming second - book is set in Mongolia (proving Clive's point, as it's probably one of the few countries still lacking a fictional detective with half a dozen novels to his name.  Only two and a half, so far).  After reading an earlier draft, my publisher, the estimable Anthony Cheetham, told me it needed a little more of the 'Rough Guide' stuff.  He was right, of course.  
 
On the basis of this article, I'd be interested to read Clive's views on my Quercus stable-mate, Peter Temple - a very fine Australian crime-writer.  I suspect Clive would enjoy 'The Broken Shore' - atmospheric, witty, and with a lean style that's not a million miles from Clive's own.  
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #2: 05.04.07 at 14:12 »
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Mike,
 
Given that it might have thrown some light on the subject you were discussing, I don't think that there is anything wrong with giving your own book a less modest plug than you have.
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #3: 05.04.07 at 18:06 »
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Mike wrote:
 
<< My first - and forthcoming second - book is set in Mongolia (proving Clive's point, as it's probably one of the few countries still lacking a fictional detective with half a dozen novels to his name.  Only two and a half, so far). >>
 
Have you actually been there, Mike? Or did you just dream it up like the chap who did the brilliant Inspector Ghose stories set in Bombay or Mumbai which he'd never visited and was eventually taken there by the BBC for a documentary? If ever the Beeb drag you off to Mongolia, you'll know you've made it.  
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #4: 05.04.07 at 18:45 »
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Thanks to Kevin for plugging on my behalf - would hate to be accused by Steve of abusing my position as moderator on this thread so won't mention that the paperback's out on 3 May.  
 
In answer to Ian's question, yes, I have been there and an extraordinary place it is too - I'd thoroughly recommend a visit to any travel junkies.  But I'm still open to any offers from the BBC...
 
Anyway, that's enough of that.  Back on topic now, people!  
 
Regards
 
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Kevin Cryan
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #5: 14.04.07 at 12:50 »
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Not everybody, it would seem, thought Clive’s essay on crime fiction was as good and as evenhanded as I thought it was. This American crime writer Judith Copek whose cyber-sleuth, Emma Lee Davis, made her debut in the 2005 e-book The Shadow Warriors*  - down these mean codes a woman must go who is not herself mean – was less than impressed. Here is what she has posted to her blog while looking through some of the recent New York Times book reviews.
 
"Clive James has a non-fiction book reviewed. He just recently crossed my radar with a rather snide article on crime fiction in the New Yorker. I was thrilled to see a serious article about the subject, but he actually panned crime fiction, or rather damned with faint praise."
 
You might dismiss her remarks as being the musings of of a genre-writer who wishes to think that what she writes counts as literature. But, no, this is a woman who thinks so highly of Marcel Proust that she has turned over a whole blogspot, Reading Proust In Foxborough, to recording her thoughts while reading him.  
 
So I think that it's fair to suggest that her thinking that Clive "panned crime fiction" or "damned it with faint praise" means that she thinks that Clive was being somewhat condecending - being the critic who is usually doing better things than slumming it by writing about this particularly undernourishing genre while he was writing the article.  
 
I presume that this is kind of  thing that happens to a critic - the kind of misinterpretaition he or she is open to - when he or she  "crosses someone's radar", as Clive has here,  for the first time. I say this because I cannot possibly bring myself to believe  that the  Ms.Copek, who recognises that Clive has written what she herself allows is "a serious article", has willfully misinterpreted what he is actually saying about the particular genre.

 
Kevin Cryan
 
*Not to be confused with the 2002 non-fiction Shadow Warriors by Tom Clancy with help from General Carl Stiner (Ret.) and Tony Koltz.
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #6: 15.04.07 at 07:26 »
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I'm with her on this one.  I thought CJ's article read like a hack piece written by someone who doesn't really have much sympathy for the genre - maybe had his card marked by his daughter?  
 
'Damnit, I have to knock out a thousand words by tomorrow morning on crime fiction - you've read some of that stuff so can you point me in the right direction?  Thanks, now I can wash my hands of this and move back to meatier matters.'
 
Or it may just be that he missed out many of my favourite crime writers (or hasn't read them?)!
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #7: 15.04.07 at 15:06 »
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I read Clive's piece again in light of these comments, and I'm blowed if I can see why anyone thought it was snide, or that it was 'panning' crime fiction.  I'd have thought that Henry James aficionados would have far more to complain about.  It actually made me want to read one or two of the things he mentioned, and criticism doesn't come any more positive than that.  True, he didn't say that crime fiction represents the peak of the whole of western literary creation, but neither did he t seem to me to be saying that to read it constitutes a kind of 'slumming', any more than that someone who treasures Beethoven's late quartets, say, is slumming when they also enjoy rock and roll.   If there was a slight, it was only a perceived one, as far as I can tell.
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #8: 15.04.07 at 16:05 »
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I'm with Pete.  I thought the piece on crime fiction was well-balanced and full of insight (or at least provocation).  I didn't agree with all the judgements - from my perspective, for example, the piece overrates Donna Leon and underrates Michael Dibdin - but even Clive James can't be right all the time...  And he was spot on about the excellent Andrea Camilleri.  
 
With my slight vested interest, I was particularly interested in the implication that there's an inherent tension between the respective demands of 'literary' and 'genre' fiction.  I suspect there may be.  That's not to undervalue good genre writing (of which there's an enormous amount, just as there's an enormous amount of rubbish), but simply to suggest that its focus and dynamics are different from those of 'literary' fiction and that perhaps few writers have the range to do both.   Though I would heartily recommend Julian Barnes's Dan Kavanagh books if you can manage to track them down.  
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #9: 26.04.07 at 08:37 »
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This diary entry was filed under the heading You Don’t Say by Washington based journalist and blogger Graham Meyer.
 
____________________________________
From Clive James’s essay “Blood on the Borders,”* about crime fiction, in the April 9 New Yorker:
 
Camillieri can do a character’s whole backstory in half a paragraph, and only rarely do you get that giveaway trade trick by which one character tells another what he already knows, so that you can find out. “You know what he’s like,” says A to B about C, and then proceeds to tell B what C is like, as if B didn’t already know.
From Don DeLillo’s** short story “Still-Life,” in the same issue:
 
“There’s nothing to discuss right now. He needs to stay away from things, including discussions.”
 
“Reticent.”
 
“You know Keith.”
 
“I’ve always admired that about him. He gives the impression there’s something deeper to him than hiking and skiing, or playing cards. But what?”
 
This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2007 at 4:12 pm and is filed under Readings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

____________________________________
 
Succinct and to the point, I'd say.
 
Kevin Cryan
 
*Blood on the Borders
**Don DeLillo
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #10: 01.05.07 at 08:09 »
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When, in his New Yorker essay  Blood on the Borders, Clive suggests that Massimo Carlotto* is not an especially good writer, a number of people, including myself, wondered whether or not he was reading a translation or the original Italian.  
 
Rosario Gambera, a 32 year old blogger from Milan, was one such. He observed: Strano che un giornalista del New Yorker accusi Carlotto di cattiva scrittura senza considerare la così detta lost in translations**. And he has a point, if only because Clive, or possibly his editor, fails makes it clear.  
 
Mind you, Gambera's point is not quite so strong when one tries to imagine how the clunking piece of comic-book dialogue like “We’ve absolutely got to find a way of stopping the Master of Knots and his gang, Max said angrily" could possibly sound good in any language.  
 
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*Carlotto’s recent “The Master of Knots” is a story of torture, snuff movies, and arbitrary death that once again features his freelance fighter for justice, nicknamed Alligator. Alligator drinks Calvados the way the Scots and Irish boys drink whiskey, but, unlike them, and like most of the other Italian sleuths, he lines his stomach with decent food, evoked in some detail. His friend Max is a cook: “Max had prepared linguine with a cream sauce containing prawns and aubergine.” Philip Marlowe never ate anything like that. On the other hand, Philip Marlowe never had to listen to anything like this: “ ‘We’ve absolutely got to find a way of stopping the Master of Knots and his gang,’ Max said angrily.” Those are the moments that make real writers wonder if they shouldn’t get into the crime-fiction business and run up a score.
 
**I'm nonplussed that a New Yorker journalist accuses Carlo of bad writing without considering what goodness may be lost in translations.
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #11: 10.05.07 at 07:07 »
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John Sutherland has written what might well, without too much stretch of the imagination, be considered a good companion piece to Clive's Blood on The Borders for the April 29th edition of The Sunday Times.  
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #12: 05.09.07 at 07:03 »
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A recent piece of blogging has been asking whether or not some of what Clive had to say about the writing of crime fiction can be usefully applied to the crime-writing of a member of this parish.
 
More Mongolia and one more question for readers.  
 
I've finished Michael Walters' The Shadow Walker* and, as in last week's comment, I'll say a word or two about settings.
 
My earlier comment discussed Clive James' occasionally simplistic view of crime novels set in far-flung climes, expressed in a New Yorker article in May called "Blood on the Borders." His thesis is that since crime novels have nothing new to say, their authors instead offer colorful views of their homelands. ("In most of the crime novels coming out now, it’s a matter not of what happens but of where. Essentially, they are guidebooks.”)
 
I'll save the question of whether crime novels are outmoded for later. The other half of James' assertion is easier to deal with. His guidebooks comparison conjures up visions of picturesque settings, when, in fact, setting can be more sophisticated than that. Sure, Walters' novel offers an occasional marvel at Mongolia's splendid isolation, including this nice observation about a tourist camp in the Gobi:
 
"Holiday camps?" Drew said. "In the desert?"
 
"Well, you could perhaps think of it as a large beach," Nergui smiled. "Though I admit it's a long walk to the sea."

 
There are also occasional observations about older residents in traditional robes mingling with younger people in western dress and, as I mentioned last week, of traditional Mongolian tents called gers incongruously co-existing with modern apartment blocks. I liked the observations, but I'll give Clive James the benefit of the doubt; they have a whiff of the guidebook about them.
 
Not so for the novel's musing on the effects of capitalism on the environment and economy of the once-communist Mongolia. Nor is it the case for the unusual position in which the chief investigator, Nergui, finds himself, as a mix of police officer, diplomat and commercial and industrial relations specialist.  
 
Mongolia's rapidly modernizing economy is responsible for this mix of roles, and Walters make it a plot element. A visiting British police official, called in to probe the killing of a British citizen is wary of Nergui, haunted by thoughts that he may be something like a spy. Nergui is resigned to the occasional blundering and ethical lapses of Mongolian police, and this, too, is no mere narrative window dressing.  
 
Rather, Walters presents it as the inevitable result of a sudden necessity for a professional police force, unnecessary when the army exercised police functions. The main plot, too, is tied closely to current conditions in Mongolia, involving as it does international struggles over rights to the country's extensive mineral wealth.
Yes, these are all aspects of setting, but they're hardly guidebook stuff. They're part of why I'd recommend The Shadow Walker as a story of, and not just a guidebook to, Mongolia.
 
===============
The question: Clive James called current crime novels "essentially ... guidebooks." What crime stories have you read where setting overwhelmed plot, where the story was lost amid the colorful sights?
 
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

 
*The Shadow Walker
 
Kevin Cryan
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #13: 05.09.07 at 20:30 »
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on 05.09.07 at 07:03, Kevin Cryan wrote:

There are also occasional observations about older residents in traditional robes mingling with younger people in western dress and, as I mentioned last week, of traditional Mongolian tents called gers incongruously co-existing with modern apartment blocks.

 
Thanks Kevin, that explains the dubious pun on Mike Walters' blog which I didn't understand at the time (But forgot to look up!)
See the entry for July 27!
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #14: 05.09.07 at 23:33 »
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I can only apologise for the pun.  But it was, of course, a reference not just to Marshal Pierre Bosquet, but also to 'Tonight Your Love is Over' and so suitably Jamesian...
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #15: 06.09.07 at 09:13 »
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By the way, for those of you who have not yet read it, a PDF extract of Mike's excellent crime novel The Shadow Walker is available by by registering with lovereading.co.uk.  
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #16: 07.02.08 at 08:43 »
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on 05.09.07 at 07:03, Kevin Cryan wrote:
A recent piece of blogging has been asking whether or not some of what Clive had to say about the writing of crime fiction can be usefully applied to the crime-writing of a member of this parish.
 
More Mongolia and one more question for readers.  
 
............................
===============
The question: Clive James called current crime novels "essentially ... guidebooks." What crime stories have you read where setting overwhelmed plot, where the story was lost amid the colorful sights?
 
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

 
*The Shadow Walker
 
Kevin Cryan

 
It seems to me Clive's New Yorker essay on crime fiction is coming to be accepted as a piece of travel writing that would not have been altogether out of place in his Flying Visits collection.  
 
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>..
 
 
Have novel will travel
 
For those of us who can only dream of escaping abroad, Rory MacLean recommends the best fiction books for transporting readers to a foreign land
 
Rory Maclean  
 
guardian.co.uk,  
 
Wednesday February 6 2008
 
 
 
Escape in a book ... fiction can often create a sense of a place more powerfully than any travel guide. Photograph: Marco Cristofori/Zefa/Corbis
 
There's a bit of a buzz on the web right now about "international" novels. One reviewer is trying to break out of her entrenched non-fiction habit – not least because memoirs and travel narratives are stacked 15-high beside her bed – and read more novels that convey a sense of place or culture. Another commentator is looking at the explosion of crime fiction based in places as unlikely as Laos, Gaza and North Korea. She praises European and Asian crime writers for exploring "contemporary socio-political concerns that American counterparts either ignore or don't know about". Another observer of publishing trends tells me that these days the "real" stories come from the Third World. He says that injustice and oppression, as well as the experience of extreme poverty and the powerlessness of women, topics that fuelled Hardy and Dickens, are now simply far more prevalent in places other than Dorset and London.
It was Clive James who kicked this critical ball into motion. Last April in the New Yorker he deconstructed the modern "international" crime novel as essentially a travel guide. He wrote, "Ideally, an author should turn out a sequence of detective novels that will generate a bus tour in the city where they are set". So what recent fiction – crime or otherwise – transports the reader abroad more powerfully than factual travelogues? ……………[read on]

 
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
 
Kevin Cryan
 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #17: 09.12.10 at 10:49 »
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on 05.04.07 at 18:45, Mike Walters wrote:
Thanks to Kevin for plugging on my behalf - would hate to be accused by Steve of abusing my position as moderator on this thread so won't mention that the paperback's out on 3 May.  
 
Regards
 
Mike

I can only presume that it's onc again his unwillingness to be thought of as abusing his position as moderator that has prevented Mike Walters from posting even a link to this interesting addition to discussion which took place on this subject.
 
Quote:
Far-Fetched Stories
By mikewalters
 
A while ago, Clive James stirred up a minor controversy with a New Yorker article which argued, or at least asserted, that many contemporary crime novels are simply ‘guide books’ and that ‘finally there is nothing left… in the memory except the place they are set in’.  James concluded sardonically  that ’ideally, an author should turn out a sequence of detective novels that will generate a bus tour in the city where they are set’.  While James’s judgement is perhaps a little harsh, he does have a point.  Much of the best crime fiction, whatever its other merits, tends to be grounded in a strong sense of place – whether it’s an indigenous writer exploring his or her own terrain or an outsider delving into the less familiar.  The delights of literary tourism may be an ancillary aspect of good crime fiction, but they can be potent nonetheless  
..........................................read on
.
 

 
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #18: 09.12.10 at 18:23 »
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Well, modesty forbids and all that.  But thanks once more to Kevin for dragging my light from under the bushel.
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Re: Clive on crime fiction
« Reply #19: 14.04.11 at 23:20 »
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There is an interesting addition to this debate by Jason Goodwin in today's Telegraph: "some of the best travel writing today is being wedged in between the flimsy covers of crime novels".
 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/northamerica/usa/8450091/Jason-Go odwin-promotes-An-Evil-Eye-on-a-road-trip-around-the-United-States.html
 
Steve M.
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