After visiting the southern hemisphere, courtesy of Karen’s blog, it’s time to head north, to the part of the world where death-defying young female acrobats serve saffron rolls while singing and wearing lit candles on their heads – yes, it’s time to celebrate the Carnival in Scandinavia. (But kids – don’t try this at home. Your hair may catch fire.)
The rollercoaster economy has many of us wondering where the book business is going, (though some of us are more intrigued by what kind of plot Arnaldur Indridason will concoct out of the banking mess in Iceland). Many commentators were mulling over the significance of Google’s settlement in November, though how helpful their registry for orphaned books will be for crime fiction fans is unknown; the university libraries being digitized don’t tend to collect as much popular fiction as many of us would like. The puzzling news that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has halted acquisitions (sort of, maybe, unless they change their minds) sparked some commentary, including the head-scratcher that nobody told Otto Penzler, who apparently gets to keep blithely buying books. Unfortunately, that does not include the next Declan Burke title. Fans are certain that crime will pay for another publisher, and HMH will be kicking itself in the arse for being so myopic.
But meanwhile . . . many bloggers are doing their bit for the industry with a “buy books for Christmas” meme. And while many bloggers are standing ready to recommend current books, some old favorites are being systematically and lovingly rediscovered every Friday thanks to Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books project, avidly adopted by The Rap Sheet and others.
Spinning the coin a bit differently, Toni McGee Causey writes about why it’s important to tell stories in these difficult times.
The glorious thing is that the world is full of stories, and through crime fiction that we can discover the world in all its seamy, sordid glory. Scandinavia is producing an astonishing output of fine crime fiction, celebrated at this blog. Norm (alias Uriah) is a bit peeved at the moment by the way British television reviewers are covering the release of BBC’s version of Wallander. Not only do they come up with headlines like “Inspector Morose” but they assign reviews to people who cheerfully confess “I must be honest, I hadn’t been optimistic about the prospect of a Swedish detective. My only knowledge of the country came from watching Bjorn Borg playing tennis at Wimbledon, and reading about Ulrika Jonsson’s latest baby/divorce/lover.” Given the collective knowledge base of the crime fiction blogging community, this insouciant ignorance is . . . well, grounds for justifiable homicide?
Over at my place, Adrian Hyland kindly agreed to answer a flock of questions from students in a first term seminar course on international crime fiction. We had just read his marvelous book, Diamond Dove, retitled Moonlight Downs in the US. If you want to understand the Aboriginal perspective, through the extraordinary voice of a mixed-race heroine, give it a read. And for a slightly more risque interview, see what madman Stuart McBride tossed Adrian’s way over at Shots.
Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders is a constant source of intelligent recommendations and commentary on the world of crime fiction. Admitted into evidence, Exhibit A: guest blogger Mike Nichol of Crime Beat South Africa who offers a marvelous capsule history of crime fiction in SA – including the impact Deon Meyer has had on the genre.
Despite the vibrancy of thriller and crime fiction elsewhere, not much has happened in SA crime fiction over the last five decades. Until recently that is. This isn’t exactly surprising as the cops have been more or less an invading army in the eyes of most of the citizenry since forever. Certainly, come the apartheid state in the late 1940s no self-respecting writer was going to set up with a cop as the main protagonist of a series. It was akin to sleeping with the enemy. . . . The 1990s, however, were to see a number of changes, not least the change in the country to a democracy with the 1994 general election that ended the apartheid state. Overnight, well, almost overnight, the cops became the good guys and our literature started taking on a different perspective. But it takes some time for a country to mature and give itself permission to write and read escapist books, especially as we’d been used to writing and reading as an act of protest. . . .
Interestingly, the first wave of new crime fiction focused primarily on what Nichol calls “crimes of deviancy” – serial killers and other departures from the norm were the subjects of choice for both English and Afrikaans writers, because they could be escapist.
Perhaps in this there was a desire to steer away from the political issues dominating a nation in transition, although this attitude is changing. Social and political concerns are back on the agenda, and the bad guys are now as likely to be politicians, business moguls, and figures of authority as perverts, drug dealers, serial killers and gangsters.
So, it seems these writers are giving murder “back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse” as Chandler so famously suggested in “The Simple Art of Murder.” As I’ve just finished reading an advanced copy of Roger Smith’s Mixed Blood and am halfway through Deon Meyer’s Devil’s Peak, I can serve as a witness – this stuff is good!
We’ll close with a gift from Ali Karim, who was moved in a fit of enthusiasm for Steig Larsson, to put into words “The Importance of Crime and Thriller Fiction.” I hope he’ll forgive me for quoting it at length.
Camus stated that “A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images.” This line put some perspective into my thoughts, especially as Larsson’s journalism work was slanted toward revealing the evils of Neo-Nazism, as well the levels of brutality inflicted upon the most vulnerable in society, such as women, dispossessed, the marginalized, minorities and the underprivileged. Some of Larsson’s thoughts naturally found themselves into his novels as the line from Camus indicated. When looking at human beings we find that when we’re good, we can be truly remarkable, but when we’re bad, we can be horrifically evil. . . .
I guess I spend a lot of time contemplating life, death and society, from the mirror that is crime / thriller fiction; that’s why existential work strikes such a resonance in my psyche. I guess I am always looking for meaning, or purpose in the sheer randomness [or absurdity] of our existence. Every so often a line, a paragraph or perhaps a whole book has such insight. I consider as human beings, we are deeply flawed as I previous mentioned. Therefore crime / thriller fiction is a perfect art form to view [and reflect] the human condition; as crime novels link the good and bad within us all. The best fiction novels of crime offer the reader to take his/her own side of the moral compass. There are some novels that really help you understand the sheer comedy and tragedy of our existence. . . .
I guess I read so much; write so much; and observe life, trying to find out more about myself and the world that surrounds me. Every so often I discover something from the viewpoint of another person that makes me challenge my own thinking, and makes me look at the world in a different way. Larsson does that for me. He challenges me, and makes me see things from the prism of his mind, not mine. . . .
So what else could one ask for from one’s entertainment? And to add to my pretentious mood this morning I will quote Albert Camus again –
“After all manner of professors have done their best for us, the place we are to get knowledge is in books. The true university of these days is a collection of books.”
That is why I spend so much time reading, and why I consider a life without books as meaningless, and why I get anxiety if not surrounded by books, and why crime thrillers reveal more about life than any other genre – In my very humble opinion [and I qualify that statement by making it clear that I do read widely, not just crime], in crime fiction I find all of life’s rich tapestry.
Thanks, Ali, for your enthusiasm and for your willingness to put it into words.