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Author Topic: Mystery fiction and the Left
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 23 August 2002 01:07 AM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hi folks,

I've gone on a recent mystery-crime-detective novel jag. I just finished Agatha Christie's Secret Adversary - an early 20s anti Bolshevik Dick and Jane adventure story.

I'm very fond of the Mexican anarchist Paco Ignacio Taibo III's pomo hardboiled fiction, as well as Val McDermid's lesbian socialist feminist detective.

Do babblers like mysteries? How do you see them in relationship to progressive politics? Are there any Left or antiLeft mysteries babblers would recommend?


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nonsuch
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posted 23 August 2002 01:21 AM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I can't recall any of the million or so murder mysteries i've read as being overtly political. Each author does comment on the social mores, economic circumstances and class structure of the time and place in which s/he set the story. Most of them seem to have done a good bit of research - or set the story in an area they already knew. I've learned quite a lot of history - and all kinds of other lore. I've learned about pipe organs, the antique trade, art, archeology, horses, jewelry, quilting, music, religion, radio... At least, that's as good an excuse as any for choosing escapist literature.
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Terry Johnson
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posted 23 August 2002 01:41 AM      Profile for Terry Johnson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Someone else who knows Paco Ignacio Taibo III? I don't feel so alone in the world.

Other progressive mystery writers? Well there's Dashiell Hammett and his Continental Op. And I'd throw in Eric Ambler, too, although he's more of a spy/espionage writer.

But I can't think of any current mystery writers in English who I'd count as progressive.


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dale cooper
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posted 23 August 2002 01:41 AM      Profile for dale cooper     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Isn't Mickey Spillane riding quite far on the left....

Kidding. But really, try Arturo Perez-Reverte if you haven't. He may not be grossly political, but there are some themes running through.


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TommyPaineatWork
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posted 23 August 2002 02:53 AM      Profile for TommyPaineatWork     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm not a reader of mysteries, but a couple of years ago I did pick up Kathy Riech's fist book, "Deja Dead", and also her second one, "Death Dejour."

I was attracted to these books because Riechs is by trade a forensic pathologist, and I thought it would be interesting to read a murder mystery written by a scientist in that related field.

Funny, Riechs came under fire from mystery fans for being too didactic-- the very quality I liked, and frankly the only bright spots in both books.

American readers also deplored her insertion of French words. (Riechs, although American, worked in Quebec for some time, as does the heroine of her books) I thought it was funny, as anyone could figure out the French through context alone. One didn't need a French/English dictionary handy.

As far as writting style goes, I must say Riechs first book supplied me with an unintentional belly laugh when her main character thought "She needed him right now like she needed a yeast infection." It sounded more like what a guy would say, if he was trying to write from a female perspective.

Her second book relied way too much on fantastical coincidences to move the plot. And while the willing suspension of disbelief can carry an author through one or so per book, Riechs abuses the priveledge, and continues to if reviews of subsequent books are accurate.

Anyway, I have a soft spot for Riechs, and her didactic approach to mystery writting.


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vickyinottawa
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posted 23 August 2002 10:48 AM      Profile for vickyinottawa   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Sparkle Hayter. You won't regret it.
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clersal
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posted 23 August 2002 11:20 AM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Janet Evanovich.
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dale cooper
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posted 23 August 2002 12:21 PM      Profile for dale cooper     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Something else that's good (believe it or not) is the original Fletch book by Gregory McDonald. But don't get the new re-release. You can buy all 11 books second hand for less than what they are charging for it. There's some nice light commentary on American media. And besides, Fletch is cool.
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clersal
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posted 23 August 2002 12:50 PM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
A bunch:

Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth George, Patricia Cornwell,P.D. James, Frances Fyfield, Sharyn McCrumb. Just did the ladies.


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Trespasser
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posted 23 August 2002 01:02 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've recently read Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. There is a very subtle class-issues thread throughout, and she developed it as much as the genre would allow. At moments it's very upsetting how much you're able to care for the main character who is also a murderer. How many times have you been in the company of average yet loaded folks who live lives of a fairytale and thought to yourself - why are these a***oles having all this when they don't deserve it?

I haven't read her other books and haven't seen the movie that got many bad reviews from Highsmith lovers.


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BLAKE 3:16
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posted 23 August 2002 02:47 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The film treatment of The Talented Mr. Ripley is really excellent. It's very lush visually. Although the plot is similar to the novel, it's approach is different -- we're not put into Ripley's head in the fil, so he appears a less sinister character.

I think it does a wonderful job exploring issues of social class. The description of a milieu of young unemployed rich kids who despise or pretend to despise their wealth is quite a mine field. Watching it again recently I was struck by the intensity of its homoeroticism.

I think it and the other pseudo detective film Eyes Wide Shut make good companion pieces.


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Cate
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posted 23 August 2002 05:02 PM      Profile for Cate     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
For a little more local flavour (with a healthy dose of Canadian political references) try Gail Bowen. Her books are so much fun I can't count the number of times I've read them even though I know the end. They're set in Regina about a poli sci prof who is involved in left politics... does it get any more Canadian?

There's also Alison Gordon who writes pretty good mysteries about baseball (and occasionally the NDP) in Toronto.


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Art J
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posted 23 August 2002 08:03 PM      Profile for Art J     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus has the usual problems with alcohol required of all the better detectives, but he's very self-aware and sensitive and all that, so through his eyes one gathers a vivid picture of the corruption of the rich and/or powerful in modern day Scotland (at least, in the two books of his that I've read).

Going back a bit, Raymond Chandler held some similar views towards, again, the rich and/or powerful. I'd recommend High Window or The Long Goodbye. RC had style.

[ August 23, 2002: Message edited by: Art J ]


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clersal
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posted 23 August 2002 08:08 PM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks. I only saw Inspector Rebus on TVO.
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skadie
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posted 23 August 2002 08:45 PM      Profile for skadie     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Do babblers like mysteries? How do you see them in relationship to progressive politics? Are there any Left or antiLeft mysteries babblers would recommend?


I LOVE mysteries. A great many people think reading fiction, let alone mysteries, is a complete waste of time. I gotta say, I've learned more from novels than any other source. It's a different quality of knowledge, but it's been a valuable resource for me.

My recent favorites are

Minette Walters. Great Britisth crime writing with a definite leftish slant.

Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell. More British stuff. She has an amazing ability to create atmosphere. As Vine she writes about homosexual relationships with a compelling style. (House of Stairs, No Night Is Too Long.)

Sparkle Hayter Sparkle Hayter Sparkle Hayter. You're right on that one, Vicki.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters. Funny, feminist, thoroughly enjoyable.

I just picked up some Wilkie Collins. The preamble to the Woman In White begins:

quote:
This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.
I haven't started it yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

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Arch Stanton
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posted 23 August 2002 08:57 PM      Profile for Arch Stanton     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Raymond Chandler is up there with Dante and Shakespeare, in a hard boiled, gimme a slug o' Scotch kinda way.

Who else could write, "she had eyes like secret sins," and make it sound profound?


From: Borrioboola-Gha | Registered: Mar 2002  |  IP: Logged
scrabble
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posted 24 August 2002 01:17 AM      Profile for scrabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
*warning: teeny weeny spoilers peppered throughout

**warning: fairly broad interpretation of “murder mystery”

***warning: I get long-winded when writing in the dappled shade on the deck

The best murder-mystery I’ve read recently is Jane Smiley’s fabulous, lollopping The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton. It’s a rip-roaring page-turner about a whip-smart woman who marries an abolitionist, and accompanies him to the wilds of Kansas.

You want Can-con? I’d say Alias Grace is by Atwood is a progressive murder-mystery, as is River Thieves by Michael Crummey. Atwood’s includes observations about the harsh lives of servants in the early days of the white-settler’s Canada, while Crummey’s exposes the brutal mistreatment of women and indigenous men on the East Coast. I’d add Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost; like the others, it’s much more than an enthralling murder-mystery, but what the heck. How’s it “left”? The description of hardships experienced by jewel-mine workers will guarantee you think twice before buying a sparkly ever again (maybe I should cross-post to that Evil Diamonds thread).

Continuing with Can-con, I agree that Kathy Reichs is kind of interesting, but the writing is crap. Luckily, I’m not a purist, but it’s extremely annoying. She’s best when she sticks to the forensic anthropology, which is her field. But then, it becomes a kind of cadaver-dissection porn. Sorry to those of you who are stalwart fans.

As for good murder-mystery classics: Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a shocker (in many respects) that, among other things, illustrates the terrors of slavery and racism. (On a sunny day like today, with a brisk breeze that smells faintly of the sea, I can’t help but remember the escaped white slave girl who helps Sethe give birth; she tells Sethe that she once slept with the sun in her face, and would like to do so again.)

Continuing with classics: I think Morality Play by Barry Unsworth is his best novel. Among other things (again), we’re taken into the stinking pit of the feudal system and the dark abuses therein.

The door-stopping Gormenghast trilogy (Mervyn Peake) is part murder-mystery, part phantasmagorical architectural exploration, part meditation on the uses of inheritance and ritual – and part description of the relationship between the privileged castle-dwellers and excluded mud-dwellers. Not to be missed.

How about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (John Berendt) as the non-fiction entry? “Left” content includes how folks survive in the underbelly of Savannah.

In the “contemporary mish-mash” category, almost all of Haruki Murakami’s amazing work centres around an inexplicable disappearance and ensuing search. His characters are “ordinary” folks who reminisce about the wonders of “ordinary”-class life once caught up in extraordinary circumstances, or extraordinary people who learn the wisdom of shedding the trappings of fame and fortune for “ordinary” life. Many evil corporations and inscrutable agencies.

An Instance of the Fingerpost (Iain Pears) is a Rashomon-style mystery on many levels in which different characters give different accounts of the same events. It’s a “historical” murder-mystery in which characters also stage a race to discover the mysteries of the human circulatory system.

In the “grossly-over-rated” category, we have The Alienist and its sequel, The Angel of Darkness (Caleb Carr). They pretend to have “left” sympathies (seamy murders of boy-prostitutes and sad plight of women in Teddy Roosevelt’s New York), but the plots are inexcusably vapid. Also in this category is the much-touted Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson), which is tiresome as all shit. A murder-mystery incorporating the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans is all well and good, but the love story is excruciatingly bad. So are the technical errors in the martial-arts descriptions. Guterson just Tries Too Hard and lets his protagonist fall into the condescension trap.

I’ve got to stop – I’ll end with one I’m looking forward to reading: Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. The protagonist is a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered. Does her family survive the grief and anger? Does the perpetrator get caught? Does the protagonist come to terms with her death? Stay tuned….


From: dappled shade in the forest | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
Terry Johnson
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posted 24 August 2002 01:50 AM      Profile for Terry Johnson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
While trying to come up with another name I'd remembered--Gordon Demarco, who wrote four or five socialist-tinged mysteries that are worth reading--I came across this: Pluto Crimeline.

I'd forgot Walter Mosley (wehose novels feature Easy Rawlins, an amateur black detective in LA in the years just before the Watts riots) and Gillian Slovo.

But I was also thinking that mysteries aren't a very good genre for socialist themes. When I think of progressive politics, I think of collective action by working class men and women; mysteries, even when they do shine a light on important social issues, are individualistic and liberal in their politics: the lone hero saves the victim or victims.

Not that I'm a big fan of socialist realism...


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BLAKE 3:16
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posted 24 August 2002 10:10 AM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Just commenting on Terry Johnson's post --

Your comments are exactly why I'm interested in left detective writing. The form tends to lend itself to rightwing or even fascist themes -- egs. the Holmesian ubermensch solving all the world's problems or in most cases the world going awry and somebody putting the statues quo back in to effect. We find some of this thinking in all parts of the Left - worship of Stalin, Che, Tommy Douglas or in the anti free traders notion that capitalist society was fine until the FTA/NAFTA/WTO/whatever happened.

On th other hand, mystery/crime writing delves in to the transgressive underworld. The detective is frequently outside the law an as such appeals to a higher from of justice than state justice.

We can also see the detective as a kind of Enlightment philosopher leaping over the bounds of conventional in thought and action. Most socialists or feminists have had at least one "Eureka!" experience in their development.


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jeff house
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posted 24 August 2002 04:27 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Dashiell Hammett considered himself a Marxist, I think, though I am not sure it is so readily visible in his detective works.

But Blake is very wrong about Sherlocke Holmes! The idea of "ubermensch" refers not to a master of reason, but to someone whose will to power andfanatical strength dominate his society. Not to someone who thinks through cases while puffing his pipe.


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Trespasser
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posted 24 August 2002 06:03 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Now I have to see the Ripley movie.

quote:
We can also see the detective as a kind of Enlightment philosopher.

There's a lot to this.

[ August 24, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
minimal
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posted 24 August 2002 08:19 PM      Profile for minimal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain (Evan Hunter): all excellent mystery writers. Ruth Rendel/Barbara Vine (one and the same) is a must if you haven't tried her. Patricia Highsmith: definitely do not see the movie unless you are illiterate. She was (I believe she's dead) an absolutely excellent writer. And if you haven't read Eric Ambler you've been missing out on some of the finest spy thrillers of all time (at least I think so). Ambler wrote more or less generic spy thrillers dealing with pre-war themes (WW 2) and postwar themes. His writing is not tainted by anti-Soviet themes so prevalent in that type of fiction.
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clersal
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posted 24 August 2002 09:02 PM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Yep. Forgot those. Goodies.
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Trespasser
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posted 24 August 2002 09:20 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Yeah, I belive Highsmith died circa 1995. I always wanted to read her Edith's Diary but somehow started with Ripley. Didn't regret it, though. There's a book that she wrote that's called Tales of Misogyny or something in that way. That sounds intriguing too.

That's exactly what I heard about the movie from the Highsmith fans, Minimal, but then Blake3:16 has sold it to me so I have to see for myself. Need I mention I can't stand Gwyneth Paltrow, but I'm willing to make that sacrifice.

[ August 24, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


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BLAKE 3:16
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posted 27 August 2002 10:52 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Highsmith's Little Tales of Misogyny is brilliant. It is an utterly fucked book. --that is high praise from me --- Her short story collection Eleven is a lot of fun if a bit nutty. I don't know a lot about Highsmith, but I find that she tends to focus on the "enemy within"-- which has alot of metaphoric uses -- AIDS, cancer, communism, depression. Which is the real Fifth Column????

While resting in our weekend utopia, I found a book called Somebody Killed a Beauty, published by Editions Jose Marti. It's an English transltion of a collection of Cuban mystery/love(or sex) stories.


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BLAKE 3:16
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posted 27 August 2002 11:13 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
this is mostly addressed to Trespasser and jeff house

The figure of the self aware detective with competing loyalties and principles is an eminently modern figure. I don't know well enough to say if Sherlock Holmes meets a strict definition of an ubermensch, but from my reading of Conan Doyle (and other detective writers) and Nietszche they are pretty odd birds wihtout the same kind of domestic/familial obligtions that most people face. Sherlock Holmes spends his days reading obscure texts, playing violin, and getting high. His world is eminently homosocial, urban, and nocturnal.

The brilliant insider/outsider dissident can play a quite magical role in achieving social change. For socialists, as for the stumped detective, a new 'problematique' needs to be found. The probably is rarely the answers but the questions.


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Trespasser
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posted 28 August 2002 12:19 AM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Yes, detective novel could not have emerged had our societies not become so disciplinary and surveilling. The ID cards, passports, criminal records, medical records, and detective novels are of the same epoch. As well as the philosophy of subjectivity & epistemology. Detectives are in possession of a very privileged gaze.

Yet you're right - at some point another kind of detective emerges, the one that is always crossing the border between the enlightenment and the noir. Perhaps those detectives carry valuable democratic potential, as opposed to the High Priests of Light.

(Thanks to Scrabble for reminding us that classifications are there to be transgressed, and in that vein: ) Let's take Inspector Javert from Les Misérables. Probably the ultimate figure of modernity, and a figure whose obsession with order and improvement comes with only the highest of motives. I can easily see Javert as the missionary to the Third World; the moral reformator of the slums in biggest European cities; the psychiatrist; the prohibitionist; the policy-maker preoccupied with national well-being and racial strength. There is an unstoppable production of Javerts going on, everywhere, when Hugo was writing his novel.

And then there's Porfiry Petrovich in Crime and Punishment. An investigator who knows everything even before the investigation starts, a brilliant connoisseur and manipulator of guilt and remorse, somebody for whom we are not all that sure that he is entirely of this world. A demiurge-detective who has the power to make the sinners repent.

(What do you make of Edgar Allan Poe, by the way?)


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clersal
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posted 28 August 2002 12:33 AM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I enjoyed The Alienist, better than ,The Angel of Darkness.

A Fine Balance(Rohonton Mistry) I think, is an extremely good book.

I read for pleasure, mainly I think escapism.

I notice that there were no comments on Janet Evanovich. I think she is one of the funniest writers I've read in a long time. I giggle all through her books.

Not all tastes in books are the same.


From: Canton Marchand, Québec | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
scrabble
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posted 28 August 2002 12:58 AM      Profile for scrabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I like the idea of the noir or liminal detective as a transgressive force. You all make me smile, Tresspasser (you smartypants! ), Terry Johnson, Blake 3:16, jeff house, and I especially liked the way TJ articulated this:

quote:
I think of collective action by working class men and women; mysteries, even when they do shine a light on important social issues, are individualistic and liberal in their politics

and how Blake 3:16 responded with this:

quote:
Most socialists or feminists have had at least one "Eureka!" experience in their development.

[applause!]

Speaking of liminality, however, what do you think of the way some parts of the autism / Asperger's community are embracing Sherlock as one of their own?

As for Poe - that thing with the orangutan was just too gross. The hair. The blood. But also prescient in a twisted way since biologists are only recently examining oragutan sexual behaviour and concluding that it looks a lot like rape (not to be confused with human rape). I love Poe (stay in the Poe Room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel whenever I can) but there's a part of him that too obviously glories in the gruesome gory, don't you think?

edited to add:

quote:
Not all tastes in books are the same.

Agreed and thank goodness.

[ August 28, 2002: Message edited by: scrabble ]


From: dappled shade in the forest | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
Terry Johnson
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posted 28 August 2002 01:39 AM      Profile for Terry Johnson     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I liked that Eureka comment of Blake 3:16's too. I tried to come up with a witty, Chandleresque reply. I couldn't.

One thing I thought I'd add, though. In Taibo III's books, while the detective is still a lone hero, the author usually includes collective action as the backdrop: the detective's work doesn't solve the problem but it does enable the workers to solve it collectively. That's what I like about them. The detective, in Taibo III's novels, is clearly part of a broad movement.


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scrabble
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posted 28 August 2002 02:06 AM      Profile for scrabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
At the risk of being tiresome, may I clarify and say that I think both TJ and Blake 3.16 are right?
From: dappled shade in the forest | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
nonsuch
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posted 28 August 2002 02:22 AM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
clersal - i like Janet Evanovich, the others you mentioned (not so crazy about Cornwell), and Ruth Rendell (not all of the Barbara Vine books).
Also Tony Hillerman - really good Indian lore. (Not that kind of Indian! Hopi.)

Raymond Chandler fans - don't bother with Poodle Springs. Chandler was supposed to have written the first four chapters. If he did, he was sober the whole time. Robert Parker is just okay in his own milieu - no way he can he handle phrases and images and dialogue in Chandler's class.


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scrabble
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posted 28 August 2002 02:49 AM      Profile for scrabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
If he did, he was sober the whole time.


From: dappled shade in the forest | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
Trespasser
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posted 28 August 2002 02:25 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I am actually happy that the Individual had been invented a couple of centuries ago, and don't believe that the whole of leftist politics lies in collectivist, sociologist, historicist view. The individual and personal (and even private if you will, as in 'private detective' ) can have immense subversive potential.

But more to the point: isn't Sherlock quite a misogynist? But interestingly, the only case that I am aware of that he didn't solve was the one that involved a woman who outsmarted him. Her name was Irene - but that's all I remember. I wonder why Doyle ever wrote that book, it stands out, politically.

quote:
Speaking of liminality, however, what do you think of the way some parts of the autism / Asperger's community are embracing Sherlock as one of their own?

I haven't heard of that, what is it about?

(I'll get back to you on Poe when I reread some of the tales, I figure it'll help me make my point better than sifting through memory.)


From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
minimal
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posted 28 August 2002 02:40 PM      Profile for minimal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I must be totally ignorant. What is a "collectivist, sociologist, historicist view"? Do I have to be a collectivist to understand this? a sociologist? an historicist? What is an historicist, anyway? Trespasser, I have some advice for you: go down to your neighbourhood library and choose a good old-fashioned whodunit. Overanalysis has been the death of literature for too many people.
From: Alberta | Registered: Feb 2002  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 28 August 2002 03:00 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I haven't heard of that, what is it about?

People with Asberger's often are highly concerned, even obsessed, with detail, at least in one aspect of their lives. Oliver Sacks for example wrote about a young English boy who draws extremely detailed (and well-executed) sketches of old buildings and the like. At the same time, they often lack understanding of others' emotions, and are unable to "read" people's facial expressions and tones of voice.

Holmes had great patience for fine detail -- publishing a monograph on fifty or so different types of cigar ash, for instance. And Watson says of Holmes, in A Scandal in Bohemia, that "All emotions, and that one particularly [i.e. love], were foreign to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind." (Though in this as in much else, the stories contradict each other a bit).

So the old game of psychoanalyzing Holmes has become the newer one of wondering if he had tendencies to this form of autism.

[Edited to correct "cigarette" to "cigar" -- talk about being detail-obsessed!]

[ August 28, 2002: Message edited by: 'lance ]


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Trespasser
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posted 28 August 2002 03:02 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I must be totally ignorant.

Could be, yeah. If you actually read what the discussion has been about so far, it might dawn on you what "historicist, sociologist" mean. I recommend you start from TJ's comment that

quote:
Mysteries aren't a very good genre for socialist themes. When I think of progressive politics, I think of collective action by working class men and women; mysteries, even when they do shine a light on important social issues, are individualistic and liberal in their politics: the lone hero saves the victim or victims.

...and the replies it got. Or maybe starting with the first post? That wouldn't hurt either.

(In other news: Ripley is being shown on SRC tomorrow night - dubbed in French. But then, so what. Screw authenticity, that's what I say.)

[ August 28, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 28 August 2002 03:06 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
. I don't know well enough to say if Sherlock Holmes meets a strict definition of an ubermensch, but from my reading of Conan Doyle (and other detective writers) and Nietszche they are pretty odd birds without the same kind of domestic/familial obligtions that most people face.


Holmes is much more an enlightenment philosopher than an ubermensch, as Trespasser notes. (You can't be both!!) Conan Doyle was clearly a Victorian in his approach, also something utterly at odds with Nietszche and the triumph of the will to power.

Edgar Allan Poe is a harder case, since he is, at least a Romantic. But his detective, Dupin, isn't.
I think there's a wide schism between the detective stories such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the Gold Bug, and the Purloined Letter, on the one hand, and the fantasy-romantic stuff such as Ligeia and The Raven.


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Trespasser
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posted 28 August 2002 03:09 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That's interesting, 'lance. And funny you should mention Oliver Sacks, I am currently reading his memoir Uncle Tungsten.
From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 28 August 2002 03:53 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think of Oliver Sacks as kind of detective. In the tradition of Freud and Marx (and lots of other crucial thinkers), he goes hunting for mysteries to understand them in their totality. His notion of a romantic science is close and a lot more practical than Great Detecting. Stephen Jay Gould's book on the millenium is also a great example of nonfiction mystery writing.

I've been working with people with autism and Down Syndrome and I've often felt like a detective. In a few crucial respects - being thrown in to situations quite quickly, trying to look at the problem from as many angles as possible, trying to igure out the tuth from staff reports, the person with the disability, family, and peers.

Freud's Dora is a sort of mystery novel.

Didja know that a Canadian came up with the cliff hanger????


From: Babylon, Ontario | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 28 August 2002 04:08 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Historicism-- It's not easy to get a handle on, because folks use the term for different purposes. A lot of pomo types don't like itMy understanding/use of "historicism" is to look at a historica juncture from the point of view of people living at that moment. In any social era there are only so many possibilities. I recall hearing Mary Wollstoencraft (sp?) being attacked because she was not aligned with the working class. She was writing before unions, labour parties, Luddism, so how was she supposed to have a Marxist/semiMarxist analysis years before Marx was born?

While thinking about her, it comes to mind that her husband, William Godwin, was the author of Caleb Williams, one of the first real mystery stories and was written by an anarchist.

Is Frankenstein (read the 1818 edition!) a mystery?


From: Babylon, Ontario | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
Trespasser
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posted 28 August 2002 04:19 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You are so right. There's a lot of covering up and manipulation in A Case of Hysteria. Freud is a very eager (and bad!) detective there. "How could it possibly be that a girl of that age had not been aroused - but appalled - by sexual propositioning of her father's friend? Why it's the girl that is the problem, of course."

There's a lot of covering up and manipulation in Marx's historiography too.


From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
Trespasser
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posted 28 August 2002 04:30 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
[Re. historicism: yes, of course. The awareness that there are 'historical conditions of possibility' (or 'impossibility', which is where the conservative part sneaks in) for everything - political action, moral intuitions, poetic and musical expression, cooking, truths. There's another meaning for the term, though, the one made famous by Karl Popper in his critique of Marx - 'historicism' as scientific socialism of history that is in the business of detecting (and nudging here and there) the 'inevitable trends of historical development'.]
From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
MJ
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posted 28 August 2002 04:31 PM      Profile for MJ     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Tres,

The name of the woman who outsmarted Holmes is Irene Adler, and I think the story was A Scandal in Bohemia.

A couple of novels with Adler as the main character were written in the 90s by Carole Nelson Douglas. Not great literature, but entertaining and a good addition to the Holmes universe. She fleshes out Irene's background and life, and makes her a pretty strong female lead - and a mystery-solver in her own right. She even works Sherlock himself into the stories.

[edited to add]

The books weren't particularly leftist in tone, but in portraying a strong, independent woman in the Victorian age, they're somewhat progressive at least.

[ August 28, 2002: Message edited by: MJ ]


From: Around. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
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posted 28 August 2002 04:55 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If Freud was a detective, he was the world's worst
one ever.

His case studies have been long shown to be lies. Basically, he just intuits everything, and claims that his great expertise makes those intuitions reliable.

He originated psycho-babble. (No offence to True Babble).


From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 28 August 2002 04:55 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
The name of the woman who outsmarted Holmes is Irene Adler, and I think the story was A Scandal in Bohemia.

Just so. Miss Adler was thereafter referred to by Holmes as "the woman."


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 28 August 2002 05:00 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You know, I remember reading this anthology of what might be termed Holmesian fan-fiction. I remmber very little of the stories, but one involved Irene Adler's name being an anagram.
From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
TommyPaineatWork
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posted 30 August 2002 05:51 AM      Profile for TommyPaineatWork     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
So I just this moment finished reading Kathy Reich's "Fatal Voyage."

I'm not sure how mystery readers appreciate her work. I guess they appreciate it well, it's her fourth or fith book, with others on the way.

Her prose doesn't entertain me much. The little details of everyday life that Reichs throws in to add realistic patina to the story don't work with me.

Her main character seems somewhat preoccupied with being in panties alot. My daughters freak when I say the word panties. I'm only allowed to use the word underwear. Reichs is partial to the word panties. It's odd, the switch from scientific didactism to the word panties. It's incongruous, in my mind. On he other hand, her description of the Smokey Mountains had me wanting to hop in the car and visit.


The science is wonderful, and I enjoyed the book for this much, and I'll probably buy the next one when I see it there in paperback, if no one I know is watching me.

Reichs gives us a break from the fantastic coincidences moving the plot. The only coincidence here was a major plane crash that happens to be too near the site of some very strange goings on. Willing suspension of disbelief intact, I didn't mind so much.

The first half of the book deals much with the mystery surrounding the crash of a jet, and what the causes were. We're treated with Reichs' description of a crash scene from the first arrival of rescue to eventual clean up. Reichs herself does this kind of work. A mystery novel is not a reference book, but for the curious, this is good enough to give you the general idea of how this system works, and how the various agencies operate.

Oh, and you get lots of gruesome descriptions too.
They say fighter pilots feel obligated, when taking civies aloft, to make them vomit. I wonder if forensic pathologists have the same sense of obligation? Not that I mind. It's only a book. But some might.


The second half of the book involves the other mystery of the strange a doin's in the mountains of North Carolina. Not bad, won't say too much about that, except it involves a tie in with a bit of 18th century history, and something that we humans do from time to time that we don't really like to talk about too much.


From: London | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
Ed Weatherbee
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posted 30 August 2002 03:14 PM      Profile for Ed Weatherbee        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm not much of a reader of detective fiction but any feelings on James Ellroy. I'm a big fan of his journalism and his autobiographical book .My Dark Places, which is a kind of mystery story, on the search for his mother's killer . . I've read less of his fiction, Hollywood Confidential and a couple of others.
Odd to see his home office in a recent documentary with a rather larger photo of Newt Gingrich on the wall. Though, it may kind of fit into his personna which seems to me as some kind of bizarro version of some Orange County sporting goods salesman from 1958.
Odd guy, I remember the air getting sucked out of a recent interview on CBC's Sunday Morning with his frequent use of the term" God Bless You".

From: Canada | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 30 August 2002 03:47 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Just about the issue of scientific, historical, or other flotsam and jetsam in mystery fiction and fiction in general...

I find it really interesting that people read fiction to learn about science, etc. My dad's very keen on this. It seems like a pretty dubious means of education, but it is a means of education, and one which people willingly and fairly painlessly engage in. I know a fair number of radicals in their 20s and 30s who got their political initiations through Crass or other political punk music.

I've also observed how inaccurate and unrealistic the information in contemporary suspense fiction is on recreational drugs, particularly their effects, uses, and prices.

On this topic is anyone familiar with Daniel Jones' punk novel 1978? It is set in the early Toronto punk scene and is sorta almost a mystery.


From: Babylon, Ontario | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 31 August 2002 12:12 AM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
My first introduction to scientific principles was in reading the Tom Swift series from the 1950s printings.
From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
scrabble
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posted 31 August 2002 03:14 AM      Profile for scrabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As a young immigrant person, the first Real Books (ie non-picture books) I read in English were the Nancy Drews. (I know, I know.) Read the first one. Success! Read every single last one in the elementary school library. Despite everything, I still have a soft spot for these little horrors.

This is a bit of a hangover from the Not Very Many Good Movies thread; until this evening, didn't have the time to go searching for this fragment I only half-remembered:

quote:
"Literary critics make natural detectives," said Maud. "You know the theory that the classic detective story arose with the classic adultery novel - everyone wanted to know who was the Father, what was the origin, what is the secret?" -- Possession, AS Byatt

...please remember that Maud is presented as an uberfeminist scholar. Seeing detective novels in this way might be the first step in recognizing women's right to freedom of volition, perhaps? Maybe this presupposes the idea of the detective as phallic intruder after-the-fact? Then what happens to the Girl Detective (one who can tie her own shoes, of course)?

ooops, typo and weird late-night construction fixed

[ August 31, 2002: Message edited by: scrabble ]


From: dappled shade in the forest | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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posted 31 August 2002 10:00 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hmmn, that's interesting. The first classic adultery novel I think of is The Scarlet Letter, and while I guess you could say that one of the characters there is a detective-figure, he is evil, and the "mystery" (it is one for most of the characters, although not for the reader) isn't mainly worked through by him (although he does work it out).

Has anyone here read any of the novels of Alan Furst? I haven't, but last week read a fine review of his newest, Blood of Victory, and am now intrigued. Apparently he writes of the interwar years in Europe, and especially the very first years of WWII, when many people believed the war for them was over and that they had now to accept that they lived in a German empire. What follows sounds like wonderfully atmospheric -- and politically and historically intelligent -- intrigue all over the continent. Any of the Ambler fans already into Furst?


From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 31 August 2002 06:38 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
For a quite neat coffee table book check out The Mysterious case of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys by Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman. I picked up my copy new (but drastically reduced) at David Mirvish Books for $5.99 plus that damn tax.

Its graphics are just wonderful.


From: Babylon, Ontario | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 01 September 2002 03:27 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
It seems like a pretty dubious means of education, but it is a means of education, and one which people willingly and fairly painlessly engage in.

Oh, I agree. I have a lot of faith, as it were, that persons like Riechs, Bernard Cornwell, or Colleen McCullough do very good research.

I use authors like this to provide a bit of colour, sign posts and mile markers when I leave their interesting fiction, and delve into academic treatments of the subject, or in some cases, the original writtings themselves.

In the case of forensic pathology etc, I doubt I'll be going much deaper than a mystery novel by Riechs.

But Cornwell inspired me to go back and brush up on not just the Napoleanic wars, but also the French Revolution, and the literature of the period.

McCullough's books inspired me to check out several detailed volumes of history on Republican Rome, and I also went on to read other academic works, along with some of Ceasar's, Cicero's and for fun, Catalus' writtings, amoung others.


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
scrabble
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posted 01 September 2002 04:14 PM      Profile for scrabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
For a quite neat coffee table book check out The Mysterious case of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys

Have been resisting this. DrConway and I had a bit of an overflow exchange on pm when Nancy &co came up recently on the Untwisted Kids' Books thread; mebbe I should pick up a copy for him as a prezzie?


From: dappled shade in the forest | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
Trespasser
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posted 01 September 2002 08:16 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
(Just to remind myself to finish the Poe thingy and Talented Ripley film review. Placemarker.)

Edited much later: The Ripley movie is not that bad. Visually it's beautiful. It's totally different from the book, though, content-wise: there is an inexplicable extra murder, an extra female character, too much revision so that Ripley would be more acceptable, and his cryptic homosexuality slash asexuality is turned into a very manifest one. Also, it's never really clear whether he escapes the law at the end, while in the novel he does. Pandering to the viewers', that's what it is.

They revised Marge as well. Freddie and Dickie, though - spitting image.

I didn't regret seeing the movie, but it's got its own spiel.

[ September 06, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


From: maritimes | Registered: Aug 2001  |  IP: Logged
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 03 September 2002 11:33 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I really wanr to thank people for all their friendly comments and debate. I'm going to continue to enjoy mystery fiction, despite or because of it all???

For a history of the detective novel I'd point people towards the great Belgian Marxist Ernest Mandel's Delightful Murder. It was published by Pluto Press ages ago.

I've received a nice bibliography/ reading list from babblers which I really appreciate.

BTW, my favourite left murder mystery is Val McDermid's Union Jack which is about the murder of a labour nureaucrat during an English trades union conference. Ahhh, the seamy side of the labour bureaucracy...

I am thinking of writing a murder mystery set in Toronto's far left in the mid to late 90s. I was briefly a suspect in a murder investigation as part of the milieu, so it has a certain anxious and nostalgic je-ne-sais-quoi....


From: Babylon, Ontario | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
clersal
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posted 03 September 2002 11:37 PM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I just finished reading Elizabeth George's 'A Traitor to Memory'. Some 700 pages. That lady can weave a great story and leave you at the end still wondering......
From: Canton Marchand, Québec | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
scrabble
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posted 17 October 2002 03:04 AM      Profile for scrabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Ahhh, the seamy side of the labour bureaucracy...

There's another side...!?!??


From: dappled shade in the forest | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 18 October 2002 09:52 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well it's not the sexiest realm of deviance. I've been quite enjoying The Seven Percent Solution about Sherlock Holmes getting over his addiction to cocaine with the help of Sigmund Freud. It's very crazy.
From: Babylon, Ontario | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged

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