Friday, February 8, 2008

The Scene of the Crime

1. The mystery writer Gaylord Dold, listed in the right-hand column, is largely unknown to all your friends and students. So far as you know, Jerry Freedman, Daniel Woodrell, and you know of him, have read him, enthuse at his work. He lives and sets his mysteries in Wichita, KS, a place you would not think can support a private detective.

2. Every time you pass through Flagstaff, AZ, you make a point of going to a small stand adjacent the railway station, there to eat bowls full of green chili. This is step one. Step two is looking at a nearby door, a rough wooden slab, with a sign mounted on it, offering the services of a private detective. Step three is wondering as you eat more of the green chili than you should who or what? Who in Flagstaff would hire a private detective and for what purpose? Do these questions come from your naivete? Are you in fact overlooking the fact that private detectives can and do function wherever people congregate? Are you in fact patronizing Flagstaff, AZ, thinking of it as an Edenic oasis, detached from larger cities you know?

3. Even though you were a fan of the pulp detective magazines, Black Mask, Dime Detective, and the like, and accepted the notion that many of their stories were set in fictional locales, San Francisco was the first city you recognized as being appropriate for a private detective. This was because you were fond of San Francisco; you could pick out places in that magical city that were brought to life by Dashiell Hammett.

4. Then came L.A., which jumped forth in prominence for you because of Raymond Chandler. Although he did not write suspense stories, John Fante also made L.A. vibrant in your imagery; every time you found yourself near the Bunker Hill section, just northwest of the downtown sprawl, you thought of Fante and his protagonists, clumping up the hills, pounding out stories on a manual typewriter, finding ways to avoid the landlord, falling in love with the wrong woman. (Men who fall in love with the right woman effect a different kind of story than a mystery.)

5. Then came L.A. all over again, thanks to Joe Hansen's excellent series featuring David Brandstetter, an insurance investigtor whose gayness provided yet another dimension to the genre and the city you were bonding with.

6. Then came the L.A. of Walter Mosley, which brought you back to your own experiences in black L.A., where you went because of the music so readily available there when you were coming of age.

7. Once when there was a panel discussion held at the long vanished Earthling book store here in Santa Barbara, you challenged three of the panelists, all of whom you were on a first-name basis with. "You guys write about Santa Barbara, but you don't call it by its real name." Sue Grafton offered that she called her Santa Barbara Santa Teresa as a nod to the guy on her right, Ken Millar, aka Ross Macdonald. She defended the relatie anonymity by claiming her sources would dry up if she was getting too close to home. Ken said he had no trouble with having his detective go to real places but liked to think of Santa Barbara as a mythic place. The other panelist, Dennis Lynds, who wrote as Michael Collins, felt he could be more political and less accusatory.
It took Jerry Freedman some years later to call Santa Barbara by name, inspiring Rich Barre to do the same.

8. There are some high-powered mystery suspense writers giving depth and expression to American cities. Dennis Lehane comes to mind with a number of effective outings in and about Boston. Speaking of which, my local friend, John Wilder, for years writer on the Spencer for Hire TV show and, later, Hawk, would have my head on a platter if I forgot to mention Robert Parker, nor would Barnaby Conrad forgive me for failing to mention Dutch, Elmore Leonard, who put Detroit firmly in place as a venue for mystery. And Loren D. Estelman is no slouch at putting Detroit in perspective.

9. But they all better watch out. You look in the rear view mirror an Glasgow is gaining. Yes, I know all about Ian Rankin and Edinburgh and the John Rebus mysteries. I'm talking Denise Mina and her Paddy Meehan mysteries. Having read all her earlier works, I pounced on the latest in which Paddy, somewhat up the rung in her career as a newspaper reporter, has just been left the house and personal effects of an ex boyfriend, presumably killed by the IRA (although they deny it. "Not us. Try elsewhere." Ms. Mina makes Glasgow come to a gritty life that is difficult to ignore. A Slip of the Knife.

In saner moments, if I were to visit Scotland, I'd want to set priority for Edinburgh, but Ms. Mina has me slathering for the bad food, dreary streets, and simmering agendas of Glasgow, which is not far off from the sea port where one can catch the ferry boat to Ireland, the very area where the body of her ex is dumped at the end of chapter one.

11. Pages calling, Glasgow beckoning. Paddy Meehan crooking her finger at me.


R.L. Bourges said...

be back when I have two minutes to follow the trail, fella. got a dog waiting in Saint-Gauzens (what? you never heard of Saint-Gauzens? 662 people and 2 dogs - one adopted - founded in 1270 and ...stop. dog waiting.)
p.s. you really spread out the names on this post, huh? think you're funny, maybe? just you wait, wise guy.

f:lux said...

And there are other interesting Scottish crime writers too of course, but what about this one?

"Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were it’s assets: a tiny white van, two desks, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mrs Ramotswe – the only lady private detective in Botswana – brewed redbush tea. And three mugs – one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intelligencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those, of course."
The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Don't know if he's from Glasgow though...

Lori Witzel said...

Oh crud. I love a good detective story, and now you've set me straining after these on a weekend which needs to be full of art history readin' and ritin'.

What's the HTML for "sticking one's tongue out at someone for adding to one's attractive distraction pile"?

R.L. Bourges said...

it's been simmering there all day: walking the dog, brushing the dog, something writing itself after reading this post. Pretty inconsiderate of my brain, not letting me know what it's working on. But this one got the hum going in the writing center again.