". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, December 27, 2021

It's A Mystery, Yet Not A Crime!

      . . . . Who knows why I haven't  posted in two months?  I don't.  However, unlike this one, there are many mysteries and crimes that are engaging and entertaining.

The Word Is Murder (2017); The Sentence Is Death (2018); A Line To Kill (2021)

This is good, O, very good -- Anthony Horowitz has a series, three so far, which is consciously rather Watson and Sherlock in the present day, so it's Hawthorne and ... ta-Dah! Horowitz.  

This should not work, it should be insufferable at the very least, as character wingman, Horowitz, is portrayed by himself, the writer, as himself, a fabulously successful television writer and writer of novels. Got that?

Horowitz the author doesn't describe himself as character Horowitz as wildly successful, though Horowitz the character does refers frequently to his own / Horowitz the author's works, wildly popular television series such as Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders, to not quite as successful novel, The Silk Road (one of his novels featuring Sherlock Holmes), to the wildly popular Alex Rider YA series -- which became also a wildly successful television series.

Here equally are references to detective and crime fiction by many other writers, past and present. 

One guesses then, this is why this series works, The references to Horowitz's own and others' fictions and television programs is about what is operationally effective in these works, in terms of character, plot, what audiences want, expect and like in a crime and mystery, whether fiction or ‘true crime’. Not least audiences want appealing, interesting locations, or least a milieu which the audience isn’t likely to inhabit itself. An example would be the stews of Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh Rebus series. 

So, in A Line To Kill, we are on the Channel Island of Alderney, picturesque but certainly a distance from a reader like myself, who, previous to such crime series, only sense of the Channel Islands -- Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney -- was these are breeds of dairy cattle common even in the USA. Nor more did we know anything about other island groups that are part of the UK, such as the Shetland Islands. But that has changed, due to crime fiction and teleision.

Within author Horowitz's novel, the author and character draw our attention to what author Horowitz knows we know, such as Ann Cleeves's Perez novels set on Shetland Isles, both wildly successful as novels, and a very successful television series. But even more so for A Line To Kill, for instance, there are references to an older, but also very successful television series, Bergerac, which takes place on Alderney’s neighboring island of Jersey. Then, to convolute even more so (beware writers looking to have fun with their own work!), Bergerac’s title character is played by the young John Nettles, who portrays Chief Inspector Barnaby in the television series Midsomer Murders, which may be the most popular scripted crime drama on British television, for which author Horowitz -- and character Horowitz, have written many of the scripts. How meta can we get? 

Yet! Beyond even that, Alderney has hundreds of nazi built fortifications and other WWII left overs from the nazi occupation, including mass grave sites from the four labor camps, thus character Horowitz thinks of the not as wildly successful television series in the UK, but much more liked in the US, Island At War (in which, let us not forget, how perfectly Lawrence Fox played a callow nazi officer ....). 

One of those nazi era Alderney artifacts plays a part in the plot.

These observations by character Horowitz, are always in the context of what Investigator Hawthorn is doing or not doing, or not telling, character Horowitz, etc., and the emotional and professional cost this is to the character writer/narrator, who is supposed to portray this up-and-coming famous, infallible detective. These observations contribute to the portrayal of the writer's character as writer, whose job it is to be a writer / novelist, at least of the sort of writer author/character Horowitz is.

First and foremost, despite whatever joy of inspiration may or may not manifest now and again, this is a job of work, and often, not that pleasant.  It's even more of a slog when this latest project is utterly adored by his publishers and readers who want more More MORE of it (see: Agatha Christie and Poirot, or even Doyle and Sherlock).  These days character Horowitz's job is shadowing Private Investigator Hawthorne on a case and then writing it up the case’s investigation as a book targeted to mass audience.  Which is the job that author Horowitz has given to character Horowitz, yes?

These books are a hoot, their cleverness quite entertaining, and no more taxing to the brain than watching Midsomer Murders, which Horowitz the author made into one of the most successful television programs of all time. Again, here we have a wildly successful set of novels, by Carolyn Graham, turned into a wildly successful television series, author shouted out by character Horowitz. 

I wish to give further credit to Horowitz: these are books I'd recommend to anyone who wants to write genre fiction of any sort.  Horowitz illustrates, without telling us, that one must study, really study, the masters, past and present, to know what one is doing. In no genre is it more fundamental than in crime and mystery to know the genre is which one is writing, and understand every nut and bolt of fabrication, why it is there, how it got there, and how it fits with all the other nuts and bolts. This leads to the understanding that the writer must also know a vast deal more than even this, to construct a satisfying work of crime and mystery.  This is particularly so for mystery writers who wish a career in writing crime and mystery for television.

So, well, maybe these books aren't for everyone, but they sure do work for me. Ha!

P.S. for another wildly successful crime / mystery series, which is also a wildly successful television series --  see: Andrea Camilleri's Comisario Montalbano series. In fact, it's in fact two television series, including the non-novel prequel series spun off, Young Montalbano.

This year, Camilleri died of being 87 years old. Camilleri had squirreled away a manuscript of what was to be the final novel in the series, to be published only after he died. I have just read this novel, Riccardino (2021), #28 in the Inspector Montalbano series.

By sheer coincidence, in Riccardino, character Montalbano in the novel has also had a television show made from his life and cases by 'The Author', who presumably is Camilleri. Novel Montalbano seeks to escape the direction of both The Author and the television series Montalbano, i.e. the created character is intent on out-smarting the creator of the television version of himself the character, and The Author of the television version. But whereas Horowitz's Horowitzs refer to other crime series and protagonist such Christie's Poirot, or Rankin's Rebus, Camilleri/Montalbano references, among others, Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of An Author.  This had many previously ardent Montalbano readers feeling betrayed and disappointed . . . .  In many ways Riccardino leads one to think this is how Camilleri handled his resentment of a character and series that too many, from his publisher, to his family's inheritance, to his readers and watchers, would not allow him to leave behind and move on. Again, see: Christie and Doyle!


     . . . . NYC got Omicron for Christmas, shutting us down within three day at the start of Christmas week, so, no, we hadn't a Merry Christmas.  But we did have a sweet, lovely and loving one.  Also a delicious one. It's been fairly wintery too -- with days like today, where we stay right in the mid 30's, even, possibly, a bit of snow flurry. Any snow in our era of  Climate Catastrophe -- which gave us more and longer strings of days more spectacularly beautiful than ever experienced living here -- would be a bit of Holiday miracle. Who knows?  Not I!