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July 12, 2007

Crime Fiction Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Logical Meme thinks that "The Sopranos" embodied a lot of conservative values.

* Alias Clio continues the conversation about loose women and Bohemia, and rhapsodizes about the brilliant British crime-fiction author Ruth Rendell.

* Fred Blosser, a correspondent of Ed Gorman's, is a longtime reader of crime fiction. In a note to Ed, he lays out a lot of crime fiction's recent trends.

* Vince Keenan praises noir-movie screenwriter Roy Huggins as "one of the stealth giants of popular culture."

* MB Rewind: I expressed my enthusiasm for my favorite genre, psychological suspense, here.



posted by Michael at July 12, 2007


Reading Michael's old entry on psychological suspense put me in mind of a favourite movie: Rififi. Not like me to praise a Blacklist Celeb like Jules Dassin, and not like me to praise French cinema at all (my fascination with Eric Rohmer is truly an embarrassment)...but here goes. Rififi is a wonderful heist movie for its convincing characters and the clarity of the crucial action, the heist itself. More than that, you get a glimpse of a low-life code, and its irrevocable demands on those who obey it and those who disobey. Criminals are still criminals, not loveable scamps. Jean Servais' character has elected 'to serve in hell', but he serves with almost legalistic perfection.

Any of you Americans remember a Grant Brundratt? I knew him when came to Australia (originally as some kind of film and music commentator). He it was who warned me of the rise of the 'Triumph-of-the-Trash' movie genre. Alas, he was so right, wasn't he? Rififi is something else: it's about human beings defeated from the start by their trashy values, but their moral glimmerings endow a simple heist movie with genuine psychological suspense.

Come to think of it, I really think my love of Eric Rohmer's flat, talky movies results from his ability to portray moral struggles, even good-versus-evil, in everyday human contacts. The facial expressions and little habits of his perfectly-cast characters re-inforce their moral situations. You find yourself disliking the mouth of the 'Philo' teacher who's having an affair with his student. You wait for the guy with the honest face to drive the honest widow to the station. And you wait some more. So, is it psychological suspense behind this guilty love of mine? Or do I read too much into this stuff?

Posted by: Robert Townshend on July 12, 2007 9:05 PM

I always thought that the Sopranos was VERY conservative (or possibly libertarian), if viewed from a "What should we learn from this?" perspective.

So much of the money they make comes from Governemnt Spending/Contracts. They take advantage of Business Opportunities that are regulated (financing underground casinos, gambling, non-bank loans, over-taxed cigarettes, etc.).

They also say one thing to their children (get an education, be a professional) and yet do the opposite.

If I were a devout leftist, I would have a hard time watching this show and feel like it fit into my world-view.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on July 13, 2007 10:07 AM

Alias Clio: Like you, I am an intense Rendell fan. I'm glad you mentioned "The Killing Doll" (now out of print), a personal favorite of mine. Rendell is interesting because I don't have much regard for much of her work before 1980 ("The Lake of Darkness" is an exception) but she has developed tremendously since then.

I tried leaving this comment on Clio's blog but couldn't get it past the software filter for some unknown reason.

Posted by: jult52 on July 13, 2007 12:07 PM

Rendell's "The Bridesmaid" is excellent reading. I don't often read crime/mystery fiction more than once because the ending, being known, doesn't compel you onward. This one I've read 3 times. The psychological tension is superb.

Posted by: D Flinchum on July 13, 2007 2:21 PM

Thanks, jult52, for the visit. I recall noticing a change in her work, but I lost (or someone "borrowed") a whole selection of the earlier ones I had, so I'm not sure when it occurred. It's rather encouraging that she developed her gift so well as she grew older, and that she doesn't seem to be losing touch with the world we all live in, even now.

I think she first began to draw critics' eyes as an exceptional novelist with "A Dark-Adapted Eye", which has that astonishing opening line...I'll leave people to discover it for themselves.

And "The Bridesmaid" - yes, it repays re-reading. So, I think, do all her later psych-suspense stories. I think that - subtracting the dramatic events - hers are the books to which I'd refer people if I wanted to give them a picture of life in the late 20th century. What an ear for dialogue she has, and at every social level, too! And she gets clothes and furniture right without being obtrusive about it. A real novelist.

Posted by: alias clio on July 13, 2007 4:10 PM

The conservatism of the Sopranos is a double edged sword. After all, these people, with conservative values and all, are criminals preying on the rest of us.

The traditional view of the world that it embodies divides people into two groups "us", meaning our family, our clan, our in-group, for whom values such as honor, truthfulness, kindness, and all that apply, and "others" who are seen as lawful prey.

No amount of empathizing with them will make them see you as "us". It is like empathizing with a tiger. We might admire his stripes, and respect the balance of nature, of which he is a part, but for him, we are dinner on the hoof, and if we forget it, we get eaten.

Which means that the modern world, with all its drawbacks might force Tony Soprano's children to see those who are not in the "family" as human beings as worthy of respect as those inside. As their neighbor, which is what we should wish.

Posted by: Adriana on July 13, 2007 9:17 PM

Clio: Since I still can't post on your blog, wanted to tell you that I was reading your terrific post about bohemia yesterday morning and took in the information about the Renoir painting you discuss, "The Boating Party." I didn't note where the painting was located and had the pleasure of visiting the Phillips Gallery in DC a few hours later and being surprised when I walked into the room where the painting was hung. It was funny. I'm still not a big fan of that work; there are two beautiful landscapes by Bonnard and Monet hung right next to it that for me are much more beautiful.

Oh, and I think "The Bridesmaid" is an amazing work, too.

Posted by: jult52 on July 14, 2007 11:04 AM

What a treat for you, jult52. I know the Phillips Collection well. I actually worked there as a docent in the early 1990s, when I lived in DC for a couple of years. And I agree, the Bonnard in that room (I'm assuming they haven't moved things around too much), is spectacularly beautiful. My own favorites there, though, were the Vuillards - much less monumental, but - what a painter he was!

I enjoyed my time at the Phillips, but one of the employees at the time was a toucher-feeler who drove me nuts (nothing crass, just really annoying), so I gave it up...

Posted by: alias clio on July 14, 2007 6:42 PM

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