Wednesday, February 07, 2007


With Peter at Detectives beyond Borders discussing "fictional detectives of a certain age", and a young lady informing me that Mark Harmon of NCIS** can only be appreciated by women over 32, I have realised with horror that my empathy with Andrea Camilleri is probably because of his age.

"middle-aged detectives with bad, sad or questionable marital histories and, in some cases, a tendency toward alcohol and self-pity" [from Detectivesbeyond borders]

Many male crime fiction readers can identify with such detectives, and many female readers can clearly recognise such characters among their ex, current about to become ex, or even permanent male companions.

I don't think Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano [or Guido Brunetti, or Guido Guerrieri for that matter] could be in anyway classified in this group. Perhaps that is why Camilleri is not as depressing as some English and Scandinavian crime fiction.

Montalbano is indeed not young, but he has a mature, if stormy, relationship with Livia. Montalbano flirts because he is an Italian, but so far in the series [The Scent of the Night] he has been entirely faithful to Livia, physically if not mentally.
Salvo's first love is even more important than his pleasure at reading the works of Simenon, Sciascia, Montalban, Faulkner and Pirandello. It is more important than his police work, or even Livia. More important than his solitude and his special thinking time, more important than even justice and law and order itself ; his first love is his stomach.
Therefore he only exhibits self pity on those rare occasions when his fridge is empty, and the Trattoria San Calogero is closed.
Andrea Camilleri because he is an octogenarian has a library of interesting quirky characters in his life experience, and in the little cameo appearances they make in the novels we can relate to our own varied lives. Age matters.
** NCIS... Naval Criminal Investigation Service: this series which is on several UK cable channels [Five, Five US, Hallmark, FX] is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. The witty repartee, clever characters [including David McCallum from the Man from Uncle] and interesting subject matter, make this one of the best US imports we have at the moment.
The Man From Uncle: For nearly four years (Sept. 22, 1964 to Jan. 15, 1968), fans enjoyed watching the adventures of agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), who represented the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.


Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

By my standards, my post about middle-aged detectives of a certain age has generated storms of controversy.

For some reason, readers seem to think I was attacking Salvo Montalbano and Peter Temple's Jack Irish or, at least, implying that because the fictional detectives I cited were of a certain age and marital situation, they were identical.

One does not have to be of a certain age to feel empathy with Camilleri because his protagonist is of a certain age.

Here are Montalbano's thoughts during a tempestuous phone conversation with Livia in The Smell of the Night: "Maybe, thought the inspector, it was an effect of the distance between them becoming less and less tolerable with each passing day, since as we grow old ... we feel ever more keenly the need to have the person we love beside us."

Here's what I wrote about that passage: "That's lovely, I think, an aching and tender insight, and its resonance grows when one reflects that Camilleri was about eighty years old when the novel was published in 2005."


"What a perfect little parable of human relations! Has anyone written about love with such tenderness and humorous understanding?" I think that demonstrates that I agree with your assessment of Montalbano's relaitonship with Livia, and I am about Montalbano's age, I think, and far younger than Camilleri.

I'll repeat here, in consensed form, what I wrote when defending myself against the accusation that I had pigeonholed the wonderful Jack Irish by including him on my list of detectives of a certain age: When writing within a genre, an author automatically invites comparison to other stories and other protagonists within that genre. That, more or less, is what I was getting at with my list.

If I wanted to expand my blog comment into an article, I'd have to find room for Stuart Kaminsky's Abe Lieberman. Why? Because Lieberman is happily married and draws strength from his loving relationship with his wife. The loner detective is such a strong figure, at least in American crime fiction, that a reader can't help defining all fictional detectives in some way by how they conform to or deviate from that stereotype.


Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:27 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I have not read any Peter Temple yet but I do have The Broken Shore on my TBR shelf. Neither have I read Stuart Kaminsky, but Moe Prager, Reed Farrel Coleman's Jewish detective, is very happily married although his in laws are connected.
I think the loner, lonely detective is a sub genre that has been done so well in the past that it has run its course. Here in the UK Colin Dexter with Morse , Peter Robinson [who lives in Canada] with Alan Banks, and of course Reginald Hill with Andy Dalziel have set such a high standard that others can't match it. Ian Rankin with Rebus, from the limited number of books I have read is not up to that standard, but still a good read.
One of the best British "loners" was the TV spy Callan played by Edward Woodward, who also had a petty criminal assistant called Lonely [he smelt]and you can't get more of a loner than that.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Odd you should mention that Ian Rankin "is not up to that standard." I've read three of the Rebus novels, and I just don't get Rankin's phenomenal popularity,

That's an astute observation, that the lonely loner sub-genre has has run its course. I think I'll give it a plug on my blog. It may have run its course, but it has a strong afterlife. Writers still react to it, and readers still have it in mind.



Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:47 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I think it may be because of the tremendous influence of Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie on crime fiction. We expect our detectives to be loners, and probably very unhappy or weird loners.[excepting of course the delightful Tommy and Tuppence by Christie].
Perhaps Rebus is just so much a stereotype of what I expect a Scottish policeman to be that I don't feel he is quite such an original creation as Morse, Dalziel, or Banks.
Also the Scottish villains in Rankin's world always remind me of a character in another old TV serial in the UK, Budgie with Adam Faith, a 1960's pop singer turned actor.
I have read Resurrection Men, Fleshmarket Close and the earlier Strip Jack, but Rebus did not appeal to me or leave an impression in the same way as for instance Robinson's Alan Banks. I wonder if it is Rankin's Scottishness that is a big factor in his success?

9:40 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

From the Independent via Eurocrime;

"Soon, his idea for a crime novel involving a bitter and slight dysfunctional detective with a compellingly flawed character took off and spawned an industry of its own.

Part of his appeal is that Rankin rarely describes his characters at length but rather leaves it to the reader's imagination to put a face and voice to individuals - a tactic that has worked especially well with Rebus as his personality has emerged over the years.

While Rankin has amassed a wealth of personal honours over the years, his creation has been equally prized. There are now tourist walks, a whisky and a beer named after Rebus.

For years, the cobbled streets and narrow blood-soaked streets of Edinburgh have been associated with the grave-robbers, body-snatchers and serial killers of history but now more and more tourists queue up to visit the real-life haunts of Rankin's fictional character.

And the prizes have kept coming. Rankin's accolades include being elected as a Hawthornden Fellow and winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award; two Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Dagger prizes for short stories; the CWA Macallan Gold Dagger for Fiction; the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award; the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger to mark a lifetime's achievement in crime writing; honorary doctorates from the Universities of Abertay Dundee, St Andrews and Hull; culminating in an OBE in the 2002 Golden Jubilee Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to literature.

Recently however, at an age 10 years younger than his hero, Rankin has admitted that he faces a dilemma.

In the normal course of events, Rebus should be about to retire from the police which means that unless he can be brought out of retirement in some way for further adventures, the Rebus stories could come to an end.

Rankin has already said the next novel, due to be published next autumn, will be Rebus' last as a serving policeman

However, now that Rankin looks set for a renewed surge of interest from the American book market after the call from The New York Times it looks as though demand for Rankin's gritty style of storytelling is going to be even greater than before."

Does the following passage describe the reason why I can't get in to Rankin/Rebus as much as his reputation would warrant?

"Part of his appeal is that Rankin rarely describes his characters at length but rather leaves it to the reader's imagination to put a face and voice to individuals -"

Am I too lazy to give a face and voice to the characters, or have I too many other characters and faces swimming around in my head?
Do I have too many plot twists in the ageing computer that is my brain? I certainly managed to pick the twist at the start of Resurrection Men, but then it was a bit obvious?

10:14 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One interesting manifestation of the afterlife of the loner detective is the well-adjusted or normal loner: David Owen’s Pufferfish or Les Roberts’ Milan Jacovich. I shall also soon have more to say about Jack Irish. I am reading Peter Temple’s Black Tide, the second Jack Irish novel. It is so good that I am reading it slowly and savoring it. Temple does interesting things with the loner-detective motif that will be worth discussing.

I’ve never read Robinson's Alan Banks. Perhaps that will be my next discovery.

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

4:32 PM  

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