Monday, July 13, 2009


Studying those Mock covers brought home to me what wonderfully vivid characters have come onto the crime fiction scene in the last few years. I have always thought that characters are far more important than plots in providing a great reading experience. But it is important that those characters are a good fit in their period and their location. Philip Kerr's seemingly out of place 'Marlowe like' creation Bernie Gunther works well in the Nazi Germany setting simply because the Nazis were a group of gangsters, who instead of running a scam in LA were incredibly running a country.
Larry Beinhart in his book How to Write a Mystery talks about creating characters to suit a theme, or the subject matter, as an alternative to using a real person and modeling your character on them. Of course an example of the later is Arthur Conan Doyle using his medical school professor Joseph Bell for his Sherlock Holmes and adding a few quirks such as his addiction to morphine.

We are very lucky that two very original characters who fit their period and their theme so perfectly, Lisbeth Salander and Eberhard Mock, have been created, quirks and all, for us to enjoy. [scroll down after clicking on those links for all my previous posts about these characters]

They are not in the least like Raymond Chandler's image of his detective described in the essay, The Simple Art of Murder; "He must be the best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world".
Or "He must be, to use a weathered phrase be, a man of honor-......".

These new heroes or anti heroes could not be more different.

Lisbeth Salander, a child like vulnerable, bisexual, tattooed, pierced, motor bike riding computer hacker who will use extreme violence if she feels justified. She is certainly justified with some of the people she meets in the books. I hope we get more Salander and less Blomqvist in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.

Eberhard Mock, an alcoholic depressive brutal wife-beating policeman who is interested in the classics, astrology, chess and prostitutes, and who administers harsh justice without recourse to the legal system. I am looking forward to more in this series with its back stories and slightly rambling eccentric plots.

The two characters are a perfect fit to operate within their respective societies, societies damaged by abuse, the destruction of the family, lack of respect for authority, war and a subsequent breakdown in moral codes.

Salander's world may not be exactly the same as Mock's harsh post war Weimar and then Nazi Germany, but to her an abused person treated with contempt by society it must seem pretty close. Although Mock is in harmony with his decadent world, and Salander is the typical outsider they both have the skills to survive in a harsh environment.

Authors Stieg Larsson and Marek Krajewski, along with translators Reg Keeland and Danusia Stok have done a superb job in bringing us these characters.

I think both characters are fantastic and along with Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, Salvo Montalbano and Harry Hole show we are definitely in a golden age for translated crime fiction.

Who are your favourite characters, and are they a good fit for their worlds?


Blogger Bernadette said...

I agree Norman that it's characters that make the difference between good and great reading for me.

I haven't read any of the Krajewski books so don't know about Mock but I do love Lisbeth (can't wait for book 3). Just lately I seem to have had a run of finding not-so-young characters very engaging - Hazel Micalef in THE CALLING was a treat. I'm not quite at her age yet but I still enjoyed that an older character was so vividly and brilliantly depicted.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Mock is such a tormented and weird character that you just have to admire the author for creating an anti-hero with so few mitigating qualities.
I loved the second Lisbeth book which I found much more interesting that the first I also can't wait for number three.
As for older characters you have reminded me of Gerlof Davidsson an octogenarian investigating his grandson's disappearance in Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin, a really great book and an International dagger nominee.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

I agree that it adds so much to a novel when you can identify with the protag - "good" or "less good"! I am sure Harry Bosch and Elvis Cole's characters have much to do with the success of Connelly and Crais's novels, respectively. I'm always struck by how "feminine" the two detectives are, they are pretty sensitive underneath their laconic exteriors. Harry Bosch in particular is a wonderfully melancholy creation - as well as all the usual chracteristics of being a maverick, unable to relate, etc, he is having a life-long love affair with the city of Los Angeles. Above all, of course, he stands for the dead.

I do like the character of Lisbeth but for me she is slightly too idealised. I preferred a similar character, the main character in Missing, though I can't remember her name, how awful.

There are many aspects of Anneka (Liza Marklund), Irene (Helene Tursten), Rebekah (Asa Larsson), Erlandur (Arnaldur Indridason) with which I identify strongly, as well as many others that I am forgetting to mention here but when I read another book by their authors, will love meeting old famililar friends, warts and all ;-)

3:45 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine, I had not seen the qualities of Harry Bosch andr Elvis Cole as particularly feminine but that they were human beings who cared about people.

By the way I don't think anyone could or would want to identify with Mock who has more than his fair share of warts and problems.

I have Missing and The Sinner to read on your recommendation and I am sure I will enjoy them as Shadow was brilliant. But I think I will have to be in a cheerful mood before i start them.;o)

4:14 AM  

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