April 2014: Classic crime in the blogosphere

Australian blog Pulp Curry looked at pulp writer Carl Ruhen.

Australian blog Pulp Curry looked at pulp writer Carl Ruhen: ‘They were only kids, but they were capable of murder – and worse. The story of today’s violent generation.’

No theme this month: just a selection of some of the blog posts I found most informative or amusing.

First up, Ho-Ling (who may be a pokemon judging by his photo*) covers a range of genre fiction and this month came to a subject close to my heart: used book shops. There is some good background in his review of the bibliophile mysteries of one Kida Junichirou:

Furuhonya Tantei no Jikenbo (“The Case Files of the Used Book Shop Detective“, which publisher Tokyo Sogen has dubbed Murderer’s Items in English) is set in the early 1980s in Jinbochou, Tokyo, the holy ground of used bookstores in Japan. Having quit his office job, Sudou Kouhei has set up his own used book shop in Jinbochou. It’s doing alright, but to make a bit of extra money, Sudou starts a Book Detective service: he’ll find the books you’re looking for (once again, note that this takes place in the 1980s; no such thing as Google or Amazon!). But his work brings Sudou in contact with some of the most fanatic of bibliophiles, to whom book collecting is nothing less than SERIOUS BUSINESS. 

Crossing the Pacific, Christopher Fowler in his regular Independent column Invisible Ink gave a brief summary of the life of American writer Anna Katharine Green, author of 40 mysteries including The Leavenworth Case.

More importantly, how readable are any of these books now? Well, if you place yourself in a suitably melodramatic frame of mind, Green isn’t at all bad, and as we still honour and read Wilkie Collins, why have we forgotten a woman who got to be one of the first in the field?

Less charitably, Ontos served up some swingeing contemporary criticism of Green, including this zinger from The Bookman:

Anna Katharine Green enjoys a considerable popularity which is more or less deserved. The Leavenworth Case and Behind Closed Doors were in their way rather good stories. Mrs. Rohlfs put in them the ingredients of real horror. In each book she succeeded admirably in keeping suspicion away from the real criminal until the very end, and if they had not been so badly written and so long-winded, they would have been rather striking books.

The Counterfeit Writer looked at the 1966 Michael Caine/Shirley Maclain film Gambit

The Counterfeit Writer looked at the 1966 Michael Caine/Shirley MacLaine film Gambit

More bad reviews… I suspect I’d disagree with Conservative History Journal a lot of the time, but I was interested to read this dismissal of John Bingham’s My Name is Michael Sibley, a book which I’ve been looking out for since reading Julian Symon’s praise of it in Bloody Murder.

As Wikpedia points out, it is known to have been rather daring for its time (1952) as it implied that the “British police do not always play fair”. Interesting, I thought and read the book, finding it disappointingly uninspiring. A detective story with no detection, a thriller with no surprises, it did not seem to warrant the praises I thought had been heaped on it.

Anybody read it?

And in another negative review, At the Scene of the Crime brings William X. Kienzle to book in a piece on The Rosary Murders:

It would be an exaggeration to call Kienzle’s stance anti-Catholic, but he is dismissive of the Church as a whole, especially on issues relating to marriage. Often his stance seems very bitter, and his portrayal of the Church is skewed. He portrays a bunch of conservative nutjobs, and the only members of the clergy who gain his approval are those who are lax about the Church’s rules and who are “progressive”.

Digging deeper into the question of bias, Wordsmithonia published an interesting review of Agatha Christie’s Murder is Easy which tackled an issue I generally sidestep in reviews, the matter of institutional racism and sexism in books from the old days.

It’s never easy making a moral judgement about a book, or even part of a book, let alone one first published in 1939.  Making those judgement based on the way a reader thinks in 2014, is especially difficult. I try to not do it, and for the most part I’ve succeeded, but the older I’m getting, the harder that is becoming.  Blatant homophobia, racism, and sexism, blanket earlier works of fiction, even by those authors you try to ignore it from… Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m trying to justify my decision to keep reading her books, and that bugs me.  I should be able to walk away and never look back, but I can’t.  For what ever reason, I’m going to judge authors differently, through whatever lens I conjure out of my ass.  It won’t be fair, it won’t make sense, but I’m going to have to start drawing lines somewhere.  I just need to figure out what those lines are.

Personally, I have a line drawn around 1975, after which I find I’m less forgiving.

* Although on that basis, I’m a bookshelf.



See also… (and do give me a shout if I’ve missed something)

101 Books

AQ’s Reviews

Battered, Tattered, Yellowed and Creased

Beneath the Stains of Time

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Bookwormchatterbox

The Broken Bullhorn

Classic Mysteries

Clothes in Books

Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

Conservative History Journal

Counterfeit Writer

Crimesquad.com

Cult TV Lounge

Existential Ennui

Five Minute Mysteries

The Game’s Afoot

The Guardian

Head Butler

Heavenali

Ho-Ling

I Love a Mystery

The Independent (Christopher Fowler’s Invisible Ink)

Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Noirish

Ontos

The Passing Tramp

Peggy Ann’s Post

A Penguin a Week

Pretty Sinister Books

Promoting Crime Fiction

Pulp Curry

Riding the High Country

At the Scene of the Crime

In Search of the Classic Mystery

The Telegraph

Tipping my Fedora

Vanished into Thin Air

  • Bill Pronzini’s Bones (1985)

Venture Galleries

Vintage Pop Fictions

Wordsmithsonia

What Are You Reading For?

Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog

You Book Me All Night Long

  • Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna (1965)

Creative Commons License
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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24 Responses to April 2014: Classic crime in the blogosphere

  1. Rich – A terrific round-up as always – thanks.

  2. …And thanks very much *blush* for including my post.

  3. Colin says:

    Thanks for the mention!

  4. realthog says:

    A very useful roundup — thanks!

    I read the Bingham novel way back in the dawn of time (I’d read and been impressed by his nonfiction book on Scottish killer Peter Manuel), and was disappointed — for roughly the same reasons, I dimly recall, as your Conservative reviewer. About ten or twelve years ago, however, I came across a copy at a yard sale or whatever and decided, for nostalgic reasons, to give it another go . . . and this time I liked it quite a lot. Mind you, I’d have to find that copy, wherever it lurks in the house, in order to remember why I enjoyed the book . . .

  5. Bloody hell, there really is a lot out there – thanks Rich for corralling it all – humbling, that’s what it is …

  6. realthog says:

    Oh! And thanks for the links to Noirish, which I’ve just noticed!

  7. Curtis Evans says:

    Well, I threw in my two cents on the matter of homophobia and racism in the detective novel. I have to say the view some people have expressed that they don’t want to read to anything “old” because it might have different, more retrogade social views is a notion I find kind of horrifying, actually. If I had that attitude I certainly would never have wasted my time getting a history Ph.D! I had to read a lot of things that certainly didn’t reflect my own social views!

    • westwoodrich says:

      For me it’s more a question of whether it’s worthy of the equivalent of the parental advisory warning in music.

      When I review contemporary books I often add a warning about graphic violence, on the basis that many readers don’t like all the entrails.

      As a reviewer, should I apply the same rule to outmoded attitudes in older books?

      • Curtis Evans says:

        Maybe you should hand include links to a store selling eye shutters!

        Personally, I like learning about the past–even when it isn’t all pretty–and I like to talk about social aspects of these books in reviews. So much would go by the wayside if we adopted this anti-past standard some advocate. Take Raymond Chandler, for example. Do I like the homophobic and racist stuff in Chandler, for example? Of course not, but I’m not going to stop reading him. He’s a great writer. Would I have liked him personally if I had known him? Quite possibly not. But he would have been damn interesting to know. Among other things, he was a brilliant letter writer (though watch out! those letters, like life in general, sometimes have some unattractive aspects).

  8. TracyK says:

    Thanks for linking to my posts. I have another three days off before I go back to work, maybe I can get around to all the blogs on this list that I have not already checked out. You do us all a service to gather these resources in one place.

  9. Ho-Ling says:

    Thanks for the mention!

  10. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Thanks for the links! And what a lovely lot of posts there have been!

  11. Thanks for the great roundup, as ever, and the mention. That’s a really worthwhile discussion on the old-fashioned (to put it politely) attitudes in old books. I like the idea of your cutoff point of 1975, and also the possibility of a warning. I often mention the problems (particularly the use of specific, now-unacceptable, words) but am going to think about this one more. Interested to hear other views. I was going though my collection last week, and actually picked out Michael Sibley, which I read years ago but don’t remember. I read a couple by him, and one of them was extremely good, with a rather brilliant twist, but I think not this one.

  12. I think the idea of a “warning’ of the type of content found in older books is probably a good one. I don’t read nearly as much older stuff as I’d like to at the moment but it is something I will keep in mind. It can be confronting to come across the thoughts and ideas expressed in these older works but it is so important that we don’t collectively forget that things have not always been as they are now, and even now we are evolving our social and political ideas. At my age (mid 40′s) I haven’t come across a lot of overt racism in contemporary books but with something like attitudes to homosexuality even I can see a difference in books written when I was a teenager to books written now.

  13. Curtis Evans says:

    In some cases publishers have deleted or altered text that might offend people. It’s understandable, publishers want to sell books, but it’s false to history and gives younger people a rose-colored impression of the past. I personally think it’s best to face the facts about life!

    • westwoodrich says:

      Standard practice with classic children’s books, of course – but I agree most people can probably cope seeing these terms.

      • Curtis Evans says:

        But presumably adults are better mentally equipped to deal with these things than children. The reason given for altering the text of Huckleberry Finn was that it was for the children, but I think even older adolescents should be able to read HF in the original text, even though it means seeing the N-word in print. Ironically, deleting it undercuts the very anti-racism message Twain is trying to get across, by softening the petition of the time.

  14. Thanks for including my post! And thanks for compiling it all. So much good stuff here to read.

  15. Sarah says:

    Reminds me that I need to read some more of my classic crime books! Thanks for the round-up

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