Iris Murdoch with a car chase...

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Jorn Barger

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Dec 27, 2004, 12:00:19 PM12/27/04
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...or RAVE: M. Gruber's "Tropic of Night" and M. Walters' "Acid Row"

Like the late Jiddu Krishnamurti, for light reading I enjoy
thrillers, or crime novels.

The reigning master of this genre is Elmore Leonard, who
consistently manages to 1) create lively characters and 2)
move them thru an imaginative plot 3) at a breezy pace...
while lesser authors have trouble achieving even one of
these goals. (Patrick Vincent and Ed Dee are decent also-
rans; the early George V Higgins was Leonard's own master.)

I've posted elsewhere-- http://www.robotwisdom.com/jorn/favorites.html
that my criterion for great literature is that its images
should stick in my memory, but by this standard Leonard is
nowhere close to great literature-- I don't think a single
image from any of his books has stuck in my mind for more
than a day. (Rare exception: the Ted Turner character in
"Stick", and the early scene in his offices told from
three points of view.)

But there's no reason a thriller _couldn't_ be great
literature-- Robert Stone, Patrick O'Brian, and John le
Carre have demonstrated some of the possibilities.

I think, though, it must be a very difficult thing, for
my ongoing survey of thrillers has turned up very few gems,
all with multiple flaws...

Bill James and Peter Bowen create superb characters, but
the crime element is weak. Scott Turow is a fine writer,
but his books aren't exactly pageturners. Thomas Perry
writes sophisticated pageturners but the plots are
fairly stereotyped. Michael Connelly is stuck in the
triple-twist whodunnit-ending rut. James Ellroy's eggs
are so hardboiled they're like rubber. Jeffery Deaver and
Dan Brown are masters of the pageturner but their plots are
lurid and contrived. James W Hall sticks too close to the
conventions of the genre, when his talents are clearly
elsewhere. John Dunning creates great female characters
in horribly mis-structured plots. Carl Hiaasen is competent
'Leonard lite'. Lynn Kostoff seems to have renounced his
ambitious first thriller and lowered his sights to more
predictable fare...

My prototype for a 'generic' literary novelist is Iris
Murdoch, whose images are memorable, but who's never (as
far as I can remember) written a car chase. She fearlessly
goes inside the heads of a broad range of characters, and
this is what I'd like to see more authors attempt in
literary thrillers.

Minette Walters shows some promise along these lines,
with well-drawn and memorable characters from all walks
of life. But most of her works are mysteries in which
a very slow process of inquiry reveals, in effect, that
the butler did it.

Her eighth novel, "Acid Row", puts the mystery into the
background while the foreground is a brilliantly depicted
riot in a London housing project, so this one I'll be
recommending as about the best model in town, for a
literary thriller.

Addendum: "Tropic of Night" by Michael Gruber does an
exemplary job of Carlos-Castaneda-with-a-car-chase, and
his female impersonation (of Jane Doe's narrative voice)
is also remarkable.

An update of my 11-dimensional classification-
http://groups-beta.google.com/group/rec.arts.books/msg/664937b7e0f8a705
--here arranged in order of how eagerly I'd look forward to a
new one in their best style:

Dimensions:
pageturner (zippy-sloggy)
infotainment (educational-familiar)
sociology (insightful-banal)
originality (creative-rote)
structure (elegant-messy)
style (artistic-clumsy)
texture (rich-flat)
realism (convincing-incredible)
soul (compassionate-satanic)
humor (funny-grave)
readability (easy-hard)
[Google's group-beta sucks!]
. style
. structure | texture
. originality | | | realism
. sociology | | | | | soul
. infotainment | | | | | | | humor
. pageturner | | | | | | | | | rdbl
. | | | | | | | | | | |
.Michael Gruber (1) A A A A A A A A A B B
. Bill James (4) C C B A B A B A A A D
.Jeffery Deaver (12) A C D C B C C D D F A
. Carl Hiaasen (5) B D D A A C D D C A A
. Thomas Perry (all) A C C B A B C B B D B
. Peter Bowen (2) D C A A A A C B A A C
. Lynn Kostoff (2) B B B A B B B B B B B
.Elmore Leonard (all) A C A A A A A A B A A
. Dan Brown (3) C A D B C D F D C D B
. Scott Turow (all) C B B A B B B B B D C
. M Connelly (9) A C B B B B B B B D B
. James Ellroy (2) C C C B D D A A F F B/F
. Min. Walters (6) B D C A D B A B D D B
. Lindsey Davis (10) B A B A B B B B B B A
. M Cruz Smith (all) B B C A B B B B B C A
. Joseph Finder (2) B B A B C A B B B A B
. Robert Crais (3) B F D D C D D B C D C
. Ken Bruen (1) B D C A C B C B D B B
. Ger. A Browne (5) A A D A A C C F B C A
. Jim Fusilli (1) C B B A C B A C C C B
. Eric Ambler (10) B B A A B B B A B D A
.Ersk. Childers (1) A B D B C C A C B C A
. John Dunning (4) B A C B F C C C C D B
. James W Hall (5) B B C B C A A C B C B
. Patk Vincent (2) B D A B A B B B B B B
. Kent Anderson (1) B C B A B A B A C C B
. Edna Buchanan (6) B C C D C C C C C C A
. Jonathon King (2) B D C B C A B A B C B
. Steven Saylor (1) C A B B B B B B B C B
. Ed Dee (2) B C B C C C C B B B B
. Dave Barry (2) B F D C C C C F C A A
. 'Edgar Box' (2) C B A D C B C D C B B
. GP Pelecanos (5) C C B D B C A A B C B
. Linda Davies (2) B B B C C D C D C D B
. M. Billingham (1) B C C C C B B B B C B
. | | | | | | | | | | |
. pag inf soc org str sty tex rel sou hum red

razz

unread,
Dec 27, 2004, 6:05:30 PM12/27/04
to
If you want literature in your crime novels I'd suggest George V
Higgins. He's the master of the dialogue novel and if what he writes
isn't 'literature' I don't what is.

Razz

joyleenseymour

unread,
Dec 28, 2004, 8:26:02 AM12/28/04
to
razz wrote:
> If you want literature in your crime novels I'd suggest George V
> Higgins. He's the master of the dialogue novel and if what he writes
> isn't 'literature' I don't what is.
>
> Razz
>
> Jorn Barger wrote:
> >
> > ...or RAVE: M. Gruber's "Tropic of Night" and M. Walters' "Acid
Row"
> >
> > Like the late Jiddu Krishnamurti, for light reading I enjoy
> > thrillers, or crime novels.
> >
> (snip)

> >
> > I've posted elsewhere--
http://www.robotwisdom.com/jorn/favorites.html
> > that my criterion for great literature is that its images
> > should stick in my memory, but by this standard Leonard is
> > nowhere close to great literature-- I don't think a single
> > image from any of his books has stuck in my mind for more
> > than a day. (Rare exception: the Ted Turner character in
> > "Stick", and the early scene in his offices told from
> > three points of view.)
> >
> > But there's no reason a thriller _couldn't_ be great
> > literature-- Robert Stone, Patrick O'Brian, and John le
> > Carre have demonstrated some of the possibilities.
> >
> > (snip)

> >
> > My prototype for a 'generic' literary novelist is Iris
> > Murdoch, whose images are memorable, but who's never (as
> > far as I can remember) written a car chase. She fearlessly
> > goes inside the heads of a broad range of characters, and
> > this is what I'd like to see more authors attempt in
> > literary thrillers.
> >
> > Minette Walters shows some promise along these lines,
> > with well-drawn and memorable characters from all walks
> > of life. But most of her works are mysteries in which
> > a very slow process of inquiry reveals, in effect, that
> > the butler did it.
> >
> > Her eighth novel, "Acid Row", puts the mystery into the
> > background while the foreground is a brilliantly depicted
> > riot in a London housing project, so this one I'll be
> > recommending as about the best model in town, for a
> > literary thriller.
> >
> >(snip)

Literary Crime fiction includes: Paris Trout, Train, Brotherly Love,
by Pete Dexter, Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow, and old classics like
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and even Les Miserables by
Victor Hugo. (Those two are among my personal favorites.)

One definition of literary fiction I heard while at Bread Loaf was that
literary fiction is "domestic" or involved with the day to day, some
would say mundane details of life. I guess I would consider a lot of
crime fiction "literary" to a certain degree if it is character driven
rather than plot driven. Unfortunately, what sometimes happens in
character driven fiction is that the plot disappears entirely. I
sometimes prefer a plot driven story myself (I'm a big fan of the
Parker novels by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark,) although my
writing is mostly character driven. I'm hopeless when it comes to
plotting.

Joy

Read my (plot driven mystery) fiction here:
http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/fiction2004/fishintrees.html

Randy Money

unread,
Dec 28, 2004, 10:21:27 AM12/28/04
to
Check out:

James Crumley's _The Last Good Kiss_ (strong writing style; good use of
setting; strong characterization; story sags a bit in the middle, but
comes back strong at the end)

James Lee Burke's _Heaven's Prisoner_ (evocative use of setting;
gorgeous writing style; plot a bit ramshackle; at least two P.I. cliches
used, but generally effective even so; the mystery isn't really
mysterious but I found the ride to the end entertaining)

Frederick Busch's _Girls_ (solid writing style, though not as
distinctive as Crumley's or Burke's; strong plotting -- when you begin
to think the plot is a bit ramshackle it becomes apparent that it stems
from characterization, which is uniformly strong through-out; one P.I.
cliche comes into effect, but also stems from situation and
characterization; an emotionally wrenching story, moreso than either of
the other novels and in spite of the perpetrator being fairly obvious at
least by the mid-way point)


Randy M.

Jorn Barger

unread,
Jan 16, 2005, 2:25:23 PM1/16/05
to
I wrote:
> Addendum: "Tropic of Night" by Michael Gruber does an
> exemplary job of Carlos-Castaneda-with-a-car-chase, and
> his female impersonation (of Jane Doe's narrative voice)
> is also remarkable.

Turns out he's got 15(?) thrillers out already, ghostwritten
as Robert K Tanenbaum. I've tried three of these and they
were all firstrate.
Another new discovery: Andrew Pyper ("Lost Girls") can really
write.

Janet Puistonen

unread,
Jan 16, 2005, 3:43:55 PM1/16/05
to

"Jorn Barger" <jo...@enteract.com> wrote in message
news:1105903523.2...@c13g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...

>I wrote:
>> Addendum: "Tropic of Night" by Michael Gruber does an
>> exemplary job of Carlos-Castaneda-with-a-car-chase, and
>> his female impersonation (of Jane Doe's narrative voice)
>> is also remarkable.
>
> Turns out he's got 15(?) thrillers out already, ghostwritten
> as Robert K Tanenbaum. I've tried three of these and they
> were all firstrate.

I agree--but do beware of the latest one. (Sorry, I can't recall the title.)
Gruber didn't write it, and although it has the same characters, it simply
isn't anywhere near as good. In fact, IMHO, it pretty much stinks. Perhaps I
wouldn't be as severe if I wasn't comparing it to Gruber's writing...but I
definitely would NOT recommend it.


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