Thursday, 2 March 2017

Me and Crime



I have taken to crime. Not that I have donned a face mask, a black and white hooped jumper and am holding a swag bag over my shoulder. I am not chucking large bricks through jewellers window before scarpering quick as you like before the old bill arrive, no, I am not breaking any laws or moral codes. The crime I have taken to has been G.K Chesterton's wonderful, and beautifully written, Father Brown stories. At the same time, I have also been reading Anne Cleeves, no relation to the long dead monarch who had a fondness for beheading errant wives. Yes, crime fiction, the same one I had little time for some years ago. It is still not my genre of choice but,  as I said at the time, there are always exceptions.

I enjoyed "The Innocence of Father Brown," I thought the prose exquisite. It had the same playful quality as P.G. Wodehouse's work. Not the same of course yet still filled with a delectable English not often written anymore. As for "Raven Black," the first of the Shetland novels featuring Jimmy Perez, what an incredible discovery. Nothing at all what I had imagined. Less 'grim reality' and more stark realism. Loved it.

It hasn't just been crime fiction that I have been digging into, I have also been re-reading stuff over again. It just felt right. I had been reading a lot of philosophical books by the Dalai Lama, Jiddu Krishna Murti, Wayne Dyer and so on. Tired of those and fancying a change I went to my personal library, a bunch of book shelves in my garage, and dug out the books I fancied.

I started with Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep." What a book.The series featuring private investigator Philip Marlowe is probably the best crime thriller of the last one hundred years. The genius of his creation is due to the way in which Chandler captures the world in which Marlowe lives. Los Angeles was filled with the nouveau riche, the sons of the great pioneers who had shaped a nation. Uncertain of how to behave when rich beyond their wildest dreams, not wanting to repeat the ways of the British with their class system and their etiquette, they forged another way, a brasher, flashier way. Against this backdrop comes a man whose feet are very much on the ground; a man who can spot bullshit when he smell's it. Ironically, those wealthy American's were much the same as those Brit's they wanted to distance themselves from in that they too worshipped money.

Chandler takes this backdrop, freeze-frames its history then presents it as a veritable other world, a parallel universe which stays much the same throughout the whole series of books. It is this that appeals to me. Like P.G. Wodehouse, another of my re-reads, time has little or no meaning. Things stay the same. The one huge difference between the two author's is, of course, Wodehouse's brilliant yet formulaic stories compared to Chandler's twisting, ingenious plots and sub-plots. Yet both Jeeves and Wooster, Philip Marlowe and the town he lives in, stay static. Their worlds revolve forever in the time they were first conceived. Their fictions are of the time and universe they are set in.

The third author whose work impresses me is the French archaeologist, Fred Varga. Her Three Evangelist novels, unlike Chandler or Wodehouse, are set within the contemporary world for it is the fictional characters who arrive with their peculiarities and odd ways as if from somewhere else. The stories are ingenious with plots that swing and sway, dive then swoop, lead you on a merry, meandering chase accompanied by these odd individuals. 

The sheer imagination when considering these are tried and tested crime fictions which have their own agendas and conventions is breathtaking. Agendas are shredded, conventions ignored. That woman, for Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau (Fred Vargas), is such, is amazing.

This was my second reading of 'The Three Evangelists' and I found it as exciting as my first. 
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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