Showing posts with label Henning Mankell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henning Mankell. Show all posts

03 September 2015

Serial Offenders


by Janice Law

Like most mystery fans, I have my favorites, characters I willingly read about time and again. Indeed, what lover of the genre wouldn’t like just one more Sherlock Holmes story or another vintage appearance from Lord Peter Whimsy or Adam Dalgliesh? Familiarity breeds contentment for the reader. The writer is another breed of cat.


Writers enjoy variety, new challenges, new plots, new directions, and perhaps for that reason even wildly successful mystery writers have sometimes had complicated feelings about their heroes and heroines. Demands for another helping of the same can arouse a homicidal streak – of the literary sort. Thus Conan Doyle sent Holmes over the Reichenback Falls and Henning Mankell gave Wallander not one, but two deadly illnesses. Agatha Christie wrote – then stored– Curtain, Poirot’s exit, at the height of her powers, while Dorothy Sayers, faced with either killing off or marrying off Lord Peter, mercifully opted for the latter. He was never the same in any case.


first POD for Anna. My design
During my career, now longer than I like to mention, I’ve twice created serial characters, each begun as a one off. Anna Peters was never projected to live beyond The Big Payoff and my second novel used other characters entirely. Alas, Houghton Mifflin, my publisher at the time, was not enthralled, and the new novel was destined to be unlucky. Bought by Macmillan – or so I thought – the deal fell through when the entire mystery division was folded.

Back to Miss Peters, as she was then. Nine more books followed. They got good reviews and foreign translations and sold modestly well, although not ultimately well enough for the modern publishing conglomerate. I did learn one thing I’ll pass on to those contemplating a mystery series: don’t age your character.

Sure, aging a character keeps the writer from getting bored, but in five years, not to mention ten or twenty years down the road, you’re getting long in the tooth and so is your detective. Poor Anna got back trouble and was getting too old for derring do. I was faced with killing her, retiring her, or turning her into Miss Marple.

I chose to have her sell Executive Security, Inc. and retire ( some of her adventures are still available from Wildside Press). I imagined her sitting in on interesting college courses and wondered about a campus mystery. But I was teaching college courses myself at the time, and a campus setting sounded too much like my day job.

Wildside edition,
last Anna Peters
For at least a decade (actually, I suspect two) I stayed away from series characters. I published some contemporary novels with strong mystery elements and lots of short stories. I liked those because I didn’t need to love the assorted obsessives and malcontents that populated them. I just needed to like them enough for 10-14 pages worth.

Then came Madame Selina, a nineteenth century New York City medium, whose adventures were narrated by her assistant, a boy straight out of the Orphan Home named Nip Tompkins. Once again, I figured a one off, but a suggestion from fellow Sleuthsayer Rob Lopresti that she’d make a good series character led me write one more – pretty much just to see if he was wrong.

That proved lucky, as she has inspired in nine or ten stories, all of which have appeared or will appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Thank you, Rob. However, there is a season for all things, and having explored many of the key issues of the nineteenth century with Madame Selina and Nip, I am beginning to tire of mysteries that can be wrapped up with a seance. That, by the way, gets harder each time out.

What to do? I’m not so ruthless as to kill off a woman who’s worked hard for me. But as she’s observed herself, times are changing and the Civil War, so horrible but so conducive to her profession, is now a decade past. As you see, I learned nothing from my experience with Anna Peters, as both Madame and Nip have continued to age.

I don’t think I’ll marry her off, either, although she knows a rich financier who might fill the bill. Instead, I think I’ll let her sell her townhouse and retire, perhaps to one of the resorts she favors, Saratoga or, better because I know the area, Newport, where she will take up gardening and grow prize roses or dahlias.

As for Nip, I’ve already picked his profession. Snooping for Madame Selina has given him every skill he needs to be a newspaperman in the great age of Yellow Journalism. Will the now teenaged Nip show up in print again?

We’ll see.

11 January 2012

New Year's Irresolution


by Neil Schofield

I have no Mayan blood in me. Not unless my mother was keeping something from me during all those years. Or my father come to that. Thinking back today, I'm pretty sure that while I was growing up in West Yorkshire, Mayans were fairly thin on the ground. Though we always regarded people from Leeds as Other, a bit weird.

So, I am not genetically predisposed to believe that 2012 will see the End Of Days. I can march into the New Year with confidence, unlike the Mayans, not many of whom I suppose offered boxed sets of Downton Abbey or The Wire as Christmas presents.

Anyway, as we all know, 21 Dec 2012 simply marks the end of a b'ak'tun cycle of 144,00 days and the beginning of another. And since it's only the 13th, as b'ak'tuns go, it's not especially top-notch. Now, if it were the 20th, we might be forgiven for jumping at loud noises and scanning the skies for signs of the Mayan Cosmic Gronk Squad.

I have explained all this to Mimi, without success. I found her rummaging in the desk drawer where we keep Stuff That Really Ought To Be Thrown Out When We Have The Time. I told her that the Mayans didn't sell their calendars door-to-door like the garbage collection men, or the firemen, especially not in this neck of the woods. But Mimi is French and therefore Cartesian. She wants logic and proof. I sometimes suspect her of having been secretly born in Missouri but the physical evidence says not.

So that was my first hurdle sorted out. I can make some resolutions. But which ones Oh Lord, which ones? There are so many out there. I know I am already going to walk more, smoke less, drink less. Not that I drink a lot: I usually spill most of it.

I ned something with more meat on it. I was attracted strangely by Leigh's resolutions for the paranoid, because I go along with Gore Vidal when he said that the man who is not paranoid is a man who is not in full possession of the facts. But no, something doesn't fit the kindly, though sometimes gruff soul I am pleased to think is me.

Then I read Jan Grape's generous article and that struck several chords. The fact is I too haven't been writing enough. I've been procrastinating too much. It's been a case of : Never put something off till tomorrow that you can put off until the day after. Always with a perfect excuse, that goes without saying.

So, in 2012, I am going to follow Garson Kanin's (paraphrased) dictum: Apply seat of pants to chair and don't get up until finished. I am going to write more and I'm going to write better. I am going to send out one story a month and the first went out last week.

Another resolution: I am going to read more and read better. This occurred to me over Christmas. I haven't been reading enough, and I haven't been reading well. I had settled down one evening with a glass of the true, the blushful, to read one of my Christmas presents: a collection of Kurt Wallander novellas by Henning Mankell.


I hadn't read them before, and since one of them first appeared in EQMM in 2003, I was sure I was onto a good thing. But something happened. I got bored. The writing seemed leaden - in English English we might say plonking.

Now usually I get on well with Mankell, and indeed with all the Scandinavian crime writers. But something was up.

It's interesting that Dixon Hill and John Floyd have both written recent articles on 'flat' and 'dull' writing. They were a great help as I tried to analyse the problem, looking for the usual suspects: passive verbs, too many adverbs and so on. It wasn't anything that obvious. The sentences were perfectly well written, but something about the way they were put together didn't feel right. After ten days I still didn't know what the problem was. It might have had something to do with the fact that in the narrative sequences, nearly all the sentences are about the same length, which gives a diddly-dum diddly-dee sort of rhythm.

No, I decided, the problem lies not with the writer, or the translator, but with the reader. I have now been back and read the stories again, while this time acknowledging that I wasn't reading Robert B Parker, or John D Macdonald, but a writer from another country where they do things differently, where they think differently and speak differently. And Henning Mankell is great at providing that Sense of Place which I admire and envy.

Well, it seemed to work well enough. On the second reading, because I was reading perhaps more carefully, more generously, the plonkingness seemed to fade.

So, I am going to try to become a more active and generous reader, and try harder to keep my part of the contract that always exists between writer and reader. I think as a reader, I sometimes forget that that contract does exist.

Well, these resolutions might not seem much but I figure it's enough to be getting on with. I might have re-think around mid-term.

Speaking of the End of Days which I was at the beginning if you recall, I think something much more sinister is going on. On Christmas Day, my daughter Kate who is a theatre stage manager and working on a pantomime in the north of Englnd told me that the day before, on Christmas Eve, the management had sacked Cinderella for Gross Misconduct. Apparently, misconduct is okay, but hers had been grosser than the permitted level. Nothing to do with mice and a pumpkin, just an everyday story of drunken three-o'clock-in-the morning joyriding. Natually the local press had her for breakfast - 'Cinders Fired' - that sort of thing.

Cinderella sacked on Christmas Eve. I am starting to suspect that the Long Hadron Collider is at work here, creating a parallel universe bit by bit. I said it would, ask anyone.

Happily, it seems to be a parallel universe in which Leigh Lundin is still the Supreme Leader and Guide, so not much change there then.

A Happy New Year to everybody.

Oh, and if things turn out right, a Happy New B'ak'tun.

27 October 2011

The Death of the Detective



by Janice Law

One of the sad facts of life is that relationships sometimes go bad. Out in the real world the old staples of greed, lust, and anger usually do the trick, with pride and sloth in the wings as needed. In the literary world, boredom seems to be the key, as writers cast out characters who have brought them pleasure and, occasionally, both fame and fortune.

The most recent victim of authorial malice is Kurt Wallander, the gloomy but persistent Swedish detective, who has fought off both depression and diabetes to solve complex crimes in Ystad. Henning Mankell has brought the series to a believable but cruel end with The Troubled Man, saddling Wallander with a modern fate worse than death, when he could have retired the poor man to a little time with his charming granddaughter.

Well, Mankell, who was obviously very ready to end the series, must know his mystery history. Detectives of the fictional sort, who live a precarious existence between their creators' little grey cells and the printed page, have proved to be surprisingly durable.

Consider the most famous of them all, Sherlock Holmes. Despite his immense popularity, his creator grew tired of him, believing that his adventures took time from what Arthur Conan Doyle considered the more important historical novels. Holmes had to die, and, given his intellect and his stature in the profession, he could have no ordinary death. Doyle settled on sending him over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, caught in a death grip by his nemesis Professor Moriarty.

As Doyle's mother had predicted, the legion of Holmes' fans were not amused, and in 1901, Doyle relented, returning with one of the best of the novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Moriarty had drowned, not Holmes. The detective had faked his death to elude other enemies, a twist so convenient that it doesn't take a Freudian to wonder if Doyle had not picked a fate for Holmes that left just a little wiggle room.

The list of resurrected detective (and thriller) heroes does not end with Holmes. Baroness Orzy's Old Man in the Corner was favored with a disappearance, not a death. And just as well. He returned for several dozen more adventures after his reporter friend assured us that she had never seen him again.

As befits a super secret agent, James Bond made an even more triumphant return from what looked like certain death. Whether or not Ian Fleming had grown weary of James Bond, he nearly dispatched him with a kick from Soviet spy, Rosa Klebb's poisoned shoe. For a time, 007 lingered near death, but, to the immense profit of what became the James Bond movie franchise, he recovered. Thanks to a core of thriller writers and movie impresarios, Bond has easily survived his creator's own demise.

Agatha Christie, she of the perfect plots, left no room for error when she dispatched Hercule Poirot. Indeed, thinking ahead, she killed Poirot off fairly early in her career but saved the novel in which he dies for her extreme age. Curtain was a big hit late in her career, and fans, who had enjoyed decades of his adventures, did not storm the literary barricades to bring him back.

Of course, there are writers of greater mercy - or greater ambivalence - who do not cry 'off with his head' quite so quickly. Dorothy Sayers was so fond of Lord Peter Wimsey that she spared his life and took what might be called the Romance Writer's Option. After many delays and tribulations, she married him to Harriet Vane, the love of his life and, following Busman's Honeymoon, sentenced him to domestic felicity.
A few short stories reflect his happiness with his wife and family but though pleasant, they do not rival the novels. Happiness, it seems, is not a requirement for a detective, and a happy marriage seems a positive detriment to the private eye.

Maybe that's why I finally retired Anna Peters, who had seen action in eight novels, and who, somewhat incautiously, I had aged along with myself. Being tenderhearted, I disliked the thought of killing her, but I felt written out and, easily bored, I disliked doing the back story that each new novel seemed to require. Besides, as we got into our fifties I could see trouble coming for a woman of action. She could get killed or she could turn into Miss Marple.

Marple having already been done to perfection, I took the modern tack of having her sell her now successful Executive Security firm to an eager young businessman, Skipper Norris, formerly an NFL quarterback. Norris had a small part in Crosscheck, the last of Anna's adventures and rather to my surprise, he was negotiating to buy the firm by the end of the novel.

I think I can say he saved her life. In any case, she has not reappeared in the neurons. I imagine she is occupying herself pleasantly around the art world with her artist husband, perhaps repairing her neglected education, and solving minor crimes that she does not need to confide to me.