Thursday, 2 July 2009


I had a short but interesting discussion with John Harvey yesterday, about my review of George Pelecanos' The Way Home, which you can read if you follow this link. He agreed with me that the conventions of the crime novel were there primarily to give the book some traction, but he also suggested that what Pelecanos really had written was 'a moral fable'. It's a good way of describing it--sometimes we used to think of genre melodrama as being moral in the sense of good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats, but that's not the context John is talking about-- and, though I didn't use the phrase, it fits what I was talking about. Since Pelecanos has often played with the genre's most melodramatic conventions, writing crime novels as spaghetti westerns, for example, he seems adept at using them to make his point; the 'difficulty' as it were, if I understand John's definition of moral fable, is that the story, in the end, seems to serve primarily as a way to get to that moral point.

This contrasts with something John discusses in his new Mellotone70up blog, K.C. Constantine's 1993 novel Bottom Liner Blues; you can read that here. John's point about this Mario Balzic novel is that Constantine uses it to discuss the things he needs to discuss as a novelist, to the degree that many of the plot elements and conflicts remain unresolved. The Balzic books are a series, of course, so some things can be left unresolved until later books, but the point is that Constantine is writing about the things he feels he needs to write about, and abandoning genre conventions in order to do it. But then if his detective's name were Balzac it would be a clue of sorts as to what he was trying to do.

And I've just sat down with Thomas H Cook for a long interview, which will be appearing here eventually. He is committed to 'expanding' as he put it, 'blurring the edges' of crime fiction's genre boundaries--enjoying the fact that readers will not know beforehand what the book is 'about.' I've said the same thing in reviews of a number of John Harvey's novels, and often the real 'subject' of the novel, as it's revealed by the crime being investigated, will mirror or be mirrored by the subject which is taking place in the lives of the characters. It's part of Far Cry, his latest, which I reviewed here.

So if George Pelecanos is writing moral fables that's all to the good. Whether his stories need the 'traction' of the crime format ought to be immaterial, though as I say in my review some of the tropes of the genre may give the ending a different kind of impact, because it is for want of a better phrase, a genre impact. Perhaps the difference is between asking questions, and answering them?

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