(bangkokpost.com, Nov. 16, Roger Crutchley)
The other evening I had just finished polishing off the latest Stephen Leather novel, Dead Men – a decent yarn by the way – and put the book onto the shelf next to the previous work I had read, A Good Day To Die by another British author, Simon Kernic. Next to that rested some other recent reading material, The Dead Place by Stephen Booth.
Now you don’t have to be a super sleuth to figure out a disturbing theme was emerging here – why this obsession about people expiring? A glance along the bookcase and the situation didn’t improve – there facing me was Looking Good Dead by Peter James snugly resting against the sequel, Not Dead Enough.
It got worse. On the top shelf were City of Bones by Michael Connelly and Bones of Silence by Reginald Hill, both of which dealt with, er … bones. Also sitting there was Patricia Cornwell‘s Post Mortem, the subject matter of which hardly requires an explanation. Even the book by the humorous writer Ben Elton is entitled Dead Famous.
Another shelf brought some relief, but not a lot – Scared To Live, by Stephen Booth. At least it didn’t have “dead” in the title.
Then there was Lifeless, by Mark Billingham, and so it went on.
Okay, that’s the price you pay for having a taste for paperback crime thrillers as opposed to the classics. It’s not the most demanding form of literature for sure, but at least I usually manage to finish them.
One wonders how people actually get through such tomes as Ulysses or War and Peace.
Most importantly, they help me go to sleep at night, although admittedly I do suffer the occasional nightmare in which bones seem to play a prominent part.
Pubs, pies and pints
There must be something about the lifestyles and characters of fictional detectives that appeals to me. Most of these paperback sleuths tend to be slightly odd or eccentric personalities, emerging from a dysfunctional family background. They’re either single, divorced or widowed, often experiencing a bleak domestic life. At work they usually don’t get on with the boss or at least one senior colleague and their habits are frowned upon by everyone.
Most of them drink far too much – beer and whisky – and are not exactly proponents of health food. Meals are often pies in a pub, washed down with a few pints, or stale sandwiches at home, also washed down with a few pints.
And they all work wretched, unsocial hours.
In fact their lives seem very similar to journalists – but, then, maybe that’s the appeal.
Murders and all that jazz
There are two particular detectives who stand out – Michael Connelly’s creation Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch who hangs out in LA, and Ian Rankin‘s John Rebus who stomps around the murkier parts of Edinburgh and its environs.
They both seek solace in music. Bosch has a taste for jazz. In his rare moments of relaxation Bosch puts on anything from Clifford Brown to Miles Davis. Readers’ interest in his musical tastes grew so much, that with one of his books a few years ago they even released a CD of Bosch’s favourite jazz sounds.
Rebus likes his music too, but of a slightly different nature, the old rock ‘n’ roll stuff of the late ’60s, early ’70s. When he is at home he is inclined to settle down with a malt whisky and put on the Stones, the Who, Black Sabbath and maybe Jethro Tull.
Rebus is arguably the most popular fictional detective in the UK. Rankin cleverly seeks out the shadowy side of the Scottish capital and has been accused by some Edinburgh citizens of painting such a grim view of their city that it has a detrimental effect on tourism. However by all accounts, one of the most popular tours in Edinburgh takes people to all the places Rebus visits in his novels. The fact that it includes a lot of pubs may have something to do with the tour’s popularity.
In the last Rankin novel, Exit Music, Rebus actually retires, but he has such a following it won’t be a great surprise if he reappears in some form, in the same way as Connolly keeps Bosch going.
The language police
While on the subject of books, I was a bit disturbed to read that certain everyday words have been banned from some US school textbooks in recent years because they are regarded as politically incorrect. Among the banned words was “bookworm”, which someone found offensive. The approved replacement for “bookworm” is “intellectual”, which doesn’t seem much of an improvement and is also inaccurate.
“One-man band” is also banned because of its outrageous sexist nature, and must be replaced with “one-person performance”. With Christmas not far off, remember the kids can no longer build a “snowman” but a “snowperson”, and “fairy” is unacceptable because it suggests homosexuality and should be replaced by “elf”.
Children will no longer be able to read about adventures in the jungles of Thailand or wherever.
“Jungle”, believe it or not, is on the forbidden list too and should be replaced by “rain-forest”. So the exploits of “Jungle Jim” will now be replaced by “Rain-forest Jim” and presumably Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book, will now be called “Rain-forest Book”. Somehow, it doesn’t sound the same.
Fortunately when things are banned it usually makes them more popular, so hopefully we haven’t seen the end of snowmen, one-man bands and non-homosexual fairies.
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