August 5th, 2004


Where in the World?

I've been here mostly. To be frank (and there'll be more of Frank later), I've been severely depressed. I'm not certain that I am any less at the moment, but I'm at least prepared to stop hiding out. Online, and arguably, in meatspace also. There's a confluence of troubles at the moment. Aside from the constant flow of problems that are documented in reasonable detail here at Sarmoung, there's two further points of worry:

1. The MA work is not progressing very well. I'm tempted to give up. Then again I'm not. I am bored with it. I am worried.
2. I need to find a job very soon.

Since the record launch, I've been at home trying to sleep through as much of the day as possible. If I had the option to sleep through life, I'd be tempted to take it at the moment. Decisions need to be made and I'm in no real mind to make them. I've resisted, and continue to resist, the idea of drug therapy for the current level of anguish. Previous history makes me fearful of any drug-maintained regime. But, all these problems and anxieties aside, writing is a a form of therapy or at least expression. Admittedly, much of what makes me want to write here is often just moaning about stuff I encounter. Sometimes it's an edifying moan. Anyway, I shouldn't give up one avenue of expression. It's better than despondently hanging around in the flat and sighing.

So what is it I want to moan about? Well, I've got something to say about Princess Masako in Japan, but that can wait. Let's instead moan about Patricia Cornwell.

I first read one of her Kay Scarpetta series when at my parents' home. My dad must have bought it. It didn't exactly bowl me over, but there was a sufficient amount of forensic detail in the writing to keep me interested. From the age of eight, I was quite convinced that I would become a forensic pathologist. I've always enjoyed detective fiction. Hang on, that's one of those phrases that the Professor will pick up on. What I don't mean is that I enjoy reading any detective fiction. No, no, I'm way too picky. I read a few more of Cornwell's over the years. They're okayish. I took the train up to Kingham on Tuesday, to visit Wynd, and given the lack of a copy of the Fortean Times to read on the way, I had a look at the fiction section. For some reason, I thought I'd give the discounted novel Blow Fly a go.

Hmm. Once upon a time, according to memory anyway, the books were basically to do with solving crimes through the application of forensic science. This seems not to be the case anymore. I suppose once you've been running a character and entourage for 12 books or so, the history starts accreting onto the procedural aspects until the solving of the conundrum becomes obscured by the soap opera elements.

I've mentioned Henning Mankell before. His main character, the police detective Kurt Wallander, also has these elements from his personal life: the relationship with his daughter (who apparently is becoming a detective herself in a forthcoming book) and his father, various failed romantic trysts and so on. Now Wallander, although solving some gruesome and disturbing crimes in Ystad, is a flawed character. Someone I read recently pointed out that solving crime is the only thing in Wallander's life that he's successful at. The rest is the disappointment and sadness we all most probably encounter in life. I like Wallander. Quite possibly there's some of that depressive Viking blood in myself. I'd like to share one of those dull hamburger or pizza meals that he has from time to time in dull sounding Swedish restaurants. I doubt we'd speak. Possibly just nod on leaving.

I don't like Scarpetta. Not in this novel. I'm not sure what's gone on in her world, but it's gone wrong for sure. There's a lot wrong in this novel. There's no crime to solve. Well, there's some serial killers. Yawn. The serial killers happen to live on an abandoned fishing post in the Florida swamps which it turns out was once owned by the parents of one of the investigative officers and that officer's mother was in fact murdered by one of them who is in fact part of a world crime cartel called Chandonne who employed the disowned son (Rocky) of Pete Marino (Scarpetta's former Richmond, VA, police buddy. He is like he sounds. Loyal, boorish, probably looks like Dennis Franz in NYPD Blue) as a legal fixer who is in fact assasinated whilst in Sczeczin by Scarpetta's semi-adopted neice Lucy Farinelli (fond of speed, damaged, borderline) who now runs a dark-ops-for-hire agency called The Last Precinct that is in fact colluding in the fact that Scarpetta's former lover Benton Wesley (like he sounds also. Wasp, Ivy League, devious) isn't dead at all but in fact in some ultra-level protection programme and pretending to be a psychotic member of the Chandonne clan (the Wolfman, currently on Death Row in Texas, covered in downy hair) so as to draw all these characters into some conclusion that he hopes won't sound any less credible than this baloney.

The story is submerged under this cloying and preposterous detail of political intrigue. As an indicator of America's health, and possibly Cornwell's, I suggest that America goes on a summer holiday. A couple of weeks in the Lake District perhaps. It is such a fantastic book. I see Cornwell tapping it out on the laptop, surrounded by immense amounts of detail but no frickin' story except for what sounds like a story that's gone a novel too far. Maybe Cornwell has Rowling's Syndrome, a condition brought on by selling a sufficient amount of books to ensure that the services of an editor are no longer required or actively refused.

Detective fiction needs at its very centre a conundrum that needs to be solved. This propels the reader on. I can't dispute Cornwell's knowledge of forensic science, but both the crime and its solution need to be of interest. Yes, there are some murders here, but no point for the reader to enter into the process of detection and solution. I'm watching an overly complicated group of characters leading these bizarre unimaginable lives, but with no interest in them. They all know more than me, what can I do? Just watch? No. In a crime novel, the reader needs to feel that they are actively participating in this process. You stand just behind someone's shoulder, don't forget to look there, ask them this question, try going back to the crime scene, etc.

If I want swampy Southern intrigue I'll go for James Lee Burke or possibly Elmore Leonard. Anyway, I can't moan about this book effectively enough. Feel free to borrow it before it goes to the charity shop.

However, it has prompted me to start working on a proper Frank Challis story. Challis is the product of both Neodigeon's mind and my own. Challis is a psychotic cop from LA with an improbably high level of substance abuse and mother issues. Now, in order to write a detective story, especially a procedural one, you do need to to bone up on all sorts of detail about the police, legal process and so on. To avoid doing this, I am instead taking Challis outside of his 1980's origins and into a near-future scenario. Shades of Deckard perhaps, but there's nothing wrong with that. I imagine that Challis might not be quite the same character who spent his time assaulting valley girls and freebasing in the barrios, but we'll see. I'll be serialising the Challis story from this 'ere page in the near future.

May I also mention the arrival of hulegu to LJ. Also known as The Shadow. i don't mention this because of his current glowing espousal of The Autorcrat of the Breakfast Table, rather I hope that Hulegu will be providing some valuable insight into the Middle East and Central Asia. Well, Turkmenistan, anyway.