Saturday, September 12, 2009

P. D. James on Rankin

A graceful appreciation from one master to another.... P.D. James reviews the new Ian Rankin novel, which appears to be the first of a new series of Edinburgh-based procedurals. Her review could be a manifesto: why does a certain kind of crime novel appeal?

Sez Lady James:

Rankin is predominantly a crime novelist of realism. He eschews even the convenient convention that a detective does not age and may talk of retiring but seldom does. Each book is set unambiguously in place and time. In The Complaints we are given precise dates at which the narrative moves forward. The story is told chiefly in dialogue which is terse and realistic. We meet Malcolm Fox on Friday 6 February 2009, and part company on Tuesday 24 February. We travel with him through the sinister underground of the city and the haunts of the rich and powerful, knowing the pubs, the offices, the hotels he enters, what he eats when he is alone, where he does his shopping and the food he buys. And always human lives are seen against the thread of history.

Rankin is a master at what, for me, is one of the important aspects of a crime novel: the integration of setting, plot, characters and a theme which, for Rankin, is the moral dimension never far from his writing.


Generic said...

The "real time" device is a literary fiction move that I remember being well-used by Anne Beattie.

Tulkinghorn said...

And on Mad Men this season, the inexorable march through 1963 measured by TV news clips -- with someone's wedding scheduled for November 23, the day after the assassination.

(Coincidentally, my thirteenth birthday: The nation in mourning and young Tulkinghorn manfully trying to have fun.)

Also the new series "Fast Forward" in which everyone is given a vision of what will happen on a date right in the middle of May sweeps, next speing.

Generic said...

In "1974" Peaces has his hero see all sorts of things on TV, including an announcement of the new Doctor Who. (Not named but presumably Baker.)

Generic said...
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Generic said...

Tone would also be key. Real time is used tendentiously by Peace, Ellroy, et al, as if murder was was for some dark reason more likely during the Nixon (or Thatcher) administration.

Beattie said she did it casually, as natural outgrowth of her realism. Because every real event takes place in some specific time period, a lack of specificity is in and of itself unrealistic.

She then had to fend off over-interpretations of the fact that Skylab was netioned several times in "Falling in Place."

Christian Lindke said...

What would be intriguing is to see Malcolm Fox age in future tales. James is right to point out that the vast majority of literary detectives exist in ambiguous times. I think it would be novel for an author of a long standing detective to have the detective retire and pass the torch to a new generation, maybe one with differing investigative techniques.

One can think of a number of tales that adhere to the unities of time and place -- though whether they take place at a "specific" time is often up for debate. The Mad Men example is a good one, as the show takes place during an actual time line, but wouldn't it have been interesting to read about Miss Marple's "last mystery?"

Tulkinghorn said...

James has been writing Adam Dalgleish books since 1962, so she knows whereof she speaks.

Actually, Henning Mankell did just what you propose: his main series detective, Kurt Wallander, retired after about eleven books or so and his new detective is LINDA Wallender, Kurt's daughter...