Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Price: "Not a mystery writer..."

Ricahrd Price on his third Dempsey novel, Samaritan

ROGER BIRNBAUM: I read a fair number of mysteries and rarely care about whatever the purported mystery is. In this story you did a great job of keeping me guessing about who the perpetrator is.

RICHARD PRICE: I think that was on purpose.

RB: (Laughs) Right, but many times writers aren't successful.

RP: I don't consider myself a mystery writer. It's just a convenience, following a police investigation. It is a built-in structure and I'm kind of spacey when it comes to running a tight ship. So, I found that by following an investigation it gives you an automatic framework upon which you can drape anything you want to explore in human nature. Plus, I write about life at the urban, entrenched level.

RB: So-called "urban realism."

RP: I don't know what it's called. Kitchen-sink realism. Or magic social realism. Or social magic realism. But anyway, on one level it's a mystery and one level I have to keep you guessing. But it's not really the thing I am, primarily. It's more like a "why dunnit" than a "who dunnnit." Somebody said about mystery books, it's the only genre in which the reader is trying very hard to make the writer fail. By getting there before the writer wants them to. It's good that you didn't know, I guess. Some people said they knew, but I don't believe them.
UPDATE: To Charlie Rose he sez: "A crime is a lazy man's way to a plot."


Tulkinghorn said...

Ah, but that was in 2003....

I suspect that after his successful collaborations with David Simon, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane on The Wire (as well as making a zillion bucks on Lush Life) he can finesse the difference between crime fiction and mysteries a bit better.

Interesting how, over the intervening seven years, Price's genre comments have gone from seeming unremarkably self-serving to seeming naive and snobbish.

Generic said...

Taken with RB's comments I took this to suggest that there's no distinctive gift involved in writing mysteries; that a good "mainstream" writer who pays attention can do it as well or better than the specialists.

Tulkinghorn said...

You are much less cynical about such things as I.... Although there is a wonderful resonance with your non-cynical reading of Price's comment in the Amazon lit-blog, Omnivoracious: A comment by Brit fantasy wunderkind Mark Charan Newton, who has structured his new novel as a mystery:

The detective opens the reader's eye to another world with great ease. In my case, Jeryd was a perfect guide to the city of Villjamur. With him, the reader can explore those places off the beaten track, can explore the factors which really make the city tick – just like a detective would in real-world fiction. As Henning Mankell's superb, morose detective Wallander maps out a particularly bleak Sweden, Jeryd can--and must--interact with the community, with local characters and high-ranking politicians, and he permits the reader quick access to them, too.

Tulkinghorn said...

Regarding your update: Until I read the Newton and Price quotes just the other day, I had never considered the structure of a crime novel as simply a way to organize a book that might otherwise be a shapeless mass of observations.

Occurs to me that you could come up with a taxonomy of writers based on the division between those who write in order to set forth a plot and those who write in order to create a world...

Generic said...

Wouldn't have to be a world. Could be a moral spectrum of the ways people react in a crisis.

Price is saying that without the mystery plot, "Lush Life" would be a travelogue.