Monday, April 18, 2011

Farewell, My Lovely

I'm not a sexy assassin who seduces dangerous, gorgeous men in places like Prague. Aside from the fact that I don't ever want to kill anyone, I suppose that it's just as well that little fantasy never played out. I don't like champagne, I'm terrible at languages, and those spiky high heels are hell on my feet.

Which only goes to prove that some failures are easier to live with than others. I wish that I could capture my adopted home of Los Angeles as well as Raymond Chandler did back in the 1940s. I don't write crime novels. Another regret. I sure love to read them, but with all the forensic evidence now, it's hard to believe in a private detective. The only way it would work in our current society would be for the mystery to be outside the normal scope of the police.

This may be why the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries (True Blood to you TV viewers) work. Technically, those stories are cozy mysteries, where Sookie is a latter day Miss Marple, an amateur sleuth who sees something odd and tries to figure out what's going on. Since the events happen in the secretive world of the paranormals, the police are often unaware that something happened, and unless it impacted a human, they probably wouldn't try to solve it. Most of the time, there's peril to Sookie or her loved ones, so she has a compelling reason to solve the case and end the peril. But I don't see that sort of thing working in Los Angeles. It takes a village, a small one where people know everyone's business, to make a cozy mystery work. I'd have no idea if my neighbors here in LA did something unusual, because I have no idea what's usual for them.

I suppose that I could write a police procedural mystery, but let's face it, murder is usually a homemade, amateur production. (Thank goodness) People are most often killed by people they know. (eep!) The murderer isn't a pro at it. They're quickly caught. And there's nothing terribly mysterious about the horrible affair. No vast conspiracies. No deeper story. Just a trail of admissible evidence gathered by the people who have the ability to bring the murdered to trial. And while I do enjoy a police procedural from time to time, the closer a writer gets to the reality of police work, the less thrilling the story is going to be.

These are all excuses, of course. Greg Herren writes two wonderful mystery series set in New Orleans in the present day, and they work. New Orleans is no small village. His main characters are private investigators. And the police are involved in the investigations. So it is possible (for him) to write about the city he loves and weave its personality into the story so deftly that the city is almost a character in its own right. Just like Raymond Chandler. Is it possible for me though? My true failure is not even trying. I think I'll try sipping champagne, tripping around Prague in dangerous six-inch stilettos, and murdering the Hungarian language first though.

3 comments:

  1. Los Angeles IS a character in your Chaos Magic novels. So you've succeeded in that much at least.

    As far as writing murder mysteries are concerned, there's really no other genre (even romance) that has been so done to death (no pun intended). These days, every mystery seems to have to have a gimmick.

    As for Prague, well, I'd consider it a great failure in life to have never experienced its timeless weirdness.

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  2. I agree about police procedurals - in order to make them entertaining the police have to be mavericks of some kind. I have a particular weakness for Dibdin's Aurelio Zen, who uses bureaucratic inefficiency as a creative resource.

    As to Prague - it's a wonderful place, albeit with a dark and violent history, and extremely strange stuff seems to be the norm there. It never seems to exist quite in the same reality as the rest of Europe. It's often influenced my writing, both in erotica and SF/horror.

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  3. Prague has been high on my list of "must see" cities for years. And while I'll look like a harmless American tourist on that train from Istanbul to Prague, secretly...

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