Re: RARA-AVIS: From David peace to Politics in Writing

From: Patrick Kennedy (
Date: 31 May 2010

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    Apropos of the bits I feel qualified to talk about, which admittedly may not be too all-encompassing, I agree that Megan Abbott, (with whom unfortunately I am not on first name terms) is almost the least political of the modern crime writers I admire, and that Lee Burke is perhaps the most.  Regardless of the perceived validity of the political views expounded or inferred, in general what we lazily call the 'Left' or even 'Left-leaning' wing seem to have an edge as regards the writing quality achieved, but maybe I've missed out on a few good 'Right Wing' writers along the way? The attempt to represent the point of view, even of unpleasant characters, is an interesting, and, to me, relatively recent development in crime fiction.  Of course Highsmith did it with her Ripley series, but I think amongst the new wave Megan Abbott does this sort of thing with most distinction.  One shouldn't really care what happens to the central character in, say, "The Song is You", and yet the tension is just as hypnotic as if a more conventional, heroic protagonist were being drawn inexorably towards an uncomfortable fate.  I think this is bacause Abbott makes the character come alive so humanly and completely. Lee Burke does this also to a lesser extent and there is frequently a theme of possible redemption even for his most villainous characters.  I recall that in one book - 'Morning for Flamingoes', I think - a rather seedy and bigoted FBI agent (or a member of Fart Barf and Itch, as Lee Burke's detective is wont to call them) finds just such a redemption through an act of self sacrifice. I don't know if any of this addresses the theme of your upcoming discussions, but there you go, as I usually say when I have run out of ideas. Incidentally my Irish Grandmother had a very similar saying to your German one:

    "I see," said the blind man, "there's a hole in the wall."
    "You don't," said the dumb man. "There's none there at all."

    Seems to sum up my understanding of things at times, anyway.


    ________________________________ From: David Corbett <> To: Sent: Sun, 30 May, 2010 18:26:38 Subject: RARA-AVIS: From David peace to Politics in Writing

      Peace seems to have a particular political axe to grind, and a naively pessimistic axe at that, in my opinion. Other crime writers also have political views and express them in their work but do not seem so blatantly propagandist about it. In Lee Burke and Megan Abbott, for instance, the political stance is strong and inherent but usually does not overpower the storytelling skills. John D McDonald and even Chandler intersperse moments of social commentary and philosophy into their works, but with restraint; there is usually the feeling of there being more to the writing than meets the eye and not, as I suspect from the Peace examples in the review, less.


    I find this topic fascinating. I don't consider Megan political at all, but her work does have a particular moral POV, as does Burke's and Chandler's and Hammett's and a great many others. Does that make it political? John Shannon's work seems more overtly political to me, though never gratuitously so. I got hammered by Larry Gandle of Deadly Pleasures who thought I was shoving my politics down his throat in Blood of Paradise, responding primarily (I think) to the essay my publisher insisted I write as an afterword.

    Are you being political when you write about corrupt cops? Corrupt politicians? Hypocritical Christians? Devious CIA ops? Killers with a conscience? Terrorists without one?

    Most writers who come through a college writing program or a liberal arts tradition are, well, liberal, but they've also learned that the best way to tell a story is through one's characters, and that this requires defending each character's POV, even the villains. Conservative writers -- who seem to congregate in the thriller and police procedural subgenres -- rankle at this, seeing it as an apology for evil. Tom Clancy has good Russians but no good Communists. Of course, cartoon characters and adolescent moralism exist in liberal writing too, but the need to tone down the politics, to make it subliminal, seems strictly a liberal preoccupation.

    BTW: This will be the topic of a panel I'm moderating at Bouchercon this fall. Working title: Who's Afraid of Glenn Beck? It takes off from an op ed Barry Eisler wrote for the Huffington Post that Gayle Lynds, who's actually been on Beck's show, found unconvincing. Both Barry and Gayle are on the panel, along with Mark Billingham and SJ Rozan.

    I'd love to hear the thoughts of the group on this issue, because it will help me think of questions to put to the panel. And like I said, I just find this topic fascinating in general.

    Thanks, David Corbett

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