Monday, September 2, 2013

It wasn't until I read a novel by Chester Himes--one in the Harlem Cycle--that I understood how you could have a mystery written in the third person omniscient. If the author is omniscient, why doesn't he just say who did it? If we know what's going on in the characters' thoughts, why don't we just hear one of them thinking about how they committed the crime?

Of course, if the book is written in the first person, the author presumably began telling the story after it was over and after he knew the solution. Why don't THEY just say who did it?

The results can be interesting either way.

Or they can screw it up. I started to read one novel by Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter, aka Salvatore Albert Lombino). It was an 87th Precinct novel set in a nonexistent city. It was King's Ransom on which Kurosawa's High and Low was based. In the movie, Toshiro Mifune played a character named Kingo Gondo. In the book, it was Gordon King.

The novel was a police procedural----it followed the police as they followed procedures to solve the case. Dragnet was popular at the time and that shaped the approach the novels took. But the book was seriously marred, I thought, by the fact that they didn't stick to this. Rather than following the police as they went about their jobs, they showed us the kidnappers surprised and somewhat alarmed that they kidnapped the wrong kid. 

Kurosawa corrected that error.

Ed McBain/Evan Hunter wrote several best sellers, quite a few of which were made into movies. There was The Blackboard Jungle, Every Little Crook and Nanny, Fuzz, The Young Savages, Strangers When We Meet, and several other novels made into movies, plus there are all the scripts he wrote for both film and television.

I read an interview with him. He said that writing a best seller isn't very hard, and looking at this book, I'd say he was right.

The opening paragraph was just slightly poetic----businessmen are having a meeting. And these are cigar smoking 1950s businessmen. There was something about the cigar smoke floating in the air like ghosts. From that point on, it was all very straight-forward. No further attempt at anything fancy. The rest of it was almost like reading a script. 

This, by the way, is what people mean when they say that novels are easier to write than short stories. Novels just don't have to be written very well and short stories do. Look at any crap written by Sheldon Leonard or Jackie Collins, or James Patterson and imagine a short story written at that level.

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