by Steve Steinbock
I feel downright beamish1 in the company I keep here at Criminal Brief. This past week my partners in this blog-project wrote such interesting and engaging stuff that if I were to comment on everything I want, I’d have no time to write this week’s Bandersnatch.
In Rob Lopresti’s Tune It or Die this week, he brought up Jorge Luis Borges. Rob commented that Borges wrote fiction for people who hate fiction. I would contend that Borges wrote fiction for people who write fiction.
This is the second time this week that I ran into Senor Borges. I’ve been listening to a lecture series given by Michael Drout of Wheaton College, Way with Words II: Approaches to Literature. In it, Professor Drout quotes Borges’ story, “On Exactitude in Science,” which describes a map that is as large and as detailed as the territory is depicts. Such a map, of course, is absurd. Borges wrote about it, and Drout referred to it, to underscore how literature, like a map, is a simplification of reality. In essence, Drout suggests, somewhat hyperbolically, that all literature, like all maps, are lies. I recently interviewed storyteller Joel Ben Izzy, who said that “a story is a lie that tells a golden truth.” I love that idea. As Rob pointed out on Wednesday, Aesop “wasn’t interested in convincing you that crows chat with foxes,” but was getting at a truth that without the benefit of a fable, would have required a long, boring essay to explain.
A map isn’t the same thing as the city it depicts, but it’s a lot easier to find your way with a map than to try to fold up the entire city into your glove box.
Earlier this week, Melodie reflected on the fires ravaging southern California, and how Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald depicted that region’s climate in their writings.
Melodie quoted the opening of Chandler’s short story, “Red Wind.” At the risk of redundancy, I’d like to copy it here, because it’s a brilliant bit of prose, and truly captures the nature of the Santa Anas:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of the those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
I’ve lived through several Santa Anas, as well as Hamsin (a similar wind that blows off of the Arabian desert). I know that not everyone experiences these meteorological phenomena the same. For me it’s like a migraine, a bum trip, and the mother of all sinus headaches all rolled into one. When I speak, my voice sounds to me like it’s filtered through a wind tunnel miles away.
The Santa Anas (and Hamsin, and Zonda, and Diablo, and a half dozen other föhn or foehn winds) are extremely dry winds accompanied by extreme changes in air pressure. I haven’t seen any science on it, but I’d bet that the air during these phenomena is loaded with positively charged ions.
There’s a Bedouin tradition that I was once told: a man who kills his wife during Hamsin cannot be held responsible for his actions. It’s pretty extreme, but given Chandler’s comments about “meek little wives” with carving knives, you get the idea.
Discoveries at the Bookstore
This past Monday I wandered into my favorite local bookshop where I picked up some gems: a First Edition of one of Janwillem van de Wetering’s “Dutch Cop” novels, a couple of Doubleday Crime Club novels, a hardcover “Mr. Moto” novel, and an autobiography of Burt L. Standish, author of the “Frank Merriwell” and “Dick Merriwell” Dime Novels from the turn of the last century.
But the real gem was a collection of short stories entitled Roots of Detection: The Art of Deduction before Sherlock Holmes. What grabbed my attention was that this anthology was edited by Bruce Cassiday. I knew Bruce, not well, but well enough to appreciate him not only as one of the last of the Pulp writers, but also as a nice man. I have a stack of risqué paperbacks that Bruce wrote, a few under his own name, and the sexier titles (like The Gang Girls, The Resort, and It Happened In Hawaii) under the name “Carson Bingham” and “Max Day.”
At first glance, I thought Roots of Detection was going to cover the same ground as Doug Greene’s Detection By Gaslight or Hugh Greene’s (no relation to Doug) Rivals of Sherlock Holmes series. But Roots goes back much further, opening with an episode from Herodotus’ Histories, and includes stories from The Arabian Nights, from Voltaire, Poe, Dumas, and Dickens, concluding with “Footprints in the Snow” by Emile Gaboriau.
So many books and so little time!
- Beamish. Your humble chronicler is comparing himself not to the English village or the Irish stout, but to Lewis Carroll’s poem, in which a lad is lauded by his father for slaying the Jabberwock.