Hard Boiled Poets: MysteryPeople Q&A with Ken Bruen, Peter Spiegelman and Reed Farrel Coleman

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Many may not see poetry in the hard boiled crime fiction genre created by the likes of Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, and Mickey Spillane. That said, many of today’s best writers in that field come of poetry. Both forms rely on style and word craft. With April being National Poetry Month, I contacted three of my favorite poet/novelists to explore the relationship between the two.

Reed Farrel Coleman’s two main series, featuring protagonists Moe Prager and Gus Murphy contain an emotional immediacy associated with poetry. He examines the facets of emotions in a crystal clear manner and his phrasing has a lyrical quality. “Meter is often overlooked, but the rhythm with which I write helps propel the reader forward. I don’t count out iambs, but I can hear the rhythm of my words in my head.”

Peter Spiegelman’s life as a poet appears to have always put him on the hunt for the perfect word. His writing is sharp with paragraphs that have the perfect conciseness of a poem’s stanza. When asked how poetry influenced his prose writing, he answered. “My interest in the sound of the sentences I write—how they strike the ear when they’re read aloud, their rhythms and cadences—certainly has its roots in writing poetry. So to my concern with language that is concise and that operates on several levels simultaneously—that carries plot forward even as it works to establish and enrich setting and character, and to define the “emotional weather” of the story.”

This can be seen in his series with Wall Street private investigator John March and his latest creation, Skid Row doctor and practitioner of expensive “house calls” to the rich and infamous, Dr. Knox.

It’s easy to see the poet in Ken Bruen’s work. His tight novels, the most famous featuring self destructive P.I. Jack Taylor. Ken plays with word placement, with half of a sentence dropping down to the next line. His creative phrasing creates a rat-a-tat-tat style that starts out pummeling, growing into a unique lyricism linking character and reader together for a fast trip down through Hell. ” Poetry taught me the art of brevity and never, never waste a word.”

I asked each author about the shared aspects of crime fiction and poetry. The commonality Reed found was in it’s diversity. ” Poetry isn’t one thing in the same way that crime fiction isn’t a monolithic entity. Ken Bruen, Peter Spiegelman and I all started out as poets, but our poetry is as different as our prose.”

Ken’s belief fit perfectly with his style of writing. “Crime and poetry share the blessing of immediacy. If done properly, they can leave a sense of quiet awe.”

“The poetry I love best has a lot in common with my favorite crime fiction.” Peter Spiegelman shared. “Both create palpable emotional atmospheres—often in an admixture of their settings and narrative voices. Both also can pivot on the telling detail—a scrap of description or dialogue, an startling image—beautiful or unsettling or both—that casts new light on a character, an action, a relationship, a back story, or that redefines these entirely. And so often both are devious things: misleading, secretive, withholding—guarding their epiphanies until the end.”

Both Ken and Peter thought Baudelaire would have made a good crime fiction author. Ken even wrote a novel titled Dispatching Baudelaire. “He would have been a savage almost Ellroy type of writer.”

When it comes to crime fiction writers who could have made great poets, both Reed and Peter agreed on Chandler, with Peter also citing Ross MacDonald. Ken mentioned contemporary Daniel Woodrell “…a poet on almost every single page of his work.”

When listing contemporaries, Peter Spiegelman brought it full circle like a craftsman poet. “Daniel Woodrell, Megan Abbott, and Reed Farrel Coleman.”

You can find works by Reed Farrel Coleman on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

You can find works by Ken Bruen on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

You can find works by Peter Spiegelman on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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