... with Otto Penzler on Mystery yesterday and today in the USA and the World (Part 2)
... with Otto Penzler on Mystery yesterday
and today in the
Otto Penzler, (born 1942) is one of the experts not only among the US-mysteryexperts. He is not only mysteryfan but also acted as publisher, editor and trader (he owns The Mystery Bookshop, presumably the biggest Mysterybookshop worldwide which he opened June 13th 1979).
In 1977 he won the Edgar Award (the Oscar of Mystery) of the Mystery
In the first part of the interview we've talked to Otto Penzler on Mystery in
Zauberspiegel: You are an expert in detective-stories
how much do you get on European mystery stories? And the normal reader in the
Otto Penzler: Translated books have become much more successful in
Germans, Spaniards, Italians and authors in the other countries, including the entire Eastern bloc, hardly ever wrote detective stories. In order for detective stories to be written, the writer needs a free, democratic society. This has not been part of the history of most European countries until relatively recent years. In Communist or Fascist states, the police are the oppressors and the criminals, so it would be unthinkable to call a policeman if you had a problem; most people tried to avoid any interaction with the police at any cost. There have been a few exceptions, such as Scandanavian mystery writers Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and of course the Belgian Georges Simenon, but they are anomolies.
Zauberspiegel: The major aim of the classical european
detective is to solve the case and get the murder. For the Hard Boiled
Detective its important to create atmosphere. What model do you prefer?
Otto Penzler: Not a statement with which I agree. ALL classical stories, whether by Europeans, Americans or British, are about the puzzle, about catching the criminal while solving the crime. Americans have been the primary writers of hard-boiled mysteries, but there are hundreds of American writers of traditional whodunnits.
When I was young, I very much preferred the classical, traditional mysteries of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Dickson Carr, etc.
In later years, I really want to read the best writers, who rarely write this kind of book, as they concentrate instead on atmosphere, as you say, but also characterization in the sense that more emphasis is placed on why the crime was committed, rather than who did it. This emphasis on psychological investigation, as well as on literary style, is now more pleasurable to me.
Zauberspiegel: What do you think about Swedish authors
like Henning Mankell and his superintendent Wallander?
Otto Penzler: I very much like the work of Henning Mankell and his character, but I can't read too many without reading other books in between. Like Sjowall and Wahloo, and virtually every other Swedish writer who ever lived, they are very similar to each other--very, very Swedish, with too much alcohol, too much cold, too much darkness, too much depression and unhappiness. I'm much too happy as a person to want to read too much of this.
Zauberspiegel: Donna Leon, an italian author who lives
Otto Penzler: Donna Leon is the opposite of what you say. She is an American author who lives in
Why this is so, I cannot say.
Zauberspiegel: Are you familiar with the German
mysteryscene? If you are, what do you think about it? Are German detective
stories popular in the States?
Otto Penzler: There is a German mystery scene? News to me.
No, German mysteries are not popular in the
Zauberspiegel: We experience a local phenomenon in
Otto Penzler: I think one Jerry Cotton book was published in
Zauberspiegel: High Tech series such as CSI have almost
displaced the classical agent. What do you think about this development?
Otto Penzler: I saw one episode of CSI. I believe I have seen them all, as a result. These shows have nothing to do with humanity, nor of originality, and so don't interest me.
Zauberspiegel: These high-tech-series live by cuts in
the style of video-clips, cool talking dominates over elaborate dialogue. Will
the classical agent or the Hard Boiled Detective come back one day?
Otto Penzler: The hard-boiled detective and the classical agent have never gone away. They are romantic figures, the lone "knight," as
Zauberspiegel: In books, TV and cinema serialkillers
take a vast space. Do you think there will be an end to this trend since it
seems to consist mainly of stereotypes meanwhile.
Otto Penzler: Even though there always variations on the serial killer novel, mainly by having the villian commit more and more horrific crimes, or more eccentric and bizarre crimes, or greater numbers of crimes, I think the number of new titles seems to be levelling off and even diminishing in the last few years. This is not a terrible thing. Remember 15-20 years ago when EVERY book seemed to be about drugs and drug lords and drug deals gone wrong, etc. There aren't too many of those any more, either. Also not a terrible thing.
Zauberspiegel: What topic would you like to see produced in film?
Otto Penzler: In film, I would like to see more clear battles between Good and Evil, and I want Good to triumph.
Zauberspiegel: To your opinion: What will the trends in
TV and cinema?
Otto Penzler: I've never been able to tell the future, I'm sorry to say. I would have bought Microsoft stock. It seems to me that more and more films rely to an ever greater degree on special effects, which I like in fantasy films, but not very much in anything involving human drama. But
Zauberspiegel: Is there a short story one should read by
Otto Penzler: It is possible that Raymond Chandler's greatest short story is "Red Wind," so I would be happy to recommend it to anyone. Also, if I can have a second one, any of the first dozen or so of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Zauberspiegel: What novel?
Otto Penzler: No one needs me to recommend THE MALTESE FALCON or THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, both of which are perfect. For something slightly more obscure, go to Ira Levin's A KISS BEFORE DYING or Thomas H. Cook's RED LEAVES.
Zauberspiegel: What TV-serial?
Otto Penzler: HILL STREET BLUES, NYPD BLUE and LAW AND ORDER are great, great TV series.
Zauberspiegel: What movies?
Otto Penzler: When I wrote a book titled THE 101 GREATEST FILMS OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE, I ranked the films in order of preference, so I'd go with the No.
1 title in the book: THE THIRD MAN, followed in order by THE MALTESE FALCON,