The International Author: D. A. Mishani
Being a crime novelist in a country where crime writing is scarce, I’m often asked why I have chosen to write crime novels of all things. After all, I could have written novels that don’t begin with murder and that are more acceptable to Hebrew readers tastes (I could have written about Jewish Identity, for example). Was it the violence that appealed to me? They always ask (probably meaning to ask me gently: Are you a psycho?) or is it the money? Or maybe you just don’t have anything serious to say?
I have quite a few reasons for choosing crime. Some of them are known to me and I’ll probably elaborate on them here in the coming posts – and some are probably not.
And maybe it is true that some of us have a strange attraction to violence and murder. But there’s one important reason why I know I write detective novels and that is when you sit to write a detective, you’re never by yourself.
It started right in the beginning. Edgar Allan Poe’s,”The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, considered by many to be the first detective story, already refers to another detective, partly fictional although absolutely real, Eugene Francois Vidocq, whose Autobiography is considered by others to be the first detective novel.
It’s true; Dupin belittles Vidocq’s talent (“He was a good guesser, and a persevering man. But, without educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his investigations”), but while he’s doing this he’s actually creating the first link in the detective story tradition-chain. From that moment on, when a writer sat down to write a detective, all previous detectives invited themselves to pick behind his shoulder.
Dupin belittled Vidocq – and a few decades later he was treated in the exact same way by Sherlock Holmes. In Holmes’s first investigation, “A Study in Scarlet“, Watson dares to compare his new friend to Dupin, to which Holmes retaliates: “No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin. Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. He had some analytical genius, no doubt, but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.”
Why do I like the fact that all previous detectives – and their writers – are sitting with me in my study while I write my own detective? Because coming from an ancient but fairly small literary tradition (that of Hebrew literature), the international nature of the detective story enables me to truly cross the borders of national literature, with its recurring themes and structures, and join a universal crossing-culture literary Salon.
When the first detective story appeared in Hebrew in 1930 (it’s called, you’ll find it hard to believe, “The mysterious murder”!), the protagonist-detective, David Tidhar, is referred to as “Sherlock Holmes of the near-East”, and by that he’s joining the dynasty that started with Vidocq, Dupin and Holmes and crossing the borders of the then-very-isolated Hebrew fiction written in Palestine.
But there’s something even more important than that, because of which I’m so happy I’m writing crime, in my room in Tel Aviv in 2013, surrounded by writers, dead and alive, from all over the world. Unlike Classical Art, Modern literature taught us that we have to be original all the time; and that originality is one of the most important aesthetic values. Detective fiction teaches you something else: It teaches you that you can be original part of time, not all the time; it forces you to admit that when you’re writing you’re sitting on the broad shoulders of others; it encourages you to pay tribute to wonderful writes who were there before and without the work of which you couldn’t have come up with your own work. And this is very liberating.
In the coming posts I’ll explore here some other aspects of being an International crime writer. And I’ll be happy to receive your comments and thoughts.