Friday, 31 January 2014

Why I Love Rohmer

I want to come back to my theory that Richard Rohmer only started reading novels after writing ULTIMATUM.  (Okay, maybe someone left a copy of The Moneychangers in the seatback of a CP Air flight from Toronto to Winnipeg, and he flipped through that, because he'd met Arthur Hailey at a party.  Or maybe he remembered Treasure Island from school.)  What we're seeing is a pretty sharp guy getting interested in a hobby.

He's picking things up on the fly.

That's why ULTIMATUM and EXXONERATION have completely pointless maps and drawings of planes.  (I think he thinks it feels like something you put in a book.) And why he tries little thriller tropes and then abandons them.  Sometimes entire plots are begun and abandoned.  And why we're always getting news dumps of information that never turn out to matter to the plot.  (The giant tanker airplanes?  Gaspe's ex-wife and the handsome doctor? The two-million-dollar bribe? The inflatable undersea pipeline that either works or doesn't, I forget?)

He's goofing around.

Exodus UK, his third thriller, is the first one that begins with a list of characters.  I truly believe this is because someone told Rohmer that's how thrillers begin...

Prime Minister of Great Britain        Jeremy Sands
Chancellor of the Exchequer            Michael Hobson

... and 25 more, like...

VC-10 Engineer                               F/O Jason Rupert

But here's the thing.  When you do this in a mystery novel, presumably you're doing it so the reader can encounter a name and quickly refresh his memory without a lot of flipping around. "Weidlinger? Who the hell is Weidlinger?"  You look at the front piece or the back page and it says, "Weidlinger: Col. Forbisher's ex-partner in the jade importing business."

Rohmer has the list backwards.  It should be the character's name, and then who they are in the story.  What he's written is movie credits.  Like the Prime Minister is being played by someone named Jeremy Sands.

Because he doesn't know why other authors put character lists in their books.  He's just doing it because he's trying things out.

In the immortal words of Van Morrison: "Checking it out, taking it further. Taking it further, checking it out."

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