Unpolished Fleming or Paranoid Mankell by Matt Rees

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I’ve seen two things in the last week that allowed me to compare something
of the way crime writers used to appear in public and their present avatars.
It only made me wish for the good old days even more than I used to.

The comparison is between a delightful radio chat on the BBC in 1958 between
Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming and a load of paranoid
weirdness from Henning Mankell.

First, Chandler and Fleming. Listen to their talk. I rarely bother listen to
an entire half hour of anything online, but I’m telling you this is
beautiful. Both of them are unpolished as all hell. For anyone who’s been to
a book fair and seen the well-honed wisecracks and personae of today’s
authors, this’ll be refreshing.

When Fleming asks Chandler to explain how a hit is done in America (which
surely seemed like a very dangerous place to the average BBC listener of
half a century ago), old Ray puffs on his pipe and spins an unlikely tale of
gunmen brought to New York from that den of iniquity, Minneapolis. It
impresses Fleming so much that he refers to it in summing up the broadcast
as something very enlightening and shocking and underground that Chandler
has given us.

But most of all from Chandler’s side there’s the news that he intended
another Marlowe novel in which the great shamus would be married (see the
end of “Playback”) and, though he’d love his wife, he’d be frustrated by her
friends and the ease with which he lives.

Fleming, meanwhile, is very British and self-deprecating, pointing out
several times that his novels are pale shadows of what Chandler writes. In
turn, Chandler is amazed that Fleming writes a novel in two months during
his annual Jamaica vacation, having never written one faster than three
months himself. He then opines that “you starve 10 years before even your
publisher knows you’re any good.” Amen to that.

This truly beautiful conversation – hearing the voices of these fellows is
priceless in itself – was in stark contrast to Henning Mankell’s appearance
in an Israeli newspaper last week.

The starting point for Mankell’s piece was his deportation from Israel a
year ago. He was among the pro-Palestinian activists aboard a flotilla of
ships headed for Gaza, which was intercepted by Israeli commandoes. Aboard
one of the ships, the commandoes and activists fought and nine activists
were killed. Mankell was among those brought back to Israel on the boats and
then deported.

His article in Ha’aretz last week goes through the story of a Facebook page
opened in his name. It declared support for the Lebanese Islamists of
Hezbollah and other positions he claims not to share. Facebook took the site
down twice at Mankell’s request. Mankell wonders who was behind the Facebook
page.

To anyone who’s been in the Middle East, the most obvious answer is: a
Palestinian supporter saw that Mankell was on their side and decided to
hijack his name for some other causes to which he or she thought Mankell
might be inclined. Or at least that they’d be causes to which readers might
assume Mankell was inclined, knowing his position on Palestine.

But no. With a circuitous logic never apparent in his plodding Wallander
novels, Henning tells us that he heard the Israeli government wanted to use
social media to attack its enemies. Is this behind the “Henning Mankell”
Facebook page? Twice he writes: “Who would benefit from this?”

“Obviously I cannot and will not claim that it is either the Israeli regime
or the Israeli embassy in Sweden that is responsible for my kidnapped
identity and the attempts to spread lies in my name. But the question
remains: Who would benefit from this?”

In other words, he said it was the Israelis.

Well, now that you mention it, Henning, of course Israel is so threatened by
Henning Mankell that its agents spread active propaganda in favor of
Hezbollah, which kills Israelis and may indeed benefit from the propaganda
on the HM FB page, just so that they can neutralize the danger of HM.

Anyone who reads my blog or my Palestinian novels will see that I’m no shill
for Israel. But Mankell’s article is the kind of paranoid crap that makes me
see why he was attracted to the Middle East in the first place. It’s a place
where conspiracy theories abound.

When you listen to Chandler and Fleming, you hear them thinking through
their positions and ideas as they speak. Fleming is clearly altered as a
writer after half an hour with Chandler. If only Mankell had as open a mind.

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