Friday, July 30, 2010

Acclaimed crime novel reimagines Ernest Hemingway's death

I was tootling around on the Internet today, as you do, when I stumbled across an interesting news story about an Ohio crime writer who re-imagined Ernest Hemingway's famed suicide death for his latest crime novel, PRINT THE LEGEND, which was published earlier this year.

It got me thinking a little about weaving reality into fiction, and the use of real-life characters in crime fiction. Some authors do this, and some completely refrain (even having fictional versions of famous people in minor roles, like the current President in the novel, etc). What do you think of novelists who use reality in their work?
According to the Columbus Dispatch, author Craig McDonald writes crime novels that are really "sardonic examinations of the way history - particularly literary history - is rewritten by the survivors" In PRINT THE LEGEND, McDonald (who was an Edgar and Anthony nominee for his 2007 debut, HEAD GAMES) brings back his protagonist Hector Lassiter, a crime novelist himself, in a re-examination of Hemingway's suicide.
The blurb for PRINT THE LEGEND reads:

"It was the shot heard 'round the world: On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway died from a shotgun blast to the head.

It's 1965: two men have come to Idaho to confront the widow Hemingway—men who have doubts about the true circumstances of Hemingway's death. One is crime novelist Hector Lassiter, the oldest and best of Hem's friends...the last man standing of the Lost Generation. Hector has heard intimations of some surviving Hemingway manuscripts: a "lost" chapter of A Moveable Feast and a full-length manuscript written by a deluded Hemingway that Hector fears might compromise or harm his own reputation. What Hector finds are pieces of his own, long-ago stolen writings, now in danger of being foisted upon an unsuspecting public as Ernest Hemingway's work.

The other man is scholar Richard Paulson, a man with a dark agenda who sets out to prove that Mary Hemingway murdered Papa. Paulson and his young, pregnant wife Hannah, herself an aspiring writer, travel to Idaho to interview Mrs. Hemingway who believes Paulson has come to write her hagiography. As Hector digs into the mystery of his and Hemingway's lost writings, he uncovers an audacious, decades-long conspiracy tied to J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

A literary thriller about Hemingway's death and the patina that perceived suicide lends the author's exploration of the sinister shadow play and co-dependence that binds authors and their academics...a novel that could forever change how readers regard the death of Ernest Hemingway. When legend becomes fact, print the legend."

You can read an excerpt from PRINT THE LEGEND here.

You can see a YouTube trailer about the book here:

I hadn't even heard of McDonald before today, but he's got some great praise from writers like Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman, among many others. And it's an intriguing premise.

Cool song in the YoutTube video too. Might have to try to dig out who it's by... update: I believe the song is The Sun is Rising (Help Me Son) by Mickey Newbury.

What do you think of authors weaving fact and fiction together in this way? Have you read PRINT THE LEGEND or any of Craig McDonald's other Hector Lassiter books? Do you like the idea of a Hemingway-tinged crime novel? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. a Craig - Interesting question about weaving fact and fiction together. I don't have a problem with that, actually; in fact, I think it can be done quite well. I know, for instance, that Martin Edwards has just published Dancing for the Hangman, which takes the point of view of real-life convicted killer Crippen. And Elliot Roosevelt wrote a series of novels featuring his mother, Eleanor Roosevelt, as a sleuth, and including real-life situations. When it's done well, I think it can work.

  2. Craig,
    If you mean the type that turns a real person into a detective (Jane Austen, Queen Elizabeth, Charles Dickens, and others of that ilk), I avoid them. In many cases, I think they are done by unknown writers who are trying to kickstart their careers by a cynical reliance on name recognition.

    If the "real" person is a secondary character, then I must say that "it depends." I would have to respond to the individual work.

    Caleb Carr's two mysteries set in 19th century NYC feature Teddy Roosevelt as a secondary character (he was President of the board of New York City Police Commissioners at that time). I had no problem with that

    One that I had a problem with is also one that I enjoyed so much that I went out and found the next two in the series. It's the series written by Michel Gregorio; the first one is _Critique of Criminal Reason_. The examining magistrate is aided by Immanuel Kant, who has set up what turns out to be one of the first police crime laboratories.

    What bothered me the most was the depiction of Kant. I must admit, though, that I know little about Kant, so the depiction of him might be accurate. The negative connotations disturb me. However, Kant doesn't appear in following novels, so that problem won't appear again.

    I will be reading it again for a discussion group in a few months, so I am going to see what my reactions are the second time around.

  3. If you haven't read Craig McDonald's books, please -- let me persuade you to correct that right away. Here's a review my friend Corey Wilde wrote about one of McDonald's books, TOROS & TORSOS. The books all mingle fact with fiction in a way I've not seen done before. He can bend your mind if you're paying attention. If you're not, you can just enjoy the story.