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Monday, March 14, 2011

Caramelised Chicken Tuna and Alix Bosco

Thanks to book-blogger Graham Beattie, I have a recipe for dinner for four for tomorrow night

Turning, as I usually do over that first mug of coffee, to Beattie's Book Blog for the latest in the New Zealand books scene, I was delighted to find that he had solved a problem -- what to cook for guests tomorrow night. 

The recipe, which sounds absolutely delish, is for Caramelised Chicken Tuna, and is quoted in his rave review of an upcoming cookbook, Home at 7, Dinner at 8, by Sophie Wright.

Not only is it cheap and scrumptious-sounding, but it's easy.  You make a nifty marinade with a list of ingredients that are in any normal pantry (soy sauce, brown sugar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, plus a couple of spices), soak the chook legs for a bit, and then throw the lot in a roasting pan with vine tomatoes and chunks of red onion.

So easy, it sounds relaxing.  And because of this relaxation of the mind, I found myself reflecting on the mysterious and pseudonymous thriller writer who won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for a debut book, Cut and Run.

Yes, I am talking about the mysterious and pseudonymous Alix Bosco.

Not so long ago, I speculated that s/he was actually a he, the he being the wellknown and successful playwright, Greg McGee.  It was a neat theory, or so I thought, but McGee himself blew it out of the water, by admitting he was flattered, but not flattered enough to let my theory live on.  Instead of merely grinning mysteriously, he revealed that he is not, emphatically not, the pseudonymous etc. Alix Bosco.

While I still haven't read Cut and Run, I picked up a copy of the sequel, Slaughter Falls, to keep me company on a couple of flights.

It promised to be riveting reading.  According to the blurb, "When Anna Markunas comes to Brisbane to watch a rugby test, two members of her tour party suffer a sudden, violent death."  Never a truer word, or so I found out -- "violent" is exactly the word I would choose.  To be specific, the first death (of an ex-All Black run very much to seed) is caused by an exceedingly graphic mauling by bull sharks in a Brisbane canal.

By sheer coincidence, I was in Brisbane airport when I read this bit, with lots of local Aussies handy to tell me about bull sharks.  'Unlikely,' most of them snorted, though I did wonder if they were silently wondering if it was really a good idea to go water skiing next weekend.   That discussion over, I read on, to learn more than expected about the state I was flying over.  The book, as promised by the back cover, is a foray "into the dark world of Queensland's corrupt underbelly" (which may be more real than the sharks, or so a lawyer from New South Wales darkly informed me).  As well as crisp writing, it certainly has pace.  I did wonder if the author had spent too many late nights devouring The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an imaginative sadistic revenge providing the ending, but the book did its job by passing the monotonous time away very well indeed.

The trouble with mysterious and pseudonymous authors, though, is that the reader is constantly distracted by a search for clues to the writer's true identity -- particularly a reader whose previous theory was sundered so spectacularly by M'sieu McGee.  I became more convinced than ever, for instance, that the writer is a man, simply because of the muscularity of the prose.  Additionally, or so I decided, he is a middle-aged man.  While the novel is sharply pictured in the present, internet and www and all, the events stem from scandals of the 1980s.  As the pages flipped by, I gained the impression, in fact, that this was an old novel, perhaps stowed in the bottom of a drawer until the writer hauled it out and deftly reworked it.

The male writer. The women have beehive hair-dos and wear matador pants.  Believe me, that is the first thing a female writer would have updated.

Additionally, the writer is a foodie.  The mauling of the sharks was memorable indeed, but what impressed me most about the book was the lovingly described food.  There is even a character who is a food writer . . . who is accompanied on his restaurant-test trips by a woman he calls "the Blonde."

So it was really quite logical that printing off a recipe for a marinade mix should remind me of the mystery of Alix Bosco.


Kiwicraig said...

Interesting post Joan. I'm the opposite - I've always discounted the McGee theory because I believe Alix Bosco is a female writer. I'm not entirely sure why I think this - perhaps because of the way violence is dealt with (seems to be from a feminine perspective/outlook, if we're generalising), and the way the writer gets inside Markunas's head.

Talking to Val McDermid when she was here last year (a writer who knows a hell of a lot more than me about crime writing, and male and female writers), she too seemed to think it was probably a female writer - which of course bolstered my own belief, whether it should have or not. Val had just been reading CUT & RUN (which I think is a superior book to SLAUGHTER FALLS), which she raved about.

There are other little things here and there that make me think it's a female writer too - but then again, there are probably tonnes of things that if I stopped and thought about, point to a male writer too. How do we know? Are male and female writers that distinct, or just tendencices on a spectrum anyway? The only thing that stops us attempting to deconstruct other crime writers in this way is probably that we know their identity. eg. Does the fact that McDermid too could be said to have 'muscular' prose and brutal crimes mean that we would think her books were written by a man, if we didn't know otherwise?

Still, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong re: Bosco's gender. All the arguments either way seem to have some merit...

Joan Druett said...

Hi Craig -- Kiwi Craig -- everything you say is relevant, BUT ... I guess the point I am making is that when a writer insists on being anonymous -- particularly in the claustrophobic New Zealand setting -- it is distracting. If the writer would front up, we would look at the books instead of zigzagging off to wonder about the identity of the author. I guess the upshot is that I don't think it is necessarily a good thing to be openly anonymous. If the author had simply written under a name -- Alix Bosco -- and left it at that, it would have been fine. But to be teased by the info that it is a pseud of someone successful in another genre is self-defeating. It's like a question without an answer. Ultimately, it is frustrating, not constructive.

Am I making sense???????????

Kiwicraig said...

I agree Joan, it is distracting, and it's a shame for whoever Bosco is, because I think while the 'mystery' might have been okay/helpful with the launch of the first book, now it could actually be harming them in terms of missing out on book launch, festival appearance, media interviews, and other marketing and publicity opportunities.

And as you say, the discourse re: identity and gender can be distracting from the books themselves. Possibly the authors has used the pseudonym so their identity won't distract from the books (ie the public will judge them on their own merits, rather than comparatively to the author's other work), but I think there's a possibility that could backfire - and in fact cause distraction and people aren't just focusing on the merit of the books.

SLAUGHTER FALLS, which was still an enjoyable read, if not IMHO quite reaching the heights of CUT & RUN, seemed rather overlooked by media and the public (going by bestseller lists) last year, which is a shame. Bosco's pseudonym and lack of presence - especially in what, as you say, is a rather claustrophobic and tight-knit writing world in New Zealand - might not have been the best thing, in terms of getting the second book noticed by the readers, so the readers could in fact judge it on its merits.

Not sure if that entirely makes sense, but hopefully you get what I mean. :-)

Joan Druett said...

Absolutely! You make perfect sense and I agree totally with what you say.

I must read CUT AND RUN. I have to admit I thought Slaughter Falls was rather derivative. (Spoiler alert.) When the baby turned out to be brown, the automatic (feminine) thought was that the mother had been playing around. I think that is what all the neighbours would have said. But instead, it was an entree into family history and a very, very convenient Maori father/grandfather. Actually, I thought the best part of the book was when the son became fired up to find his whanau, and they drove to Mangakino, where he found very logical disillusionment. It was an interesting and thought-provoking part of the book that could have done with development. Altogether, I found the book messy -- so many loose ends and dashing off on so many tangents. But sequels are so very, very hard ...

frank said...

For what it's worth, I'm putting ten cents on Alix Bosco turning out to be a male writer also - my wild guess is Paul Thomas, who seemed to abandon writing in this kind of genre rather prematurely for columnising and might just be trying a comeback as a woman.

Joan Druett said...

"Alex" seems a very unisex name, to me. Could be either/or ...