Alexander McCall Smith

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What are some notes on "No Place to Park" by Alexander McCall Smith?

"No Place to Park" is a short story by Alexander McCall Smith. It begins by describing a panel on crime fiction at a writers' festival in Western Australia. The story comments on the popularity of depictions of grisly murders in fiction despite the rarity and horror of these types of crimes in real life.

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One note—or idea—that comes to mind when thinking of "No Place to Park" is metafiction. Metafiction is a complicated term. Generally, it refers to writing about writing. It’s when an author uses fiction to make the reader aware that they themselves are reading fiction.

Of course, Alexander McCall Smith’s story centers on a writer of crime fiction. As it so happens, Smith has published a prolific amount of crime fiction. You might be familiar with his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books (there are at least twenty of them). You could contend that the story is a way for Smith to address some of the issues and concerns of crime-fiction writers and crime-fiction readers.

The story also allows Smith to discuss the ways in which crime stories might be fostered. Remember, George Harris, the main character, gets the idea for a murder mystery about surfing because someone he slightly knew died while surfing a few months ago.

That brings me to another note on Smith’s short story: reality. The story seems to address the gap between crime fiction and real life. The surfer was not actually murdered by people. The surfer was killed by a shark. You could also contend that the surfer isn’t real at all. Really, the surfer is a made-up character in Smith’s short story.

The gulf between reality and crime novels is emphasized right away in the first paragraph. Smith describes the readers as “people who would never commit murder, not in their wildest dreams.” He points out that these people would not “mix” with murderers either. You might want to note what Smith’s observation says about readers of crime fiction. Perhaps it allows them to picture things that they wouldn’t do in reality.

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The short story "No Place to Park" by Alexander McCall Smith is an example of a popular and talented crime writer taking an ironic, tongue-in-cheek look at his craft, his genre, and his fans. It begins at a crime panel at a writer's festival in Australia, a place where fervent fans of murder mysteries come together to hear well-known writers discuss their work. Smith clarifies that although these readers love the gruesome details in murder mysteries, they are not the type of people that would consort with criminals or commit murders. This is the first irony that he presents.

A local critic throws out a challenge to the writers, claiming that they focus too much on grisly murders. He suggests that they should instead come up with a plot about something more mundane, such as parking violations. He means it in jest, but one of the writers, George Harris, takes it seriously. As an avid surfer, he has been contemplating a murder novel in which the killer of a surfer simulates a shark attack, but he feels that the story is not working. Instead, he decides to see what he can do with the parking violations idea.

This is an instance of a writer poking fun and at the same time offering insight into the age-old question of where ideas are found. The surfing murder idea is more ingenious and straightforward, while the parking ticket idea seems more mundane but at the same time challenging.

To add verisimilitude to his story, Harris arranges to follow one of the parking police as he makes his rounds. It turns out, though, that while looking for parking offenders, he and the officer he is with expose a pair of murderers. This is another irony: a murder mystery writer, while attempting to write about a gentler subject, uncovers a murder.

The story's final irony is when Harris is killed in the same way that he envisioned the victim would be murdered in his proposed novel about surfing.

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“No Place to Park” is a short story written by Alexander McCall Smith which depicts a crime panel at a writers' festival in Western Australia.

There is an immediate distinction made between the panelists, who are obsessed with brutal crimes, and criminals, who actually commit these heinous acts. While the panelists love the crime genre and have dedicated their lives to describing murders in granular detail, they do not have the ability to commit crimes like these in their real lives.

There is also commentary around the fact that while crimes span a wide array of actions, like “fraud and theft and extortion,” everyone seems to be obsessed with the worst crime, murder. Murders are actually very rare compared to the litany of other crimes, but murders are drastically overrepresented in the crime genre, which speaks to the fascination with the act of murder on the part of the panelists.

There is also insightful commentary on the fact that the vast majority of the murders written about include highly graphic and sensationalized murders, which reflect an extremely low percentage of real-life murders. People are drawn to the worst possible outcome or the most extravagant scenario when engaging with this genre and are not interested in learning about the facts and details behind the most common real murders.

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