Re: RARA-AVIS: Early Westlake

Fred Willard (
Wed, 13 Jan 1999 12:41:22 -0500 At 09:46 AM 1/13/99 -0500, MT wrote:

>I don't think there is anything like a mass audience for hardboiled
>novels. Some people have achieved recognition thanks to the movies
>(Elmore Leonard, for example) but for the vast majority of mystery
>readers (who read cozies or romance crossover, let's face it) Westlake,
>Mosley, Block, Crumley, Ellroy, Burke, and so on are almost unknown. We
>hardboiled dogs may think that these guys are giants, but we hardly
>represent the book-buying public. I bet Sue Grafton and Mary Higgins
>Clark outsell all of the above, all the time.

I enjoyed your rant (even though I cut some of it for brevity). I think
it's a worthwhile issue to note on a list concerning hardboiled literature,
too. In order for the literature to survive, the authors have to eat. Or at
the very least, be published while they starve.

If you think Ellroy and Burke are unknown, imagine being a writer even more
obscure than they are.

On numerous occasions, I've gone to mystery oriented events, been placed on
a panel and found myself facing an audience of folks who only read locked
room mysteries where the detectives are middle-aged gardeners who raise
woofy hounds and write crossword puzzles in classical Aztec. Ouch... What
am I doing here?

I may just be in a bad mood today. But I'm not sure that the hardboiled
novel has much of a place in the mystery genre anymore. I think this
explains why people are trying to write books that can cross over.

There's a basic tension between the best hard-boiled fiction, which I think
is real, honest literature, and books who's basic mythic structure has a
representative of the state accompanied by a supervising, elderly spinster
lady set the universe's Newtonian clock to the correct moral time while
they march some miscreant off to goal.

The latter can be a damned good book. It can be very entertaining. But it
is limited in it's ability to deal with the ambiguity which is the basic
starting point of hardboiled literature.

I should point out, however, that when I get together with cozy writers
their biggest complaint is that they get no attention from Hollywood.
While even a writer of HB/noir as obscure as myself gets calls asking about
the status of options and book projects.

What this indicates to me is that Hollywood has figured out a market for
HB/noir stories that the book business hasn't, and it isn't among what
you'd usually identify as "mystery readers."

Fred (never reluctant to start a controversy) Willard

Down on Ponce a novel by Fred Willard
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