Re: Definition of hardboiled (was Re: RARA-AVIS: _Murd
09 Feb 99 09:50:00 -0500 --UNS_gsauns2_3053531018
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Re Bill Denton's comments below:

"Someone recommended a Nelson DeMille book, _Plum Island_, to me a few
months ago. The hero was a tough slang-using, beer-drinking, woman-chasing
cop who was taking some time off work because of an injury. He got mixed
up in some biological warfare shenanigans, or something. I'll never know
because I couldn't get past page 50. It was awful. One of the things
that annoyed me was that DeMille was using all the surface aspects of a
hardboiled character without really understanding what it was really all
about. The rest of the book was just a standard, modern, bad,
cut-and-paste thriller."

"Hard-boiled" does not automatically mean "good." Without having read
DeMille's novel I can't really say whether or not it was either, but based
on your comments, I'd say that a) It *was* hard-boiled, but that b) It
just wasn't very good at it. A police procedural written by someone who
knows nothing about police procedure is no less a police procedural. It's
just a *lousy* police procedural. A cozy that pretends to display all the
clues so we can compete with the little old lady that's solving the case,
but really doesn't play fair, is no less a cozy, it's just a *lousy* cozy.
Similarly, a novel that has surface toughness and surface colloquialism
is no less a hard-boiled novel, it's just a *lousy* hard-boiled novel.
"Hard-boiled" is a description of a *type* of story, not a judgment as to
its quality or success.

"How would you define a noir novel, as opposed to a hardboiled one?"

This is a little tougher, since I associate "noir" more with crime *films*
than novels. But in a general sense, I'd say that hard-boiled describes an
attitude that's tough and colloquial, while noir describes an atmosphere
that's dark and gloomy. They're not necessarily mutually exclusive, but
neither are they synonymous. To use the film metaphor again, *Murder, My
Sweet*, as I've said in an earlier post, is both hard-boiled and noir. *The
Window* is noir but not hard-boiled. *Marlowe*, which features the same lead
character as *Murder, My Sweet*, is hard-boiled but not noir. In prose
fiction, I'd say Cornell Woolrich was the best, or at least the prototypical,
noir writer.

"How do things like _The Talented Mr. Ripley_ and _I Was Dora Suarez_ fit
your definition?"

Haven't read *Dora Suarez*. I'd say *Mr. Ripley* is neither hard-boiled (the
character isn't really tough) or noir (the Riviera setting is hardly
evocative of dark, gloomy atmospherics). It's just mean-spirited. But it's
damned good at being mean-spirited.

"We've been talking about them" [i.e. definitions] "for two years, and it
can't be as simple as 'tough and colloquial.'"

Sure it can. Definitions are only complicated if you want them to be. If
you think my definition is to all-encompassing, check out Chandler's in his
article "The Simple art of Murder." He included British trial novels like
*Verdict of Twelve* and what he described as a "gay Hollywoodian gambol"
called *Lazarus #7*. Compared to him, I'm setting very narrow parameters.
- Jim Doherty

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