RARA-AVIS: Re: W.R. Burnett

K. Harper (kharper@bgnet.bgsu.edu)
Wed, 30 Jun 1999 09:08:18 -0400

Jim Doherty wrote:

     Have we ever done a Burnett book? If not, how about *The Asphalt
     Jungle*? Kathy Harper lauds it as one of the best hard-boiled crime
     novels ever written (and on the evidence of the film version she's
     probably right). Moreover, Kathy's working on a dissertation on
     Burnett, and it's possible one of us might just come up with a new
     insight that would help her. (Not likely, I grant you, but possible).
      And we'd have her highly informed comments to enhance our enjoyment
     of the book.

Thanks for the compliments, Jim, but I'd better jump in here and explain something. I am not doing a dissertation on Burnett: a few weeks ago, however, I finished writing a long article about him for Volume 216 of the
_Dictionary of Literary Biography_. (Watch your library's Reference section later this year.) I am writing a dissertation, true, but not on a hard-boiled theme: it's an annotated bibliography of the 2,000+ published writings of Iowa-born humorist Ellis Parker Butler, the author of "Pigs is Pigs." So, how many eggs do I lose for *that* one?

As to _The Asphalt Jungle_, I'm all for adding it to the list. It truly is one of the greatest of the postwar crime novels: a story of "best-laid plans" that go awry in the blink of an eye. Burnett defines his Big Midwestern City in merciless prose, which grows even more cutting as he moves into the other two volumes of the trilogy, _Little Men, Big World_
(1951) and _Vanity Row_ (1952). _The Asphalt Jungle_'s characters are well defined and stay with the reader long after s/he has put down the book---and I'll mention in advance, for those who like to watch for such things, that even the most minor character is driven by some obsession. Notice which ones are obsessed with what and you'll have the key to the whole novel.

(ObAuthors: Henry Edward Helseth. Julian Long. James A. Martin.... Well? Has my Egg Quotient regained its previous level?)

Now I've gotta slip back into lurkdom: I'm revising a paper on a proper hard-boiled topic---the pulp magazine _Flynn's_/_Detective Fiction Weekly_--for an upcoming academic conference. Wish me luck!


Kathy Harper

Katherine Harper Department of English Bowling Green State University kharper@bgnet.bgsu.edu Visit the W.R. Burnett Page at http://ernie.bgsu.edu/~kharper/

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