Re: RARA-AVIS: Sensitive detectives

Jason Debly (
Sat, 27 Nov 1999 10:03:35 +0000

Brian, apparently this type of question comes up quite frequently. Most of the subscribers to this service will dread discussing this issue and will regard it as simply bashing certain authors (i.e. Sue Grafton). I am also a hard boiled mystery writer and have been told ad nauseum by my agent that I am too hard boiled (as if that's possible), and that I need to inject some sensitivity into my main character.

The Spenser books are not in my opinion hard boiled. They are as about as close to cozies as you can get without actually being one (perish the thought!). Page long descriptions of what one had for lunch or the quality of their last trip to the bathroom seems to be what editors are looking for. This trend is in full force at present with no signs of letting up.

I contend that Chandler and Hammet would no doubt find it very difficult to get published today as they characters and plots are simply too politically incorrect and lack the aforementioned sensitivity as well as conservatism of writing that seems to be dripping in Victorian drool.

Part of the problem with what is considered to be in vogue with today's publishing houses is the obsession with trying to launch a book that is marketable to every one. Publishers are lookig for HB books that appeal to you, and your parents, and the little old church lady (or gent) that lives down the street. Whenver an industry tries to appeal to all possible sectors of the market, that is when quality suffers. Punk rock and grunge lost its sense of originality and angst when every recording label tried to push their own copy cat artist.

However, I would like to qualify my remarks above by saying that I can't hold a candle to the talent of Robert B. Parker or Sue Grafton for that matter, but inevitably their style of writing I think has really taken a lot of the sting and appeal out of the HB genre.

Most people reading this will no doubt strongly disagree with me, but I think it is a significant problem for the reader who is looking for books that are more true to the genre.

I am hard pressed to think of any successful writers who are writing in a real HB style. The only one I can think of in recent memory is "The Big Enchilada" by L.A. Morse. It was originally published in 1981 and about every ten years it enjoys a reprint. Currently it is out of print and at present is the closest work I can think of in tune with the genre as I perceive it.

In an email about a month ago I asked if anyone knew much about Morse of any of his other books and I only got one response. This is indicative of the fact that my views are shared by very few.

In closing, I would like others to give serious consideration as to what they consider to be a good, recent! HB book. One that I read recently by Les Roberts, entitled "A Shoot in Cleaveland" was terrible.

Many readers may regard my views of HB as dated and out of touch with the present, but I think this is an over sight. The use of cliches in a novel is no great sin, but only if they are employed in an uninspiring and boring fashion. The sign of a great writer is the ability is to work within the parameters of this great genre and use cliches as mere tools to deliver the reader an original novel. It can be done.

Okay, I'm done now. Let the criticism start, but remember, who is today writing genuine HB novels. It is not enough to write in the first person about a main character who happens to be a detective.

There are writers

Brian Lawrence wrote:

> Hello,
> Thought I'd introduce myself as well as post a question. I'm new to the list
> and a writer and a reader of hardboiled and other mystery / suspense stuff.
> My first book, while not a detective novel, has been called hardboiled by some
> reviewers. I'm not sure, myself. I simply wrote it, didn't worry about
> classifying it. Anyway, if you're interested, you can check out my web page.
> By the way, the book is sold in electronic form only.
> Now, for my question. Today's trend seems to be to give the detective more of
> a real life. They are becoming much more sensitive. While the mood often
> stays "dark", the detective is closer to being a real person.
> Does this trend change the definition of hardboiled? And what are your
> thoughts on this trend? Finally, would, say, the Spenser books be classified
> as hardboiled?
> Thanks,
> Brian Lawrence
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