RARA-AVIS: Re: Sensitive detectives

Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@colba.net)
Sat, 27 Nov 1999 15:45:05 -0400

At the risk of losing my gentlemanly status, here's my response to Jason:

>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.

Gee, don't look now, but (as Mark so rightly puts it), as tough as they were, there was an undercurrent of sensitivity in the Op, Spade, Marlowe and most of the others. Maybe it's time to get a new agent, if this one fails to recognize your overall wonderfulness.

Have you published anything yet, that we could read? You've mentioned you're a writer several times, and you've certainly got me curious...

>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!).

Have you ever even read a cozy? It seems like thought was perished long before you even wrote this. The claim is so preposterous that I wonder if you've ever read a Spenser novel, either. I thought maybe you didn't understand the hard-boiled genre, but it looks like you're just as much an expert in other mystery sub-genres. Which Spenser novel is almost a cozy? Again, I'm curious....

>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.

Please, tell us about these politically incorrect plots. I'm sure we'd all love examples. Or at least stop labelling everyone who disagrees with you, or anything you don't like, as politically correct.

>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.

Strange, if they don't write in the hard-boiled genre, as you contend, that they've done so much damage to the genre, and to your career. The dirty rats!

>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.

Hmmm....it seems to me there's no shortage of hard-boiled books out there to choose from. Mark gave a pretty good list, and there's plenty more out there.

>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.

Yeah, I guess most people aren't as well-read as you, or as appreciative as you of the true brilliance of THE BIG ENCHILADA. A lot of us unenlightened types seem to think it's, at best, a failed parody or at its worst, merely a hackneyed piece of crap, offensive in ways that go way beyond nebulous, meaningless terms like political correctness. Here's a little excerpt from this "classic":

>Sam Hunter, the so-called P.I. hero rips off a girl's dress (after
>squeezing her breast--he manfully calls it a "tit"-- until she drops
>a knife). Naked the woman stares at him defiantly, spitting "like a
>wild animal."
>"Now what should I do with you?" I said.
>"Eat me, motherfucker. Eat me!"

What sparkling dialogue. I can see why you rate Morse with Chandler and Hammett. What a master!

As a fiction editor myself (even if it's just for my site), I get a lot of adolescent wet-dream garbage like this, from would-be writers who mistake being offensive with being hard-boiled. They always seem to go for quasi-rape scenes like the one perpetrated above. In fact, most of their "experience" with women seems to be gleaned from Penthouse Forum.

(For the record, I've nothing against any sort of scene, per se, if it serves the story, and isn't just there so some disturbed kid in his parent's basement can relate his favorite wanking fantasy).

I must admit, though, I give Morse the benefit of the doubt, if only because he'd already proven he understood the genre. His THE OLD DICK actually is a classic of sorts, dealing with the problems of old age with a surprising amount of, dare I say it, sensitivity.

>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.

No, I'd say you're also out of touch with the past. I doubt Chandler or Hammett would ever write the type of stuff you consider hard-boiled. Their heroes were many things, but they were also gentlemen. Read Chandler's THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER, and then tell us about sensitivity. Maybe Carroll John Daly and Mickey Spillane would be better names for you to drop. Not much sensitivity there, and what there is is more locker room sentimentality than anything....

>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.

Gee, why do I get the feeling someone's told someone their writing is full of clich鳿

>Okay, I'm done now. Let the criticism start.

Sure thing. By the way, I somewhat agree that some detectives have become too sensitive, or soft, but I don't want to return to the cartoonish likes of Race Williams, either. It's a balancing act. It is possible to be sensitive and tough, at the same time.

Real men can do both.

Real women, too.

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/ IT'S OFFICIAL! November is still Dashiell Hammett Month. Don't play the sap for anyone.

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