Re: RARA-AVIS: Sensitive detectives

Etienne Borgers (
Wed, 1 Dec 1999 02:23:10 -0800 (PST)

A lot has now been said here about the trend of some modern HB/Noir to shift to "sensitive detective". Unless we re-define the whole domain, word by word there will always be disagreements on what is a PI, a HB author, a sensitive person...etc.

I personally do not think this is the issue. We came close to the heart of the problem in some participants' answers: the unnecessary "padding" of some traits of the central character in order to make a virtual (or actual- see Spenser) subplot that eats the books and even overlaps all over the rest of the series.

Of course a tough guy facing his tough world may have sensitive thought,feelings or compassion! But this in the course of the main plot, and not trying to make another story with it. The same goes for his habits, otherwise he suddenly becomes someone not more interesting that the orchid planter, or the safari hunter of classic detection fame.

When sensitivity or personal traits become a real subplot, that's the capital sin, sometime the result of some publishers acting as pushers into that direction and probably also authors leaning to facility. And that's what I and some other participants here feel when reading that kind of book. And makes us disappointed when seen from gifted authors.

Characters with personality are certainly a good thing even in HB, but trying to make them acceptable by the mainstream public by showing them as having a normal
"human" life (see subplots)is close to perversion of the "tough" and "pessimistic" novel.

I'm not in favor of rules in writing. So definitions limiting HB is something that I feel as not necessary. But if HB or "tough" novels (be it from general lit or mystery lit) are not acceptable to some, well ... good... they can always read romance and "true stories", watch TV commercials, and have a very nice day... And the concerned ex-HB authors, with unnecessary subplots , could always write for the above cited media. But hey, they would suddenly lose their well known character that makes the sales. So, no way! That's business! Good for them. Bad for lit.

E.Borgers Hard-Boiled Mysteries
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