Re: RARA-AVIS: Sensitive detectives

a.n.smith (
Wed, 1 Dec 1999 06:49:35 -0600

> Hardboiled is an attitude, not a style or a genre. There are genres
within it,
> or types, like the hardboiled private eye story. But it really depends on
> you'll let past the doorkeeper.

It's a combination. Most hardboiled writing has been associated with the crime genre, but I'm in complete agreement with you that we find it in literary writing as well. I'm not interested in locking it in place--which is why I thought that asking what is "truly hardboiled" shows someone who must think there is a strict formula.

I'm working on an article comparing Jean Rhys to Hammett. She wasn't a crime writer, but her attitude and worldview seems hardboiled to me. The early novels, where the lead is always a single woman involved with married men, dangerous men, one-night-stands, and lots of alcohol. She had a nice writing style, much more stark than the modernist Europeans at the time, certainly sharing quite a lot with Hammett and Chandler and Cain's prose.

So I can agree that it is an attitude, but not one that demands a particular characterization or set of standards. And I do think style has a lot to do with it, since that's the prose and the language working there. Regardless of all the great literary writers who fall into the hardboiled category, my favorites are still the ones who write about crime.

Neil Smith

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