Re: RARA-AVIS: Dumb Question by a Non-Hard-Boiled Reader

James Rogers (
Sun, 05 Dec 1999 13:35:36 -0600

At 08:45 AM 12/5/99 -0500, >Sharon Villines wrote:
>> [snip]....Tony Soprano, with a hung dog
>> look, lamented the fact that an attempt had been made on his life by
>> "...two guys with 9mm's. My self esteem is at an all time low". Life,
>> for a modern Mafia family, is definitely getting more complicated.
>>[snip].....unless Bobby, a no-mark
>> college student civilian, can work something out he'll be sleeping
>> with the fish before you can say "Keep your friends close....."
>> [snip].... very funny. But Wolf doesn't sacrifice the
>> humour for believable characters.
>> There's a kangaroo called Ali who offs a
>> Mafia consigliere is a scene that had me laughing out loud.
>> It is both original and hilarious
>This is likely to be a dumb question but it is important. I'm working on a
>classification system for detective fiction--not with an attempt to classify
>ALL titles but with an attempt to classify quintessential examples of
>various types. At the moment I'm working with three attitudes or world views
>that influence each of the sub-genres:
>--traditional or classic which assumes a benevolent social order,
>--hard-boiled or mean streets which assumes a predatory social order
>--comic, which assumes a nonsensical social order
>I would expect a description like the one above to indicate a comic world
>view. As readers of hard-boiled detective fiction, what do you think?

            In my uninformed, humble, pre-first cupucawfee opinion, the description you quote sounds a little like someone trying to imitate P.G. Wodehouse and Donald Westlake at the same time and not having a lot of luck with either mode, though perhaps it is a better book than it sounds to me here (pretty hard to work in a killer 'roo, though). Since it comes recommended by a list member, I am probably being unfair, which I am mindful of since I was just taken to task for judging Vacchs based on only the Burke books. At any rate, I think a lot of the humor in this kind of thing stems from the attempt to portray the contemporary criminals as the same sort of neurotic, "me generation", Starbucks-sipping jerks that one finds on "Ally Mcbeal" or wherever. Incongruity, I guess. Doesn't usually work for me very well. I would suggest a better example of "comic, nonsensical social order" would be soemthing like G.K.Chesterton's _The Man Who Was Thursday_ (not hardboiled, not cozy, very strange). It seems like mysteries _ought _to produce a lot of absurdist books, but as I try to think of them, all I can come up with are a bunch of usually not-very-funny burlesques of the genre. Actually, I think some of the
_real_ hardboiled stuff has a kind of comic aspect, as in James M. Cain....where the world isn't so much Chandler-corrupt as it is Beckett-hopeless. In fact, I kind of think I'd like to see a Keaton or Chaplin version of _Postman Always Rings Twice_. Then again, I've always wanted to hear Groucho Marx reading Chandler.
     Anyway, I didn't think it was a dumb question. Maybe someone else can suggest a more satisfactory answer. And, I promise, I will look up a copy of the book in question.



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