Re: RARA-AVIS: Why Are You Here?

From: Bob Toomey (
Date: 25 Jan 2000 wrote:

> I am curious: what appeals
> to you about hard-boiled mysteries? Do you read only hard-boiled or do you
> also like some cozies and some medium-boiled? I'm not sure where the line
> is drawn, but suspect my preference is along the medium-boiled lines, with
> occasional forays into hard-boiled.

I'm not sure where the line is drawn either. Is THE THIN MAN hardboiled? Not very. What about Perry Mason, who started out hardboiled, but softened considerably when he moved to the slicks. Or Ross McDonald, who started out hard but got softer and softer as Archer became less of a character and more of a viewpoint. Or Rex Stout, who combined a medium-boiled narrator, Archie Goodwin, with the classic cozy armchair detective.

The line blurs a lot within a given writer's oeuvre, and within a given series. It isn't even a matter of genre. We've discussed hardboiled SF here, and plenty of mainstream is hardboiled as well, like Hemmingway and James T. Farrell, not to mention non-fiction like Jack Black's YOU CAN'T WIN and Hunter S. Thompson's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VAGAS. It's an attitude, not a genre, and where the line is drawn depends on the reader.

So why do I like hardboiled writing? Because I like the attitude, which is mostly cynical and laughs at pretention and stupidity, and because I like outsiders and holy fools and strong plots and violent action and, in Tom Waits' great phrase, "fast women, slow horses and unreliable sources." I particularly like hardboiled writing from the twenties and thirties, because at its best and often at its worst it gives a true and entertaining picture of a period that facinates me.

The very best hardboiled stories, it seems to me, are about things that matter, like trying to hang onto a shread of decency and integrity in a world that doesn't value either. Even Richard Stark's Parker is an honest man, as honesty is defined within his universe.

I don't read cozies, which as far as I can tell are not about anything at all.


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