RARA-AVIS: Professionals and Amateurs

From: james.doherty@gsa.gov
Date: 02 Feb 2000

Paul Bergin's recent comments about how technology might make the professional less interesting than the amateur, and other comments about realism vs. persuasiveness, got me to thinking that one of the things I really like about HB is that it usually involves a pro, who's involved in the crime for professional reasons. The presentation of the profession may be fantastic (i.e. Mike Hammer or Satan Hall), but the professional status gives the character a convincing reason for being involved.

Amateurs *don't* have a reason. Cops investigate crimes because it's their job. PIs because they're hired by private clients. Spies because it's their mission. Reporters because they have to write articles about (or in the case of Jack "Flash" Casey or provide photographs of) them for their publications. Lawyers because they're either prosecuting the offenders or defending wrongfully accused suspects. Even Parker, on the other side of the law though he is, is a *professional* practitioner of the craft of armed robbery.

Now an amateur who gets involved in one single case, because he's wrongfully accused, because he's in the wrong place at the wrong time, or because of some other odd circumstance, may be credible for a single book, but not for a series.

Cozies, whatever their merits or faults, are generally the province of amateurs like Lord Peter, Ellery Queen, or Jessica Fletcher. Hard-boiled characters, or at least hard-boiled *series* characters, are pros, and, in consequence, have an automatic level of believability that their amateur brethren lack.

The HB tends to be an American form, and Americans have always been fascinated by fiction that describes how jobs are performed. This tradition can be traced back to *Moby Dick*, which gives very accurate accounts of how whalers worked whatever else it does, to *The Virginian*, which is one of the most accurate fictional presentations of what cowboys do, to *Life on the Mississippi* which describes riverboating, and to
*Come and Get It* which described logging.

Not surprisingly, then, the HB crime story has tended to be less about the solution of the crime than it has been about a professional preforming a job of work that *happens* to be the solving of cime.


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