Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Pellecanos (and Adams)

From: Greg Swan (
Date: 07 Feb 2000

From Jim Blue:
> I believe that one of the first, and few, obligations of the fiction
> and especially the hard-boiled crime writer, is to tell a fast, lean tale.


Sure, these would be the rules to follow if you wanted to write just like Hammett.

I'm a real fan of pulp adventure fiction, whether it's Jesse James, John Carter of Mars, Jim Hatfield - Texas Ranger, The Shadow or just about anything Ray Cummings ever wrote. This stuff is all largely romance (in the traditional sense). Admittedly, I'm kindof like the pulp fans of the day who wanted more of Carroll John Daly's romantic adventure than Hammett's terse reporting of events. However, Hammett exploded all over the pulp world with his neo-realistic prose. That's an impressive achievement and in line with what was happening in the larger world of literature. It needed to happen in the pulps as well. I don't blame you for admiring it, enjoying it and wanting more. At the same time Hammett was telling his stories in neo-realistic style, he stayed deeply entrenched (referring only to Red Harvest, because I haven't read more) in the 19th century mystery-as-puzzle approach to plotting. At that level, Hammett is pretty close to what one finds in the "cozies." My wife, who thinks Agatha Christie is the best mystery writer ever and currently has her nose buried in a novel starring a Miss Marple clone, adores Hammett -- because he writes great mysteries. She's read everything he ever wrote, but admits a preference for the Thin Man books.

My own current reading interest is stories about the individual and his/her plight within an uncaring (probably more noir) or even corrupt (probably more hardboiled) society. That's in line with a lot of writing we've been labeling as hardboiled, so most of what I've read here is on-target with what I enjoy.

But, let's say I did overreach by claiming Pellecanos is in touch with postmodernism. Here's another explanation: I find an emphasis on complex puzzle plots more distracting than enjoyable, as my skills for remembering details are taxed beyond their weak limits. Maybe if my skills at remembering details were better, I'd complain about Pellecanos providing his details more than once. Maybe if I was interested in how the details related to the final solution of the mystery, I'd characterize Pellecanos' details as both unnecessary and mannered.

In the end, I like my postmodern explanation better because it claims that Pellecanos and hardboiled should be allowed to encompass current literary and philosophical trends. Still, either claim will suite me just fine.

Thanks for an interesting exchange. I learned some stuff.

Greg Swan

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