Re: RARA-AVIS: The Exhausted Hard-boiled

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 21 May 2000

An interesting post, Mr. Zackel:

--- Frederick Zackel <> wrote:
> I think I mentioned this before: that I suspect the
> Lone Wolf mythology
> seems to have exhausted itself.>
> American readers are frightened by the Lone Wolf.
> Too often the Psychopath
> at the End of the Street -- the quiet guy who lived
> all alone and never
> bothered anybody -- has the same look.

True, perhaps, but I instinctively distrust these sorts of sociological meditations on writing. I mean, one could just as easily say the Lone Wolf mythology is still here, just clad in different forms (Keaunu Reeves in the Matrix, for example -- one lone guy who turns out to be the Messiah). Point being that there's enough stuff in popular culture to craft whatever argument one wishes to make.

And as I once said, anyway, I think there's more to hb approach than simply the Lone Wolf (although that's an important part of it).
> now we have nostalgic
> PI books written by male college grads who miss
> adventure in their lives.
> But it's only their fantasy about the Good Old Days,
> when Men were Men and
> Women were Femme Fatales, and most of them are not
> familiar with the mean
> streets, but more likely only find themselves in
> suburban jobs where they're
> surrounded by corporate cubicles of other cloistered
> eunuchs.
> Meanwhile the Lady Dicks aren't nostalgic. Like
> suffragettes a century ago,
> they're out there on the streets. (Consider the
> feminist agenda to "Take
> Back the Streets." A meritorious agenda, if I ever
> heard one, and I wish
> them all the luck in the world at that Labor of
> Sisyphus!)

Probably accurate, again, although this seems to imply one should read these female writers out of a sense of duty, or something. I mean, there is a pleasure principle involved here. :) My one experience with a female PI writer -- Marcia Muller's WOLF IN THE SHADOWS -- was not encouraging. As I said before, I think this is a bad, dull book by a mediocre writer. I picked it up because people I respect (Ed Gorman in this case, I think) had written that this was the pick of the litter. That may or may not be true, but I'm certainly not going to be picking up any of her brethern anytime soon.

One could, incidentally, offer different arguments for the rise of the female PI -- the fact that the majority of book buyers nowadays are women, for instance.

> Right now the Hard-Boiled Hero looks like a
> candidate for a Spousal Abuse
> Seminar.

You know, I freely admit it -- I have a taste for Macho Male fantasy. And when I read Crumley -- my favorite writer in the genre nowadays, I don't go into agonies of political introspection about it -- I gobble it down and cry for more. :)

More seriously, we can only really judge past literary history -- not the present. It's impossible to say, right now, that "hb is dead" with any degree of accuracy. You really wait a good number of years and then take a look at it.


===== Doug Bassett

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