RARA-AVIS: Re: Hardboiled?

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 10 Jul 2000

Lonestar Bill sent in John Wooley's take on the term "hard-boiled"
(who, it turns out, isn't the same Fr. John Wooley who sometimes shows up here):

>"Dan Turner's tales are shining examples of the kind of fiction called
>'hard-boiled.' The term has been bandied about a lot in recent years, but
>basically it refers to that style nurtured by Captain Joseph T. Shaw in his
>Black Mask detective pulp, popularized by such fine detective writers as
>Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and continues to the present day in
>the works of scribes like Mickey Spillane, Ross Macdonald and Joe Gores.
>Hard-boiled heroes talk tough. They crack wise. They shoot, and are shot
>at; beat, and are beaten. They are frequently ladies' men, and are almost
>always borderline alcoholics. Most of the time, they wage one-man
>campaigns-quests, really-for justice and righteousness and fair play, the
>way they see it, although they are not above bending the law to suit their
>own purposes. They have been called existential, these men who, immersed to
>the neck in a callous, superficial world without rules, make their own and
>stick to them. Imagine Bogart in The Big Sleep or To Have and Have Not, and
>you'll have a pretty good idea of the mythos at work here."

Not bad, if a little dated (Spillane and Macdonald aren't exactly cranking 'em out, are they?) But Wooley gets caught up in surface details. Certainly, it's hard to see Archer as a ladies' man, for example, or Spade, the Op, or most of Gores' DKA guys as borderline alcoholics. There are plenty of ways to be hard-boiled that have nothing to do with sex or alcohol. It's the core of the characters that makes them hard-boiled or not, not their personal lives, fedoras or trenchcoats.

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/

New fiction from Anthony Neil Smith and Jochem Vandersteen, a Reader's Survey and Talkin' 'Bout Shaft. Can you dig it?

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