RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled Limes?

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 14 Jul 2000

I think Anthony raised an important distinction in our discussion of non-US hardboiled -- is the foreign author simply grafting the US model onto a foreign body or is s/he building from the ground up within this different culture? For instance, as much as I enjoy Peter Corris and the handful of Mark Timlins I have read, they are clearly written to the US model -- loner private eyes working the mean streets, those streets just happen to be located in Sydney and London, respectively.

However, I think Russell James is a bit different, hardboiled and British, both. I'm in the middle of Payback right now, the fourth of his books I've read. Floyd Carter, who moved away 10 years ago, is back in London for his brother's funeral. Given the premise, I doubt it's a coincidence that his name is Carter, but James turns Ted Lewis's plot on its head. The dead Albie was the villain of the family and Floyd really doesn't feel compelled to find out what happened to him. Of course, everyone assumes he will want to take over his brother's rackets, so he kind of has to deal with it.

The jacket copy on James's books compare him to Goodis (and Deighton), and there is a touch of him in the focus on someone who just wants to be left alone but is forced to act, plus the focus on working class neighborhoods. Like Goodis, these books rise from place and that place is Deptford. These books are British to the core. Although they aren't steeped in slang, the language is British English. It's not cultured Brit, it's matter of fact, casual, but not clipped like American hardboiled speech often is. So I nominate Russell James (and Ted Lewis) as hardboiled that is real and British, without trying to imitate the US model.

Plus James is a much tighter plotter than Goodis. Don't get me wrong, I love Goodis, but you won't find any cab drivers here who just happens to have always believed that an escaped convict was innocent and just happens to know a friendly afterhours plastic surgeon.

And for the record, after reading just one Leo Malet book, I believe the same argument could probably be made for the French having homegrown hardboiled. Fog on Tolbiac Bridge has a completely different, wearier tone than say, Stone Angel, an American writing about a half-French PI in Paris.


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