RARA-AVIS: Re: Once more into the breach

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 02 Sep 2000

Mark wrote:

>Our world is different, so it seems obvious that whatever hardboiled is,
>it would have to change in order to remain hardboiled in changed times.
>I'm a lot more interested in authors who explore what it means to be
>hardboiled in their own time (whether the '20s, '30s, . . . '90s or
>'00s) than I am in those who struggle to impose an earlier model upon a
>later era.

I think I like the way this discussion is going. There's seems to be a begrudging admission that times change, and that maybe the definition of something as hard to pin down as the term "hard-boiled" changes with it. Certainly, if we're to say that Chandler and Hammett are the be-all and end-all of what hard-boiled is, then we're not talking about a living genre, but a dusty museum piece, relegated to mothballs, with very strict rules that would exclude almost every other living author ever mentioned on this list. That's fine, if you like mothballs.

But I think hard-boiled should be a tradition that continues, acknowledging the past, but also evolving on its way, not some precious set of rules locked in a display case that everyone's afraid to touch. I see more hope for the genre from people who twist and tweak the form, be it Ellroy, Pellecanos, Grafton, Mosley, Parker, Lansdale, Paretsky, Hansen, Burke, Block, or assorted Collinses, than those who slavishly try to imitate, and bring nothing new to the table. And that doesn't even mean I like all of the mentioned writers, or that I don't enjoy a good rip-off of THE MALTESE FALCON or THE LONG GOODBYE. But the authors who do colour outside the lines are the ones who ultimately offer us the best hope for the genre in the long-run. He's who's not busy being born is busy dying, and all that.

Of course, if you assume nobody will ever write better than Chandler or Hammett, well, there's always the museum. But even Chandler found this idea preposterous. As he said, in the intro to THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER (1950), "There are no 'classics' of crime and detection (we could probably put in hard-boiled there, for our purposes). Not one. Within its frame of reference, which is the only way it should be judged, a classic is a piece of writing which exhausts the possibilities of its form... No story or novel of mystery has done that. Few have come close. Which is why otherwise reasonable people continue to assault the citadel."

Fifty years later, the citadel is still under siege. I think that alone says something about the strength of the genre.

Oh, and darling, you were right: the correct phrase is "once more into the breach", not "breech". I regret the error, and any pain it may have caused you.


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