RARA-AVIS: Of Lumpers and Splitters

From: Robert Centor ( rcentor@yahoo.com)
Date: 03 Sep 2000

Lumpers and splitters

I've been reading the debate about "hard boiled" with great interest. While I'm not sure whether it matters, I have a different take on the debate. First, let me give you context. I'm an academic physician
(internal medicine). In my world, we find researchers who are lumpers, and those who are splitters. Being a lumper I offer the following.

Like all readers of this list I love mysteries. As I have recently increased my mystery reading, I've decided to try various authors and styles.

One can lump styles into two general types - those in which solving whodunit carries the day, and those in which understanding whydunit has as much importance. I tend to prefer the latter. Given a rather brief recent exposure, my current favorites of this genre are Michael Connelly, Loren Estleman, Dennis Lehane and Robert Crais.

To expand and offer a new definition, I'm attracted to whydunit/whodunit with judgment. The most interesting protagonists judge events, and selectively use the legal system. Thus, we have a story with a protagonist who is driven to understand why - and then decide how to resolve the situation.

Could the fine readers of this list comment on this concept? I've just finished listening to the unabridged tape of Loren Estleman's "A Smile of the Face of the Tiger". This book meets my criteria. I offer Amos Walker as a classic example of the protagonist that I favor. Is this hard-boiled? Does defining hard-boiled help us find authors to read? What purpose does the definition of that genre serve?

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