RARA-AVIS: RE: Hardboiled, Softboiled, Unboiled

From: Dick Lochte ( dlock@ix.netcom.com)
Date: 07 Sep 2000

Of the many, many What Is Hardboiled? discussions that have taken place in the last year, this latest is the most lucid. However, one of the participants made the assumption that anyone subscribing to rara-avis would have to like hardboiled fiction. That's the problem I have with the general discussion -- a key word has been ignored: "good." We all like good hardboiled fiction. When it comes to faux hardboiled or pretentious hardboiled or humorless hardboiled, I'd rather read Agatha Christie. So the questioning of Sue Grafton's hardboiled qualifications seem beside the point to me. She sure as hell isn't writing cozies. Her detective is tougher, has more attitude and is more of a loner than Nick Charles. What she and a lot of contemporary crime writers seem to be doing is trying to break away from formula. In one novel she'll have Milhone engaging in a close-quarter shootout that she sustains for a very long time, nearly a quarter of the book. In another, the detective travels across the country on the trail of embezzlers. In yet another, she becomes enmeshed in family history. Unlike Chandler and Hammett, who wrote only a handful of novels, Grafton and Parker and the rest pop out a book a year (more than one in Parker's case). Some are more hardboiled than others but, more important I think, is the point that some are better-written than others.

On that note, I'd like to recommend a novel that's just been published,
"Cold Steel Rain" by Kenneth Abel. In the tradition of Robert Penn Warren's
"All The King's Men," which should qualify as hardboiled, it's about a gofer for a Louisiana political boss who gets fed up with the crime and corruption. Beautifully written. Tough and unsparing. Supposedly the first in a proposed series. I'm not familiar with the author's other two books,
"Bait" and "The Blue Wall," but I get the feeling "Abel" may be a pen name for a mainstream novelist who has decided to do a James Lee Burke conversion.

Dick Lochte

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