Re: RARA-AVIS: Private Eyes. What else?

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 01 Mar 2001


You dismiss most of the PI genre as nothing more than "girl, chase and guns." What is that if not the synopsis of just about every book Goodis ever wrote (at least the 9 I've read and loved, even when the plots are ludicrous), one of the authors you counter with?

And I've got to agree with Kevin, you place an incredible amount of weight on Spenser alone as representative of the modern PI. I have gone on record numerous times that I am no fan of Parker (read 8 or 9 of his, too), so I really don't like the idea of him standing for all contemporary PIs (admitting he has been incredibly influential on many/most of the authors I do like).

Also, blaming the PI genre for the lame spy books which may or may not descend from them (not from Ambler, Maugham, etc?) is an example of the logical fallacy called asserting the consequence, like claiming Hendrix is less of an artist because a lot of bad heavy metal guitarists have modeled themselves on him.

As for PI books being superficial, just playing themselves out without any authorial involvement, isn't that how non-fans dismiss any genre? Non-fans see only the most surface traits, ignoring the subtle variations underneath. From the outside, all reggae, disco, rock 'n' roll, etc, sounds alike. It is only with interest and familiarity that someone gets past the obvious similarities of each genre's distinctive beat to hear the variations which can be played around it. Isn't that the definition of genre, the dialectic between convention and innovation? Are you actually trying to tell me that Goodis (or Cain or Thompson, to name but a few) is any less bound by convention than PI writers?

That said, I've got to admit there is probably a bit of truth to what you see as the future of hardboiled and/or noir. The Cain/Goodis/Harrington/Bunker side of it probably is more fertile. There are a lot more options when the boundaries are expanded to include all novels dealing with crime.

So why am I still so much more likely to pick up a PI novel than any other type of crime novel when I need my hardboiled fix? It is because of those conventions which seem to bore you so much, Juri. I find them reassuring and comfortable. However, I also desire some innovation. And I have found it in numerous recent PI writers. I don't really look for this originality in plot, but find it in character. Each of these PIs is a distinct person, doing a job, walking down mean streets. But they are not the same mean streets as Marlowe's, so they cannot be the same PIs as Marlowe. And they don't wear fedoras. So I read John Shannon, Denis Lehane, Jonathan Valin, Richard Barre, SJ Rozan, Robert Crais, James Crumley, Stephen Greenleaf, Linda Barnes, Earl Emerson, Jeremiah Healy and Lawrence Block, to name but a few.

And once I put it that way I realize that the main reason I stopped reading Parker is because I stopped being interested in the character of Spenser (interesting is the key term, not like; an unlikeable character can be just as, if not more interesting as a likeable one). Having read Perish Twice recently, I was reminded just how readable Parker is, even when I don't particularly care about any of his characters.


# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
#  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 01 Mar 2001 EST