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

From: Juri Nummelin (
Date: 01 Mar 2001

On Thu, 1 Mar 2001, Mark Sullivan wrote:

> 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?

Well, I must say that Goodis just sprang into mind. He's not actually one of my favourites.

> 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).

Okay okay! I promise that I won't say a bad word about anyone just because someone else is a bad author. (That does sound bit silly, doesn't it?)

> Also, blaming the PI genre for the lame spy books which may or may not
> descend from them (not from Ambler, Maugham, etc?)

These are two different genres. From Ambler and Maugham to LeCarre and Deighton. From Chandler and Hammett to Edward Aarons and Stephen Marlowe. (Chet Drum is a private eye, after all.) But this genre doesn't live anymore, so it's not relevant anymore.

> 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.

You're right. Sorry for the fallacy. Maybe I should've thought more carefully.

> 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?

Yes. That's just what I was trying to say. They tried to break them. Whether they succeeded, I don't know (Thompson, to my mind, didn't always). And breaking those conventions seems to me to be more interesting than trying to break the conventions of the P.I. genre. Why that is, I don't know. I know I should be able to show some arguments, but my time is running out. Lunch break and all other excuses are taken into use.

> 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.

Now, there it is.

> 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.

Maybe I just don't need reassurement and comfort. I like to be shattered.

> 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.

Maybe I should be doing my homework more carefully. Like I wrote to Kevin, I promise I will try my luck with these authors.

> 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.

Nice way to put it. Like I wrote to Kevin earlier, "Looking for Rachel Wallace" (and that's an early one by him, and one of the "good" ones, I presume) was a very fast read. It just wasn't interesting.


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