Re: RARA-AVIS: The Moving Target

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 29 Mar 2001

Kerry wrote:

"But what is noir? A style or a point of view toward human nature?"

Oh no, here we go again. But it's been quiet lately, so I'll bite, at least in response to what George wrote:

"Aside from the titles themselves, which suggest a Chandleresque world, I don't think of Macdonald as being hardboiled or noir."

I always thought of Macdonald as hardboiled, but I think that's probably mostly because when I first read the Archers I believed anything with a private eye was hardboiled by definition. Thinking back, now, I'd probably have to agree that the Archer books aren't very hardboiled. They kinda fit into (define?) that category of quiet hardboiled, as was recently noted of Michael Collins' Dan Fortune series.

As for noir, though, I definitely find Archer's world to be noir, full of dark psychological secrets which go back generations. Most of the people Archer deals with live in a very dark world. The difference between Macdonald and, say, Goodis is that the latter's books are told from the perspective of a flawed hero tormented by his psychology while Archer delves into others' secrets in the noir world. Although he doesn't quite vanish like Robbe-Grillet's narrator in Jealousy, he is rather self-effacing. We don't really know a whole lot about Archer compared to other private eyes, especially first person PIs. He stands removed, serves as the seemingly objective observer of others' compulsions and obsessions, kinda like Marlowe and those mean streets, into this noir world goes a man who is not himself noir.


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