Re: RARA-AVIS: Recent reading

From: George Upper (
Date: 20 Aug 2001

--- William Denton <> wrote:
> Are there any that get into offices and the
> daily grind at 9-to-5
> white collar jobs?

One of the things that differentiates h-b fiction from other types of crime fiction (in my opinion) is its emphasis on the economic aspects of the work. The h-b PI (or other hero) focuses on these business aspects to the degree that lines like "a hundred a day, plus expenses" have become cliche. In fact, one of the methods I use to determine whether an unfamiliar book falls into the h-b catagory is skimming the first two chapters to see if money comes up.

One of Carroll John Daly's heroes--Terry Mack, I think, but I don't have it in front of me--received his per diem plus a $100 bonus for every man he killed. Parker's Spenser has moved offices at least twice that I can think of. Block's Matt Scudder never knows how to set a fee--which is one of the things he says differentiates him from regular (i.e. licensed) PIs. (Yes, I know he's been licensed for the past couple of books.) Travis McGee, though not a PI, nonetheless has a set fee schedule. The Dan Fortune book I started yesterday begins with him pawning a ring to pay for a trip for his girl. The only Grafton novel I've read--probably A is for Alibi, but I don't remember--actually describes the contract the PI has her client sign (not an exciting passage, let me assure you). Economics, if not "big business," plays a major role in most h-b fiction, I think. Part of this goes back to an early desire to differentiate between the Op and, say, Holmes, or some other talented amateur.

But, returning to the original question, I would point back at John D. MacDonald. Travis McGee is constantly up against Big Business, Big Medicine, Big Whatever. His rants are often aimed against some sort of Progress as led by these institutions. At least two of his novels point out the evil practices of funeral home directors, as I recall.


===== George C. Upper III, Editor The Lightning Bell Poetry Journal

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