RARA-AVIS: Red Harvest

From: Carrie Pruett ( pruettc@hotmail.com)
Date: 26 Oct 2001

Interesting insights into Red Harvest. I should emphasize that I liked the book fine, as did several others on my other list (for perspective, some of the highest rated books we have read before include A Place of Execution, Connelly's Concrete Blonde, Mystic River, The Big Sleep, and Peter Robinson's In a Dry Season; this is not an "Absolute Power" or "Aunt Dimity" crowd). Still, I would not have rated this as a "great book" aside from its historical context. On the other hand, if you sat me down with the Maltese Falcon or the Big Sleep, and I'd never heard of the books or authors before, I would have thought "wow, this is a great book, bring on some more!"

Defending the notion of RH as "dull" - I wouldn't have gone that far myself, I'm only repeating the comments others have made, but I certainly found myself skimming some of the shoot-em-up scenes. Nonstop action can be dull, particularly if there's no particular reason to care who does what to whom. Although the big idea of what the Op is doing is interesting - turning all the baddies on each other -once it becomes clear that that's what's going on
(pretty early in the second section, as I recall), I wasn't particularly interested in what kind of dirt Whisper Thaler had on Pete the Finn had on some barely differentiated third character. The Op's machinations might not be more convoluted than a Connelly novel (though I'm skeptical), but Connelly's books are highly character driven, with each suspect and victim clearly defined that it actually feels like it matters whodunit and what happened to them. The overall point of Red Harvest seems to be that they're all bad and corrupt and it doesn't really matter what happens to whom. This may be philosophically interesting, but it didn't particularly impress me to care what was going on in the nuts and bolts of the plot.

The question of what 20s crime fic wouldn't seem dated to many in my other group is a good one. Maybe none. I'm prety sure Harvest is the oldest PI book I've read (unless Holmes counts), so I don't have a basis for comparison. I do think many readers who are used to Connelly, McDermid, Lehane, Rankin, Robinson, etc. DO expect a more character driven type of story (yes, I'm sure many on this list read those writers, but obviously this is a haven for HB enthusiasts, most if not all of whom know a lot more about the history of the genre than I do). "Dated" may be the wrong way to look at it because it's about genre conventions as much as time. I don't think many contemporary mainstream fiction readers have similar trouble adjusting to, say, "The Great Gatsby."


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