Re: RARA-AVIS: crime/anti-crime (was long post on spillane - now long post on Woolrich)

Date: 25 May 2002


Re your responses below:

> Jim, forget about "noir" for a minute. The key
> point is that the viewpoint
> of criminal or victim classifies the novel as
> "crime".

I have no problem with your dividing crime fiction into "crime" and "anti-crime," or what I'd prefer to call "criminal protagonist" and "investigator protagonist," though I'll use your terms for brevity. My problem is that you describe "crime" as equivalent to "noir" and "anti-crime" as equivalent to
"hard-boiled," neither of which descriptions I agree with.

> Here are a few Woolrich examples:
> "The Bride Wore Black" - Her husband was killed on
> their wedding day on the
> steps of the church. She swore vengeance on five
> men.

Actually, I would describe THE BRIDE WORE BLACK as an
"anti-crime" novel, to use your term. Although the second chapter of each section is told from the killer's POV (while the first chapter is told from the potential victim's POV), the third is always told from the cop's POV. It's a question of interpretation, I suppose, but, to me, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, is a superb example of what has been called an "inverted" detective story, one in which we see the murder committed, then watch the detective try to solve a crime to which we already have the solution. Other examples include R. Austin Freeman's short story collection, THE SINGING BONE, Roy Vickers's short story collection, THE DEPARTMENT OF DEAD ENDS, and the TV series, COLUMBO.

Woolrich's masterful twist here is that, during the first four parts, we're looking at an inverted detective story, while in the last section, he manages to turn it into a whodunit. We know who's been doing the killing, but in the last section, we don't know what persona she's adopted, so, we're back to trying to figure out the killer's identity.

> Protagonist=victim=(see definition above)"crime"

Before you said that a "crime" novel is one with a criminal protagonist. If the victim is the protagonist, it seems to me that the book is inherently what you call "anti-crime."

> "Phantom Lady" - He was awaiting execution. The
> only chance to prove his
> innocene was a woman who had disappeared from the
> face of the earth.
> Protagonist=victim="crime"

Again, the focus in PHANTOM LADY is not on the criminal, or even on the man falsely convicted, so much as it is on the efforts of the falsely convicted man's secretary to find the actual killer (whose indentity is concealed until the end, making it a whodunit). By your own definition, PHANTOM LADY does not have a criminal protagonist. It is about trying to SOLVE a crime, hence, by your definition, it's

> "Waltz Into Darkness" - He knew he had married the
> wrong woman. But he
> couldn't help loving her even after she stole all
> his money and tried to
> kill him. Protagonist=victim="crime"

Haven't read it, so I can't comment. Anyway, I didn't day that Woolrich NEVER wrote stories with a criminal protagonist. He did. What I said was that he wrote noir, and that the fact that his stories often fell into what you define as an "anti-crime" book didn't render his stories non-noir.

> "The Black Path Of Fear" - Scotty thought he had
> everything he wanted - Eve,
> jewels and freedom...suddenly she was dead and he
> was accused of her murder.
> Protagonist=victim="crime"

Again, I haven't read it, but if Scotty is innocent, and has to find the real killer, then it seems to me that the book fits your definition of "anti-crime."

> "The Black Angel" - She descended into the black
> world of drugs,
> prostitution and gambling, all to prove her
> husband's innocence.
> Protagonist=victim="crime"

Once more, she's descending into that world to INVESTIGATE a crime, just like an undercover cop
(though she's not a cop). She's trying to solve a crime, therefore the book fits your definition of

> Take your example above: "Murder, My Sweet", a noir
> film based on a
> hardboiled PI story. I am confused. These
> definitions seem arbitrary. If
> I class both as "anti-crime", I am no longer
> confused.

You seem to believe that "hard-boiled" and "noir" are mutually exclusive concepts. They're not.
"Hard-boiled" is attitude. "Noir" is atmosphere. Some hard-boiled is noir. Some is not. Some noir is not hard-boiled. They're simply concepts that describe different things. If you find those concepts aren't useful to you in finding the books or films you most enjoy, then, by all means, stick to "crime" and
> BTW, a bent cop/PI is a criminal and a cop/PI who
> has suffered a bereavement
> is a victim.

Now I'M confused. I thought that if the protagonist was trying to solve a crime (as in a PI novel or a cop novel), then by your definition, it's "anti-crime," but if the protagonist was trying to commit a crime, or escape the consequences of having committed a crime
(as in Stark's Parker series) then it was "crime."

It seems to me that, if the type of character you describe as a "victim" is trying to solve a crime, then it's "anti-crime." The fact that what you describe as a "victim" may have a personal stake in the crime s/he's trying to solve (by being falsely accused of that crime, personally victimized by the crime, in love with someone so falsely accused or so victimized, etc.) doesn't make it less "anti-crime" but more so.

Did I misunderstand your original definitions?


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