RARA-AVIS: Peedie's Polemic

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 27 May 2002

Hmmmm... interesting definitions. But bringing the emotional attachment of the protagonist, or lack thereof, into the mix complicates things.

>A "crime" novel is written from the
>viewpoint of either the criminal or the VICTIM. In other words, the
>viewpoint is that of someone with an emotional stake in the outcome. An
>"anti-crime" novel, on the other hand, is written from the viewpoint of
>someone doing a job (ie a policeman or a PI). In other words, someone with
>no emotional stake in the outcome.

So, do I like crime or anti-crime novels? Because I can see where the line gets really blurred right away, at least as far as my particular preference, P.I. novels, goes.

Somehow, many of my favourite P.I. novels seem to feature detectives who DO become emotionally involved in the outcome, regardless of their initial involvement in the case. And most of them certainly,
(or at least those who have followed the Chandler model -- which is almost all of them) seem to have an emotional attachment to their careers. It's almost standard equipment in the genre.

Certainly, there's an emotional involvement felt by Spade in THE FALCON, and that involvement is there in most of Hammer's revenge fantasies, Marlowe's knightly quests and Archer's domestic psychodramas. And the plot device of the detective being hired by a friend/lover/relative etc. to do a job is very common. In fact, the P.I. being hired by an ex-girlfriend has become a staple on TV simply because it's an easy, automatic shortcut to explaining the P.I.'s emotional stake in the case. Too many years of television eyes have left me convinced there isn't a woman in southern California who hasn't gone out at one time or another with either Joe Mannix, Jim Rockford, Stuart Bailey, Frank Cannon, or at least one of the Simon boys.

Of course, not all P.I. novels feature a detective with an emotional stake, but it occurs frequently enough to seriously blur the line between the crime/anti-crime camps. If Spenser or V.I. Warshawski or Derek Strange feels an emotional attachment to a case, does that make it a crime novel? If Dortmunder and crew spend most of a book trying to figure out who stole their loot does that make it an anti-crime novel? What if they really, really want their money back, though?

Let's see how many more angels we can get into that little mosh pit, okay?

Meanwhile, anyone read anything good lately?

I'm working my way through ENOUGH ROPE, Lawrence Block's upcoming morgue slab of a book, 900 pages of short stories, and once again I'm impressed by the sheer scope of his imagination. Somebody stop this guy before he uses up ALL the ideas!


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