From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 01 Nov 2002

I'm gonna kick off Thirties month with Whitfield's GREEN ICE. Since I'm not much of a short story reader, there wasn't much for me to read for the Twenties, so I started in on the Thirties a couple months ago. I planned on reading a couple and moving on to the Forties, but the Thirties were a spectacular time for hardboiled, and I've found it hard to get away from them.

Raoul Whitfield's GREEN ICE came out in 1930, early enough to rank it among the earliest hardboiled novels written. Although this is the earliest hardboiled novel I have read that doesn't have a private investigator as a protagonist, it still follows the formula closely. According to guidelines outlined in Somerset Maugham's "The Decline and Fall of the Detective Story," this is not a good story. Maugham allows a maximum of two murders, preferrably with the second one covering up the first, with any number exceeding this both excessive and in poor taste. In GREEN ICE the body count exceeds the Maugham limit by page 10.

The style is lean and mean, with Dashiell Hammett describing it as, "Naked action pounded into tough compactness by staccato, hammerlike writing." Hammett's opinion is quite possibly prejudiced though. Not only is Whitfield's style so similar to Hammett's that the critics complained about it, but the two were also drinking buddies.

The fast-paced story begins with Mal Ourney being released after a two-year prison sentence. While in prison Ourney apparently develops sympathy for the small-time criminals that the big criminals use and abuse, and hatches a plan to get the big guys when he gets out. Rumors of this spread outside the prison walls and he is a target for a frame-up within hours of his release.

Compared to the brutal and purposely harsh attitudes of Carroll John Daly's Race Williams and Hammett's Con Op, Mal is markedly more reserved and thoughtful. He doesn't carry a gun, he doesn't kill anybody, and he gets knocked out by a smaller guy when he gets in a fight. These surprisingly conservative traits, anticipating Whitfield's Jo Gar char- acter in later stories, are a significant contribution to the evolution of the genre. Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko seems like a possible descendent, a guy who's toughness lies more in his attitude than in acts of physical aggression.

One small complaint I would make about the novel is that Mal and most of the other characters are continuously rehashing the events and speculating on motive and guilt. By the second half of the novel this continous process becomes a bit worn and tedious.


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