Re: RARA-AVIS: Slipping back to the Thirties: Jim Doherty

Date: 18 Feb 2003


Re your questions below:

> I read Jim Doherty's evolution of police procedurals
> in the 40s and 50s,
> but I don't recall anything from the 30s. Do the
> 30s predate hardboiled
> procedurals? I've read close to twenty from the
> Thirties . . .

I alluded to this when I said, in my '40s post, that there had been procedurals prior to the '40s, but that they were almost always "procedurals by default." In other words the authors, who happened to have inside knowledge of how police worked, wrote cops stories that were authentic because they'd already acquired the inside knowledge. However, there was little sense that their cop stories were significantly different from cop stories in which the authors lacked prior knowledge of the law enforcement profession. And there was virtually no attempt on the part of writers who DID lack knowledge to make up for that lack by researching their subjects.

In the '40s two things happen. Writers, from a number of different mediums, who know little about police work (and even some writers who already have prior knowledge about police work) start to actively research their subjects in an effort to add to the verisimilitude to their fiction. And some critics begin to notice the trend. While the term "police procedural" isn't coined (though Anthony Boucher comes close in his review of V AS IN VICTIM), there starts to be a realization that the realistic treatment of the law enforcement profession in fiction is a significant movement, amounting to a separate sub-genre of the mystery.

Some examples of pre-40s writers who produced crime stories that, in retrospect, are recognizable as being police procedurals include Basil Thomson and Henry Wade in Britain; Georges Simenon in France; and MacKinlay Kantor, Thomas Walsh, and Leslie T. White in the US. Basil Thomson was a high-ranking officer in Scotland Yard and Henry Wade was a magistrate and a local sheriff (which doesn't mean QUITE the same thing in Britain as it does in the States, but which does put one in regular contact with cops) who had regular dealings with the police. Simenon was a journalist with contacts in the Surete and the Paris Prefecture. MacKinlay Kantor and Thomas Walsh were also police reporters, and Leslie White was, among several other cop positions, a criminal investigator for the LA County DA's Office. They just naturally made use of their inside knowledge of police work in their fiction, but it was not necessarily with the self-conscious INTENTION of presenting police work realistically. It was just the natural consequence of the inside knoweldge they already had.

Significantly, there was no sense that one of Kantor's Glennon Brothers stories in the pulps (the Glennons were two Irish cops in a very good series of short stories by Kantor prefiguring, in some respects, SIGNAL 32; the best of the series is called "The Search for the Brown Sedan"), for example, was different, on account of the greater level of authenticity, than, say, one of Carroll John Daly's stories about NYPD Detective Satan Hall, which were completely non-authentic. They were both regarded as tough cop stories written for the pulps, period. The difference, apparently, became evident only in retrospect.

I just got hold of two novels by Leslie White, both published in the '30s, that I'd like to comment on, but this post is starting to run long. If you're interested, I'll send a post about the White novels later on.
> Another quickie Hammett question: Does Hammett
> avoid simile and
> metaphor completely?

No. One simile that occurs to me right off the top of my head is from the best Op story, "The Gutting of Couffignal." On a boring security assignment, the Op is keeping awake by reading an action thriller. He describes the melodramatic plot and allows that his stripped-down synopsis makes the story sound ridiculous. However, he insists that "in the book it was real as a dime."

Not on the level of some of Chandler's more poetic images, perhaps, but it IS a by-God simile.


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