Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V5 #33 - Noir

Date: 22 Feb 2003

Re Kerry's and Miker's comments below:

> > A friend of mine recently pointed out that cozies
> are mannered novels that
> > question the rights to authority of "superior",
> titled classes. In their
> > private lives, in their drawing rooms and on their
> estates Lord & Lady
> > Whatsis, Colonel Mustard etc. were as corrupt and
> capable of murder as the
> > "criminal" classes.
> >
> > Like hardboil, the cozy became popular between the
> wars.
> *********
> Did you agree with your friend? Another theory is
> that they wrote about the
> upper classes because they thought the lower classes
> beneath their interest.
> And I'm surprised that cozies didn't come on until
> after WWI. It was my
> understanding that hardboiled was in part a
> rebellion against the upper
> class
> airs of the cozies. Mary Roberts Rinehart has stuff
> out that's turn of the
> century, doesn't she? Maybe that's not cozy. I
> know darn little about
> hardboiled and almost nothing about cozies.

The term "cozy" actually didn't get coined until the
'70s or '80s. Dilys Winn, the founder of NYC's Murder Ink bookstore, once called the authors of this type of mystery "English teacake ladies," regardless of their actual nationality or gender. Since both of those terms sound somewhat dismissive, I personally prefer

That said, I think I'm with Miker on this one. The traditional mystery wasn't an outgrowth of WW1. It may have become especially popular after the War, but it had certainly existed before then. What was Conan Doyle writing if not traditional mysteries? Arguably, he was the founder of the tradition (though he, himself, always acknowledged his debt to Poe's Dupin stories). Other pre-war writers include Mary Roberts Rinehart (as Miker pointed out), R. Austin Freeman, Jacques Futrelle, G.K. Chesterton, and Anna Katherine Greene. Tellingly, given the notion that the traditional mystery is largely the province of British writers, Futrelle, Ms. Rinehart, and Ms. Greene were all Americans.

So were many traditional mystery writers of the so-called "Golden Age" (i.e. the "between-the-wars" years). One of the most popular was S.S. Van Dine. Ellery Queen, obviously influenced by Van Dine, was another American "traditionalist," who would, IMHO, easily surpass Van Dine in matters such as characterization, style, and plot.

If the popularity of the traditional mystery between the wars, in both Britain and America, is in any way attributable to the war, I think it was that the artificial world created for those stories provided an escape from the consequences of that conflict on society. By contrast, and, I have argued, by DELIBERATE (and that's for emphasis, not loudness) contrast, hard-boiled mysteries tended NOT to shy away from the consequences that the war wrought on society.
 To paraphrase Chandler, traditionalists had characters commit murders to provide a body; hard-boiled writers had murderers commit murders because it was in their nature to kill people.

Which brings me to another facet of the hard-boiled mystery I've often suggested. Hard-boiled is largely
(though not exclusively) the province of the professional, both on the detecting and on the criminal side. In the "traditional," both the detective and the criminal are both more likely to be amateurs. Though, now that I've written it, I'm damned if I know what the hell it has to do with this discussion.


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