RARA-AVIS: Profesionals and amateurs

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 23 Feb 2003

On 23 February 2003, JIM DOHERTY wrote:

: Amateur criminals are certainly present in hard-boiled mysteries, also.
: But it is in hard-boiled mysteries that you are most likely to meet
: professional hit men, organized crime figures, armed robbers, drug
: pushers, enemy spies, etc. And the people opposing them are more likely
: to be cops, professional PIs, or secret agents. The hard-boiled world
: is a world of pros.

And the noir world is amateurs and innocents. I think we've talked about this before, a while back. The hardboiled world is full of professionals who are very good at what they do, from the Continental Op to Marlowe to Hammer to Matt Helm to Amos Walker to Buzz Meeks to ... Derek Strange? McGee is a pro, and he doesn't like dealing with amateurs in anything. Neither, on the criminal side, does Parker. He teams up with other experienced, expert thieves, and if an amateur is involved, there'll be trouble. They can't take the pressure and they're not up to the right level. (See: Spade making a fool of Wilmer, the gunsel.)

Being "swept up in a noirish nightmare" really only happens to innocents and losers. Compare Parker to a cheap hood from a David Goodis book. Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson (mostly), Jason Starr: all write about messed-up people who get caught up in situations way beyond their control.

That's one reason why hardboiled stories come in series, often long ones, while noirs are one-offs. The pros keep coming back to do it again. The losers die.

George Pelecanos's people throw this off a bit, but not really. Dmitri Karras, Marcus Clay, Tery Quinn, they may not be peerless full-time crime-fighting professionals, but they're tough, smart, strong, and they have what it takes.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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