Re: RARA-AVIS: Profesionals and amateurs

Date: 24 Feb 2003


Re your comments below:

> And the noir world is amateurs and
> innocents. . .
> 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.

I suppose this gets into the "atmosphere" vs.
"content" question, but I think I've got to respectfully disagree with you here.

The writer many regard as the "definitive" noir author, Cornell Wooolrich, often used professional cops, and other kinds of professional crime solvers
(i.e. the photojournalist in "Rear Window") in his novels and stories.

With Woolrich, at least, it WAS largely a question of atmosphere.

And granting that it's atmosphere, then to take two writers who mined the same basic professional field, the private eye, the writers being Spillance and Prather, then Spillane, with his rain-soaked streets and his claustrophic concrete canyons, always struck me as noir, while Prather, whose hero has a sunnier dispostion and works in a setting that matches, was not.

The difference between Spillance and Prather, again, is atmosphere, not whether or not their heroes are pros, which they are, or even whether or not they're particularly competent, which, arguably, they also are.

And that's why I've resisted the notion not only that there is some sort of content that is inherently noir, but also the notion that hard-boiled and noir are mutually exclusive.

Finally, lest it gets to be regarded as an immutable rule, when I draw a distinction between the "pros" of hard-boiled and the "amateurs" of cozy, I'm talking about a general tendency, not a hard and fast disqualifying factor. The hero of Joe Gores's first novel, A TIME OF PREDATORS, for example, is an amateur, but the book is undeniably hard-boiled. On the other hand, cozy protagonists like Earl Derr Biggers's Charlie Chan, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, or Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn are all pros.


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