Re: RARA-AVIS: Don't look now, but here come the eighties

From: Gerald So (
Date: 10 Apr 2003

Bill Denton wrote:

>Mr. So, I noticed, runs a mailing list called DetecToday, "Dedicated to
>the new wave of mystery writers (male or female, mid-1980s -
>present)...What, if anything, have they decided over there about
>hardboiled detectives in the 1980s? Where did they come from? Where did
>they go?

We haven't come up with full-fledged theories, but I'll ask and share the results here. Personally, I think hardboiled detectives are still out there, but ideas of toughness have changed. Characters are more three-dimensional. Violent action needs better explanation.

>Was it in the late seventies/early eighties when the split happened,
>people realized the contemporary hardboiled dick was a fantasy, and they
>either had to modernize him or write historical novels?

That sounds about right. TV has a lot to do with changing views on private eyes/lone ops. Shows like "Magnum, "Simon & Simon," and "Riptide," had a level of fantasy that audiences wouldn't accept today. With access to Court TV and forensic documentaries, viewers don't quite believe the fantasy elements of shows like "Dellaventura" and "Vengeance Unlimited." In the 80s, these shows might have had three-season runs. In the late 90s, they didn't last a season.

Robert Crais is a good example of the move from fantasy to realism. Crais started Elvis Cole in 1987 as a first-person PI with military and martial arts training, who read Arthurian legend and collected Disney figurines. Today the Cole books are multi-viewpoint thrillers with more emphasis on police procedure.

One author who started and remained consistently real through the 80s and 90s is Jeremiah Healy with John Francis Cuddy. Healy does play his share of tricks with time, stretching two years of story time over ten books. And I notice he hasn't written a Cuddy since 1999.

For those who'd like to join DetecToday, the URL is

I also moderate CrimeSeen for discussion of TV/movies/radio and their relationship to crime fiction:


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