RARA-AVIS: One Fish, Two Fish

From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 05 May 2003

 I've been working my way through Herbert Ruhm's HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, a collection of Black Mask stories. Chandler's "Goldfish" (1936) was excellent. The only other things I've read by him are THE BIG SLEEP and THE LONG GOODBYE and I thought this story was as good as the novels. One thing that surprised me was that, although the two novels seem to revel in bumping elbows with the upper crust, the short story's setting was decidedly low-rent, with a matching cast of sleazy characters. I liked it. Chandler wasn't shy about laying on the sleaze, either. The protagonist is Carmady, who I understand is the prototype for Marlowe. The story involves the recovery of some pearls stolen many years earlier.

Lester Dent's "Angelfish" (1936) was good, too. It's set in the Florida Keys. A woman asks Sail to help her protect some pictures from being stolen. A hurricane gets closer and closer as the story progresses. The change of scenery from the typical mean streets to dangerous waters was welcome. This is the first thing I've read by Dent. I understand he wrote a bunch of the Doc Savage series.

Erle Stanley Gardner's "Legman" (1938) was good, but I think Gardner is something of an acquired taste which I'm just not warming up to. He's obviously a skilled writer. From this story and his first Perry Mason novel THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS I gather that he pretty much had his own style and resisted some of the corny excesses that characterizes some pulp writers, like Carroll John Daly. I've got a late 30s Perry Mason novel THE CASE OF THE PERJURED PARROT sitting on the shelf waiting on me. I think this might be one that Jim Doherty said had a good courtroom scene. I'll have to read it in full sunlight. The pages are a nasty yellow-brown color.

I also liked Norbert Davis's "Kansas City Flash" (1933). The story is told in third person and involves professional troubleshooter Mark Hull searching for a kidnapped actress. This is back when Hollywood was still Hollywoodland. I think this is the earliest hardboiled I've read that has a Hollywood slant to it. It precedes McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? by a couple years.

I could take Nebel's "Take It And Like It" (1934), but I didn't like it. The humor in the dialogue has not aged gracefully. The story is told third person and alternates between the cops and a newspaper reporter suspected of murder. Every time I read older hardboiled with supposedly witty repartee in it, I wonder about how it relates to Hammett's THIN MAN, which I haven't read but obviously need to.


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