RE: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled politics

From: Robison Michael R CNIN (
Date: 22 Jul 2003

Mark Sullivan wrote: I stand by my claim that a lot of recent hardboiled heroes are losers, and they know it. It's hard to think of (early) Matt Scudder as anything but. Maybe it just makes it more dramatic when a drunk like
(again early) Scudder rises to the occasion and becomes heroic, but I think it's because hardboiled is increasingly addressing the psychopathology of the loner hero.

********* I think it is true that many hardboiled heroes are losers. It probably calls for some qualification. He is a loser in life, but not in his job. In his job he might get hell kicked out of him, he might alienate his client, he might not even have a client, but make no mistake about it, he almost always gets the job done.

The loser in life thing has been long standing. I don't know if it was here or just something I read, but it was noted that the qualities that make a good detective often leave them with a bleak social life. Look at Marlowe. I've only read THE LONG GOODBYE and THE BIG SLEEP, but he doesn't have much of a social life in either of them, and it doesn't appear that this is just because it's not mentioned. He's a loner. And he's got such high ideals that very few people are good enough to be his friend, either. He despises almost everybody. He doesn't like the crooks, the rich people, and he shows equal contempt for the average Joe just getting by with his 9-to-5 job, his family, and his modest house.

More than anything this is a literary ploy. Detectives went from having zero social life to having a bad social life. Tension is good. Happiness is boring. Recounting the last few detective novels I've read, they didn't have much money, they weren't es- pecially happy, and they had few friends. Paco Taibo, Steve Ham- ilton, Loren Estelman, Dick Lochte, Peter Corris. There was one that had a great and happy home life and it absolutely shocked me. That was at the beginning of McGivern's BIG HEAT. I should have known what was gonna happen, shouldn't I?

As a quick footnote, another reason it's good for the hardboiled guy to be a loser is because it's a crummy stinking world out there, and if you are succeeding then there's a big chance you are a scumbag. Note that I am talking about literary reasoning here, and not real life. Last time I checked there was a differ- ence.



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