Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Book review in Journal of Social History

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 10 Apr 2004

--- JIM DOHERTY <> wrote:
> A lot of hard-boiled stuff is about behaving morally
> and honorably. Certainly that's true of Chandler.
> But a lot isn't. Do you really regard that towering
> testament to violence and selfishness, Richard
> Stark's
> Parker, to be a paragon of moral virtue?
> By the same token, to say that the Parker novels are
> not hard-boiled would be as absurd as saying that
> Parker is a moral role model.
> That's just one example. How about Lou Ford in Jim
> Thompson's novels, or Keller in Lawrence Block's
> short
> stories? They're fundamentally immoral men who
> perform fundamentally immoral acts, but they're no
> less hard-boiled for their lack of morality.
> Behaving honorably and making moral choices is not a
> required ingredient of hard-boiled crime fiction,
> nor,
> for that matter, is it limited to hard-boiled crime
> fiction.

This is true. It's also true, though, that the moral aspect to hardboiled fiction is predominate.

Of the examples you cite, Parker and Keller aren't characters so much as ideas. (Keller's from HIT MAN, right?) "Write the ultimate hardboiled story featuring a stone cold criminal and see how it turns out" in Westlake's case, for instance. Essentially the Stark books are high-end variants of stuff like THE EXECUTIONER, which functions along much the same way
("Killer kills killers".) (I respect the Stark books, but have never been able to warm to them, mainly for this reason, I think. They feel stagey to me.)

It's been a long time since I read HIT MAN, but I seem to remember a similar overt conceptualization here, too.

The hard boiled strain featuring Lou Ford and some of Willeford's happy psychos is very moralistic, only in reverse. Their amorality is meant to be an indirect criticism of life, showing it by way of contrast or reflection. Look at Ford's final speech, Willeford's THE WOMAN CHASER, etc.

So yes, I agree with you, hard-boiled needn't be moralistic. But it's also true that a hell of a lot of it is.


===== Doug Bassett

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