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

From: William Denton (
Date: 11 Apr 2004

On 10 April 2004, Bill Crider wrote:

: I think hardboiled lit is, in a lot of instances, concerned more with a
: character's "code" than with his morality. Parker has a code, I think,
: even if it's not the same as, say, Spenser's.

Well said. When Parker's on a heist, he's professional, expert, and will do what it takes to get the job done. He'll watch his partner's back and he's prepared to die--up to the point where everyone knows the deal's off, and then they all split up, and tough luck if someone else gets shot. But if you cross him, he'll kill you. The thieves we can admire do have honour amongst themselves, even though there's supposed to be no such thing. Cheap hoods and random psychos don't have it. Mr. Doherty mentioned Block's hit man Keller, and Keller sticks to his code, as I recall, though since he's an assassin the reader finds himself cheering for an evil man. (Though doesn't Block usually have Keller kill nasty people?)

Morality and codes of ethics and behaviour aren't distinguishing features of hardboiled stuff--they're certainly a huge part of westerns (as George Pelecanos's characters can tell us)--but they are important to a lot of it, as I suppose they must be to anything about heroes fighting battles. In some kinds of stories it's more obvious than others, and it can be right up front in much hardboiled stuff.

As Sam Spade said, "Don't be so sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be."


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : : Caveat lector.

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