RE: RARA-AVIS: Someone who doesn't like Pelecanos

From: John Williams (
Date: 06 Jul 2004

Mario wrote in response to Kerry

Kerry, I am sorry to see you bring up the old "relevance" thing, a war-horse of the sixties (though perhaps you give it a new sense).

Surely the relevance thing is essentially the old Hammett/Chandler divide. That's to say that Hammett's crimes occur in a political world in a context of organised corruption - and ultimately offer at least an implicit critique of American/western/capitalist society, while Chandler locates corruption in individuals and is much less interested in political context. It's not necessarily a politics good / no politics bad split (or vice versa) but it does seem to me that following the Chandler route can lead to well-crafted but fundamentally complacent fiction - Robert Crais would be a classic example here - while following the Hammett model can lead to more cutting edge work i.e. Jack O'Connell. Conversely there are many very fine writers in the Chandler tradition and plenty of hopeless leftist hacks trying to reinvent Hammett. But if you take the notion that noir/hardboiled is something to do with feeling that the world is not OK, then it is depressing if the genre is more and more oriented to the good story well told school of Connolly / Coben et al.

Whether the cutting edge needs to be formally experimental is another question. I'm not particularly enthralled by formal experimentation per se - though I think Ellroy and David Peace have both done great experimental work. Personally though I see the cutting edge as crime fiction that refuses to take easy genre options but really does attempt to offer a true picture of the way we live now. The recent work of Richard Price would definitely be a case in point.

That said if you want a crime novel that is formally inventive and very funny and very dark I really do have to commend (and as his commissioning editor of course I'm biased) Charlie Williams' Deadfolk.


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