Re: RARA-AVIS: Big hardboiled epics

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 28 Sep 2004

--- William Denton <> wrote:

> On the other hand, I do like epics: huge, involved
> stories with lots of
> people, spanning years or decades, where you really
> get to know people,
> and you don't just see them in a moment of crisis,
> you get to see their
> whole lives.
> Are there any hardboiled epics? I don't mean
> series, where each novel is
> pretty much a self-contained unit, usually with a
> hero who gets mixed up
> in a crime and solves it and then goes home. I mean
> something like
> Ellroy's LA Quartet, which is the only example that
> comes to mind. I
> don't know if he intended it to be four parts when
> he started, but it
> hangs together as one big work (albeit one that gets
> freakier as it goes
> along) and by the end it's like you've known Pete
> Bondurant all your life.
> Same for his next books, AMERICAN TABLOID and THE
> the next one which I think is supposed to wrap up
> his history.

I think in general the virtues of hardboiled fiction
--rawness, tightness, immediacy -- work against epic structures.

On what others have said, Pelecanos seems to obviously fit. I haven't read Sallis or Peace. I wouldn't include Derek Raymond or Jack O'Connell, both of whom I like immensely but are too "anti-realistic" to properly fit into an "epic" class. (You might stretch a point and squeeze in O'Connell, but if it's an epic, it's a very postmodern, intellectualized kind of epic.)

I don't like it particularly, but I'd probably throw in Max Allan Collins's TRUE DETECTIVE. Another obvious choice is Stuart Woods's CHIEFS.

Related to epics, though not *quite* the same thing, are big John O'Haraesque novels that deal in depth with crime. They provide some of the same pleasures, I think. I'd toss in the more ambitious John D MacDonald attempts (A FLASH OF GREEN, THE LAST ONE LEFT) and Roderick Thorp's THE DETECTIVE.


===== Doug Bassett

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