From: Richard Moore (
Date: 29 Nov 2004

The first discussion I can recall of the Hammett to Chandler to Ross MacDonald "progression" was from Donald Westlake, first at a speech at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington (which I was fortunate to attend) and later adapted into an article for The Armchair Detective. Westlake didn't state it in terms of a trendline in the sense that each author represented an improvement on the predecessors and it seemed clear to me that he didn't believe Ross MacDonald represented such an improvement. The progression that Westlake put forth was that the literary elite annointed one mystery/detective writer at a time as worthy of acceptance. There was a campaign to push MacDonald forward which culminated in a NYTimes Book Review front page review of the latest MacDonald by Eudora Welty. Soon he was on the bestseller list where he stayed as he rewrote the same book over and over again as if he feared falling back to the midlist.

I would generally agree with Westlake that the progression is not one of ever-upward quality. But I do think those three authors are more than simply the literary elite's darling of the decade. Even while believing that MacDonald was not an improvement over Chandler
(and not absolutely certain that Chandler was an improvement over Hammett), I think it is hard to deny that MacDonald was the logical successor as to the most influential PI writer of his time. In addition to his literary excellence and further development of the form, MacDonald was also (after the Welty review) a bestseller. Success generates influence and imitation where loftier impulses fail.

With that progression in mind, much as I personally admire James Sallis' work (and have for 30 years), I think there are other writers who have cast a larger shadow over their generation. Off the top of my head, I'd say James Crumley is one very influential writer who pushed the PI novel into new directions and whose best work continues to be reprinted and win new fans and inspire other writers.

Richard Moore

--- In, Duane Spurlock <duane1spur@y...> wrote:
> "James R. Winter" <winter_writes@e...> wrote:
> <<
> It's no secret Ross MacDonald was copping Chandler in his first
> novels. It's
> also no secret that Ross was sometimes better at it than Chandler.
> >>
> When you look at the trendline for the literary hardboiled PI
novel, everyone agrees that the starting point in Hammett, then Chandler. Some may not agree that Ross MacDonald is next, but I think James is right here -- MacDonald makes the leap to the next step, the next level.
> I think the next blip on the trendline is James Sallis. He makes
the next leap, yet -- as with MacDonald -- the tradition is still visible, or at least can still be detected (if you will) through the narrative or revelation of character.
> I'm using CYPRESS GROVE as my basis for this off-the-cuff
declaration. True, CG isn't technically a PI novel. But the narrator is an ex-vet, ex-cop, ex-con (that covers most of the territory that most PIs use as a background) and is called in as a "consultant" to help investigate a murder. The earliest literary PIs -- Poe's and Doyle's creations -- were considered consulting detectives, I think, so I believe CG stands firmly in the tradition of PI fiction.
> CG, like MacDonald's mature work, is a novel of revelations --
about self (the narrator), about history (again, the narrator, and others in the story), about relationships (a number of characters), about family (just about everyone in the story).
> This is just an excellent novel. Although it veers a bit from the
traditional PI story, it's solidly rooted in the PI tradition. Many thanks to whoever nominated here for one of the best since 2000 -- that posting prompted me to go out and finally read this book.
> - Duane Spurlock
> ---------------------------------
> Do you Yahoo!?
> Meet the all-new My Yahoo! - Try it today!
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 29 Nov 2004 EST