RARA-AVIS: The Crutch of Crime

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 02 Dec 2004

I should be grading papers, but, hell, I got a puzzle I'm gnawing on.

I read somewhere about Hammett (maybe in Dianne Johnson's bio) that Hammett could write as long as he had the crutch of crime to walk with. I keep puzzling over that phrase and decided that "the crutch of crime" could become an anathema or even an albatross around one's neck. (Sorry, Bill, but I can't stop think about Coleridge since you brought him up a couple days ago.)

So I'm guessing: As he moved further away from crime fiction, without the crutch to lean on, Hammett found himself more and more unable to write anything. His oeuvre tapers off fast as a hooker's prayer. Did he find crime writing distasteful, and once he got money...? His violence is off-stage, distanced.

Chandler starts off imitating Hammett but, because as a stylist he was more fascinated by how a particular scene makes itself visible through more and more re-writing. Chandler, I guess, was rarely concerned about crime, and so he needed the crutch less and less, until we get to The Long Goodbye, which is about friendship & betrayal more than crime. Chandler seems to stare more and more into himself, very slowly implode into his own troubled self, into the shadows of his personal Long Dark Night of the Soul.
"Trouble was my business" is not crime.

Ross Macdonald found the crutch of crime a convenient & utilitarian skeleton to hang the meat of a story on, so once he had a template he ran the table, and then the next table, and then the next table, until Alzheimer's erased the drive.

Spillane found the crutch of crime a great tool to Hammer the hell outa anybody he saw in the 1950s as UnAmerican.

As a fan, I want to see "the familiar but with a new twist" with each new book. On the other hand, I also want the writer to be allowed to "follow his bliss" and evolve. Or put away his crutches and fly. What do the rara-avians think?

Fred Zackel

When deputies raided the Hidden Valley Golf Club during the June 14, 2002, tournament, they found more than a dozen prostitutes and strippers providing sex and entertainment to golfers in tents set up near several tees. "Some were drink girls; others were pure strippers who didn't let guys touch them, and others were there to have full-on sex."

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Dec 2004 EST