RARA-AVIS: Re: Who Zoomed Who?

From: Richard Moore ( moorich2@aol.com)
Date: 03 Dec 2004

--- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, Kevin Burton Smith
<kvnsmith@t...> wrote:
> I wrote:
> >"I'm not sure if anyone else has added much more really new to the
> >genre since, though, with the arguable exception of Robert B.
> >Oh, there have been some great P.I. writers, but to be considered
> >influential, you also have to sell beyond a small cult audience,
> >capture the imagination of the general public."
> And Mark wrote:
> >If the general public is the criterion, maybe the arena has
shifted to
> >TV -- Rockford? Magnum?
> Well, certainly Rockford, created by Stephen J. Cannell and Roy
> Huggins, influenced a boatload of P.I. writers (just as Huston,,
> Dmytryk, Lang and other filmmakers did in their era). But Cannell
> Huggins' Rockford appeared approximately the same time as Parker's
> Spenser, so it's hard to say who really knocked the lone wolf P.I.
> thing off its solemn pedestal, and upped the wisecracks.
> Magnum was just Lance White without the wit, the charm or the great
> But my point was that for a writer to be really considered
> influential, he has to have really influenced other writers, not
> been enjoyed by them. so, while I think someone like Crumley, for
> example, is a damn good writer, I'm not sure he's really influenced
> many other writers. Inspired them, maybe, but not necessarily
> influenced them.
> --
> Kevin

Well, I am not a uncritical fan of either Ross Macdonald or James Crumley. But regardless of nits I might pick about this novel or that novel, the influence of Ross Macdonald on so many mystery/crime writers of the last 40 some odd years seems over-whelmingly apparent to me. At his best, Ross Macdonald was a damn fine writer (and he pegged the needle at his best often)and regardless of whether I might rank him first, second, third or sixth in GOAT rankings (Greatest Of All Time), I have to rank him third on influence after Chandler and Hammett.

Who would (IMHO) be his closest rival for third? Spillane, perhaps. Again, this is a ranking of most influential, not favorite or highest consistant quality. Influence.

I mentioned Crumley as a major modern influence as a top-of-my head counter suggestion to that of James Sallis. I first read Sallis in the SF digests of the early 1970s, and then I read his book on guitar players, and I have since read his bio of Chester Himes and his DIFFICULT LIVES about Jim Thompson, David Goodis, and Himes, and yes, I've read his mysteries. I am a Jim Sallis junkie. But friends, I hate to say this but that is not a super-large group of folks. We are select, we are elite, we are proud...but we are small in number.

And I suspect, alas, that a majority of (to pick a group at random) the Mystery Writers of America have never read our main man Sallis. It is their loss.

It may even be that a majority of MWA members may not have read James Crumley...but that is harder to imagine. Crumley is mentioned repeatedly by other writers as an influence. A few days ago I quoted Laura Lipman saying that when mystery writers gather, Crumley is on everyone's short list for the Hall of Fame. I quoted her because she was stating something that was also my experience. I could have quoted Pelacanos or any number of other writers who have publically stated their admiration.

I've heard it enough that I believe them. Maybe 75% of it is THE LAST GOOD KISS but all we are measuring is influence...the overall body of work and the average quality level, and etc. is not the measure here. There was one novel for certain and two or three afterwards to a lesser degree that blew the socks off the readers. And the impact was such that it was (I think) hard for a writer coming afterwards to not be influenced by Crumley.

This is said despite the fact that I would not place Crumley in my personal top five mystery writers and he would be unlikely to make my top ten (if I ever draw up such a list).

Richard Moore


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