RARA-AVIS: the new generation

From: DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net
Date: 14 Mar 2005

This week, Washington Post crime fiction reviewer Patrick Anderson writes about Block's new Scudder book, All the Flowers Are Dying:


It's a lukewarm, at best, review. He sets up Block as one of the last of the 1950s generation of crime writers, deciding he may have passed his prime. However, he finishes by implying that Block's fading is representative of the passing of his whole generation. But he's not just talking about the writers dying, but their books, that they have been eclipsed by the next generation:

"American crime fiction was born in the 1920s, its roots deep in the pulp magazines of the era, with their emphasis on masculinity, sadism and violence. Mickey Spillane's huge success in the 1950s embodied that hard-boiled tradition, and a writer like Block, starting out with paperback originals in the 1960s, also drew upon it. Today, Block does what he does as well as he's ever done it, but I think that time is passing him by. (As it must do to us all.) Another generation has come along. Crime writers now are publishing novels that are simply more interesting, imaginative and sophisticated than those of decades past. I've often listed my favorites among them -- Lehane, Pelecanos and Connelly are prominent on the list -- and, with all respect to Block and his body of work, they're where the action is now."

Now I'm not sure I'd place those particular writers at the top of the
"new generation" -- most of them aren't even that new; I've heard it argued a couple of them aren't what they used to be -- placing Sallis, Jack O'Connell, Bruen and Rankin, among others, beside or above them. However, I've got an even bigger problem with this idea that the books of even the top of the new gen are "simply more interesting, imaginative and sophisticated than those of decades past." Say what? Different in many ways, sure. As society changes, so does its culture. And some are certainly as good as. But better across the board? Not a chance.

First, it's a terribly unfair comparison, the late books from one author, or generation of authors, against the prime of another age. I haven't read the new Block, and I haven't been thrilled about the last few, but they certainly don't dim my opinion of his earlier books.

Anderson seems to be presenting the new gen of crime writers as the equivalent of punk rock, wiping away the old (and it's an easy analogy, considering how many of these writers are fans of punk), but he is wilfully ignoring how steeped in tradition many of these writer are, just as many of the punks were (musically, it was really a back to 1-2 or 3 chords roots movement, not a step into the future -- No Future, as Johnny Rotten sneered).

Frankly, I don't want to choose. And due to recent trends, it's easier to get the best of both worlds. That's one of the things that's so great about imprints like Hard Case Crime. They place old and new books side by side and we see very clearly how equal the talent is, as well as how they complement each other.


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