Re: RARA-AVIS: Another Heresy -- The Black Mask and other pulp fiction

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 04 May 2005

My Pal Jack Bludis wrote:

> Something that many of us at Rara_Avis miss is
> that not all of Chandler and Hammett was great.
> It's a comment rarely made here. Many of us seem
> to have the opinion that just because C or H
> wrote it, it must be good. Some of it is just
> crap where we are treated ti the development of
> the hardboiled genre.

With his characteristic bluntness, Jack makes a salient point here. Hey Jack, been reading some Carrol John Daly, or something? Because you just described everything I've ever read by the guy! ;)

> Many of their Black Mask stories were just "shoot
> 'em ups." with little character develoment and
> hardly any story line. For me, even *Red
> Harvest,* a combination of six novellas with each
> judged individually, is just a shoot 'em up.

I can see what you're saying about RED HARVEST, but let's face it, the Continental Op in RED HARVEST is as effete, fussy and mincing as Hercule Poirot when compared to the two-fisted head-stomping of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer in *anything* he's ever done. Some of Hammett's stuff is just uneven, too. Take WOMAN IN THE DARK (Please!). I finished that and wondered, what the heck is the point? That's something I found myself nearly always asking with Spillane. Likewise with "Blackmailers Don't Shoot." Lord, was that putrid. I couldn't believe Chandler was actually able to sell it when I first read it.

> It was the demand of the pulp fiction crime story
> of the day. Others who wrote this stuff are
> forgotten beccause they never went on to write
> great novels as Chandler and Harris did.

Oh, I don't know. Has Mickey Spillane's stuff ever gone out of print? There are modern authors who get high praise here who I also think fit into this bill: forgetable, cliched faire, that won't stay in print long. But with apologies to Mr. Barnum, no one ever went broke over-estimating the good taste of the American public.

I hasten to add that there are authors out there who do violence with a point, and do a damned fine job of it. That great Irish scribe Ken Bruen comes to mind (and not just because he's a personal mate of mine, the guy writes scenes that make me want to look away, but because he's such a damned good writer, I just can't bring myself to do it, I have to keep turning the page. Not every crime writer can do that), then there's our own Al Guthrie, who can make you want to turn the page when a man's mother is killed in horrific fashion right before his (and our) eyes. No mean feat, that. Also, just off the top of my head (because I finished his second novel not that long ago), there's Sean Doolittle, whose BURN is a satisfying, funny hard-boiled read.

However, for every Hammett or Chandler, guys who sounded the odd sour note in what was otherwise an outstanding symphony of work, there were (and continue to be) dozens of others just piling up the bodies with no other purpose than to write gratuitous, book-selling, page-turning violence.

Your Mileage May Vary.

Back To Lurkdom (got a deadline)-

Brian Thornton

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 04 May 2005 EDT