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

Date: 04 May 2005

Re Mr Lynds's comments below:

> If I can put in my newcomer's two-cents, a few years
> ago I reread all of
> Hammet's novels, and RED HARVEST does not stand up.
> It's cliched and
> terribly dated.

With all due respect to our honored guest (by the way, welcome; great to have you here) whose opinions (at least the non-political ones) I respect and usually agree with, RED HARVEST is nothing less than one of the best PI novels ever written and, with the obvious exception of THE MALTESE FALCON, Hammett's best novel.

Moreover, the basic "town-tamer" plot is as influential on later PI fiction, in its way, as FALCON's "Holy Grail" or "The Wench-dunit" storylines.

Years later, the "lone PI rides into a corrupt rural area and cleans house" plot has been used by Brett Halliday in A TASTE FOR VIOLENCE, Robert Parker in PALE KINGS AND PRINCES, Cleve Adams in SABOTAGE, Jack Lynch in THE MISSING AND THE DEAD, Mickey SPillane in THE TWISTED THING, etc, etc. Substitute "cop" for
"PI" and you can add William Diehl's HOOLIGANS, Stephen Hunter's HOT SPRINGS, Fred Bean's BLACK GOLD, Matt Braun's ONE LAST TOWN, Horace McCoy's "The Mopper-Up," etc, etc. An if you just make the town-tamer a non-specific "lone heroic figure" and you can add films like LAST MAN STANDING and DESPERADO.

The "town-tamer" plot may not particularly resonate with you, and a lot of the stories deriving from HARVEST may be dreck, but no story or novel that wields that much influence can be totally without worth.

> On the other hand I was totally
> surprised by THE THIN MAN.
> If you read it carefully, and try to forget the
> movie, it's a pretty damn
> good novel with much to say. The three in the
> middle hold up just fine, and
> THIN MAN deserves a reassessment, Robert Parker to
> the contrary.

I don't find THE THIN MAN a chore to read, but it's light fare compared to RED HARVEST.

As for Jack's comments, that started this whole thread, the thing to remember is that the worst of Hammett and Chandler should not necessarily be compared to their best work, but to the work of other writers plowing the same field.

By that standard, even the worst of Hammett and Chandler holds up damned well today. It only seems disappointing compared to their best (and most often reprinted) stuff.


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