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

From: jimdohertyjr (
Date: 06 May 2005


Re your commetns below:

> Golly, the town-tamer plot as you call it has to have been around
since the
> Greeks.

Maybe, but so what? Hammett still gets full credit for making it one of the standard plots for PI fiction.

You might as well say that the "quest object" plot goes back to Malory's stories of King Arthur, or that the hero falling in love with someone who turns out to be the villainess goes back to Samson in the Old Testament. Does that make THE MALTESE FALCON any less influential?

It's because of Hammett that those plot devices became so common in PI fiction. And any PI who ever tamed a corrupt town, was traveling a trail already blazed by the Continental Op.
> As for RED HARVEST, I had remembered it fondly, but when I reread
it after
> 40 years, it just fell apart for me. Of course I agree it's still
> not Daly, but I simply found I could hardly read it.

I first read it in high school, but have reread it several times since. It's always held up for me, better than either of the other two Op novels, BLOOD MONEY and THE DAIN CURSE (much though I love both of them). For one thing, the "linked novelletes" structure of the book, a function of Cap Shaw's editorial policy regarding serialized novels in BLACK MASK, is much less evident, the seams much better concealed, than in the other two books (though not, I'll grant, as well concealed as in THE GLASS KEY).

For another, its slam-bang action scenes are among the best ever written, and I happen to love slam-bang action scenes.

And finally, its first paragraph is one of the best openings in crime fiction, effectively balancing ironic humor, colloquial toughness, and a sense of impending danger.

> In that regard, I highly recommend a recent novel by Jon Jackson
> by Dennis MacMillan, GO BY GO. It's nothing less than Jackson's
> of the novel Hammett should have written instead of RED HARVEST,
and the reason he never wrote that novel.

I've read GO BY GO. In fact, I own a copy signed by Mr. Jackson. Good book, but not as good as RED HARVEST.

One thing worth mentioning, given my laudatory comments about HARVEST's opening lines, is that Hickey Dewey, the "red-haired mucker" who is the first person the Op ever heard call Personville "Poisonville," a character never again referred to in HARVEST or any other Op story, is a major character in GO BY GO, which opens in a Butte rooming house called "The Big Ship," also referred to by the Op in that opening line.

However, just to show that I'm not always in disagreement with you, I quite concur that Kane Jackson is one of your best characters. In fact, except for Dan Fortune himself, Jackson is my favorite of all your PI characters, probably because he's the most Continental Op- like of them (though the relentlessly objective third person narration you use in the Jackson series is more reminiscent of Sam Spade and FALCON). And you're also right about A DARK POWER being one of your best books.


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