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

Date: 08 May 2005


Re your comments below:

> In the first place, Jim, the fact that a writer
> uses a plot, an old one at
> that, and it seems to be "borrowed" by subsequent
> writers, doesn't make him
> influential. The plot could have come from many
> more recent
> sources---Westerns, for example---as well as ancient
> ones. The plot is not
> what makes a writer influential, the variations he
> does on it, the ambience
> of the book, and the style do. Any influence comes
> from how the writer goes
> about telling this plot. Hammett's influence came
> from HOW he wrote, not
> what he wrote.
> A note on that: Slavish recreating of Hammett's
> world, plots, society, and
> even dialogue and slang, by later writers is pure
> imitation not influence.

I don't think we're that far apart here. It's quite true that the reason Hammett is influential is not because of the plots he used, per se, but because of the way he used them, his use of language, of character, of milieu, etc.

Nevertheless, imitation, as you call it, is one way, arguably the most obvious way, that influence manifests itself.

No one, for example, reading the last chapter of a PI novel in which the hero discovers that the girl he's fallen in love with is the villain, whom he then renounces and turns over to the police (or, if he's Mike Hammer, shoots in the belly), can fail, if he's familiar with Hammett, to see the seeds of THE MALTESE FALCON in that scene. However,such a scene, unless the author is able to give it a new spin, is, as you would undoubtedly point out, mere imitation of the surface details. That's still a form of influence, though.

Similarly, if, in a PI novel, the hero arrives in a corrupt, gang-infested rural community, and craftily plays the rival factions against each other so that, in effect, they clean each other out of the community, that novel's debt to RED HARVEST is just as evident.

Imitation may be the basest evidence of influence, but it's a manifestation of influence nonetheless.

> Thank you much for the kind words about the Jackson
> series by Willian Arden,
> and about A DARK POWER, and while I would like to
> accept the comparison to
> Hammetts distant third in FALCON, my third is
> nowhere near as rigorous as
> Hammett's---there isn't one moment when we are privy
> to what Sam is thinking
> except through actions and dialogue. That is a tour
> de force of writing,
> and I never came close. (Didn't really want to, I'm
> not Hammett.)

You're dead right about that rigorously adhered-to
"camera/tape recorder" mode Hammett used. Few have managed that same style as umcompromisingly. Perhaps Joe Gores in INTERFACE. Maybe, to a degree, Donald Westlake in his "Richard Stark" persona, but even Stark gets into Parker's head now and then.

Still, the Jackson books, compared to the rest of your work, particularly compared to the Fortune series, has a spare, objective tone that's quite different. And Jackson himself, less overtly concerned with doing right (though he's presented as having a strict code of ethics and honor) than Fortune, more concerned with doing his job in a professional manner, is your most Hammett-like PI character.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 08 May 2005 EDT