Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Who don't you like?

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 01 Jul 2006

What an interesting thread. Kudos to Bill Denton for being willing to turn loose justified criticism of works written in the HB/noir vein. Sometimes email lists like this can feel like one big pep rally, especially to someone like me, who thinks that the good stuff shines all the brighter when juxtaposed against lesser works, rather than thinking that everything that comes along is the next David Goodis novel. My own reservations about various authors mentioned in this thread are available in the RA archive, but I think the discussion is worth re-visiting every once in a while.

So let me throw in my .02.


James Ellroy: Arguably the sweatiest, most histrionic writer to come along in the last couple of decades. Coupling interior monologues that would have made Paul Verlaine blush with laughably thin plots and a pervasive sense that corruption (like Evil in "King Lear") is so endemic that it exists mostly by propping itself up against itself (sort of like a Roman arch), Ellroy is my pick for most over-rated fiction writer of the past decade.

Which leads us to the runners-up:

Second: George P. Pelecanos: someone who mentioned him earlier summed one of his books up as not much action and a lot of name-dropping (I'm paraphrasing here). I'd agree with that. What's more, I find his characterization thin, his plots transparent, and I don't like anyone in his books. Also, his villains exist mainly as foils for his super-heroic protags (Strange, for example). The drug mules in "Right As Rain," and that rail that ran across the bottom of their home-made bar, and how the shorter of the two liked to hook his Dingo boot heel in that rail while talking. Sort of like those guys who kept crossing and re-crossing the street carrying that large plate glass window back and forth in "Wayne's World II" (and hence it was no surprise when it got smashed in a later scene), was *anyone* surprised that the redneck got his boot heel caught in said bar railing when the time came to shoot it out with Terry Whats-His-Name, Strange's sidekick? Anyone?

Just astonishingly bad.

To the good, I like how Pelecanos sets a scene, and he does a great job of describing Washington, DC in his novels. What's more, as a novelist, I think he's a superb screenwriter. The episodes of HBO's "The Wire" that he wrote were some of their best (and that is saying something).

Max Allan Collins: This guy is the Gene Hackman of the "hired-gun" series writing field. Like Hackman, I doubt he has ever turned down a contract. Also like Hackman, he is male, and therefore a "man," and "Hack" ought to be forever associated with his name.

Mickey Spillane: I can fairly hear the collective gasps of dismay coming from the peanut gallery on this one. Yes, it's true. I don't like Spillane's work. Unlike Hammett and Chandler (and Ross MacDonald, who I know many on this list don't like, but who I happen to enjoy), Spillane's work has not aged well. There is energy in his early writing, no question, but if Mike Hammer had popped up in today's world, he likely would have foregone cracking pinko heads and banging every big-breasted chickee who hit on him, in favor of having his own right-right-right-wing talk show, where he could out-Ann Coulter the rest of that mob, all while drinking like a fish, and still banging every big-breasted chickadee who favored him with a "come-hither" stare.

Loren D. Estleman: Spent the first half of his firs Amos Walker book waiting for something to happen. Dozed off at one point and just flat gave up on him.

I could go on, but those are the ones who immediately jump to mind. I'm just finishing Eric Adler's "A Coffin For Dimitrios," and when I compare the writing in it to what has come from some of these guys, it shines all the brighter. Really a terrific read. I am sorry that I waited so long to read something of his. Looking forward to getting to his book "Journey In to Fear" sometime this summer as well.

All the Best-

Brian Thornton

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