Re: RARA-AVIS: Pelecanos, The Night Gardener

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 11 Aug 2006

Bob V. wrote:

>All that said, I think that you, Brian "Test of Time" Thornton,
>objective critic, shouldn't read it.

Point of order regarding "Test of Time": that was Doherty taking one thing I said in the course of a looooong discussion on Spillane and beating it to death in an attempt to win his argument. After all, if you successfully change the question from whether or not Spillane was any good (I don't think he was) to whether or not he "stood the test of time" (an off-hand comment I made and that Jim Doherty latched onto like a bulldog, thereby changing the discussion), you don't have to prove that he was any good, merely that he continues to enjoy robust sales.

Which one is more readily quantifiable?

And I don't claim any objectivity where Pelecanos is concerned. I don't like his work, test of time, or not.

The same can be said for those mystery writers I really like (in no particular order): Hammett, Chandler, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, Stark, Artuto Perez-Reverte, Parker, Lehane, Sean Doolittle, Victor Gischler, David Liss, Jason Goodwin, Rex Stout, Laura Lippman, Eddie Muller, John Connolly, Michael Pearce, Anne Perry, Walter Moseley, Cornell Woorich, Ken Bruen, Jason Starr, Al Guthrie, Stephen J. Cannell, Carl Hiassen, Chester Himes, David Goodis, James M. Cain, and a host of others. I'm not objective about them. I like them.

I do not, however, wax rhapsodic about every single thing they've written. Hammett was the master, but "The Dain Curse" was a weak entry in his canon. Chandler was Chandler, and changed the genre, but some of his plots were just "eh." I think Ross MacDonald was a terrific writer, but I also agree that he wrote one story over and over, riffing on the same general circumstances the way a jazz musician improvises on the same eight bars. Since I like most of his improvisation, I don't mind that short-coming, yet I am aware of it. Parker has been known to phone it in, but some of his work is terrific. Gischler's characters aren't very likeable. John D. MacDonald treated female love interest characters in Travis McGee novels the way the writers of the original Star Trek series treated the guys in the red uniform tunics who went on landing parties with the captain: expendable, and dead by the second act. Dennis Lehane had his PI hero Kenzie shot up more times in any given bo
 ok than any regular human being could walk away from (I've heard it suggested that this was some sort of back-handed tribute to Mickey Spillane. I couldn't say), and his supporting character Bubba Rogowski became some sort of superhero in the later books. Hiassen's got a penchant for absurdism in his books that pushes the limits of the willing suspension of disbelief. Etc., etc.

So while I am *not* objective in my affection for the writing of these authors, I try very hard to be objective about what they've done, how they've done it, where it worked, and where it didn't. Just because I like them doesn't mean that I stick my head in the sand about their short-comings.

So often on this list, discussions of the various authors can devolve into a "he sucks/no, he's great" back-and-forth. I'm not interested in that. I don't read this list for that. Another thing I don't read this list for is the frequent love-fests that go on here, with no discussion of the relative merits of the authors whatsoever.

So if someone's going on and on about how James Ellroy (another writer with a mixed track record in my opinion. A fact which is well-documented in the RA archives) is the second coming of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner all rolled into one, I may pop up occasionally and say that I didn't like this or that work, and here's why. I'm not suggesting anyone change thier opinion based on my experience, merely offering mine as yet another one to help complete a picture of the writing of that author.

I guess I'm just not much for love-fests.



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