RARA-AVIS: Re:Most Hard-Boiled?

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 18 Dec 2006


Re your question below:

"Hi,gang! Who's the hardest,of the hard-boiled writers,the most hard-boiled? Thanks! See ya,on the mean streets!"

Good question. I think a case could be made that Spillane's Mike Hammer is that hardest-boiled private eye character, but, particularly recently, Spillane, as a writer rather than as the creator of an iconic character, seems a little tame.

The problem with a phrase like "MOST hard-boiled" is that one can be so hard-boiled as to beover-the-top.

Is Don Pendleton more hard-boiled than Michael Connelly because there's more death and destruction in one Executioner novel than in Connelly's entire corpus? Probably, at one level. But Mack Bolan is so tough that, ultimately, he's unbelievable. So, on another level, a character like Harry Bosch, more rooted in the real world, seems more believably hard-boiled than Bolan, and, consequently, Connelly a more hard-boiled writer than Pendleton.

Using that "believability" yardstick, and sticking to more or less contemporary writers, here are a few nominees. Gerald Petievich, Kent Anderson, Bill James, Donald Hamilton, Adam Hall, John Wainwright, Joe Gores, Loren Estleman, and Richard Stark.

Interestingly, considering how inestricably connected the adjective "hard-boiled" is with the subject
"private eye," it's interesting that only twoof the writers I suggest are PI novelists, and one of those, Gores, is a fairly atypical one at that. That wasn't planned when I typed my sggestions off the top of my head.

Maybe it goes back to that "believability" factor. I love the hard-boiled private eye figure, but he (and, increasingly she) has always seems like a fantasy construct. There are no real PI's like Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer. There ARE cops like Charlie Carr and Colin Harpur, spies like Matt Helm and Quiller, and professional criminals like Parker, and those characters, and their creators, seem believably hard-boiled in a way that even a well-made private eye can't.


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