RARA-AVIS: Elements of the perfect hardboiled crime novel

From: Jeff Vorzimmer ( jvorzimmer@austin.rr.com)
Date: 06 May 2007

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the elements that go into making a good hardboiled crime novel, especially of the Gold Medal era. I think that if a writer used the list as formula to create a novel it would probably end up sounding just that--formulaic. All elements have to flow naturally from the narrative. I don't think they are all necessary for a good novel, but I think the more it has of these elements the more enjoyable it is. At least for me as a reader.

The first might seem obvious, but I've added it in light of recent arguments that certain works outside the genre can be considered hardboiled or noir, although I did specify "crime novel". I'm sure others would go so far as to say it has to be murder.

1. A crime (can precede the timeline of the narrative) 2. Tough wise-cracking dialogue 3. An unsympathetic protagonist (with whom you none-the-less identify) 4. A femme fatale 5. Sexual tension 6. A tough brutal thug (the nemesis of the main character) 7. Ironic plot twists 8. A double-cross 9. A sense though out that all the characters are doomed

I might have over-looked some essential elements and I'm sure others will point them out. But I think this is a good starting point.


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