RARA-AVIS: Re: RIP John Gardner

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 17 Aug 2007


Re your comments below:

> I'm kind of surprised you're willing to accept
> consensus on this. I know we're talking a
> technicality here, but I'm speculating on where
> this would go if the technicality is not
> observed. If a romance was dark and sinister
> and/or unrequited (doomed) but there was no crime
> depicted, would it be noir if others said so? Or
> would it be a romance with a noir(ish) theme?
> Just asking,

Spying IS a crime. That's why domestic counter-epsionage, at least in the free world, is almost always at least partly the job of law enforcement. The FBI has its internal security section. Scotland Yard has Special Branch. The Surete Nationale has the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance. And, in your neck of the woods, until comparatively recently, the RCMP had the Security Service.

C'mon, Kerry. This goes way beyond consensus. Why is it even an issue?

Way back in the pulp era, spy stories were a regular feature in crime fiction magazines. Max Brand, for example, had a regular series character named Anthony Hamilton who ran in DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY.

Spy stories have been competing for, and winning, major mystery awards for as long as there have BEEN major mystery awards. The most recent Edgar for Best First Mystery Novel went to a book by Alex Berenson called THE FAITHFUL SPY. Le Carre's THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD was the first book to win both an Edgar and a Dagger for Best Mystery Novel, and was recently named the best of all Dagger winners in the 50 year history of those awards.

Spy novels are most likely to be found in the mystery section of bookstores.

Spy novels are most likely to be found in the mystery section of public libraries.

The well-known "mystery imprints" always offered spy fiction along with other kinds of crime novels. I've already mentioned Serie Noire. Another example is Doubleday's Crime Club, under which line the Hugh North novels of Van Wyck Mason, the Tommy Hambledon novels of Manning Coles, and the David Audley novels of Anthony Price all first saw print.

Every mystery bookstore in the world has an espionage section.

And virtually every single detective with a long-running series, of every stripe, cozy to hard-boiled and all the degrees in between, from Hercule Poirot to Mike Hammer, from Sherlock Holmes to Nero Wolfe, from Charlie Chan to Virgil Tibbs, from King of the Royal Mounted to Dick Tracy, from Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys, has had at least one story, and usually several, involving espionage.

This list has had entire months devoted to writers like Donald Hamilton and Edward S. Aarons. In fact, spy fiction has come up so often, and so routinely, on this list that I'm flabbergasted that you suddenly regard the discussion of it as controversial

Indeed, a number of secret agent characters made R-A's list of the 100 greatest hard-boiled characters of the 20th Century, including, but not limited to, Philip Atlee's Joe Gall, Trevanian's Jonathan Hemlock, and Adam Hall's Quiller.

You may be suddently mystified that spy fiction is regarded as a sub-genre of mystery fiction and if you really want to consider the question, have at it. But that ship already sailed more than a century ago.

As for my "accepting consensus," it never even occured to me to question it. I'd be as likely to question whether or not a cozy whodunit was a mystery, or a police procedural was a mystery, as to question whether a spy novel was a mystery. I always thought it was self-evident.

Are you serious or just yanking my chain?


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