Re: RARA-AVIS: Cain and Hammett

Date: 02 Oct 2007

William wrote:

"Describing Spade as 'screwed' -- with all due respect -- is semantic dancing. For example, he's not dead, in prison, or insane."

While I agree that Spade is not screwed enough to be noir screwed, certainly not to a Cain degree, I would say that sending the woman he loves to prison is everyday language screwed, in a between a rock and a hard place sense.

"Spade is a hero as is Philip Marlowe and you can fudge it all you want but he succeeds and lives and all the bad puppies have been slapped with the newspaper. Don't get me wrong. The Maltese Falcon may be the best book of its kind and is a damn fine book of any kind."

Spade does his job. Does that really rise to the ot level of heroism? I'm currently reading Richard Witts's The Velvet Underground. It's highly recommended if you're into the group, but I had to pause at something he said while describing the influence of Hammett and Chandler on Lou Reed's writing: "Reed has also mentioned Dashiell Hammett, similarly gifted in imagery, who was slightly ahead of Chandler in creating a more 'realistic' crime story genre where their ethical and incorruptible private detective sees how hungrily the law and the lawless feed of of greed." While this would describe Marlowe, Spade is
"ethical and incorruptible"?

"But Spade is a hero no matter what environment he swims in. All the PIs are."

Uh, they are? All of them? I'm not sure the Continental Op is always a hero. Is he really a hero in Red Harvest, for instance? I also find it hard to see the PI in Jonathan Latimer's Solomon's Graveyard as a hero. Okay, they get right results, so maybe they're just "not saints," as you put it. But certainly the PI in Marc Behm's Eye of the Beholder is no hero, nor the one in Loren Estleman's Peeper. Peter Israel wrote of a PI who actually did take the money when bribed to back off a case.

Wade Miller once used the reader's expectation of a PI's being a hero to hide his true nature (don't want to give it away by giving the title). And the PI in Dave Zeltserman's Fast Lane exposes himself as increasingly unheroic as the book progresses.

Yes, these are exceptions to the overall heroism of PIs in hardboiled lit, but there are a fair number of these exceptions.


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