RARA-AVIS: Work Through This

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 05 Nov 2007

Patrick King wrote:

> Robert B. Parker's
> detectives are all in AA.

Are any of Robert B. Parker's detectives actually in AA?

> Who wants a hero who's
> trying to work through his problems?

Evidently, readers. Judging by book sales, the shallow, cartoon-like hero who shoots first and never asks questions later seems to definitely be out of favor.

Except, of course, in movies and comics like SIN CITY which most people seem to agree is pure parody; not meant to be taken seriously at all.

> That's not what
> this type of story is about.

Really? Re-read Chandler, whom you cite down below. Or read him for the first time if that's what it takes. The books could certainly be read as the story of one man trying to work through his problems -- namely, how can a decent, moral man can live in the world we have without becoming part of the nastiness himself; to go down those fabled mean streets and remain neither tarnished nor afraid.

Much of "this type of story," as you call it, addresses this very theme over and over, almost everyone from the Op on down. If you're reading hard-boiled fiction solely for guys shooting each other, you're missing out on much of the appeal and rich depth of the genre.

> Mike Hammer can shoot
> better when he's drunk. Alcohol doesn't phase James
> Bond. Phillip Marlow can be beaten to a pulp and still
> bring the killer in.

Ah, yes, Marlowe as caveman. That's what his character is known for.

> I heard a news program last night stirring up fear and
> loathing as they proclaim, "the most violent video
> game ever!" A violent video game is like military
> intelligence or postal service, an oxymoron. No
> violence was ever committed playing a video game.
> Skateboarding is violent, not video games. Anyone is
> much safer reading or gaming about violent subjects
> than they are actually doing them. I think this is the
> real difference between hard-boiled and noir. Noir is
> cautionary and realistic. Hard-boiled throws caution
> to the wind.

Actually, most hard-boiled heroes rarely throw caution to the winds. Being hard-boiled is pretty much the opposite of that. It's about being cool in the face of violence, and not losing it. It's not the guy with the gun who's necessarily hard-boiled; it's the guy who stands up to the guy with the gun and doesn't flinch who's hard-boiled.

After all, it doesn't take much to act like a tough man when you're holding a gun. Which is why so many confused young men feel the need to get one, I guess. It's quicker than waiting to grow up.

> In a hard-boiled story, the hero can do
> anything and always succeeds in the end.

You seem to be confusing hard-boiled literature with comic books. Or possibly video games. Or Bruce Willis movies. Have you actually read any of the books you cite? To claim that the heroes in the hard- boiled genre always succeed in the end is to grossly misread the massive amount of evidence at hand.

> It seems to
> me, people NEED this type of entertainment as a
> release for their normal impulses.

I'm not sure most people NEED to play Chainsawing Nuns or whatever to curb their "normal" impulses -- and it apparently doesn't work, anyway. If that were the case, young men (the principal players of video games) would not be the most violent segment of society. Or are you suggesting that we need more video games that feature more violence?

And how on earth is skateboarding violent?

Unless of course some poor boarder, deprived of violent video games, whacks some porky gamer over the head for his Doritos.


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