RARA-AVIS: Re: Some female writers

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 05 Feb 2008

On Feb 5, 2008, at 4:46 AM, rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com wrote:

> Dorothy Dunn anyone? She was a rare bird in Black Mask once the
> magazine
> became hardboiled under Joseph Shaw's editorship (there were more
> female
> writers before that). She wrote one novel (IIRC), MURDER'S WEB, in
> 1950. I
> haven't read it, has anyone?

Yep. I'm not near my notes, but I recall (I think) it was a little uneven. Ambitious, though -- an attempt to track the effect murder and crime has on all it touches; a theme David Lapham's great STRAY BULLETS comic also plays around with.

Dunn's short stories are a little more hard-boiled; full of nasty little twist endings and the usual lowlifes, thugs, killers, bar girls, etc.

Not bad for a school teacher.

> Earl and Marion Scott were a married couple who wrote hardboiled
> crime for
> Black Mask in the late twenties and early thirties. I haven't read
> their
> stories and never read any comment on them.

Still trying to track down some of their stories. The one book of Marion 's I've read so far (and again, I'm not near my notes) is about as far from hard-boiled (or any sort of quality) as you can get. Just a horrid, stilted and lame example of the worst of the "had I but known" school.

(Anyone who thinks the pulps -- even in their hay day, even the very best pulps -- were consistently full of great stories is in for a shock. There's a reason the same stories keep getting reprinted. Judging from the novel, I don't have high hopes for Earl and Marion.)

> There are some noirish touches in Canadian Pamela Fry's one crime
> novel,
> HARSH EVIDENCE, from the early fifties.

Another book that has -- so far -- eluded me. Was she translated into Finnish?

And Debbi wrote:

> Certainly, none of these women would be mistaken for cozy writers.

That's been one of the problems compiling this book. They're not cozy, some of these writers, but do they qualify as hard-boiled?

How hard do you have to be to be hard-boiled? How tough? How colloquial?

Or am I subjecting these women writers to to a stricter criteria than male authors?

Maybe it's me, but sometimes I feel that women authors often have to have to pass a harsher litmus test on this list (and elsewhere) than many male writers.

Is it our own biases at play here, or are we (or I) maybe just hesitant to challenge the actual hard-boiled stature of some of our
(my) favourite male authors?

It's easy enough to peg a dese-and-dose caveman character as hard- boiled, but the definition of what qualifies as toughness in a character or a piece of fiction gets more and more slippery as you move towards the more compassionate, more nuanced, less knuckle- dragging end of the scale, and becomes a virtual slip'n'slide for some once you get to authors who tinker a little with the form or dare to inject a little sticky humanity into the works. Especially, it seems, if they're female.

If we include, say, Lew Archer or Dan Fortune, why not Kinsey Millhone? Or Quinn in Margaret Millar's HOW LIKE AN ANGEL, for that matter.

If Bill Crane is hard-boiled, why not Stephanie Plum?

The same thing with noir. Would MILDRED PIERCE, for example, a pretty domestic kinda book about a not-so-perfect mother and daughter, be considered noir if it were written by a woman best known for her gothic or cozy melodramas? Or would it simply be dismissed a particularly tawdry soap opera?

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site 1998-2008 10 Years of P.I. Thrills

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