Re: RARA-AVIS: The Golden Age of American Crime Fiction

From: Patrick King (
Date: 30 Apr 2008

--- jean-pierre jacquet <> wrote:
> In the mid-1920s, the magazine Black Mask turned to
> stories favoring
> characters and atmosphere over intricate
> puzzle-plotting. Led by
> Dashiell Hammett, the monthly magazine inaugurated a
> golden age of
> American crime fiction.
***************************************************** Just as a point of order, while Hammett and the best of the Black Mask boys added characterization and atmosphere to their stories, they did not sacrifice intricate plots. I'd argue Hammett's mysteries are far better plotted than those of Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Reinhart, Ellery Queen, Earl Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, Dorothy L. Sayer and the other popular mystery writers they untimately displaced.

I read RED HARVEST a couple of weeks ago and not for the first time. While I still don't think its anything like Hammett's best work, I couldn't put it down. I followed it with Gardener's THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS, and Reinhart's THE BAT. (I mean how can your screw up a novel called THE BAT?) But she managed. A third of the way through these books I'm asking myself, 'why am I reading this crap?'

Hammett was a fine story teller who brought atmosphere to his stories and complexity to his characters. Most of the hardboiled genre lost its plot complexity by the 1950s. By the time Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane had added their indelible marks, the mystery element had all but vanished from hardboiled. But the originators of the form had the gift of deception down to a science.

Patrick King

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