Re: RARA-AVIS: Re:The Long Goodbye

From: Gerald W Page (
Date: 13 Jul 2008

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    If Hammett brought the detective story down to earth, Chandler elevated it to the heights again. And damned few of his successors have been able to breathe in that rarified Olympian atmosphere.

    Since Chandler (and, you're right; that's essentially since "The Long Goodbye") most of the great crime novels have dealt with criminals or cops, not private detectives. I think toward the last two decades of the twentieth century the police procedural novel developed impressively, mainly, but not exclusively, through the efforts of Wambaugh and Ellroy, and even "Ed McBain". They, I think, lay legitimate claim to being discussed as "important" writers among crime novelists, though maybe one or two others, such as Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake should be given consideration as well.


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Michael Sharp
      Sent: Sunday, July 13, 2008 9:51 AM
      Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re:The Long Goodbye

      TLG is my favorite novel. Ever. Of All Time.

      Here is my theory of the detective novel, which will be cursorily
      dismissed by most of you all, perhaps for good reason, but I still
      believe it: With this novel, Chandler wrote the detective novel out of
      existence. He killed it. Drove a stake through its heart. The whole
      book is so backward-looking, so nostalgic, elegiac almost. It's as if
      standing before Marlowe at the end are only (to quote Marvell) "deserts
      of vast eternity." Bleakness. This expresses disillusionment in
      Marlowe, of course, but I think the idea that the good old days are
      permanently gone (and weren't always good) applies to the detective
      story genre as well. I don't think there have been any innovations in
      the detective novel since 1954. Change the gender of the detective,
      change the race, change the location of his stomping grounds - lots of
      variations, but Chandler seemed to be suggesting (and so far, not
      wrongly) that there was nowhere left to go, substantively. I mean,
      Marlowe gets what he wants (the girl, the guy) and can't stand either.
      The whole search has ended, the grail has been found ... and yet he's
      still in the Wasteland.

      The best crime fiction in the intervening 50+ years has taken the
      detective off-center or dispensed with him/her entirely. Most straight
      detective novels today are tired Ross Macdonald retreads, pastiches of
      plots and personas and patter that were cool in their day, but now feel
      more ornamental than authentic. There's lots of potential (perhaps
      infinite potential) in the "Ordinary (wo)man, extraordinary
      circumstances" novel (see Cornell Woolrich's work, or Christa Faust's
      "Money Shot" for one recent, decent example). But as for the
      straight-up detective novel ... a lot of competence and entertainment,
      but that's it.

      Happy to hear contrary opinions.
      All the best.
      Michael Sharp
      Pop Sensation -
      Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle -


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