I think of the "hardboiled"
> tradition as beginning more or less with Hammett or his immediate Black Mask
> predecessors and contemporaries, and involving fairly cynical, usually
> American tough guy protagonists.
To me, Hammett's "Red Harvest" is a direct descendent of Owen Wister and Zane Gray -- getting off the train to start the action (like in The Virginian, 1902), the speakeasy-saloon, the posse chase down from the mountains with cars replacing the horses. The Continental Op also seems to me to be a city cousin of Cooper's Leatherstocking (1820s-1830s) -- the constant justifying, second-guessing and self-searching, taking risks crossing the good-bad, tame-wild line. Cooper, like Buchan, directly modelled Walter Scott (1800s), whose heroes always seem to talk and think too much but who raise their horns of mead or unsheath their swords wherever appropriate. So my point is that I don't think Black Mask writers or Hammett came out of nowhere to establish the "hardboiled" story, but continued and modified for the times a traditional kind of storytelling. Hard to say exactly who started it, I think. How 'bout that Robin Hood?
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