Our recent remarks on Rex Miller started a rare train of thought in my mind. Is physical sadism an inherent part of the appeal behind these kinds of books? I think it is clear that it may play a role in the interest in Jim Thompson, Jim Cain, George Higgins, and some of the other guys at the "noir" end of the spectrum. But what about the others?
For the hard-boiled PIs, I cannot really think of many times that they have dished out torture or other really rough stuff, though I think I must be forgetting a Mike Hammer scene or two. But most of the PI's took abuse more than they gifted it out. Marlowe, Beaumont, Archer, even James Bond get the crap tortured out of them but they rarely if ever take advantage of a temporary upper hand to physically skullfuck their adversaries. I do seem to remember one book in which Archie Goodwin actually extracts info through torture, but I don't consider Rex Stout books as anything like the hardboiled canon. By "rough stuff" obviously I don't mean killing because a lot of our favorite characters kill in a nearly offhand fashion.
I said, and some of you agreed, that the Miller books struck me as going a bridge or two too far in terms of the sadistic content. But that line of thought made me wonder why.
Without getting too political, the issue of whether torture ever has a legitimate dimension is a kind of salient topic these days. I think it never does, but that is irrelevant. The point it drew me to was that I would find torture pretty inconsistent with, say, Marlowe or even Spade's character. I think it would be beneath those guys.
You do sometimes see torture in some of the darker espionage novels, as with the oblique references to it in the LeCarre books. But the point there is often to show how morally compromised that world is.
Any thoughts? Or do I just have my crazy on?
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