Saturday, May 3, 2008

Detective Fiction and the 'Hard-Boiled' Genre

When Raymond Chandler wrote about the emotional basis of the new 'hard-boiled' detective story, I believe that he described the 'hard-boiled' detectives and their stories perfectly. All the early detectives solved mysteries like machines, almost never touching on the natural human emotions to solve the case, but instead relying on their heightened knowledge and what sometimes comes across as a sixth sense. The 'Classic' detectives (i.e Holmes and Dupin) always had the knowledge that was necessary for solving the mystery at hand and wanted nothing else but the satisfaction of the solution itself. At times, there appears no other reason for these men to exist other than solving 'crimes' with the help of their friend/right hand man (Watson or Poe's 'Narrator'). The 'hard-boiled' detectives seem to approach their cases haphazardly, with minimal knowledge of the situation. They rely on gut instinct and a 'brawn over brains' style of deduction that separates them (Spade, Marlowe, Archer) from the 'classic' sleuths. Chandler said, "If you know all you should know about ceramics and Egyptian needlework, you don't know anything at all about the police." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950). I agree with this idea that Holmes' extensive knowledge of ashes wouldn't count for anything on the new age 'mean streets' of 'hard-boiled' fiction.

The 'classic' detectives not only possessed knowledge that the average person would not, but it seems that they also had far fewer loose ends to tie up due to the settings in which the authors placed them. While the 'hard-boiled' private eyes are following up leads in the big cities, with some of the lowest people on earth, the 'classic' detectives are off in the countryside dealing with, at the worst, an escaped convict. These criminal figures make up the majority of players in 'hard-boiled' mysteries. "We spend more time in Miami hotels and Cape Cod summer colonies and go not so often down by the old gray sundial in the Elizabethan garden." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950). This is a point most recognized when looking back into "The Moonstone", where Mr. Franklin Blake can be found walking down the garden path more than once in Betteredge's narrative.

Not only is the 'hard-boiled' story told in a new setting, it is told about different types of people. The Baskervilles of Homles' 'Hound' and the Verinders of 'The Moonstone' are people of wealth and elegance, people that would have no place in the slums of Hollywood or Los Angeles with the 'smut peddlers' and 'grifters', like Gutman or Geiger. Chandler commented on the 'English-style' of detective stories as "... not quite so brittle and the people as a rule just wear clothes and drink drinks." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950). One couldn't imagine Miss Rachel acting the way that the Sternwood girls did in 'The Big Sleep', because Collins was writing about a different time and very different people than Chandler. "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet and unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor- by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in this world and a good enough man for any world." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950).

This description of the 'hard-boiled' detective is the most complete take on the subject. Even though Spade has some connection with Brigid, in Hammett's 'Falcon', he still has to bring her in to the authorities. "She did kill Miles...," Spade tells his secretary Effie. Thats how the 'hard-boiled' detective works, on a strict code. "Thats the way it is," Marlowe tells Vivian Regan in Chandler's 'Big Sleep', "Kissing is nice, but your father didn't hire me to sleep with you," and the honorable man shows through in the end.

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