Category Archive 'Detective Stories'

15 May 2016

Why We Like Raymond Chandler

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I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.

— Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely

13 Aug 2013

“Hired by a Bitch to Find Scum”

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Josephine Livingstone certainly chose a hard boiled title for her review of Bran Nicol’s new book The Private Eye: Detectives in the Movies.

Often responding to Philip or Sam, the private investigator (PI) may be identified by his coat and hat. His natural habitat: the wet street corner or, unauthorised, another person’s home. He is commonly accused of committing the very crime under his investigation. You will find him lit starkly, from the side. He is good at getting women into bed, but they often turn out to be malevolent villainesses. He is American.

The PI’s bloodlines flow deeply into the tradition of masculine heroes. His characteristics loom so large over Western popular culture that it can be hard to make him out. This is the problem facing any book on the film noir detective: being a chap, in a movie, trying to solve a problem, he is as inscrutably general a cultural trope as the femme fatale. What makes a PI a PI, and not just some other kind of leading man? You can’t even really chalk him up to an era, since he has existed since the early days of film. …
[The] famous five film noir traits—oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel—were neither clear cut nor all strictly necessary in order for a film to be noir. This genre is yoked together by a general ambience—an aura of darkness—rather than any true collective character. If the film noir is about one particular thing, I’d say it was about bad people. It is therefore about crime, and the investigators of those crimes. Enter the PI.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

24 Feb 2008

50 Mystery Writers (plus 3 More)

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The Telegraph offers a list of 50 detective story authors with a recommended title from each.

Missing from the list? I’d suggest including:

Nicholas Freeling was an Englishman and resident of the Continent, who brought keen intelligence and a serious and humane philosophical perspective to the detective genre. His best work was probably the series of novels revolving around criminal investigations conducted by Dutch Inspector Van der Valk. Most readers felt that Van der Valk’s death in the line of duty —Aupres de ma blonde aka A Long Silence (1972)– was a mistake, and Freeling’s replacement, French detective Henri Castaing, made for less compelling reading.

Read: Love in Amersterdam aka Death in Amsterdam (1962)

Robert van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat and orientalist, who translated an 18th century Chinese detective story about the adventures of a Tang Dynasty Imperial official. Inspired by the original, Gulik proceeded to produce his own series of further adventures of Judge Dee, running to 16 volumes of individual novels and short stories or thereabouts. The Judge Dee mysteries offer a fascinating picture of a distant time and place, viewed specifically from a Confucian perspective.

Read: The Chinese Bell Murders (1958)

And how could they possibly have missed?

John D. McDonald, a Harvard MBA, tried his hand at fiction while serving in WWII, and after his discharge settled down to produce a well-crafted series of hardboiled crime thrillers in the manner of James M. Cain. 1950s paperback racks were filled with McDonald’s pulpy novels, each with its cover featuring a buxom broad in provocative déshabillé. In the early 1960s, McDonald the professional sat down and carefully designed the ultimate series hero, one of the detective genre’s all-time great protagonists, Florida “salvage consultant,” thinking man’s action hero, and rueful philosopher Travis McGee.

Read: The Deep Blue Goodbye (1964)

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