Detectives - the dominant characters of the 20th Century Discuss

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Warehouse Operative
Sweeper-11.jpg
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
So Steve Bruce wrote a book about Nazi hunters in Huddersfield that he managed to take out with a sliding tackle?
Did you lot all get together to wind me up?
 

suspended

Well-known member
I think also detective fiction is satisfying - we get solutions/answers. The rules are strict (the 10 rules of Father Knox) it’s a genre that transcends cultures etc. allows for both highbrow and pulp versions. It’s a very accommodating genre and early on gave a space for female sleuths. Plus in the end satisfies that hunger for crime that is still here today with all that true crime podcast stuff (or how we love to hear about women being murdered)
I like Maigret - many for the way he offers this slice of crime in 150 pages whilst also slowly building the character so before too long you know how Maigret is going to react in any situation.
I've been thinking lately about (games philosopher) C Thi Nguyen's "value clarity" idea—that video games are appealing b/c they have a simple set of objective objectives, unlike the messy complex subjective welter of real-life goals. And how (IMO) it's not just true of video games. It's also a big part of why people like that Liam Neeson Taken, or romcoms, detective novels. It's easy to cheer on and follow the plot when it's obvious what's at stake, and obvious the thing at stake is important. Good writing/film always establishes those stakes at the beginning. (Great writing/film usually complicates the stakes as the work progresses.)

I think that value clarity is the central function of ideology, but that's a separate point.

And what you say about Maigret—that you're trying to build up a coherent personality so you can predict what he'll do, in other words you have a model. Just like you have a model of, say, the laws of physics, or the laws of social interaction. That these are the rules that give you a sense of stakes. The default expectation against which a subversion (say, Maigret acting out of character b/c he's upset, or lovesick, or) works. Without a prediction, you can't really be surprised, or at least, surprises can't be meaningful because everything is surprising.

I think this value clarity/clear stakes idea, and the model/prediction/physics idea, are part of the same big idea, but I can't quite articulate what that is exactly.
 

martin

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Any recommendations for grimy ‘70s UK pulp detective books, pref. set in London? Guess I’m thinking of something like Mickey Spillane/Jim Thompson/ Chester Himes meets ‘Minder’, in a New English Library style. Feels like there should be a few, but I’ve never come across them.

I read a couple of the ‘80s Derek Raymond books like “The Devil’s Home On Leave” but they were more police/murder squad detective than individual, hard-boozing sleuth. That sort of thing would be good, but also up for over-the-top punch-ups, shooters, pickaxe handles, psychotic northerners, hard-faced brass, narks, people lighting fags every 45 seconds, etc.
 

woops

is not like other people
Any recommendations for grimy ‘70s UK pulp detective books, pref. set in London? Guess I’m thinking of something like Mickey Spillane/Jim Thompson/ Chester Himes meets ‘Minder’, in a New English Library style. Feels like there should be a few, but I’ve never come across them.

I read a couple of the ‘80s Derek Raymond books like “The Devil’s Home On Leave” but they were more police/murder squad detective than individual, hard-boozing sleuth. That sort of thing would be good, but also up for over-the-top punch-ups, shooters, pickaxe handles, psychotic northerners, hard-faced brass, narks, people lighting fags every 45 seconds, etc.
can't help with the request but Derek Raymond's autobiography, The Hidden Files, is really good
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
And what you say about Maigret—that you're trying to build up a coherent personality so you can predict what he'll do, in other words you have a model. Just like you have a model of, say, the laws of physics, or the laws of social interaction. That these are the rules that give you a sense of stakes.

This is true of a lot of the best fiction isn't it? It's not specific to detective fiction particularly.

I remember when Breaking Bad was on and a lot of people used to rave about it but I felt that it was just here where it fell down very badly - in great fiction the story should develop from the characters, or at least how they interact with a certain impetus giving event, but BB seemed the absolute opposite of this - the story happened and the people were just hammered into their roles within it, regardless of whether they fitted their allotted holes. So the characters did as the story required, rather than as they would be expected based in their personalities, and so their personaliies were sacrificed for plot and became meaningless.

Of course lots of things do that but BB was being constantly touted as one of the greatest things of all time which made it stand out more starkly.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I do wonder how much Bruce has to teach us about the detective novel though.

I suppose the fact that when Dick Francis (former jockey) and Steve Bruce (former footballer) moved into the literary sphere they both wrote detective/mystery stories set in the milieus they used to inhabit could be taken as evidence for my claim at the start that detective fiction was the dominant form. They both defaulted to that cos... what else were they gonna do?

Beyond that though I'm not sure Brucie was really much more than a footnote to a footnote in terms of how he affected the form as a whole.
 

woops

is not like other people
I do wonder how much Bruce has to teach us about the detective novel though.

I suppose the fact that when Dick Francis (former jockey) and Steve Bruce (former footballer) moved into the literary sphere they both wrote detective/mystery stories set in the milieus they used to inhabit could be taken as evidence for my claim at the start that detective fiction was the dominant form. They both defaulted to that cos... what else were they gonna do?

Beyond that though I'm not sure Brucie was really much more than a footnote to a footnote in terms of how he affected the form as a whole.
that's why i say it doesn't count if it's set in the murky world of... obviously just going through the motions look at this bruce guy and his sliding tackle
 

version

Warehouse Operative
Ellroy on Hammett;

Dashiell Hammett was allegedly offered five Gs to perform a contract hit. It is most likely a mythic premise. He was a Pinkerton operative at the time. A stooge for Anaconda Copper made the offer. The intended victim was a union organiser. The stooge had every reason to believe Hammett would take the job - post-first-world-war Pinkertons were a goon squad paranoically fearful of all perceived reds. Hammett's mythic refusal is a primer on situational ethics. He knew it was wrong and didn't do it. He stayed with an organisation that in part suppressed dissent and entertained murderous offers on occasion. He stayed because he loved the work and figured he could chart a moral course through it. He was right and wrong. That disjuncture is the great theme of his work.

It explains why Hammett's vision is more complex than that of his near-contemporary Raymond Chandler. Chandler wrote the man he wanted to be - gallant and with a lively satirist's wit. Hammett wrote the man he feared he might be - tenuous and sceptical in all human dealings, corruptible and addicted to violent intrigue. He stayed on the job. The job defined him. His job description was in some part "Oppression". That made him in large part a fascist tool. He knew it. He later embraced Marxist thought as a rightwing toady and used leftist dialectic for ironic definition. Detective work both fuelled and countermanded his chaotic moral state and gave him something consistently engaging to do.

 

woops

is not like other people
Ellroy on Hammett;

Dashiell Hammett was allegedly offered five Gs to perform a contract hit. It is most likely a mythic premise. He was a Pinkerton operative at the time. A stooge for Anaconda Copper made the offer. The intended victim was a union organiser. The stooge had every reason to believe Hammett would take the job - post-first-world-war Pinkertons were a goon squad paranoically fearful of all perceived reds. Hammett's mythic refusal is a primer on situational ethics. He knew it was wrong and didn't do it. He stayed with an organisation that in part suppressed dissent and entertained murderous offers on occasion. He stayed because he loved the work and figured he could chart a moral course through it. He was right and wrong. That disjuncture is the great theme of his work.

It explains why Hammett's vision is more complex than that of his near-contemporary Raymond Chandler. Chandler wrote the man he wanted to be - gallant and with a lively satirist's wit. Hammett wrote the man he feared he might be - tenuous and sceptical in all human dealings, corruptible and addicted to violent intrigue. He stayed on the job. The job defined him. His job description was in some part "Oppression". That made him in large part a fascist tool. He knew it. He later embraced Marxist thought as a rightwing toady and used leftist dialectic for ironic definition. Detective work both fuelled and countermanded his chaotic moral state and gave him something consistently engaging to do.

i'll read the article in a sec but this sounds like it's just emphasising why i much prefer chandler to hammett, and always prefer someone writing with a literary style (and imagination?) to someone writing down what happened to them that day. fascination vs. boredom basically
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
i'll read the article in a sec but this sounds like it's just emphasising why i much prefer chandler to hammett, and always prefer someone writing with a literary style (and imagination?) to someone writing down what happened to them that day. fascination vs. boredom basically
I read that as saying that Hammett lived a morally complex (or ambiguous) life and thus his books do too. I think that's quite different from just writing about what you know. Although, in cases where that does apply, I think I agree with you that the imaginative approach is more instantly appealing.
 

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Warehouse Operative
One thing that's occurred to me reading Ellroy recently is the importance of time to the detective.
The detective must always arrive late. The whole thing hinges on their being a step behind and working backward, from effect to cause. The story moves further back as it moves further forward.

It alters the violence of something like an Ellroy too as although they're violent books, a lot of the violence is arrived at after the fact rather than witnessed. It's the base rather than something that's built toward. That's partly why it's easier to argue Ellroy's a moralist than someone like Bret Easton Ellis is: the violence is comparable, but Ellroy spills outward from it whilst Ellis spirals inward.
 
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