Detectives - the dominant characters of the 20th Century Discuss

luka

Well-known member
ive talked a lttle bit before about how prizing certain kinds of 'honesty' incentivises more and more lurid 'confessions'
 

woops

is not like other people
well i can't defend them really cos that will just sound like i think having sex fantasies about serial killer victims is good, which i don't really
 

forclosure

Well-known member
ive talked a lttle bit before about how prizing certain kinds of 'honesty' incentivises more and more lurid 'confessions'
Eldridge Cleaver comes to mind, he's a footnote now but it's that exact kind of "honesty" why people don't want to go near him now
 

woops

is not like other people
having said that the scene of old cops sitting around having an old boys' dinner and cracking that kind of shit is straight out of one of ellroy's novels.
 

jenks

thread death
on that note any of you lot here read the Martin Beck books? Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo husband and wife duo who started the whole Scandi crime ting

Love the Beck series - the way the crime and the historical moment works - charting the radical 60s70s but also the backlash.
 

jenks

thread death
Started a Dorothy L Sayers, partly cos there’s an Essex connection and I read SquareHaunting last year and Backlisted have just done an episode on her.
That golden age of crime from the 30s is interesting because you have the classic crime puzzle but also the cult of the detective - Wimsey in this case allows for a critique of society under the guise of a page turner.
 

jenks

thread death
Sayers is a really interesting character - one of that early generation of women to take a degree from Cambridge, she moved in a very intellectual group including HD, Mirrlees and among others. Worked in advertising and then translated Dante for the general reader. While at the same she had an illegitimate child she managed to keep in absolute secrecy - a life lived entirely on her own terms.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
Bizarre episode of Poirot on television the other day. Called Hickory Dickory Dock rather tenuously as the murders take place at some student digs at an address on Hickory Road. This seemed to give whoever directed this particular episode the great idea of constantly following a mouse that ran around in the background through the student accommodation - obviously in reference to the nursery rhyme which begins "Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock" but nothing ever came of this gimmick which became more and more annoying each time it occurred.

The episode was also noteworthy (in fact, I'd say it was particularly noteworthy) for the subplot involving Poirot's homoerotic sparring with Inspector Japp. A kind of running joke in the series is the way that "Madame Japp" as Poirot dubs her is never seen on screen, but in this episode she is not only invisible but actually away as the Japps are supposed to be on leave, however he is recalled to deal with potential unrest arising from the Jarrow Marches. And with her away there is apparently nothing to interfere with the previously invisible sexual tension which we must assume has always existed between Poirot and the Chief Inspector (to give him his full title). So in the opening scenes we see Poirot drag Japp to his own posh butcher and overrule Japp's request for a bit of scrag end saying "Ah non Inspector, the scrag-end is a creature native only to Isleworth I fear" forcing him instead to buy a filet mignon at an astronomical price.

Then, throughout the episode we see Japp unable to fend for himself without his wife; his clothing increasingly rumpled and thinner by the day, plus we see pictures of his home covered in piles of dirty plates and so on. Poirot seemingly takes pity on him and invites him to stay chez Poirot - but sadly the "square meal" he is looking forward to turns out to be a pig trotter, he is unable to sleep due to Poirot keeping the central heating on full blast all night - and worst of all he is constantly embarrassing the urbane Poirot by repeatedly asking him and Miss Lemon to explain what "that contraption in the bathroom" (the bidet) is for.

In the final scene though Japp repays Poirot's hospitality - or gets his revenge - and invites Poirot round for some real grub. The first course is mushy peas, mash and faggots and it is to be followed with spotted dick. Poirot manages to dodge the former saying that he suffers from what the Belgians call "Phobia de Faggots" and then the episode, in which the two men struggle to demonstrate their superiority by forcing the other to take their thing inside them, culminates with Japp saying "Well you may have a phobia of faggots but I hope you don't have a phobia of dick".

It almost makes me want to check out the book and see if Christie wrote it that way... I say "almost" here but of course there is no need, she definitely did not write anything like that. In fact in the books neither Japp nor Hastings (Poirot's younger live-in lover) are such major characters as they became in the long-running BBC adaptation. And I find something quite interesting in the way that this series in many ways became the definitive version of Poirot - Suchet's version of the detective as the hitherto asexual, elegant ADHD sufferer is surely fixed in more minds (at least in the UK) than Christie's version and the BBC's decision to keep Poirot living in a luxurious art-deco/modern international paradise completely trumps the 50 odd years of detecting through various style eras that Christie actually wrote for him. His sidekick and foil (Hastings and Japp) are greatly increased in significance and so on. Of course, Christie is not the first author nor is Poirot the first character where this has occurred, but still it's something of an ignominy for the biggest selling writer of all time to have allowed her most famous creation to wriggle out from under her pen where she thought she had him pinned him down, and take on a life of his own long after she herself had gone... or has she, she herself has now been recreated as a detective in her own right in some new series they're showing on Portuguese telly. A post-modern detective who goes around solving mysteries to aid her inspiration as a budding mystery writer or something. I dunno, it's six thirty in the morning and I have lost count of the levels of reality in the matrix between Christie the mystery solving mystery writer and Christie the mysterious mystery writer whose most famous - and unsolved - mystery was when she herself mysteriously disappeared.
 

version

Warehouse Operative
Ellroy's got a podcast now - James Ellroy’s Hollywood Death Trip.


Couple of things. I’ve got a bass baritone voice, I’ve got a punchy voice, I can read dramatically. I’ve got a rat-a-tat journalistic style. And one can make the case that my mother’s unsolved 1958 murder, when I was 10 years old, is what got me hooked on crime... The podcast has been a joy, but as much as I dig this series, it’s nothing but a stalking horse for the full and unexpurgated version of my 1995 novel American Tabloid about John Kennedy’s reign. And that will go 12 hours with me narrating, and noted actors reading the dialogue.

I like to say that movies and TV shows are out, and podcasts are in. Podcasts are the perfect transposition of the novel to another form. Time is no factor. There is no censorship. It is writing, 100% transposed. That’s a kick to me.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I have watched most of the Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe movies but still can't put them into words. I have read relatively little of Chandler and Hammett. I think they are the two most important 20th century detectives and most of it is down to their humour and the tough guy personas. Before that you have Dupin from Poe who was much more reasonable. He never would have got into a fight to find out the truth.
Hammett's other creation was "The continental operative" a nameless protagonist... I don't want to say he was the first but probably influential. Though with Eastwood's it's developed from a man whose name you don't know to The Man With No Name at all.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I've been watching (the first series of) Only Murders in the Building and, together with hearing a friend listening to an Australian thing about a kidnapped and presumably murdered girl, it got me thinking about True Crime things (normally podcasts). I've read that, contrary to what one might immediately assume without considering it properly, that the audience for True Crime stories and those for detective stories actually have relatively little overlap. I suppose this applies specifically to ones dealing with unsolved crimes, as they were talking about how although on the surface, they are both similar sorts of things, the appeal with Poirot or whatever is the neat packaging up of the mystery and its loose ends into one perfect box, a jigsaw puzzle in which every piece fits, whereas with an unsolved murder the opposite is the case.

And from my own limited experience I can see that they are often incredibly frustrating; when you read stuff about Jack the Ripper for example and the descriptions reveal a well to do, tall, cleanshaven redhead of middling height with a large bushy black beard and in ragged dirty clothes you want to throw the book at the wall. When you realise that they can't even agree about what the writing about Juwes (or whatever it was) - which may or may not have been an uncrucial non-clue - said and that there was no definitive copy made before they incredibly irritatingly wiped it off the wall with an uncharacteristic efficiency that was never matched at any other part of the investigation then you start to feel that someone is taking the piss. Real life is not just messy and lacking in resolution, at times it feels like a deliberate assault on objectivity.

And this is why, to me, in a sense it does feel as though it might be the natural end-point of the detective arc. If first we had perfect inhuman reasoning machines such as Holmes, and then fallibility and doubt crept in, detectives who are scarcely better than the murderers they put away, corrupt police departments... even corrupt protagonists who manage one moment of decency, increasing amounts of unexplained elements and criminals who get away... perhaps this is the answer to my original question about whether the detective just goes on for ever, whether it truly is a 20th century character, or if the detective story is, as at one point it appeared, going to keep growing so much it simply absorbs all other genres.

So maybe it started just before the 20th century with a perfect detective in Edgar Allen Poe, continued with Holmes and then got more and more realistic and fallible, to the point that only true crime was realistic enough and, by the end of the 20th century, it had evolved to the extent that it no longer had any of the stuff about it that its fans liked and had become something totally different. Of course the true detective struggles on, as real rock music did after punk but maybe it has also lost its vitality and will be argued for by "real" fans who think that "solving crime isn't dead" or we need to get back to the old skool cos we did it right the first time.

Or maybe that's also too neat. One way out is things such as Only Murders in the Building which simulates a true crime podcast but will (I assume, I haven't finished it yet) tie everything up as neatly as Father Brown ever did. A perfect way to fight back, and of course for it to have its cake and eat it.

Any thoughts?
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
I guess that's a "no" then....

Anyway, to take this thread in a somewhat different direction, I want to follow up on this thing that I mentioned in the first post

In fact detective stories are so standard that they are even used to anchor otherwise strange settings. For example Mieville's The City and The City was set in some bizarre world in which two cities were intertwined throughout the same space, yet at the same time utterly separated - a headscratcher to get to grips with, but luckily the story itself was the familiar tale of a mysteriously dead girl dumped in some wasteland, the reader could orient themselves by that.

I'm finally watching this series (although I have previously read the book) so it came to my mind again. I take the idea to be something to do with how - to take London as an example - although billionaire oligarchs, very very normal middle-class people such as Mixed-Biscuits and also homeless people do all nominally live in the same city, they live at the same time in totally different worlds, they don't interact in any way. They wake up wherever they live in different enclaves, they work - if they do - in completely different places, totally different types of places even, and when they socialise they do so in places that are either literally segregated by rules and bouncers enforcing them, or else in places that are totally open and free to absolutely anyone who knows where they are and is willing and able to pay £20 for a beer.

Of course, presumably whatever caste someone is in they might have to travel down the same streets to get to their own places, but one does it on foot, one by public transport and one in an armoured super-limo - and if one of them is somehow in the same place as one of the guys from another group they will - just as in The City and the City - literally look right through them, pretend that they are not there... completely ignore them (I guess MB was a bad example in fact cos in his case that also probably happens when people from his own group see him). Most likely they don't even notice the servants pouring their champagne into glasses cut from a single diamond and if there was some sort of crime committed at such an even they would probably be completely unable to describe the minions shuffling around in the background as unobtrusively as possible, magically appearing to give them a canape at the precise second they start to feel peckish.

Anyway, my point is, that is the theme of the book as far as I can tell. There is a murder mystery and detectives trying to solve it and so on, in fact it's a pretty good story as far as I remember it, but in a sense that story doesn't really matter at all, or at least it's secondary to what I was saying above. So my question is, why have a murder mystery at all? Is it cos they are so ubiquitous that they actually provide the most neutral possible background one can use so as to foreground the ostensible background of the two cities?

What other things are there where this happens? There are two that come to my mind easily, the first was a kind of alternative history thing set in a world in which Germany won the war and has occupied Britain, the main character is part of the UK police who have been retained and have to solve a murder while at the same time dealing with a separate hierarchy of Germans who resent being investigated by representatives of their defeated foe; the second is a book which I think was called Anno Dracula and it is once again set in an alternative London, this time one that has been overrun by vampires who live in an uneasy harmony with humans as a result of Dracula marrying Queen Victoria and setting himself up as the king, the police procedural aspect comes in in the form of Jack the Ripper who in this timeline is killing vampires (how canst thou serial kill that which does not live?) and must be investigated by a police force which (if memory serves) is made up of humans as well as various representatives of the unholy walking dead.

For those two examples i'm not really sure why they needed a detective story if I'm honest. Anyway - what other examples are there of this kind of thing? And why do you think in each case that a police procedural was bolted on to these peculiar worlds which almost formed a story in their own right?
 
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