New Hard-Boiled Writers, 1970s-1990s

New Hard-Boiled Writers, 1970s-1990s

New Hard-Boiled Writers, 1970s-1990s

New Hard-Boiled Writers, 1970s-1990s

Synopsis

Beginning in the 1970s, a new generation of writers took over the hard-boiled story (created by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett) and transformed it to fit the realities of their world-a universe infected by violence, greed, racism, sexism, war, and commercialism. Their protagonists, too, are far different from Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
The author comments both on the way the hard-boiled story has changed over the past three decades and examines the work of ten significant contemporary hard-boiled writers. Chapters on Robert B. Parker, James Crumley, Loren Estleman, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Carl Hiaasen, Earl Emerson, Robert Crais, James Lee Burke, and Walter Mosley demonstrate how these writers have used the hard-boiled hero to make powerful statements about life in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Excerpt

Vietnam, rock and roll, yuppies, firepower, women, urban decay, pornography, child abuse: all of them had something to do with remaking the hard-boiled detective story in the last quarter of the twentieth century. They're also all going to have to wait until later because my focus here begins with the literary background of the relatively recent renaissance in hard-boiled writing.

From the perspective of 1960 it didn't look like the hard-boiled story would last long enough to have a renaissance. Black Mask sputtered, fizzled, and then finally died in the early fifties. Raymond Chandler didn't make it to the 1960s and Dashiell Hammett lived only one year into the decade. And the fifties were hardly productive years for either writer, Chandler mourning the death of his wife and Hammett— written out a decade earlier—persecuted by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Granted, the fifties had the MacDonalds, John D. and Ross, and Mickey Spillane, but even with them, the hard-boiled story—realistically the hard-boiled novel—gave every indication of dying in the not so distant future. It looked like the future belonged to James Bond. But it didn't. Instead of shuffling off unmourned, in the 1970s the hard-boiled novel came back, gaining as much energy and probably a much wider and more diverse readership than it had during its first real years of life.

One of the reasons for this renaissance resides in the fact that in the seventies and eighties readers who had never seen or even heard of pulp magazines could read the hard-boiled fiction of the 1930s for the first time. All of Hammett's novels had been available since Knopf's omnibus edition in 1965, but both Hammett and Chandler were reprinted in the seventies: Vintage reprinted Hammett's novels in paperback as well as The Big Knockover (with an introduction by Lillian Hellman) in 1972 and Random House published The Continental Op two years later. Along with reprints of his novels, the seventies saw most of Chandler's short stories reprinted in Ballantine's 1972 issue of Trouble Is My Business, Pickup on Noon Street, Killer in the Rain, and The Simple Art of Murder. Come the 1980s, readers could even get hold of some of the lesser-known hard-boiled writers: Raoul Whitfield was reprinted in 1985 and so was Fredric Brown; Paul Cain's Fast One reappeared in 1987 and so did Gerald Butler's Kiss the Blood off My Hands; and the next year . . .

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