Her eyes were as cold as diamonds in anarctica. Her smile as tight as a traffic cop's.

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I've rarely been able to read many mystery novels. There've been a few exceptions, notably Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series which seems to me more social comedy than detection. And being able to sit at home and let an Archie Goodwin deal with the outside world for me seemed pretty good. On TV I greatly enjoyed Peter Falk's Columbo character good humouredly misdirect his ostensibly smarter suspects. (It was an extra bonus when he got William Shatner.)

But the hardboiled school as it devolves from Raymond Chandler eludes me. I can't read Chandler at all. When Iíd try the prose seemed overwrought. The rhythm of his charactersí interior monologue has become a standardized component of pop culture. Any hack screenwriter can grab it off the shelf and write a script in his sleep.

The hardboiled dick is anything but tough. He may crack wise to let us know heís seen through it all. The patter really says heís upset that life wasnít as he imagined it when his mommy dandled him on her knee.

Admittedly the world isnít the easiest place for the hired meddler. Real tough guys pull him into alleys and kick him in the stomach. Even more hurtful are the inevitable sultry blondes who use him and ply him with Mickey Finns. (Mickey Spillaneís embodiments of butchness would even things up by shooting her in the belly.)

As he goes down those mean streets he feels really sorry for himself.

Which reminds me of what probably seems like a much worse instance of cultural blindness.

I donít like rural blues. Iím not fond of much of the blues. Anyone with an ear for vocal music canít help but admire and enjoy Bessie Smith. But the Delta Blues and undying repetitions of the formula simply bore me. (I wouldnít pretend to appreciate the technical brilliance of say, Robert Johnson, but Iím not making any pretence to aesthetic judgment either.)

Selling culture and entertainment as I do Iíve often thought there was a large overlap in the audiences of rural blues and hardboiled crime fiction.

I havenít listened to enough blues to know if anyone of the caliber of Ira Gershwin or Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics for them. To me the lyrics just state baldly itís a mean olí world. And the meanest part of the world is that my woman done me wrong.

So I canít help but wonder: is a big chunk of what people get from either art form the gratification of self-pity? About their life, maybe mostly their follies and failings in love.

(I hate disclaimers but: Iím not talking about the people who wrote and sang. But about the young folks of the 21st century who are reading and listening.)

Comments

The Walter Mosley series beginning with “Devil in a Blue Dress” was an excellent mystery series; very much beyond the cliches surrounding the genre.

I used to read some John Lutz novels, and they were as typical as any.

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Her eyes were as cold as diamonds in anarctica. Her smile as tight as a traffic cop's.
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