Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hard Boiled

I have a lot of books that I need to/intend to read and talk about here. I even took a couple that I need to finish on my last trip away from computer and television access. However, the place I stayed had a whole library of pulpy, entertaining fiction; so I naturally read one and a half of those novels instead of what I needed to read. 

Red Harvest is a novel I have wanted to read for a long time. I have not had the chance to read any of Dashiell Hammett’s five novels before, but now I am seeking them all out. The man had a way with words! He created so many phrases and twists of sentences but avoided clich├ęs (or created a lot of them!) His prose is such a joy to read that you can actually make it through all of the terrible things happening in the story!

And terrible things are happening. Hard Boiled Detective fiction is not a sleuth story where one tries to find and restore order to a community that has been disrupted by a crime or a murder. It is more like the Western as the sleuth is more of a hero trying to navigate and set to right a society built on chaos. Our hero here, the Continental Op, is smart. He solves several “mysteries” in the course of his operation in “Poisonville,” but his real objective is to totally clean up a town that is run and run over by organized crime.

The thing that is most disturbing in this story is the means he has to use and the lengths he has to go to to solve the current problems the town has. That being accomplished, there is no hope that it will remain a clean town for long. However, the uplifting aspect of this story—something that does not make it into the many film adaptations and re-imaginings of this story or that would likely be a part of the tale is written today—is that the Op himself has problems with what he is doing. He knows that fighting evil is causing him to gradually become himself.

"This damned burg's getting me. If I don't get away soon I'll be going blood-simple like the natives." 

This is a novel for our times. Things are not good in society today, but setting things right needs to be done carefully. The “good old American way” of fighting the evils of the world is a dangerous game and sometimes makes the hero as dirty as the villain.

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