Guest Post, By Sidney Williams:
(Thanks to Charles for letting me drop by and chat here a bit.)
I have a new hardboiled novel called Fool’s Run from the Gordian Knot mystery imprint on the horizon. It releases Nov. 22. That means of late, I’m getting asked about favorite fictional detectives.
If I’m pressed to pick a favorite, I have to say all of ‘em because I’ve read and enjoyed detective novels since I was in high school, and I’ve sampled for years.
All are influences of course, though I tried to make my hero, Si Reardon fresh and different. His adventure is a bit of a caper and a bit of mystery at the same time. It’s also a bit noir and a bit hardboiled as well. If you’re in the camp that draws a line, the noir protagonist’s usually an anti-hero. Si’s a bit of that and accepts a dirty job from my hopefully modern variation on a femme fatale. She’s a lawyer working as a “special counsel” who helps fix things, a bit on the dark side, confident and in control. Si’s journey leads him from darkness to a battle for survival.
I guess above all the hardboiled school is about an individual on a tough journey, a matter of quests and questions.
Mitchell Tobin created by Tucker Coe (Donald E. Westlake)
Many tend to think of Donald E. Westlake as a comic caper writer because of his Dortmunder books, but he wrote a lot of hardboiled fiction along with the comic and not just as Richard Stark focusing on the thief Parker. Mitch Tobin’s a cop booted from the force because he was busy with an extramarital affair when he should have been on the job. As he works to repair his life and symbolically build a wall around his back yard, he gets roped into some powerful tales with interesting mystery plots, starting with Kind of Love, Kinds of Death. In that one, he’s hired by a mob boss. I discovered that book as a kid when it was reissued by Charter, and happily all the Tobin ebooks are readily available these days.
Matthew Scudder created by Lawrence Block
I read Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine as a kid as well. I first encountered Matt Scudder, another cop who’d left the force, in A Candle for the Bag Lady, a novella. In that tale, Scudder took it upon himself to solve the murder of the titular character. Responsible for a death on the job, Scudder drank and lit candles in Catholic churches, ever seeking rebirth. That story was a great introduction, and later I connected the dots between it and Block’s Writer’s Digest column and other work. The Scudder tales are a powerful character study as Scudder copes with alcoholism, and the tales are great hardboiled novels as well. The flashback entry When the Sacred Ginmill Closes is a standout.
Ed Noon created by Michael Avallone
Writer’s Digest—again—released an audio tape on mystery writing when I was young. It featured Michael Avallone who made mention of his TV tie-in work, and of course his hero Ed Noon. I had to scour used paperback shops to find early ones, but I got a kick out of Noon’s breezy voice. I like the early, traditional hardboiled Noons best including The Tall Dolores, but the spy-era books are fun too. Ed goes to work for the president. Avallone’s son, David, has reissued most of the novels as ebooks these days, usually nicely priced.
Of course Marlowe’s a favorite. I started with Farewell, My Lovely and followed Marlowe from there. The Marlowe tales, to me, are the ultimate in romanticized private eye fare. Chandler pretty much defined noir language and offered up a tough sleuth with a soul, and I loved what he was doing.
The Continental Op created by Dashiell Hammett
I read The Maltese Falcon early on in my reading life and when a TV miniseries happened along, I picked up The Dain Curse. That’s a later tale featuring Hammett’s unnamed operative from the Continental Detective Agency. I think he considered Dain a lesser entry. It’s interesting, but above all it was a gateway to the short stories in The Big Knockover including “The Gutting of Couffignal” in which The Op battles heavily robbers on an island that’s home to the very rich. Red Harverst came my way as well, and in later years, I’ve come to like Hammett more and more and to understand what he was doing with The Op’s gritty, pragmatic problem-solving.
Around the time I discovered Marlowe, I ran across The Drowning Pool by MacDonald in the tie-in edition with the Paul Newman film. Archer clicked with me the most of all the detective heroes. There’s something spiritual in Archer’s encounters with troubled family and reverberations from the past. I segued from The Drowning Pool to the later works, perhaps not fully appreciating the texture early on. But one summer, I devoured The Moving Target, The Goodbye Look, The Blue Hammer and the rest and waited for more that would sadly never come.
Since it’s a bit different of a different novel for me, there’s a Fool’s Run giveaway going on Goodreads. You might win a free signed copy and get to sample it for free.
Visit Sid online at SidisAlive.com
My favorites are Pendergast (Preston and Child) and Sherlock Holmes.
Alex, I've only read one of the Pendergast books but enjoyed it
So many of my favorites are on here but my number one is Lew Archer. I feel Ross M. took what Chandler and Hammett started and dug deeper.
David, I'm remiss in not having read more Lew Archer books it seems. I'll have to make up for that. Travis McGee is my own favorite.
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