The Hard-Boiled School of Detective Fiction
With the release of Under Cover, this week, I'm taking a look at the various styles of crime fiction. On Monday, I talked about The Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Another genre that arose around the same time, but remained popular well into the 1950s is the Hard-Boiled School of Detective Fiction, published in “pulp magazines,” so called because of the cheap wood pulp paper that was used. These inexpensive magazines were successors to the penny dreadfuls (early 19th century) and dime novels (late 19th century/early 20th century).
The typical protagonist in these novels are private investigators who witnessed the violence of organized crime during Prohibition and its aftermath, as well as corruption in the legal system that was nearly as deadly. The result was a
Tough, single-minded, and loners, the PIs in these stores have a code of honor and justice that may not be strictly legal, but it is moral. They may be threatened or beaten, but they refuse to give up a case or betray a client. They are fast talking smart-alecks who use lots of slang, and show little respect for police officers. His attire of choice is a trench coat, fedora, and spectator shoes. And he won’t be caught without his pistol.
The story is nearly always told in first person, and the formula includes a client who’s in trouble, frequently a “dame” who doesn’t give the PI the whole story. She can’t get help from the police, so he takes the case. After digging around, interviewing lots of people, he’s typically been betrayed at least once and more murder have occurred.
Numerous hard-boiled detective stories were made into movies: The Thin Man series, Philo Vance series, The Maltese Falcon, etc. What is your favorite?
In the year since arriving in London, journalist Ruth Brown has put a face on the war for her readers at home in the U.S. Thus far, juggling her career and her relationship with Detective Inspector Trevor Gelson hasn't proven too challenging. The war gets personal for Ruth when her friend Amelia is murdered, and Trevor is assigned to the case.
Life gets even more unsettling when clues indicate her best friend, Varis, is passing secrets to the enemy. Convinced Varis is innocent, Ruth must find the real traitor as the clock ticks down toward Operation Husky-the Allied invasion of Sicily. Circumstantial evidence leads Trevor to suspect her of having a part in Amelia's death, and Ruth must choose between her heart and her duty.
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