By Peter Swirski
Peter Swirski appears to be like at American crime fiction as an artform that expresses and displays the social and aesthetic values of its authors and readers. As such he records the manifold ways that such authorship and readership are a question of knowledgeable literary selection and never of cultural brainwashing or declining literary criteria. Asking, in impression, a sequence of questions about the character of style fiction as artwork, successive chapters examine American crime writers whose careers throw mild at the risks and rewards of nobrow site visitors among well known types and intellectual aesthetics: Dashiell Hammett, John Grisham, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, Ed McBain, Nelson DeMille, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
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Additional resources for American Crime Fiction: A Cultural History of Nobrow Literature as Art
My bet is, however, that crime fiction—represented in the chapters below by the classic and selfparodic hardboiled, the legal, police, and urban procedural, and the mob story—is not untypical of the creative moves of other American genres, from romances and westerns to sci-fi, spy-fi, horror, fantasy, technothrillers, and what not. In short, I take crime fiction to be a representative species of what their fan, George Orwell, almost apologetically called good bad books, but which I prefer to call beachbooks for intellectuals.
For the answer we can turn to two novels, one undersized, the other bulky, that embody their respective eras, zeitgeists, and schools of writing. Samuel (Dashiell) Hammett’s ur-hardboiled Red Harvest (1929) and John Grisham’s legal blockbuster The Rainmaker (1995) exemplify the apparent differences and the underlying similarities between them. A closer look at their cultural roots and narrative strategies reveals the debt that the legal procedural owes to Hammett, Cain, and other hardboiled masters.
The hardboiled style is such a distinct creation, in fact, that one can frequently recognize it just by looking at the page—whiter than most, since pared down to tit-for-tat dialogue interspersed with bursts of action. It is a style recognizable by the speed with which it is (meant to be) read, fuelled by predominantly monosyllabic vernacular replete with action verbs. It is a style that displays less than it means: tough, spare, understated, brimming with litotes. And, not least, it is a style that aims to please: colloquial, fastmoving, chock-full of action and urban wit.
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