Friday, October 17, 2008

Hardboiled Sentimentality

Dorothy Parker once said that "Hemingway talks sentimental out of the side of his mouth." Meaning that Two-Gun Ernie for all his hardboiled nihilism was as full of sentimentality as most of us.

In the LA Times today Sarah Weinman reviews a book called 'Hard-Boiled Sentimentality' by Leonard Cassuto
The connection between crime fiction and 19th century sentimental novels.

Here are a few quotes form the review:

"DEVOTED readers of crime fiction can recite the tropes of hard-boiled novels by heart. Tough-talking detectives. Femmes fatales. Prose harder than diamonds. And lots of violence, preferably by someone holding a gun.

"Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are the standards, giving rise to the idea that the darker the crime novel, the better -- and more respected by the literati and academia.


"The book's title comes from a letter by John D. MacDonald's publisher at Gold Medal, Knox Burger, praising the early Travis McGee novels' "hard-boiled sentimentality . . . as enormously successful and attractive."


"One can always play the equivalent of fantasy baseball with a book like "Hard-Boiled Sentimentality," quibbling with what's included (forgettable, out-of-print work by Robert Finnegan and Harold Browne), or with what's left out. Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels merit just a few sentences; James Crumley's P.I. protagonists, Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue, are not mentioned at all."

I have to say that I disagree with Sarah on Robert Finnegan, a serious writer Maxim Jakubowski and I have been pushing for years. To me he was a leftist radical whose crime novels on post-war San Francisco work as both mysteries and fascinating snapshots of SF of that time. As for "Harold Brown" if Howard Browne is meant I'd argue that A Taste of Ashes is one of the finest private eye novels ever written.

These things aside, I'd say that there isn't a more elegant, graceful, adenturesome reviewer in our field today. If I ever had to teach a course in writing reviews I'd copy this one and hand it out to my students.

Read the entire review here:,0,298939.story


Sarah Weinman said...

Thanks, Ed - and if Finnegan is to your taste, I should definitely give his work a try (I admit to parroting Cassuto's ambivalence on Finnegan and Harold B.)

Bill Crider said...

Gotta be Howard Browne, I think, and he wrote some good books, including A TASTE OF ASHES. I've read only one book by Finnegan, but I thought it was a good bit above average. I haven't read Cassuto's book yet, but if you want hardboiled sentimentality, I'd have to say that Sarah's surely right that Spillane merits more than a few sentences, and Crumley should certainly be included.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

_Clues_ ran a piece by Cassuto in the Richard Layman-edited theme issue on Hammett (vol. 23, no. 2, winter 2005) "_The Maltese Falcon_ and the Hard-boiled Sentimental." I'd guess this was one precursor to the book.

Anonymous said...

I traded one of my books for Harold Browne's A TASTE OF ASHES. I know I got the much better part of our deal. The read was a great one.

Ed Lynskey

Anonymous said...

Uh, make that Howard Browne.