Thursday, March 17, 2016

Forgotten Books-They Shoot Horses Don't They

(from 2010)

Ed here: Whenever anybody begins arguing for or against crime fiction being real literature various titles are always put forth immediately and vociferously. It seems the same book can be used by either side. I am personally tired of the argument but I will say that one of the books I'd use to demonstrate how noir can compete in the class of world literature is They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy. This is crime fiction's version of The Great Gatsby, a perfect utterance. There is no other novel in the canon like it and it is as savage today as it was in the Thirties. (To me the film was a corny Hwood failure.)

What prompts this post is a recent review of its reissue by Laura Wilson in the UK's Guardian. Quick and deft.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, by Horace McCoy (Serpent's Tail, £7.99)

Forget Raymond Chandler and his overrated ilk – Horace McCoy's 1935 novel (filmed in 1969, under the same title) is the best example of American noir ever written. Set in the great depression, amid the desperation, barbarity and pathos of a dance marathon, it is an extraordinary achievement and every bit as shocking and moving today as it must have been for its original readers. Gripping from the beginning – when we are given to understand that the narrator is being condemned to death for an unknown crime – it's the story of two losers stumbling endlessly round a grotty Hollywood ballroom in a grotesque and ultimately futile struggle for survival. The characters are both more, and less, than human, the writing is tersely perfect, and the ending almost unbearably moving. This timely reissue comes complete with an excellent introduction from the veteran British crime writer John Harvey.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

While I tend to agree (with Evan Hunter, oddly enough, though not to the same degree as he vehemently insists) that Chandler is overrated (I'd say slightly, and too often to put down Hammett in comparison), I have to wonder who the Ilk is that she refers to. While I still need to read the McCoy novel, having read some impressive short fiction from him. Too many of the early stars of hardboiled, including Hammett and "Paul Cain" and McCoy, had to stop too soon. But, then, so did Fitzgerald...and people do seem to want to forget the degree to which F. Scott was a fantasy writer ("A Diamond as Big as the Ritz"..."Benjamin Button'...)...and how many of the hardboiled folks were out of similar early caareers (Hammett and Woolrich writing for THE SMART SET and similar magazines, alongside Fitzgerald, and BLACK MASK being a stablemate of THE SMART SET when some of them first appeared).