Hardboiled Detective Fiction: Literary Greats: Background information when reading The Search

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The Search

by Geoff Dyer

The Search by Geoff Dyer
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    May 2014, 176 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

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Beyond the Book:
Hardboiled Detective Fiction: Literary Greats

Print Review

Even if it does veer off into other categories, The Search could be essentially classified as hardboiled detective fiction.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, Dashiell Hammett became the preeminent writer in the field. Until this time, detective stories were lumped in with the rest of "crime fiction," with the focus being on a plot that would elicit shock, awe and horror from the reader. Hammett popularized a style whereby the detective approached his work with cynicism ("hardboiled" refers to an egg, inferring a tough shell). His hardboiled protagonists spoke to the reader about their perceptions, and looked upon the horrors of their job with a jaded, detached eye.

Shortly after Hammett become popular, Raymond Chandler came onto the scene and solidified the genre. Chandler was a highly literate British-American who spent his formative years in England, and so when he finally settled in Los Angeles as a young man, he had both an impressive vocabulary and a unique outsider's perspective on American culture, allowing for a sense of depth and irony that didn't typically exist in crime fiction.

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe Like Hammett's Sam Spade, Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe is cynical and jaded, but he is also introspective and philosophical. He is, in a word, an intellectual. He is morally upright, levelheaded, and a careful man who doesn't fall prey to the genre's inevitable femme fatales.

Philip Marlowe is arguably the most famous fictional detective. People usually think of the novels when they think of Marlowe – The Big Sleep, The Little Sister and The Long Goodbye among the best loved — but he also crossed over into dozens of short stories, radio pieces, movies, and television shows. Aside from the slew of Hollywood greats who have played him, — Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, James Garner, to name a few — he has also served as inspiration for innumerable characters throughout the years.

The following is a partial list of popular and critically acclaimed writers who have admitted that Chandler's Marlowe was an inspiration for their writing: Ross Macdonald, P.D. James, Robert Parker, Ed McBain, Walter Mosley, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, James Ellroy.

For more about hardboiled literary fiction, refer to the Beyond the Book for City of Dragons.

Picture of Humphrey Bogart cartoon portraying Philip Marlowe from Warner Brothers Art

Article by Morgan Macgregor

This article is from the July 23, 2014 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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