Mar 262012
 

This week, I introduce eighteen college students to Sam Spade.
We're viewing the John Huston film "The Maltese Falcon," watching Humphrey Bogart outsmart Mary Astor and pals as they pursue "the black bird."
The students are enrolled in a class I teach in the Honors Program at the University of New Mexico. The class is called "Hard-boiled Fiction and Film Noir." I've taught it before, and always come away amazed at how little these very bright students have been exposed to private eyes in fiction and film. Most have never heard of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald before they take this course. A few have never watched a black-and-white movie before.
They do have a sense of what a private investigator is and what he does, but it's a vague notion of fedoras and trenchcoats and window-peeping. Until we talk about it in class, they're not aware of the place the private eye holds in the fiction tradition of the lone hero facing overwhelming odds and an uncaring society.
For those of us who write contemporary P.I. series, this lack of knowledge in the next generation of readers feels daunting and worrisome. Is there no place for the private eye anymore? Do today's youth only care about Harry Potter and sparkly vampires and Grand Theft Auto?
Here's the good news: It takes only a little exposure to get young people jazzed about private eyes. Once they've read some stories, they uniformly love the Continental Op and Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. My students will debate long and loud over the merits of other types of hard-boiled stories or films noir, but they always recognize the private eye as a heroic figure, even when he doesn't act heroically. The students respect a man who does his job, no matter how nasty or dangerous it becomes. And that's been the lure of the private eye all along.

(Steve Brewer is the author of 20-plus crime novels, including nine stories featuring Albuquerque private eye Bubba Mabry. The latest in the series is the new novella PARTY DOLL.)
Mar 202012
 

Jochem Vandersteen

SONS OF SPADE

Spotlighting the fictional P.I.

 

Isn’t the mystery community great?

First and foremost I’m a fan of mystery fiction—especially hardboiled private eye yarns—and a writer of crime fiction second.

Before the internet existed there were already fanzines, paper publications put together by fans of certain genres or music. It started out with SF, but mystery fans soon followed. These titles included Armchair Detective, The Not So Private Eye, and the fantastic Hardboiled, created by one of my favorite writers, Wayne D Dundee.

Getting these fanzines at the readers’ homes wasn’t an easy feat and costs of producing them made them relatively expensive. With the introduction of the internet a whole new way of creating fanzines was introduced. Available to anyone with an internet connection, no investment in paper or printing needed the e-zine or webzine quickly became way more popular than the paper fanzine.

As a fan of Thrilling Detective, Hardluck Stories and other such sites I decided to share my love of PI fiction with the rest of the world and get to know my favorite authors a little better. I figured it might also be a good way to promote the Noah Milano novel I was writing.

At the time, I had no idea how rewarding my blog would turn out to be. Not only was I surprised by the amount of fantastic writers eager to answer my interview questions but many publishers were happy to provide me with review copies of PI novels.

Through my blog I was fortunate to start friendships with mystery writers that helped me become a better writer and who selflessly promoted my work.

I’m still proud of the nice words fan-favorite writers like Jeremiah Healey, Les Roberts or James W. Hall had to say about the Noah Milano stories and my blog.

My blog, Sons of Spade, focuses on what that title suggests… The private eyes that came after Sam Spade, one of the most popular PIs ever. I focus on new writers, new shamuses, but never forget the great pulp fiction that inspired those. It’s great to keep an eye on all the new stuff coming out, all the new twists that are added to the PI-archetype, showing the basic premise of the lone detective never becomes old.

These people keep inspiring me to update the blog and keep writing about Noah Milano, son of a mobster and security specialist, always looking for redemption. Just read the new Noah Milano novelette, REDEMPTION to get a feeling of what I’m talking about.

I've had the opportunity to interview a few big names like James W. Hall and Lawrence Block. Especially the interview with Larry Block was special to me. Here was a guy whose stuff I'd been reading and admiring for decades and he was willing to answer all my questions.

A fun guest post was done by Bruce DeSilva, telling us about his Who is Reading feature on his blog. That one gets a lot of hits, because there's a picture of rockstar Marilyn Manson in it.

The blog also gets a lot of hits based on the keywords private eye clichés. A lot of people apparently find this interesting.

Fun posts are the Prodigal Sons posts in which I track down a writer who hasn't written about a PI in some time. I ask them if we can expect their PI's to return. Sometimes I get great news―like I got from Les Roberts years ago about the return of his Milan Jacovich series―sometimes bad news, as from Jim Fusilli about his Terry Orr series.

I love sharing my favorite reads, through my reviews but also through my annual Favorite Sons post in which I tell readers what my favorite PI reads of the year were. Hopefully some great writers get the attention they deserve and readers are introduced to some great books.

So, if you like PI fiction come and have a look at my blog, or if you’re a fan of mystery fiction and want to have the same wonderful experiences I did go and start your own blog. It’ll be worth the effort!

Jochem Vandersteen is a Dutch writer and rock reporter, whose special interests are crime movies and novels, rock music and comic books. He started the Sons of Spade review and blog site in 2007, specializing in the genre of the private eye, and is also the founder of the Hardboiled Collective―a group of like-minded crime fiction authors.

 

 

Mar 102012
 

“Trust but verify.” It has come to this. I have lived long enough and somehow have stumbled down one too many dark path best left deserted. Yet here I am quoting the Gipper, Ronald Reagan. But really, isn’t ‘trust’ a word readers and writers of crime and mystery fiction have a distant relationship with most times? I mean who really believes a certain self-aggrandizing blowhard when he says "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation.” Beyond the latent insincerity in the sentence, who could possibly trust him not to go off again with a week on this or that issue or person in the news as we all know his history and his mindset. Or is it, in our stories, we hear the beguiler’s words, we know they’re smirking behind the offered olive branch, yet many are still sucked in by the con. Because you know, we want to believe anyone can falter, but anyone can be redeemed.

It’s like with addicts; at the moment they’re telling you if you could just lend them that twenty, they’re going to use it to get themselves the meat loaf and mashed potato special at Denny’s – a square hot meal, baby. Really. And this bit works because at the very moment they’re telling you this, they believe it. They believe this is the exact point in their sorry existence that with your Jackson in their shaky hand, this is the point in time that marks a new beginning for them. Sincerely. Only soon as they have your Benjamin in their greasy palm. As they walk away, grinning and what not, the Crack Angel, dressed in a miniature version of a slumming Lady Gaga outfit, appears on their shoulder. She whispers the sweet siren song of being high in their ears and they succumb. See, it’s not their fault. They’re as much a victim here as you. Hell, more so. Really.

Trust is like garlic to the vampire when it comes to the crime writer. You better have some healthy disregard for that particular sentiment if you want to get inside the heads of your characters and have at least one of them come out alive. Sure you can have the sap, the sucker who is all gee whiz and gosh wow, and I’m not so cynical to say that there aren’t people like that. We need folks like them to help balance out the hardboiled hardness of the venal, greedy ones. But Sam Spade has becomes the iconic private eye because he does have that hidebound skepticism.

“We didn't exactly believe your story, Miss O'Shaughnessy; we believed your two hundred dollars...I mean, you paid us more than if you'd been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right,” Spade said to his client in the Maltese Falcon.

So who do I trust? Very few, particularly that puffy-eyed chump looking back at me in the mirror.

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