Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Big Tribute

     Raymond Candler seems to get the explicit tributes from other crime writers, but it's hard to get more sustained and explicit than Lionel White's nod to Dashiell Hammett's "The Big Knockover" in his 1955 novel The Big Caper:
The wheels were beginning to turn. From all parts of the country quiet, tough men slipped into the small southern coastal town and took up the final vigil.

There was the arsonist, the safe blower, the boy-faced killer—there was a regiment of crack, lawless men waiting out the minutes until Saturday night—the night the town would explode into violence. 

For in the center of town sat the bank—a citadel of twelve million dollars, impregnable as Gibraltar, safe as a church.

Safe—until precisely ten-fifteen on Saturday night. Until the wheels began to pick up momentum, and suddenly a fire lit the sky, and the power went off all over town and under way went the king-sized knockover. The grand slam.

The Big Caper."
 Donald Westlake acknowledged White's influence, which makes sense to me. A number of the Parker novels are driven by the personal and logistical conflicts that arise in the planning of a heist, and Westlake, too, paid tribute to Hammett in The Handle. Westlake being Westlake, he had some mischievous fun, making his protagonist, Parker, ignorant of Hammett's story "The Gutting of Couffignal":
“Parker said, `So you want me to take his money away.'

“`Right. I want you to pluck him like a chicken, scrape him clean. Don’t just rob the place, burn it to the ground, rip it right off that God damn island and throw it in the sea. Gut it, like Couffignal. Or don’t you know that one either?''”
The guards in Westlake's comic novel Bank Shot work for the Continental Detective Agency, and Westlake acknowledges that for early influences on his writing, "We have to start, and almost end, with Hammett."

So, what are your favorite tributes from one crime writer to another? Extra points for tributes to Hammett.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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14 Comments:

Blogger Seana Graham said...

My mind doesn't really work this way, but I'll be curious to see what others come up with.

August 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My mind works precisely this way. I think I've seen tributes and references where none exist. What I wonder is whether authors in other genres do this sort of thing. This example did get me thinking that Chandler is probably more quoted than Hammett. In fact, I'm sure he is, though I have no statistical evidence at hand to back this up.

I got a kick out of this one because as I read this, I thought, "Wow, this set-up is just like `The Big Knockover'" even before I got to the explicit tribute.

August 15, 2012  
Blogger Seana Graham said...

I admire it, but I can't follow you down that road. Even if I did notice it, I would forget about it before I'd even finished the book.

August 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think you read more widely than I do. Tributes like these are a bit like in jokes and are probably more easily noticed if one's reading has a narrower focus.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Seana Graham said...

That's kind, but I don't buy it.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I don't know. When I get together with friends, we don't read "Finnegan's Wake" foe fun.

August 16, 2012  
OpenID jiescribano said...

Peter you just remind me I learnt about Sjowall & Wahloo thanks to Camilleri's August Heath. Also there is a nice reference to Fred Vargas by Domingo Villar's Water Blue Eyes if I recall correctly. I'm pretty sure some Latin American crime books have pay tribute to Hammett. After all the Semana Negra Award for Crime Fiction is the Hammett Prize.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of the Semana Negra, Paco Ignacio Taibo II was among the contributors to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Seana Graham said...

Now that J.I. jogs my memory a little, I can come up with two, though they aren't stylistic tributes. One is Ken Bruen's quotations at the head of his Jack Taylor novels, which always make me want to seek out the books he quotes. The other is from way back when I read Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand and learned of a whole lot of mystery writers I hadn't heard of till then. I doubt very much that I would ever have got on to Mary Roberts Rinehart without her help.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I’ve had mixed feelings about Bruen’s endless epigraphs and chapter headings. Sometimes they’ve seemed to me like so much shouting-out to his friends that added nothing much to the story. But I wrote about a notable exception here. Of course, maybe it was an exception only because I happened to have read and very much liked the book in question.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Seana Graham said...

I like epigraphs.

I thought of Adrian's books too, but it's harder for me to come up with examples. Of course the newest books, the Sean Duffy ones all have a tribute to Tom Waits in their titles. But that's not a crime tribute really.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I'm Mr. Crime Songs these days, so Tom Waits just might count as a crime tribute.

I can't find the post or comment where I mentioned the sources of some of Adrian's chapter titles. I think Warren Zevon was on the list.

Epigraphs have to punctuate the action interrupting it. If I recall correctly, one novel Bruen co-wrote with another author used an epigraph from one of that author's books as a chapter heading. That was too much for me.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Seana Graham said...

I haven't read any of the co-written ones, but in the Jack Taylor ones, he so far hasn't put a foot wrong for me.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of Bruen's Brant and Roberts novels -- which I've championed -- quotes from a mass killer in Montreal, and gets the name of the University of Montreal wrong as well as, I think, misstating the number of victims. That's a bad epigraph.

Among his co-written books, I especially enjoyed Bust and The Max, both written with Jason Starr.

August 16, 2012  

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