Saturday, March 23, 2013

A crime novel that's dated and progressive at the same time, and a question for readers

I'll post from time to time about dated aspects of crime novels, Ross Macdonald's freshman psychology, for instance, or Dillon's long virtual monologue in Chapter Six of The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

I inevitably contrast these with the scenes of Ned Beaumont being beaten and held captive in Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key. That novel appeared in 1931, but the scenes' brutality and Beaumont's despair would be just as fresh and just as harrowing in a novel published today.

Then there's W.R. Burnett's Little Caesar, published in 1929 and the basis of the famous movie of the same name starring Emanuel Goldenberg (left). The movie's dated dialogue disappointed me, and I'd long been curious about whether the novel was any different. It isn't, full as it is of lines like "I got lead in this here rod and my finger's itching."

At the same time, the book's opening segments alternate chapters of a heist being planned with glimpses into the minds and lives of its characters that seem utterly modern. (These include a micro chapter of Rico "Little Caesar" Bandello combing his hair that includes the famous description "Rico was a simple man. He loved but three things: himself, his hair and his gun. He took excellent care of all three.")

What crime novels and stories have you read that seemed dated and surprisingly contemporary at the same time?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

Labels: , , , , ,

10 Comments:

Blogger Cary Watson said...

I'll nominate John D. MacDonald. His observations on the ruinous development of Florida were way ahead of his time, and Travis Magee was probably the first PI to actually take an interest in physical fitness, but his sexism, even by the standards of the time, could be a bit much.

March 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's just the sort of thing I had in mind. Thanks.

As it happens, I was flipping through a stack of John D. MacDonald paperbacks this week, and I reread his short story "Nor Iron Bars." Any recommendation for a novel of his I should start with?

March 23, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I don't have a crime novel in mind, but I happen to be reading The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Smollett for this odd, occasional reading group I take part in. Though written in 1771, it really doesn't seem dated at all, with even the women giving a lively account of the goings on. It's an epistolary novel, which isn't a form we're much used to now, though, and it takes awhile to get into its rhythms. I'm actually listening to parts of it from Librivox, which seems a noble if uneven enterprise. Becoming acquainted with the high gifts of Martin Geeson, though--his parts are the best. Luckily, they tend to be the longer ones.

March 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And a name like Humphry Clinker is not exactly torn straight from today's Twitter posts. It just sounds fusty.

Thanks. I may give this a look.

March 23, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I guess Bogart's parents thought it would do. Although, looking into it, it appears that it was his mother's surname or maiden name.

March 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If his last name had been Clinker, he'd have changed it before going to Hollywood.

March 23, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

I should say that one of the most intriguing things about the book is that Clinker doesn't even appear till about a quarter of the way through the novel. Or so I'm told. I haven't met him yet.

March 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I'm not sure Tobias Smollett is as much read these days as some of his contemporaries are. I know I've never read him, and I found only just now that he was Scottish rather than English.

I always feel as if picaresque novels have some kinship with crime novels, so Humphry Clinker might be a look.

March 23, 2013  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

A great example of a mixed brilliant/dated book is John Godey's A THRILL A MINUTE WITH JACK ALBANY. Brilliant opening with some cliched mob/mafia characters along with an interesting and unique protagonist. A funny book, yet marred by the stereotypical mob boss and his soldiers, which might have seemed more original back in the 1960s when this was published, but unfortunately cliched now.

March 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One description of the book says it's subtitled "Far out!" This indicates datedness in the book's marketing, at least. Will "Far out!" ever come back into currency? I'm comfortable knowing that the probable answer is no.

But I'm intrigued by the book. How many crime novels have been made into Disney movies starring Dick Van Dyke?

March 27, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home