Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Bouchercon 2016 panel: Charles Williams: Out of luck because he wrote too well?

Why is Charles Williams not better known? Could it be that his writing was too good?

Anthony Boucher wrote that Williams'
"striking suspense technique ... may remind you of [Cornell] Woolrich; the basic story, with its bitter blend of sex and criminality, may recall James M. Cain. But Mr. Williams is individually himself in his sharp but unmannered prose style and in his refusal to indulge in sentimental compromises."
"Sharp but unmannered." Williams' novels don't abound in quotable lines (there are no bad lines, either, at least in the eleven of Williams' twenty-two novels that I've read), but he knew that a writer's job is to write good books, not good sentences. His novels lack the political pandering that found its way into books by, say, Mickey Spillane and Stephen Marlowe, and he didn't write from hell, the way Jim Thompson or David Goodis or Harry Whittington (sometimes) did. His protagonists are more or less regular guys, physically strong, good at working with their hands, but they don't hit you over the head with what regular guys or what brutes they are, either. Williams' books are full of good jokes without ever patting themselves on the back for their wit, and they show no signs of the haste that sometimes appears in even the best books from other terrific Gold Medal authors.

Williams wrote suspense with an edge hard enough to make himself a star at Gold Medal books, and he wrote fluently, cleanly, and well enough to have written for the slick magazines. It's hard to imagine any of the other Gold Medal authors, with the possible exception of John D. MacDonald, writing books as good, as convincing, and as far from their authors' normal hard-boiled style as Williams' The Diamond Bikini and Uncle Sagamore and His Girls.

The Wikipedia entry on Williams is notable for who talks about Williams and what they say. And Bill Crider is right that "there’s no such thing as a bad Charles Williams novel."
Eric Beetner will offer some remarks about Charles Williams n as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans in September. The panel is called "From Hank to Hendrix: Beyond Chandler and Hammett: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Original Eras," and it happens at 9 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 15, at the Marriott, 555 Canal St., New Orleans. The room is LaGalleries 1. See you.  

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Blogger mybillcrider said...

I'm a big Williams booster. Great stuff.

August 30, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I linked to your "Gold Medal Corner" piece about Williams. He is the only crime writer I can think of off-hand that everything I've read of his is good/

August 30, 2016  
Blogger Dan_Luft said...

I'm sure I first heard of Williams from Bill Crider or Ed Gorman's articles.

Who knows, maybe John D would've never crossed over to the bestseller list without Travis McGee and the original Cape Fear movie.

August 30, 2016  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I heard about Charles Williams from a friend, and I have since read some of what Bill and Ed have written about him.

If I like some of John D.'s early Gold Medal novels, I might go back and try some of the Travis McGees, see if I like them, see how and what he might have changed in those books. I see, to recall that the one McGee novel I flipped through had a little too much politi9cal yammering for my taste in its opening pages.

August 30, 2016  

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