Last week I talked — at great length — about the alibi in crime and detective fiction as utilised by the criminal working alone. This week, I’ll hopefully find as much (or, depending on your feelings about last week’s post, maybe less) to say where more than one criminal is involved, and then if there’s time I’ll diverge into crimes where there is no alibi.
This week, for my actual final post for the Tuesday Night Bloggers on the subject of travel (I was, er, premature in predicting the number of days in May last week…), I was going to look at another book entirely. But in reading The Sharkskin Book by Harry Stephen Keeler – chief loon of the sanatorium that is Ramble House – I was struck by something rather more nebulous that I’m going to try to explore here: the sense of dislocation one can experience when separated from familiar trappings.
Bookends: Now and on Earth (1942)/King Blood (1973)
Books published 1920-59: 20
The Case for the Crown
Diversity: If you’re going to consider the hardboiled subgenre as part of the history of crime fiction – and you really, really should – the accepted wisdom says you go Chandler or Hammett or, at a push, James M. Cain. I say that Jim Thompson did more than those erstwhile gentlemen combined and should be enthroned ahead of all three of them. Chandler famously said of Hammett that he “gave crime back to the people who committed it for a reason”, but I feel this is more true of Thompson than of Sam: Hammett’s and Chandler’s way in was always their detective characters, who stumbled into something already in motion and acted in the way a detective is expected to. Thompson, by contrast, gave us the petty losers, the cuckolded husbands, the big-dreaming small-town folk, the small-time grifters and any other number of subsections of society who had their own reasons for committing their crimes (sex was always a part of Thompson’s protagonists’ motivation) and made us feel their motives because – forget some fabulous inheritance, or a trust left to my wife who died so I married someone else and we’re pretending she’s the original, or the man who married my one true love and then made her miserable so she killed herself leaving me to avenge her – they were motives the ordinary man could understand, even experience themself. Continue reading →