Monday, July 25, 2022

50 Best Questions for an Author

 I've collected 50 of the best questions I've heard as an author (along with my replies) and I'll present them here in bunches of 10 or so. If you're an author, consider how you would answer. If you're a blogger/reviewer/podcaster who hosts writers, consider using (or adapting) them. 

  1. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I’m from Massachusetts, so I’ve made the pilgrimage to Concord to visit the homes of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne. I stood at Hawthorne’s stand-up desk—it folded up against the wall—and marveled that the bookshelves were easily removed in order to throw them out the nearby window in case of a housefire. The books were that valuable.

  1. What is the first book that made you cry?

Probably Black Beauty. I cannot bear cruelty to animals. It made writing “The Kill Floor” difficult, as it centers on the brutal slaughterhouse industry and the abusive Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations connected to them.

  1. What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Among writers, it’s plagiarism. Among publishers, the most tangled ethical problems come from the “Pay to Publish” companies (often called Vanity Presses), which make promises that may not be delivered in the way expected, and for an exorbitant fee. They’re to be distinguished from “hybrid” publishing arrangements where writers share the cost of publishing but receive higher royalties and professional editing, art, distribution, and marketing/promotion services.

  1. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. The process is so focused that it demands full concentration in a ‘zone’ requiring a dozen decisions per second, and when it goes well, it’s a rush. If I hit a block or write myself into a corner, it’s deflating. In either case, I run out of gas after two, three hours.

  1. What are common traps for aspiring writers?

The most common is feeling that one can write only when ‘inspired.’ Writing takes more perspiration than inspiration. You must put your seat in the seat on a regular basis. It needn’t be every day, but you must remember, in Woody Allen’s words, “80 percent of life is showing up.”

Perfectionism is another trap. It prevents writers from getting the whole story on paper, where it can later be shaped. You cannot keep going over and over the same word, sentence or scene.

  1. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

A healthy ego helps writers and the work. By that, I mean the writer must summon enough self-confidence to believe the work is do-able and worth doing. A proper humility allows the writer to focus on the work and not himself. It’s all about the work.

  1. What is your writing Kryptonite?

Procrastination. It’s like exercise, really. I don’t like to do it, but I feel much better about myself afterwards—and I’ve improved myself. If I skip exercise for a few days, it’s harder to resume. Same with writing.

  1. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Only for books that don’t engage me. I’ve gotten better at shutting a book and saying, ‘this isn’t worth reading on.’ On some occasions, I stop and realize, “I’m not getting this.” So I slow down and make an extra effort.

  1. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

An author’s name is a ‘brand,’ and so if I decide to write something decidedly different from what readers expect when they see my name on it, I’d consider it. “Different” for me would be Fantasy or YA. If a publisher insisted on it for marketing purposes, I probably wouldn’t object. But I won’t ever send out material under a pseudonym as a way to get under an agent’s radar. That’s deceptive and unethical.

  1. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

You must be yourself and use your own voice. On the other hand, certain commercial genres have built-in expectations and the writer must deliver or the seasoned reader will be disappointed. Take Hallmark Christmas movies, for example. They have predictable formulas on purpose, and viewers actually want them so, to be emotionally satisfied—much like going to a particular restaurant over and over for the same experience. The crime genre, however, is diversified enough to allow a writer to break from some conventions while keeping to others, such as “fair play” with clues in a puzzle-style mystery.

  1. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

Anyone who has gone through adolescence has felt emotions strongly.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Police Procedural, conclusion

 Let's proceed with procedurals (pardon me) and their general qualities.

6. Police Procedurals have humor.

How else can they deal with the gore? Jerry Orbach's character on "Law and Order" always had a wisecrack as the corpse was hauled away. Much of the humor in cop novels is adolescent prurience, but Waumbaugh and McBain have light moments in the precinct. The parade of kooks, loonies, and fanatics also makes for a comic atmosphere.

7. Criminals are dragged into public view, to show how police must deal with sick and stupid people.

Cops don't match wits with intelligent, sophisticated schemers; they deal with drunks, pushers, addicts, child molesters, psychos, rapists, petty thieves, and the mentally ill. Crooks don't have the intelligence and nerve to plan and perform a well-thought-out crime. They do crimes for petty reasons, and they do little to cover their tracks. They are hard to find because of the immensity of the city, or a code of silence among rural dwellers. Police are the garbage collectors of society, and for many books this is the main point.

8. The police procedural, beginning with Maigret, moves away from the 'genius detective' model and shows normal people solving crimes not by powerful 'ratiocination' and deduction, but by dumb luck and dogged routine.

Police heroes are hard-working middle-class individuals who do their job well under stress. The police novel is the literature of the proletariat (working class), celebrating duty in one's work.

9. Police procedural plots avoid the neat closure of Golden Age stories, which featured the "parlor explanation" and clever solution at the end.

Most police writers saw this as phoney, and still do. Instead of having ther 'hidden but present' criminal, McBain and others follow the criminal and the cop separately, like thrillers do. Thus, the task becomes not 'whodunnit,' but 'how-catch-em'. The puzzle is replaced by the problems of gathering evidence. Clues are not planted cleverly in a game with the reader. Crime scene reports and lists of items in evidence provide atmosphere, not clues to who dunnit. Often, the exhausting investigation leads to an arrest but no sense of triumph or unmasking, as in Golden Age stories. There is only the sense that it is finally over and other cases can now be pursued. Police work never ends. Some writers weave in several crimes being worked on simultaneously, with some never solved. Sometimes they relate thematically, like an A and a B story in a sit-com, but more often than not, they illustrate the busy-ness of the precinct (and help to extend the word-count that publishers require). So the clean and clever denoument, so important to Poe, Doyle, Christie, and Queen, becomes unimportant. These are novels of character and atmosphere, sometimes with social commentary. In fact, it may be said that:

10. The main character might be the setting itself.

For urban stories, the procedural expands the hardboiled description of the 'mean streets.' Delinquency, drug trafficking, human trafficking, racial conflict, and prostitution fester in cities, which are huge, unfeeling, chaotic, and cruel. Grimy tenements, sleazy bars, and dark alleys set many scenes. The weather is always awful: damp and cold, or humid, and often raining, adding to the dismal atmosphere.

For rural stories, the landscape itself can be dangerous. As William Kent Kreuger notes about his northern Minnesota setting, "The weather can kill you." Remote areas have their own kind of desperate poor. Long-term violent rivalries and grievances fester among families, and the brutality of impoverished people is often contrasted to the breathtaking beauty of the land.

To conclude:

While the police procedural does not (usually) provide the clever mental stimulation of the classic puzzle, or the vicarious excitement of the hardboiled story, it does attain the realism that the other sub-genres tried to achieve. It breaks the phoniness of "mysteries of manners" and, coming as it did in the 1950s, affirms the value of a regular people showing up for work and doing their job. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Police Procedural Part 2

Ten general features characterize the police procedural. I say "general" because the sub-genre has greatly diversified, from urban and rural, anglo and ethnic, coarse and cultured, low-brow and literary, humorous and gritty, and combinations thereof. Even so, here we go with the first 5:

1. In police procedurals, cops are average people: normal, but nervous.

They have stomach trouble, problems with their kids, their teeth, and their finances. When they meet horror, they puke. When threatened with death, they lose bladder control. They worry about getting their suit cleaned if a crook bleeds on it. They struggle with their marriages. Many cops are not just 'average' but 'common' and lower class. They read cheap novels when goofing off, joke in adolescent ways, and eat greasy junk. Cops reflect the tastes and values of the working class, the traditional source of recruits. The college-educated are few; cops often insult "eggheads." Cop heroes are not dumb, but they believe intellectuals are unfit for their work. They often solve crimes by accident, by their dogged routine, or by the fact that criminals are stupid.

I know, you're already thinking of tons of exceptions. Like I said, the field has diversified--and deepened.

2. Police work is communal and cops do not work alone.

More than one officer works a case and more than one shift of workers gathers and sorts evidence. The individual cop depends on others: lab people, record keepers, ballistics experts, etc. Many officers work on many cases simultaneously.

Even so, there is usually one central figure who resembles the hard-boiled detective. That cop is usually tough and action-oriented. They talk in clipped, wise-cracking ways. They are often alienated from families. Their real family is the station, where the group pulls together and protects its own. As a class, they have their own jargon and low-humor jokes. They deal with human garbage and filth more degrading than hardboiled private detectives, who are sentimental about it or above it. Their lives are dangerous and uncertain, and they resemble soldiers on the front line more than anything else. Many real cops are, indeed, former soldiers. And many police departments have become highly militarized.

3. Police work routines shape characters.

The principal technique is to show what cops really do day-to-day: how shifts are are assigned, how records are kept, how evidence is labeled and filed, and so on. Stress, boredom, dealing with the depraved, facing terror: all in a day's work and for lousy pay.

4. Police work is unrewarding.

Cops are underpaid for dangerous work and promotions are often a matter of who you know, not how well you do your job. Corruption, not competence, is key. Good cops are out making arrests, not studying for promotion exams. Upper echelon officers are political brown-nosers and bootlickers or moronic efficiency experts. Procedurals emphasize the drudgery and difficulty of staying motivated. And the public often distrusts the police.

5. On top of being unrewarding, police work is boring and repetitive.

The problem for writers is how to show actual police work in all its mundane mechanical-ness and still keep a reader. Most of the work is trivial and routine. Most crimes are simple, not intricate puzzles: victims knew their attackers, the criminals are stupid and careless. They are not urbane and educated like in Christie's privileged world. 

To get around this, writers turn to showing how the police bureaucracy fouls things up so much that it's a wonder crimes get solved at all. The anonymity and complexity of the city especially complicates easy cases and provides for atmosphere and a wealth of curious characters. Rural crime novels have plenty of quirky characters, too, but instead of anonymity you get complicated family webs where everyone knows everybody else.

Another way writers get around the routine is to present many officers working on many cases at once, presenting the chaos of real police stations. Even small town stations get overwhelmed. No Mayberry here. McBain shows lots of reports and forms, not so much to develop the plot or solve the crime but to add to the feeling of leg work and paperwork required.

A third common alternative is to emphasize the squalor and most gruesome crimes (this is true for both urban and rural crime fiction). Arbitrary violence, mutilated corpses, rotting bodies, oozing organs: the details are presented matter-of-factly. No cozy 'body in the library' here. Forensic detail is important: pieces of brain, descriptions of exit wounds, post-mortem excretion, severed limbs, and so on. Police see people at their worst: the victimized, the destitute, the deranged. Grieving parents, hostile witnesses, creepy criminals fil the day. Police deal with the leg work and paperwork to solve the heinous crimes the cozies never touch: rape, torture, child abuse.

On that note, we'll pause for next time when I'll list the last 5 chief characteristics of cop procedurals.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Police Procedural Part 1

 Anyone who has seen "Dragnet", "Law and Order," or any NCIS franchise is familiar with police procedurals.

Since the 1950s, the police novel has opened the genre with a real challenge to traditional assumptions, achieving the realism that the Golden Age and hard-boiled writers never could.

Early writers commented on police procedure but de-emphasized it. Poe, in "The Purloined Letter," details the police search of the room. Gaboriau describes the insides of police stations, but Mr. Lecoq does his work outside of them. With Doyle, the police are seen as incompetent. And in the Golden Age, individual inspectors (such as Sugg in Sayers or Japp and Battle in Christie) work almost independently from other cops.

We get to the real procedural through George Simenon's Inspector Maigret in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. In Maigret novels--which are many--Maigret is shown conducting weary, routine investigations and often more than one side-by-side. The main feature is not the puzzle, but the psychology of criminals (Simenon had made a study of psychology) and the character of Maigret: a solid, persistent middle-class man who does his duty and enjoys a pipe at the end of a long day with his feet up at home.

But the real impetus for the police story comes from American radio. Early radio detective dramas imitated Golden Age puzzles, even offering prizes to listeners who called in the solution. Some shows provided the puzzle on, say, Tuesday night and the solution on Wednesday. Sherlock Holmes was an early presence in radio detective drama. In the Depression era, however, American radio began to feature hardboiled detectives and hard-nosed cops and FBI men who worked with them in America's mean streets. The public was concerned about urban crime, gangsters, and later, saboteurs and spies. Shows were introduced by real police chiefs; James Davis of the LAPD introduced "Calling All Cars" and police Colonel Norman Schwartzkopf narrated "Gangbusters." This added realism to police drama.

Then came shows like "Broadway is My Beat" and "The Line-up" which had the ingredients of the true police procedural: sordid crime, hard-boiled cops, police routines of investigation, alibi checking, paperwork. The most important show was "Dragnet" with Jack Webb, which began in 1949. Webb had starred in several hard-boiled shows beforehand, but he really found his voice and character in Sergeant Joe Friday. Friday's terse, no-nonsense toughness imitated the hardboiled detectives, but his narration that referred to time, place, and procedures in cop-lingo set the tone for the subgenre. "It was Tuesday, November third, and I was working the day watch out of Homicide. We were answering a call on a 10-14..."  Dragnet moved successfully to TV, and other TV shows in the 50s imitated it: "Highway Patrol," "Naked City," "The Untouchables."

Perhaps the first American novel to be called a "police procedural" was Lawrence Treat's "V as in Victim" in 1945. The story features two detectives. One is a Golden Age type named Job Freeman who is an eccentric and loves scientific gadgets. Mitch Taylor is the cop, a cynical and exhausted working-class man. Treat did not pursue this concept, but he formed a bridge.

In the mid-1950s, Ed McBain began his "87th Precinct" novels, combining dark humor, grisly details of crime scenes and autopsies, authentic police station atmosphere and routines, and realistic characters in a broad cast. Everyone else imitated McBain.

While they all have cops as heroes, they differ significantly. Some explore characters' complexity and others don't. Some follow traditional rules of detection and some focus on shocking portraits of violence and depravity. Dell Shannon's Luis Mendoza drives a Ferrari; Joseph Waumbaugh's Bumper Morgan drives an old Ford. McBain's Steve Carella enjoys married bliss with his beautiful deaf-mute wife Teddy, while most others are alienated and lonely.

Next time, we'll consider 10 distinctive features of the police procedural.

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Hard-Boiled PI part 2

 The Pulps and "The Black Mask"

In the late 1890s, the dime novel we considered in the previous post gave way to the "pulp" magazine, a colorful, action-packed weekly or monthly printed on cheap wood-pulp paper (hence the name). These were full of short stories and serialized novels appealing to adolescent tastes. In 1915 the first detective pulp, Nick Carter Weekly, appeared. Action Detective, Great Gangster Stories, Clues, Nickel Detective, Spicy Detective, Thrilling Detective and many others quickly hit the newsstands.

The Black Mask became the most important pulp in detective fiction. It was founded by HL Menchen, a highbrow journalist and critic who wished to support quality literature by investing in pulps. With his money, and with the insight of his editors (who actually did editing), The Black Mask discovered Dash Hammett and Raymond Chandler and others, striving for high standards in writing.

Hard Boiled and Golden Age Stories

Far from the cultured worlds of the Golden Age, hardboiled stories showed crime as cruel and criminals as dirty. Death is never clean and off-stage; it is violent and takes many victims at once. Throats get slit. Dogs maul bodies. We get rotting corpses in Chandler's "Farewell, My Lovely"; we enter the world of porn in "The Big Sleep". Hardboiled stories are full of dope-heads, sex fiends, gamblers, gangsters, crooked cops, and dangerous dames (as they would have called them). Readers are not transported to cozy country estates and sleepy villages but, as Chandler says in his famous essay "The Simple Art of Murder," they are thrown into the "mean streets", full of squalor and stupid criminals.

Neither is the detective an educated, mannered socialite, but a working-class hero who must work for a living and take lousy, dangerous jobs to make ends meet. He is, in the words of the character Race Williams, "a middleman, just a halfway house between the cops and the crooks." Because of this, the hero is often isolated, lonely, and cynical. He might smoke and drink a lot. He is idealistic and a bit sentimental, a tough guy, with a noble heart. Part of the toughness comes through in the wise-cracking dialog, as well as the readiness to sock someone--even a woman--in the kisser.

And yes, they are nearly all men. We don't really get hardboiled female detectives until Sara Peretsky's breakthrough VI Warshawski in 1982 and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone and Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan and--well, women pretty much took over the sub-genre beginning in the 1980s. But in the 30s and 40s, it's a man's world. Women are usually dangerous and seductive and have little place in the hero's life. Dash Hammett might be an exception, since three fully-realized women complicate Sam Spade's work wonderfully in The Maltese Falcon and the hard-drinking, wisecracking Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man introduce a long line of wholly-developed husband-wife detective teams (surely his co-writer and lover, playwright Lillian Hellman, had a huge role in this). Everywhere else, the heroes are heterosexual, to be sure, but as Race Williams says, "I never took a woman seriously. My game and women don't go together."

Thus, hardboiled heroes are separated from everybody, unmarried, and loners. In a way, they follow the pattern of the Western. They prefer the aloofness of cowboys and value the same independence. They live an austere life apart from women and carry a gun. They seek justice and uphold a code of chivalry. They are reserved and committed to their turf.

There's more action and less talk in the traditional hardboiled story. And with so many sleazy people and so many crimes, the writer can easily hide the guilty characters and avoid giving away too much in all the confusion.

The chief characteristic of the hardboiled story, though, is its style. From the get-go, a reader knows from the terse, clipped prose that this is a hardboiled or 'noir' story. It is direct, uncluttered, full of slang and wisecracks. The directness highlights the action. The fast-paced slang is the real language of street-wise hoods. The smart wisecracks enhance the hero's toughness. Even with the ungrammatical dialog and slang, however, good hardboiled writers have an ear and eye for striking working-class metaphors, as when Philip Marlowe says his cigarette tasted "like a plumber's handkerchief."

By the 1950s, a new tough guy appeared: the cop. That's for next time.

Whiskey, Guns, and Lipstick: The Hardboiled Private Eye part 1

 Poe may have 'invented' the detective story, but it was mainly a British form into the 1930s. Yes, there were some French writers and a handful of Americans (Futrelle, SS Van Dine, Carr, and Queen) who imitated the Brits.

But the hard-boiled detective story that took hold in the 1930s was authentically American.

By the 30s, the work of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain muscled aside the dainty Golden-Agers. Tough Guy fiction emerged from pulp entertainment to a status of important social literature. With the hard-boiled story, the drive and innovation of the detective form moved from Britain to America. The roughness and realism was presented stylishly, and the detective story moved up from middle-brow amusement into the world of mainstream literature. 

Dime Novel Beginnings

As an American phenomenon, the hard-boiled story has its ancestry not in refined urban Victorians like Dickens and Collins, but in the frontier dime novel.

Beginning in the 1860s, publishers like Irwin Beadle printed action-packed stories on cheap paper, hawking 'a dollar book for a dime' in what looked more like a magazine. The "books" of 25,000 words were sold at newsstands and by subscription to the marginally-literate working class (a group just learning to read through compulsory education laws). Publishers hired hack writers who could crank out westerns (like "Deadwood Dick"), science stories ("Tom Swift" and his amazing inventions), rags-to-riches fables, pirate stories, and romances.

Also in the 1860s, the first real American detective, Allan Pinkerton, began to solve mysteries for Fox Valley, Illinois, police, and his detective agency saved Lincoln from an early assassination attempt. Pinkerton, like Vidocq, was a tireless self-publicist, and he spread his own fame through the country with books and lectures (photo below: Pinkerton, left, with Lincoln).

Because of Pinkerton and the growing popularity of "Police Gazette" newspapers, the dime novels soon became full of detectives: messenger boy, shoe-polisher, firefighter, postal worker, preacher detectives and others. The stories were written quickly, without editing, aimed at an undiscriminating audience that didn't care. It was disposable fiction for weary factory workers hoping to escape their misery for a little while.

The dime novel detectives were different from Doyle's Holmes, who was also appearing in magazines at this time. They weren't intellectuals. Dime detectives depended on disguises and surprises, and often on their fists. Knowing that young boys were the main audience, publishers insisted that the heroes demonstrate "manly" virtues of determination, tenacity, strength under control, honesty, and chivalry. Stories, therefore, were contrived in order to highlight these qualities. The plots did not depend on problems or puzzles to solve, since neither the detectives not the readers were brainy. Instead, readers knew in advance who the villains were, and they enjoyed watching the detective track them and catch them, just like in westerns. The detective story was, in effect, "the eastern".

Thus, commercial fiction which was regarded as mere entertainment was produced with the deliberate purpose of educating young boys in 'manliness' and in their proper moral duty. The non-intellectual, highly moral, sometimes violent detective of the dime novel became the model for the hard-boiled PI.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

End of the Golden Age

 I thought I might expound upon Ellery Queen and The Golden Age in America in this posting, but there's plenty about "Manny and Danny" elsewhere. I'd like to focus instead on why the Golden Age ended with World War II and how detective fiction changed after the war.

The chief assumption of the Golden Age was that human beings were ruled by reason. Crimes were committed by wayward individuals, tearing small holes in the fabric of civilized life. These aberrant individuals were exposed, the rips mended, and the detective -- representing order -- triumphed through the use of reason. This belief was applied to nations, too; wayward nations could be reasonably disciplined by a League of Nations and war could be avoided.

Fascism and WWII, however, showed that brute force could overwhelm reason. Irrational people and doctrines could rule over people and nations. Mass murder could be committed by madmen, political strongmen and the people who succumbed to their demagoguery. Suddenly, the comfy world of housemaids and white gloves gave way to a world of air raids, death camps, and The Bomb. Golden Age writers struggled to survive the war.

For one thing, the so-called "Great Detective," the eccentric independent, began to look absurd. Scientific and forensic advances aided police detection and crime-solving. The idea of the inept police coming to the quirky amateur to solve a baffling problem began to look silly. But Christie could not give up Poirot, Allingham could not abandon Campion, and Ellery Queen could not let go of--well, Ellery Queen.

There's a story that Dashiell Hammett, the hard-boiled detective writer, once introduced "Ellery Queen" to a lecture audience by asking, "Mr. Queen, would you be good enough to explain your famous character's sex life, if any?" Such a question was improper for the Golden Age. Holmes distrusted women (having been outwitted once by a beautiful woman), Poirot was an elderly bachelor, Wimsey a gentleman with Harriet Vane and then a faithful husband, Queen a friend to women but never emotionally involved (not even noticing the fluttering eyes of his assistant, Nikki Porter). "Mr. Queen's" answer was that writing about such a thing would upset loyal readers.

Queen's REAL answer was to remove Ellery Queen from the real world in 1942 and put him in the small town of Wrightsville, a place of "complacent elms, wandering cobbles, crooked side-streets nestled in the lap of a farmer's valley, and leaning against the motherly abdomen of one of New England's most matriarchal mountain ranges." Notice how non-sexual, how completely parental the setting is described as being. Queen returns to the safety of the womb, without his pinc-nez glasses and without his Dad in tow, but curiously out of place, an anachronism. Manny and Danny's plotting became more complex and improbable, and eventually Queen was left out of the story altogether. In "The Glass Village," 1954, the members of a small town capture a murder suspect and try him for murder themselves, in a comment on McCarthyism.

Poirot changed a little. He trimmed his mustaches, and, as Christie put it, he became "more of a private investigator and less an engaged enquiry agent." She did, however, remove Poirot as a character from all her plays. She finally tired of him and killed him off (something Doyle tried to do with Holmes and failed). Miss Marple, already in a small village, continued to knit her way through cases.

Dorothy Sayers stopped writing Lord Peter stories altogether, saying she "had tired of a literature without bowels," and turned to translating Dante. She insisted that she had always considered the Wimsey stories as tales of manners, not mysteries.

Margery Allingham changed her main character Campion from a Wimsey-like figure to a more serious man with a deeply lined face. Elements of brooding suspense and horror became more important in her stories. But Ngaio Marsh, another Golden-Ager, refused to change her recipe of taking three characters and adding a murder.

Along with the loss of the "Great Detective" was the abandonment of other Golden Age traits: sketches of the house and murder room, the body in the library, the use of strange poisons and bizarre weapons (such as an icicle). The new writers began to produce "WHYdunnits" rather than "whodunnits" by being more interested in the psychology and social background of the killer and victim. Police changed from being charmingly inept but honest to being corrupt and sometimes cruel, living on the hard edge of society. Some were portrayed as harried, hard-working men who didn't always resolve their cases, such as the I'm-glad-to-be-home-what's-for-dinner-where's-my-pipe Maigret (Georges Simenon, a lifelong student of psychology, was really interested in the mystery of  motives).

The same happened to private detectives, who became tough but adhered to a knightly code of honor. Rape, porn, and explicit violence became more common plot elements. Series detectives became less common, as the post-war public distrusted 'supermen' and publishers felt that the focus on a single, unchanging character hindered the exploration of important social ideas.

In the 1950s, then, there was talk about the detective story being dead. But it wasn't. As British writer Edmund Crispin noted in 1959, "Mrs Christie still has butter to put on her bread, Mr Carr seems confident of being able to support his wife and family. There is happily no hint from America that Mr Queen is feeling the pinch."

But he was. Carr and Queen lost their audiences, replaced by Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Mike Hammer. More about them next time.