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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Endless Pointless Argument

James Reasoner made some very good points about reading good crime novels whatever category they belong to, cozy or hardboiled. But like most reasonable people (Reason-er) James is tired of the endless pointless argument about which category is better. I sent Lee Goldberg's A+ blog my response then swiped it back for here.

From the Ed:

The cozy vs. hardboiled argument got so dull after about the sixth time I ran some version of it, I would no longer even print letters about it let alone opinion pieces.
Thus Mystery Scene had several years of pure bliss.

There's only one way to say it--we read what gives us pleasure. Why would you read something that irritated or bored you? I agree with James. No sub-genre is inherently superior to another.

I find many hardboiled novels to be ridiculously hardboiled. And God all the cliches of the form. Comic book violence and soap opera cornball--male weepies.

You wanna read real hardboiled? Read Joyce Carol Oates' THEM sometimes. Or Russell Banks. Or Denis Johnson. Or--yes--much of Stephen King. Real life hardboiled. Not updated snap brim fedora fantasies. Or just sit in a welfare office or a parole office for a day and you'll see that most hardboiled writing is strictly for armchair gumshoes. Real life just ain't like it is in most hardboiled novels.

I look at what Jason Starr is doing. He's Patricia Highsmith with a slightly broader sense of nasty humor. He tells real stories about our time. He's doing within genre something I've never read before.

I feel the same way about many cozies. Same story, same gags over and over and over. Terminal cutesy-poo. Terminal rose-colored glasses. I mean escape reading is fine by me--I still read Christie and Philip Macdonald and Margery Allingham becayse they're fine writer--but I have to God how much whipped cream can you consume in one lifetime?

But as early Nancy Pickard and present-day Joan Hess demonstrate, modern cozies aren't all pap. You can bring real life into them. It doesn't have to be gory life. Nancy on abusive husbands can scare the hell out of you. Joan can break your heart with familial relationships gone awry. And their versions of their worlds are every bit as true as Jason Starr's version of his world.

Both sub-genres are filled with really good writers and really lazy writers. But if you can get past your particular snobbery, you'll find that both have plenty to offer readers who like good writing and strong storytelling in any form. And that's absolutely true.

Arguing the inate superiority of one over the other is waste of time. --Ed Gorman


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