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hardboiled fiction

Black Mask, film noir

crime film hammett novels

a self-consciously tough and uncompromising school of crime writing originally associated with the American pulp magazine Black Mask (192036) and the novels of Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. Unlike ‘classic’ British detective fiction, hardboiled writing avoids the reassuring pattern of puzzle and solution, and the cosy country house setting. In a vividly realized urban environment, it offers a dark view of crime as endemic rather than deviant, usually through the world-weary character of the narrator. At its most stylized, as described in Chandler's essay ‘The Simple Art of Murder’, the private eye narrator represents a slightly compromised standard of chivalry and heroism in a squalid and sordid universe. As well as developing a potent and influential style of delivery, the hardboiled novel, especially in the hands of Hammett, often became the vehicle of social criticism, offering a portrait of a world in which the forces of law and order were unreliable and often corrupt. Much of the energy of hardboiled fiction is expressed in the ‘pulp’ novels of Horace McCoy, Cornell Woolrich, Charles Willeford, and Jim Thompson. Hardboiled fiction is also the basis of the genre of film known as film noir. More recently, hardboiled fiction has been appropriated in different ways by writers such as Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins, and by such feminist writers as Barbara Wilson and Sara Paretsky as a way of reinvigorating the female presence in crime fiction. See detective fiction.

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