Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hardboiled literature not being taken seriously

Here's something I've been trying to talk about here in Finland, but with no success or understanding of the matter. Christa Faust, whose marvellous Money Shot from Hard Case Crime was recently translated in German, talks about how she was treated in Germany: she was told that the kind of literature she writes is nothing to be taken seriously.

This is something I've come across in Finland as well. Even though the best hardboiled crime fiction is serious literature and not just slam-bang pulpy action, people still seem to think hardboiled is only about raincoats and dangerous dames. Like Christa says in her own post, German critics said Hard Case Crime is only "retro". There's nothing retro in Money Shot, it's modern, it's contemporary, it doesn't have any knowing cultural references. Not to be retro, hardboiled has to be ultra-serious to be successful in Finland, à la Dennis Lehane. (Lucky thing we have Michael Connelly. He walks the narrow line between serious and ultra-serious.)

Some writers in Finland seem also to have decided that if hardboiled crime fiction is not taken seriously, then hell with it - they write stuff that veers towards parody and pastiche, with too many jokes and in-jokes and not enough plot and character development. (At least for me. Some of these writers are very popular in Finland.)

I can see, though, why German literary critics are quick to attack hardboiled crime fiction. It's because their own pulp tradition is thin, even though it's decades old, and of not very good quality. The short Romanhäfte à la Jason Dark and Jerry Cotton (not to say anything about German Westerns!) are poor compared to their American or even British counterparts - more poorly written and executed. (This is also one of the reasons this kind of stuff is not taken more seriously in Finland. "You're interested in hardboiled? Ah, that's, what's it called now, pulp, right? And pulp is, let me think, Jerry Cotton, right?" And this is actually quite common.)

I'd very much like to see Money Shot translated in Finnish. It's a serious novel, told in a serious voice, but it's still touching and contains lots of sex and violence. That's a killing combination. With powers invested in me, we just might see the book appear also in here.

(Hat tip to Peter Rozovsky, whose delightful blog I read all too rarely!)

1 comment:

Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the mention and the high compliment. Thanks, too, to Bernd Kochanowski for shedding some light on the reception for hardboiled and pulp crime fiction in Germany. It's one thing to make fun of stuffy Germans for being too serious. It's quite another to bring some understanding to the question. That's why I'm glad Christa posted about her trip and Bernd responded.

Money Shot has sex and violence and even some humor a la Richard S. Prather, that hero of Christa Faust's. But it is no mere cheap escapism. Too bad I can't cite my favorite example of this for fear of spoiling suspense. Suffice it to say that not everything turns out well for all the characters who deserve it, that the protagonist has to make some wrenching decisions, and that she is sometimes powerless to act.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"