Monday, February 13, 2012

Misanthropy in crime fiction

Question for the group mind: can you think and name any examples of misanthropy in crime fiction, classic, hardboiled or other? I should be writing an essay on the subject, but can't come up with enough examples, though I think Jim Thompson (especially Pop. 1280 and The Killer Inside Me) and Patricia Highsmith (Tom Ripley!) are essentials. What about Charles Willeford? Isn't a book like The Woman Chaser misanthropic?

Someone suggested Andrew Vachss, but he seems to have an ethos that the innocent can and should be saved. There's of course lots of nihilistic neo-nah (the phrase coined by Kevin Burton Smith), but I haven't really sampled those. I'm not sure, though, whether mere nihilism is enough. Misanthropy is more of a philosophical stance, whereas nihilism seems more like a juvenile attempt to be tough and rough.

Any ideas? I'm not really sure if I can do this (the idea wasn't mine to begin with), but if there are enough examples I'm willing to try. I appreciate any thoughts on the subject. If there's a book on the subject, or even an essay, I'd really like to hear about it.


Jerry House said...

Bret Easton Ellis's AMERICAN PSYCHO and Robert Bloch's THE DEADBEAT come to mind.

Juri said...

Thanks, Jerry! Bloch is a very good example, thanks especially for reminding me of it.

Anders E said...

I'm not sure exactly what counts as misanthropy, but John D. MacDonald could occasionally show considerable contempt for human weaknesses. Among the examples that come to mind are NEON JUNGLE and THE PRICE OF MURDER. The most obvious examples however are two of his non-crime novels, CLEMMIE and THE DECEIVERS.

(btw, wouldn't CLEMMIE & THE DECEIVERS be a good name for a rock'n'roll group?)

Juri said...

Yeah, it's not easy to pin down what's satire and what's downright misanthropy. Contempt for human weaknesses might be more satire. But thanks for the recommendation, I'll try to look that up. (You know my distaste for John D. MacDonald, though.)

Anders E said...

JDM never struck me as writing satire. On the contrary, he seems rather judgemental and he also seems to mean it dead seriously. He was a right wing libertarian, wasn't he? That might explain it.

Btw, JDM had his good moments - honest; THE EXECUTIONERS (basis for CAPE FEAR, but you knew that already) and A BULLET FOR CINDERELLA amongst others.

Another thing, check out Highsmith's standalones. Better and even more misanthropic than the Ripley series. Especially DEEP WATER and THE CRY OF THE OWL. She also had a collection of short stories called LITTLE TALES OF MISOGYNY that lives up to its title by a wide margin.

WV: irrar - genuine Swedish!

Anders E said...

Pardon me for butting in again, but now that I think of it I think the entire Sjöwall & Wahlöö series is one long study in misanthropy - they sure did not seem to like people. Wahlöö's standalones MORD PÅ 31:A VÅNINGEN (MURDER ON THE 31TH FLOOR or something like that) and the dystopian STÅLSPRÅNGET (that does not make sense so I will abstain from translation) could be tossed in as well. Lordy, what a miserable bastard.

Juri said...

Yes, you're probably right about MacDonald being too serious to write satire.

And you're right reminding me about that short story collection of Highsmith. I'll look it up. Will have to try Sjöwall-Wahlöö - you know, I've never read them! Don't really go into that kind of Scandinavian thing. :)

Anders E said...

Whenever you dig into Sjöwall & Wahlöö, be sure to read them in chronological order. In this case, it really is important. And please don't take their political rants too serious. Good grief, are those embarassing.

Btw, the by far best movie adaption of theirs is the 1976 MANNEN PÅ TAKET / THE MAN ON THE ROOF. The murder in the beginning is the best you never saw. Filmed in almost total darkness, you only hear it. But that is quite enough if you catch my drift.

Juri said...

I don't mind political rants, as long as they are Leftists! I've got some Sjöwall-Wahlöös in my shelves, so I'll try one of them, presumably the first one. If I have that one. Thanks again!