Dresden Files #1: Storm Front Chapter 1 Redux

When I read Farla’s post about this in the queue, I immediately devolved into an incoherent rageful froth and emailed her insisting I put it in my two cents. I then went on to write a five page essay about mid-20th-century detective fiction. Enjoy.


First of all… okay. So to understand what the author is trying to do here, you have to have some familiarity with the conventions of noir and post-war “hardboiled” detective fiction. This is the Humphrey Bogart era, and in fact Bogart would play the two most famous and influential hardboiled detectives, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. As the cover illustrates, the author here was going for Chandler’s Marlowe in style, and it is painfully obvious in his botched prose and themes.

I’ll let Wiki define hardboiled for me:

“Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares to some degree its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective’s cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detective’s self-talk describing to the reader (or—in film—to the viewer) what he is doing and feeling.”

The hardboiled detective is an antihero, but context is important here–you have to remember that this genre arose from the crime-ridden post-prohibition era and continued into the post-WW2 era. The writers and the populace at large were disillusioned by atrocity, and the heroes of these stories, cynical about their worlds, their jobs, and the people in them, reflect these attitudes.

If you’re going to write modern hardboiled, the first thing you have to address is the reason for the protagonist’s anger– it’s no longer the power of the mafia, the widespread and unabashed corruption of police, or the genocide of WW2. So what is it? Why is your detective’s cynicism justified as opposed to just mean and uncalled for?

I think in just this chapter it becomes clear the author didn’t bother asking these questions, because he didn’t understand enough about genre history or the crafting of these stories in general. He wanted DARK and EDGY and probably read The Big Sleep or something so he just copied the style without stopping to think why it worked.

I would actually argue that the best candidate for a hardboiled detective in modern times would be a black man (or woman, but let’s be serious, we don’t want Butcher writing a female protagonist), because then you have the justifiable cynicism, the distrust of police and justice systems, etc. (And in fact, this is something people have tried to do, though I didn’t like any of the attempts I read so I won’t tell you about them.)

So right off the bat, this is not good hardboiled fiction, or at the very least not properly crafted. We see Dresden being irritable and “cynical,” but since he doesn’t really have any reason it’s just petulant. We’re supposed to read this as a genre signifier– cynical antihero detective!– but it is in all the wrong ways, because what it actually signifies is a misunderstanding of the genre.

Let’s talk about misogyny, because someone who so badly botched the framework of the genre and is apparently completely ignorant of its history is obviously going to make this mistake.

Here’s a quote from Chandler’s The Big Sleep:

“[…] there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”

So you have to remember that in the 1920s, the role of women started changing dramatically. Flappers and all that. We’d had one war, and would soon have another one, and when the men were gone women took over jobs and were basically free to do stuff for the first time. As the quote illustrates, the old view of women as the damsels in distress and men as knightly saviors was becoming antiquated, especially in the US. A lot of hardboiled was a direct attempt to parse this– that’s why you see a lot of female criminals and femme fatales, a lot of women using sex as a weapon. At the time, these tropes were progressive, with women exerting power and causing harm, sometimes for the evilulz and sometimes as a way of pushing back against oppression. It’s not a coincidence that porn and female sexuality are central to the plot of TBS.

The results were usually still pretty damn sexist by modern terms. But the presence and role of these women was an important signifier of changing times, and the literature an effort (by male authors, yes) to examine what that meant.

Needless to say, this does not translate well into a modern context.

When you put 1930s “progressivism” in a modern setting and play it straight, you’re just a sexist jerk. And again, the author is a complete and utter barely-sentient idiot for not understanding a) why this is offensive and b) why the original context might matter.

Then there’s this quote Farla picked out from the book:

She had a voice that was a little hoarse, like a cheerleader who’d been working a long tournament, but had enough weight of years in it to place her as an adult.

This is how we know the author is attempting to ape Chandler and his detective, Philip Marlowe, and not anyone else.

You know how when people parody noir, they always make ridiculous similes? That is a direct reference to Chandler’s work. Chandler is the one who did it first, and possibly the best.

The beauty of Chandler’s similes is their bizarreness, and it’s clear that’s what the author was going for here. The problem is that this doesn’t make sense, as Farla said. Is “hoarseness” the first thing you think of when you think of a cheerleading tournament? Of course not– it’s a gymnastics competition, the girl would be physically exhausted, and also when someone things of cheerleaders bouncing around, it’s not their impressive voices that come to mind, for better or worse (it’s worse). The second half doesn’t make sense, either. What does “enough weight of years” mean? What does “place her as an adult” mean? Why would “having weight of years” be something that “places you as an adult” in a competition? Did he just mean she seemed older? Why would being older make your voice less hoarse as opposed to more damaged because you’ve been doing it more?

There are a few reasons Chandler’s similes worked. Well, a lot, but for my purposes there’s a few.

The first is an inversion of expectations. With the simile “She was as pretty as X,” it is expected that X will be something pretty, thereby allowing us to understand and visualize her prettiness and give us a point of comparison. But with things like:

“His smile was as cunning as a broken mouse trap.”

or

“She was as cute as a washtub.” (This is one of my all-time favorites; it just cracks me up.)

You get thrown off-kilter mentally, because the expectation isn’t met, and actually the “x” is a demonstration of how unlike the subject is. The result of this is a tone that feels weird for reasons you can’t quite place. That’s not what’s going on with the simile in this book, obviously. This is supposed to be a direct comparison.

The other thing he does very well is make comparisons that make sense, but compare two wildly different things:

“[…] the handrail was as cold and wet as a toad’s belly.”

“The voice got as cool as a cafeteria dinner.”

“She’s a charming middle age lady with a face like a bucket of mud.”

In both cases the comparison makes perfect sense and you know exactly what he means, and the effect comes from equating two things that wouldn’t normally be equated: handrail to a frog, face to a container of sludge, or a voice to a dinner. Dresden is comparing a voice to a voice, so it doesn’t work on this front either.

Another major way Chandler creates effective simile is via a “letdown” in the second half of the comparison:

“She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don’t care much about kittens.”

“From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.”

The effectiveness of these comes from the setup lacking a followthrough, where we think we’re going to get a comparison but instead are given an obvious statement that doesn’t actually provide more information about the first half. This is, again, not what the simile in question there does.

Finally, mood is creating by using surreal imagery in the second half of the comparison:

“[…] he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”

This is also something Nasu does well and why I liked “[The embarrassing defeat was] like being stabbed through the heart by a bug on the roadside,” so much. You know exactly what it means, but the image it creates is completely absurd. There is no absurdity in the cheerleader comparison outside the opaqueness of the writing.

So obviously, this is another effort to mime Chandler without understanding anything at all about why he did the things he did or why they worked. I can only imagine how many more stupid similes there will be.

Farla also singled out this: Karrin Murphy was the director of Special Investigations out of downtown Chicago, a de fact appointee of the Police Commissioner to investigate any crimes dubbed unusual. [etc etc]

Oh God he’s trying to write Dana Scully.

This is another attempt to call upon the gods of genre, but it’s a bad and bizarre one for several reasons.

So the entire genre as we know it traces its roots back to Poe’s detective Auguste Dupan, whom Doyle plagiarized to create Holmes. Holmes was part of what’s known as the “Golden Age” tradition of detective fiction, which is primarily British and also includes authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. One of the big conventions of this time period in the genre was lifted directly from Poe, and that’s the detective always showing up the comically bumbling police who were perpetually chagrinned at their own incompetence. In some cases there is also a friendly bumblingly incompetent detective on staff, and this is where the detective gets their cases. The detective is virtually always called in where the police have failed.

However, for those historical reasons I mentioned, this playful-on-the-part-of-the-detective relationship (epitomized by Holmes and LeStrade) faded away in the American tradition of the mid-20th century, when police incompetence stopped being adorable and started being violent and corrupt. (There’s a really great scene that I believe is from Lady in the Lake in which the only honest cop on the force talks about how all the good, brave men went off to war, and now the police are populated by the power-hungry cowards who wanted the badge but not the honor with it. This epitomizes, I think, the hardboiled attitude toward police.) The role of police shifted from incompetence and an inability to solve the crime to violence and a desire to cover up the crime. Instead of working for the police, the antiheroes of these stories worked in the gray areas around them, sometimes exposing them but usually unable to stop them– even when solving the crime– in a testament to the feelings of futility prevalent in this time period.

However, there are unsurprisingly a few things he seems to not have understood.

First of all, it’s really weird that the author here, despite trying really really (really really) hard for hardboiled, seems to be going with the Golden Age police figure. My guess would be that this is because Dresden is a huge sue, and the author couldn’t stand the idea of the police winning any battles but liked the idea of showing them up to make his avatar look better. However the result is incongruous, and only makes the supposed cynicism of the detective look worse, since so much of that is supposed to come from the corruption of the police. You can’t remove that element and still have a hardboiled protagonist; the result is nonsense.

Additionally, the behavior toward the police figure isn’t supposed to be direct anger, but polite antagonism. Dresden’s reaction of anger toward Murphy makes sense from a hardboiled character, but not toward a Golden-Age cop. Holmes stayed sympathetic with smarm and good-natured ribbing, saving his real complaints for when the detective wasn’t right there, and there was never hatred , resentment, or anger. It’s a game to the detective, and one he doesn’t mind playing.

Like a good rival in a Pokemon game, the key to the Holmesian police rival is that the rival only becomes more determined with each defeat, maintaining a superior attitude and convinced that next time, he’ll be the victor. A rival that is constantly insulted, frustrated, and beaten down by the detective is just sad, and it makes the detective look like a bully.

The other part of this is that the incompetent cop being shown up being a woman is just so full of Unfortunate Implications I don’t know what anyone on staff was thinking.

…So. That was my reaction to the quotes Farla picked out of the first chapter… I haven’t even looked at the second one. I’m not sure I want to.

28 Comments

  1. Joe says:
    Wow, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for explaining that.



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  2. Roarke says:
    Haven’t read Dresden Files. Haven’t even read a lot of Noir. But I have been in a position to watch modern rehashes of old genres fall completely flat on their face by failing to translate the sociopolitical context to modern times, and wow, are you really good at articulating the pitfalls of that ignorance, holy shit.



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  3. GeniusLemur says:
    I’d also add that the true hardboiled detective is the knight in tarnished armor (I think it was Chandler who made that comparison): he’s cynical, world-weary, etc, but he’s going to try to make a difference in spite of it all. In both Storm Front and Full Moon, it’s mindboggling how little Harry can be bothered with the case(s) he’s ostensibly working on.
    But then, he’s got a busy day being shitty to everyone he encounters, especially the client that miraculously turned up. Can’t imagine why he’s behind on his rent.



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    1. SpoonyViking says:
      That applies to Marlowe, but not to Spade, I think. Spade wasn’t really trying to make a difference, he just wanted to get by in an awful world.



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      1. actonthat says:
        Spade is a bit of an exception in that regard, but he does still have the “honor code” he’s trying to uphold that’s part of the stock character. Hammet’s Op is the more traditional “trying to do right in a bad world” detective.



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  4. SpoonyViking says:
    This was awesome, Act!

    So you think the main trait of the archetype is his cynicism? Do you think it’s possible to pull off an idealistic hard-boiled detective that retains more from the original archetype than just the aesthetics?




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    1. Roarke says:
      Should chip in here to say that yeah, the main trait of the archetype is the cynicism; it’s not a question of opinion. The Wikipedia article that Act quoted for the basic definition goes on to elaborate that the hard-boiled detective has worked at the job long enough to reach occupational burnout, which is where the cynicism comes from.

      I sort of understand why you’d have this question. Like, a lot of authors and such these days want to write cynical characters for the sake of cynicism seeming cool, so it’s natural to suspect that the cynicism is just flavoring, or “aesthetics” as you put it: something that could be removed without disrupting the character itself. In some cases it may be possible, but in this it is not.

      The cynicism is actually integral to the character and comes from the fact that the character is generally supposed to be experienced to the point of weariness and disillusion; from thence stems the cynicism.
      You were there for the F/SN post in which Act talked about the Tsundere stock character, and how Rin was basically an example of the archetype done well because those characteristics followed logically from her past and present situation. This is the same thing, in essence. A character is a hard-boiled detective because they have an established past and present that result in misanthropy, cynicism, etc, not because they put on a coat and fedora.

      Of course, I may just be blowing this out of my ass, and Act may come on in 20 minutes to denounce me and kick me off the comment section forever. But here is my opinion, for what it’s worth to you.




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    2. actonthat says:
      I actually think the key to a good hardboiled character is optimism despite cynicsm, if that makes sense. The serial detective of this time was still trying to do good, even if they didn’t believe it was going to make a difference overall, and that made for some really complex characters and situations. The world itself needs to be a cynical one in order to be hardboiled, I think, but I don’t think the detective does, if that makes sense.



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      1. SpoonyViking says:
        It does! Thanks. :-)

        You’ve actually reminded me of Garth Ennis’ portrayal of Constantine. His Constantine is always complaining about more traditional magical super-heroes, like Dr. Fate, and how they have it so easy compared to his oh-so-tragic self; only, those people are actually helping others, as opposed to Constantine, who’s mostly looking out for himself. So his Constantine comes off not as a man trying to do right in a shitty world while others gallivant about, but as a jealous brat whining about how he doesn’t get the best toys.

        I’ve actually been looking for some old DC comics about Dr. Occult, a character which is basically Harry Dresden done right. His outfit is very reminiscent of the traditional hardboiled getup (you know, trenchcoat and fedora) as popularized by Bogart’s portrayal of Spade, but I’m curious to see whether he can be considered to actually follow the hardboiled archetype, or if it’s restricted to the character’s aesthetics.




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  5. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
    THANK YOU. I was having inchoate thoughts about hardboiled detectives and wondering how Dresden would rate if evaluated as one, but not with any impetus to try the homework myself. You have answered all my vaguely formed questions, and reading this was more fun than figuring it out would have been (I would never have gotten all the way to all the issues you covered before running out of steam).



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  6. antialiasis says:
    Very interesting, enjoyable analysis! A lot of the weirder things about this chapter/book, like the random ‘rar science is the new religion’ bit and that cheerleader metaphor, make a lot more sense as half-baked attempts to go for this kind of cynicism and style. I don’t think there’s much of that sort of thing in the later books, so perhaps he just gave up on the concept (then again, I never managed to puzzle out what he was going for with that in the first place).

    Murphy is definitely not supposed to be the incompetent cop archetype, though. She’s unaware of the supernatural for the moment because Harry is an idiot who refuses to tell her anything (thankfully, it doesn’t take too long for her to convince him this is the stupidest idea ever), but she’s basically the deuteragonist of the series as a whole, playing the professionally competent straight man to Harry’s goofier character, and in the first couple of books where she hasn’t been brought into the fold, her primary role is to get Harry into more trouble because based on what she knows he looks like the prime suspect. I don’t recall Harry showing up Murphy ever being a thing – in the early books where she’s drawing wrong conclusions, it’s clearly Harry’s fault for not telling her anything.

    Overall Murphy is pretty cool. Even people who hate the series like Murphy. It helps that she does a lot of calling Harry out on being sexist or just generally an idiot.




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  7. EdH says:
    Wow that’s the analysis I always wanted ever since I got a copy of the Maltese Falcon 8 years ago. Sometimes I wish I found noir earlier.

    Just curious, but is it possible to do character development in noir? I mean protagonists tend to already be at the end of their line, so is there just no way for them to change as people?




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    1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
      It would be remarkably nontraditional to do character development in regards to the main character. Like you said, and as mentioned above, a hardboiled protagonist tends to begin steeped in cynicism and already jaded. Since the genre itself is cynical, there isn’t room to grow from there. Hardboiled novels tend to focus on plot more than anything, and if they’re part of a series the main character tends to remain unmoved, or at least unaltered by the action, because of course he’s seen it all before.

      Theoretically, you could start off with a not-quite-noir-enough main character and put him through a series of bleak-outlook-creating events, or you could write a deconstruction where a jaded cynic investigates a crime that makes him start believing in hope and philanthropy, but probably neither would qualify to genre purists, (quite rightly with the last.)

      There is a theory of character development that also includes the reader coming to know the character better, so you could possibly write about a stepford smiler who hides their jaded cynicism under a layer of defiant cheerfulness, and have the reader watch and come to understand as they take in ghastly injustice and brutal murder with perfect calm, because hey, that’s how the world works. But that would depend on whether you accept that theory of character development.

      My, that was a lot of words to say “no, not really.”




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      1. Farla says:
        I think I’ve seen it.

        Granted, I’m not sure where it falls on the purity test, because by accident of library, most of what I’ve read have actually been modern/scifi pastiches of it. But most of the ones I read involved either the guy being completely broken down by the end (because it wasn’t meant to be a series of bleak noir fiction but a single contained story, so it took a guy who’d gone cynical from the fact his life was generally shitty, had more shit happen on top of it, and then had him react understandably) or, in a series of short stories, had him become less misanthropic as he succeeded.

        The one that stands out is the guy whose obligatory woman problems were because his scifi reeducation punishment for rape had accidentally made him unable to even touch a woman. The stakes of the cases raise until in the final one he negotiates getting the reeducation conditioning removed in return for risking his life to fix the most recent problem, at which point he’s all happy and like he’s returned to the land of the living. I should try to track those down sometime because even my vague memory of it suggests it was some amazingly fucked up writing. I assume the author must have been going for a degree of irony in him being all happy when he’s literally surrounded by the dead and dying from the bomb he just blew up, at least.




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        1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
          If he’s cynical and things get worse that counts, so, say, events driving a detective from a drinking problem to being actively suicidal would probably count. It would most likely be a short story, or a one off novel, because part of the appeal of the hardboiled series is that the main character is so beat down and broken by life that he can’t be broken further, and isn’t that just so cool and manly, look at the way he makes jaded quips while getting beat up OMG so amazing. It’s a very strange genre like that; sort of like a power fantasy about being powerless.

          Your stand out example sounds extremely alarming, and purists would disqualify it for the sci-fi alone, but there has been hardboiled done with villain protagonists, though that usually ends with the more evil one (AKA the woman) getting away with it, while the more sympathetic character (AKA the manly man person seduced by her lady-evil) has to face ghastly consequences. Someone genuinely becoming a better person is kinda an automatic no for the genre unless becoming a better person also serves to dramatically screw him over.




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      2. Roarke says:
        There are ways to have jaded, cynical characters have some character development, but they’ll never get as much as an idealistic one, generally.
        The easiest example off the top of my mind would be to have a character who, after a lifetime of having to deal with some specific kind of injustice, develops a deeply ingrained prejudice towards whatever he perceives to be causing this injustice. You see this a lot in stories that discuss, overtly or otherwise, race.
        The character arc in these stories is that the bitterly cynical and prejudiced character lets go of his prejudice a little, because he realizes that he’s this corner case who has missed the big picture by becoming obsessed with this one aspect of whatever he’s prejudiced against. You see it all the time, really. American History X followed a Neo-Nazi who met a Magical Negro in prison and ended up not hating black people so much.

        edit: I suppose in some senses the elder brother was still an idealistic person despite being a Neo-Nazi, but I’d call him cynical enough to suit the purposes of the question.
        That’s the basic character arc, I suppose. A hardboiled detective having a similar arc would not be a huge stretch, and it does not have to be about race, obviously.




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        1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
          You can totally develop cynical characters, and fiction would probably be more fun if authors could get over the idea that cynicism was the height of enlightenment. You just can’t do it and call the result hardboiled without a whole lot of people stepping up to argue. Hardboiled is by definition a cynical man in a cynical world being a cynic. Of course, quibbling about genre definitions is part of the human experience, but if a novel ends with an ending as optimistic as “person becomes less racist” or, “not all people are corrupt and useless and life isn’t a process of moral deterioration that only I, the protagonist, am manly enough to withstand” then for many fans of the genre that egg has not been cooked correctly and is disqualified.



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          1. SpoonyViking says:
            And yet, Marlowe isn’t as much of a cynic as Spade. There’s some wiggle room, I think.



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            1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
              Well, we don’t get Spade’s thoughts at all, so for all we know he’s just pretending to be cynical and really thinking about how lovely his grandmother’s rose garden is and playing along with all the drama because he thinks its funny. :) Seriously though, there’s a lot of wiggle room; it’s just if you use it, diehard fans will call you a worm.

              Personally I think having too many restrictions on what qualifies something as being a particular genre is a good way to choke that genre to death. I guess I’m just making a genre fanatic’s arguments so they don’t have to?




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          2. Roarke says:
            You don’t necessarily have to make the person less idealistic by the end. Dropping prejudices can be just as cynical an action as picking them up. If having the prejudice caused the HBD to follow some red herring in the case, he just shifts the cynicism towards himself rather than whatever it was. Character development like “I’ve landed in this sort of trouble because I’m just as much of an idiot as the regular people I despised” would in fact be moving towards greater cynicism. Of course, this requires the HBD to have some illusions at the start of the story, while some purists might prefer that he have none, that he have achieved absolute enlightenment, which is ironically quite idealistic of them, but whatever.



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            1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
              I think I get what you’re saying. I was originally thinking of something like “Oh, my prejudices have misled me, I am an awful person, but I’ll try to do better next time because I know better now,” which clearly isn’t cynical enough, darn it, but if as the HBD’s prejudices had resulted in utterly terrible consequences that could not be altered or atoned for and the story ended with him aghast at his own stupidity, then I think we’d qualify.

              As for the purists being idealistic, they completely are. That’s the thing with hardboiled/noir, it takes place in a far from an ideal world, but it’s an incredibly idealised one. (That’s why some purists will insist that a story isn’t genuine hardboiled unless it takes place back in the the glorious days when you could wear a fedora without being called a hipster and men were men, dammit.) It’s always a very romanticised idea of what it’s like to be a broken-down semi-loser barely breaking even by investigating the sordid crimes of various petty thugs, corrupt officials, and evil women, just because, no matter how realistic it claims to be, there’s this ever present aura of “Isn’t this the coolest thing ever?”




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    2. actonthat says:
      Without reading the resulting comment thread, my response:

      SPOILER WARNING FOR MALTESE FALCON AND POSTMAN RINGS TWICE

      Yeah, definitely. I mean, Sam Spade falling for Brigid is this great crack-in-his-armor thing that I think made that romance so compelling– you see Spade develop as a person despite every effort not to do so, and in the end refuse to bow to that development, but you know he can’t be unaffacted by it and I think that’s why that story is so powerful. Then there’s Postman Always Rings Twice, where the whole ironic horror of the ending is that Frank has changed as a person, but it doesn’t matter.

      That said, serial detectives overall, across the genre from Holmes to the Op and so on, tend to be relatively static. I think this can in large part be traced to the format, where stories needed to be able to be picked up and read at any time. You get more info about the character, but it’s usually in subtle ways and via backstory so as to prevent readers who start at the end, so to speak, from being completely lost. It’s an interesting case of form/function, I think.

      I think, too, that there’s something about the detective that is always going to be idealized, and as such is prone to starting in a final stage of development. You’ll see the Watson character grow and change (as Watson himself did), but often the detective himself needs to be at the top of his game to start with to keep the story going in an interesting way. I definitely think this can be subverted, but it’s certainly a genre convention for a reason: we’re supposed to admire and detective and see him separate from ourselves, in a way.

      That was kind of rambly, but hopefully it made some sense!




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  8. guestest ever says:
    Good analysis. Sort of answers all the questions I never asked about noir.

    Speaking of noir, I’m reminded of a certain thing that might as well be a suggestion:
    http://cgdblogdh.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/grimfandango.jpg




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    1. illhousen says:
      I second the notion.

      In fact, I’ll write the recommendation in the appropriate thread.




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  9. Xander77 says:
    I’m currently reading through all the Dresden novels… mostly because they came with a kindle that was gifted to me. The third one was probably the first I actually rather enjoyed. Still, I think some of your criticisms are a bit premature. For instance, the classic noir PI is cynical and disappointed with *people in authority* and their betrayal of trust, rather than the police specifically. For Dresden, the people in authority are (the yet poorly defined) Wizarding authorities, whom he loathes and antagonizes at every opportunity. Not saying that their position and problems are going to be all that well outlined for a while, but that’s what you’re looking for.



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    1. actonthat says:
      [For instance, the classic noir PI is cynical and disappointed with *people in authority* and their betrayal of trust, rather than the police specifically.]

      Well, I mean, when you’re dealing with crime, the people in authority *are* the police. There are ancillary groups, like the mafia and corrupt politicians, but what it all boils down to is a dearth of justice, which turns it back on the police. I would say that a lot of the time the question asked is, “Whose fault is it, really, that people are taking advantage of a situation in which corruption isn’t punished?” Blame tends to be spread around, but the police are always in the equation.

      The issue with the Wizard Council or whatever is that they’re explicitly working for justice. Even if you argue they’re misguided in their efforts, you can’t have a hardboiled antagonist organization operating in good faith; it doesn’t make any sense. It just makes it seem like Harry is annoyed there’s a governing body at all, which is totally outside the genre and also not a particularly endearing character trait.

      The author seems to know that to some degree, what with the inclusion of other groups like vampires and Refrigerator Tiger’s people to scream “CORRUPTION.” But the council is actively trying to deal with the crime in an honest way, which is the opposite of hardboiled, and some of these groups (ie, the human mafia) are completely outside their jurisdiction.

      It’s kind of a mess.




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      1. illhousen says:
        It’s especially jarring because it’s unnecessary. Wizards could totally be presented as old mony crowd sitting in their mansions, sipping brandy, using their mojo to ensure their investments will pay off and spitting on everyone else.

        Harry would be a rare exception trying to help people rather than using his powers for personal profit.

        It would even make perfect sense for vampires to live in fear of wizards: wizards would be assholes in charge of all other assholes, with vampires being lower on pecking order.

        There would be no rules against mind control (unless it’s a wizard being controlled), only the rules of conduct between wizards. Which Harry would inevitably break because he learns a wizard is behind the case and has to be stopped before more lives are lost.

        And the reason why Harry is still alive despite going against the tradition s and not playing ball is because there are only so many wizards born – certain people hope to turn him into an asset.

        Instead of being a hetter hardboiled detective than Harry, Morgan is now an enforcer send specifically to provoke Harry into breaking the rules in a way he can’t deny, so Morgan’s patron could make him an offer he can’t refuse.




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  10. This was great. Thanks a lot, Act!

    The big issue I have with Dresden is that Butcher is also pulling heavily from John Constantine in his presentation of the character as a street wizard. It’s just Constantine without the moral ambiguity, the drug addiction, or any of the many facets which make the character interesting.




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