My Detectives are Soft Boiled

Over time I’ve grown weary of the hard boiled detective.   It wasn’t always so, I grew up addicted to the exploits of Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, the Continental Op, and others of their ilk.  “The Big Sleep” and “Out Of The Past,” are still amongst my favorite films, and “The Wrong Case,” is one of my favorite books.  But, at its heart, the hard boiled genre is made up of colorful characters who don’t like each other and the cynicism of these works, no matter how wry and entertaining, wears thin – for me anyway.  Moreover, the us against them mentality found in most hard boiled stories strikes my as especially unappealing in today’s world of Ferguson-style cops and countless innocents wrongly delegated to death row.

Agatha Christies’ Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot, and certainly Sherlock Holmes, are far from hard boiled, but they also don’t seem to have much affection for the human race – they fall into the category of the analytical detective, where villains and witnesses are simply pawns in a game of crime, which serves solely to stimulate the “little gray cells,” of a celebrated sleuth.

Possibly the most well-known soft boiled detective is Columbo, who often grows quite fond of the people he eventually puts away.  ( I imagine, however,  that with his reliance on entrapment and circumstantial evidence his conviction rate is pretty dismal.)   The recently cancelled “White Collar,” also features two soft boiled detectives as the leads, as does “Granchester.”

The soft boiled detective strikes me as more suitable to our current times where grays seep into black and whites and corrupt them.  The world is more overtly complex now, more filled with doubt and uncertainty, and a soft boiled detective, who can appreciate his adversary’s point of view, makes a more suitable standard bearer for modern justice.  My three detectives, No Sin, Monica Marshall, and Zephyr Davies are not always nice people, in fact they can be absolute monsters, but ultimately they like each other and most of the people that they encounter – even Monica who would be horrified by this appraisal of her personality.


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