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American Detective Novels

Hardboiled Novels 1930-1950

One of the types of literature is hardboiled fiction, which is closely associated with detective stories. In hardboiled fiction, one would notice a cynical attitude that the detective of the novel possesses towards emotions such as dread and terror and awe and fear. This cynical attitude is put across to the reader with the detective engaging in self-talk, by which he lets the reader know of his actions. The detectives of such hardboiled novels have turned cynical due to their watching the horrors of organized crime and interacting with a corrupt legal system. These detectives can be considered typical antiheros.

Carroll John Daly initiated the hardboiled fiction style way back in the mid-1920s. The style was made famous by Dashiell Hammett and was refined by Raymond Chandler. Its peak of success was seen from the 1930s to 1950s in America.

Hardboiled fiction was published in the pulp magazines, now known as Black Mask, which were edited by Joseph T. Shaw. Paul Cian, Horace McCoy, and Raymond Chandler were some of the other noteworthy regular contributors to the Black Mask.

These detective thrillers are seen to reflect the socio-economic conditions of their times. Ethics no more existed in the world, the streets were dark, and they threw light on a civilization that had invented machinery, which was being used for its own peril. It was a truly lawless society. This type of literature became popular in the two decades that ended in the Second World War. Life in these novels was totally chaotic, random, and unpredictable.

The protagonist in these novels was a solitary, tough person. He dwelt mainly in the cities and his chief characteristic that was highlighted was his cynical attitude.

Although hardboiled novels include a murder mystery, they revolve around an unusual set of stereotypes. These murder stories do not have the typical country house mysteries of England, which involve rich old ladies. The detective here is a loner who drinks and smokes heavily. He hangs out at all-night bars and is always depicted as poor. He takes it up as his mission to rid America of its crime all by himself.

The hardboiled style of writing was of the colloquial form, racy, and authentically expressed the character and action.