It’s counter-intuitive, but there’s something so calming about old school detective fiction. It’s often been said that it’s all about the ‘moral universe’; these are stories with a certain outcome in which the good prevail and the bad are punished. I’m not sure it’s just that. I like the process, too, the problem solving, the working out of motive and opportunity, the separation of red herring from genuine clue and the patient untangling of knots and snarls until it all comes out in the end.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve continued my Wimsey crime spree on Kindle. It’s coincided with (and I hope it hasn’t caused) a bout of insomnia. So, midnight reading has been Whose Body?, The Nine Tailors, Clouds of Witness, Murder Must Advertise and Unnatural Death. But enough is enough, and especially enough of Lord Peter with his monocle and silly-ass pose –  and the unquestioned hilarity of the lower and middle classes. Ow, t’ funny way they do talk!

I have a trial membership of Kindle Unlimited – around $15 a month, and any book you want from the dedicated list – so after exhausting Dorothy Sayers, I decided to cross the Atlantic and move up a couple of decades.
I tried searching for an old favourite, Ross McDonald. There were none available on Kindle Unlimited, but what I did find was a fascinating book called Hard Boiled Anxiety by Karen Huston Karydes.

It’s Freudian literary criticism, zeroing in on three masters of the ‘hard-boiled’ genre –  Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet and Ross McDonald – and the twisted origins of their fiction. Behind the tough-guy private eyes are three seriously messed-up writers. Each of these men had complicated relationships with their parents and with women, so Karydes’ Freudian interpretations are an easy fit. And of course, what is the underworld but the subconscious? McDonald is a particularly apt subject, because he’d had extensive psychoanalysis and was perfectly aware that his clingy, demanding women and their sons or younger lovers referenced Oedipus. Even more revealing were the excerpts from McDonald’s confessional memoir. It seems that McDonald used his detective hero Lew Archer to heal himself.

This is lively, entertaining and illuminating lit crit. And what a great cover.

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  1. Kate C says:

    Wow, that sounds amazing! What a great find 🙂

    I had a Wimsey binge last year (I think) but like you, I could only take so much of Peter — I wish Sayers had written a series about Harriet Vane instead. She is so bracing.

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