All my life I’ve been fascinated with detective fiction. It seems almost human nature to adhere to the unlawful. I think that most individuals are spellbound by misdeeds and the felonious. It intrigues us. Simplistically put: crime is bad and, if indulged, there are consequences (some more grave then others). We have the tendency to watch and absorb novels and films that depict crime; it’s an interactive gateway drug that allows people to nearly experience the inexperienceable.
Recently I discovered HBO’s “Bored to Death.” What makes the show very appealing, besides the idiosyncratic wit, is the fact that the entire show is founded in classic literature and detective fiction. Frequent references to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and countless other authors dot each episode creating a writer’s haven of inside jokes. Along with the references and humor, resides a wonderful plot, surrounding the inane exploits of an unlicensed, Craigslist detective. This aspect of the show is just as equally founded in classicism as the literary references; “Bored to Death” continually dives into the deep well of the private eye genre. From the ‘whodunit’ to the ‘inverted detective story’ tried and true methods of detective writing are revealed and then accented with atypical characters and circumstances. These elements are then interwoven with the literary, and then once again recombined with a myriad of cliché film noir archetypes that creates a truly enthralling half-hour’s worth of television.
Other programs such as “Bones,” “CSI,” and “Psych” all tweak the police procedural to form a distinctively absorbing television show; however, all of which, are founded within the same genre. Myself included, humans are rebellious by nature and this is but a small extension of that rebellion.
I started working on my own detective novella several months ago and have yet to make any real progress. I have a couple of okay ideas, and the framework complete, in a purely outlined form, yet I’ve hit the proverbial stonewall. I know what I want my characters to do next and I even know what to do with them afterwards, yet I’m unsure how to execute the process. Even though my writing as well as “Bored to Death” and most Raymond Chandler novels are based in detective fiction, how do I tweak it to make it my own? How do I take the inherent rebellion expressed through watching crime unfold and then to be solved, and fashion it into something unique? I believe that some clichés are needed in order to redirect the piece back to its foundation; however, some aspects could easily brush by the ‘paying homage’ intention and graze upon plagiarism. It is a fine line to straddle, but I think if done correctly I could, just as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett did all those years ago, write a unique piece of private eye fiction.
There are some truly great films out there that highlight the private eye, but I would like to see a second coming of detective fiction. I’ve read some contemporary novels that are spot on, but the nostalgia created from picking up a worn pocket-sized paperback and curling up with a great read, a warm cup of coffee, and a fire a blazing is priceless, and unfortunately lost in modern times.