Monday, April 18, 2016

The Mean Streets: Private Eye Stories.

     Bill Pronzini & Martin Greenberg. The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories (1988) The PI story is quintessentially American. Since about 1950, writers in other countries have tried their hand at it, but my reading suggests that they capture the bleak existentialism of the PI tale best with police officers, perhaps because the PI in most of the US has a larger scope of action than in Europe.
     The editors offer these tales in chronological order by author birth dates. A couple are duds, not because of the plots but because of the writing. Whether first or third person, it’s the PI’s off-hand observations about the weather, the characters’ faces, the smells and sounds of morning-after bars, that create the ambience which convinces us that these dark fantasies are true. That’s a style that’s easy to parody and difficult to do well.
     All the expected authors are here, Chandler, Hammett, Ross MacDonald, Sue Grafton, and so on, as well as some I know only from reviews. A wonderful potato-chip book, you read one story, and you want to read the next one just to taste that dark and near-despairing view of life again.
     Recommended, if you can find a copy. Numerous typos mar an otherwise near-perfect collection: the effect of early use of spell-checking, no doubt. ***

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