Hard Boiling It

Forty five years ago a friend introduced me to the crime fiction author, Ross MacDonald and his detective Lew Archer, a descendant of the hard-boiled detectives Sam Spade (Dashiell Hammett) and Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler)   I devoured the series, reveling not so much in the plot lines – the type of seamy family dysfunction where you could marry your sister without realizing it – but rather Lew as a combination of PI, psychologist and philosopher punctuating the plot with cynical but insightful quips.  Sue Grafton’s alphabet murders (A is for Alimony, B is for Burglary) falls into the same category with the twist of Kinsey Millhone as a female detective working in a man’s world.

My original strategy for this pandemic summer was to work my way through David Foster Wallace’s 1,000 page acclaimed novel, Infinite Jest.  I crapped out by page 238, unable to digest his dense prose where a discernible plot was only an occasional flourish.  I felt like the book condemned me to eat a sumptuous meal encompassing all senses, where the waitstaff was equipped with a pair of tweezers to artfully rearrange three pea tendrils atop three (potentially toxic) foraged mushrooms.  One such meal can be appreciated, but not a steady forced diet.  Couldn’t do it.

A return to the hard-boiled detective novel was my work-around.  Ten years ago, I wrote my own crime fiction novel, featuring Liza Blue as the detective dispensing quotable quips as she works her way through a case.  The plot oozes with family dysfunction, peaking when Liza nails the identity of the young women, figuring out whether she is the client’s step-daughter, niece or grand-daughter.  The novel has idled in my desk drawer ever since.  Time to dust it off.  How would the wit and wisdom of Liza Blue match up against Spade, Marlowe and Millhone? 


Family Dynamics

Liza Blue

But the real appeal was why the person went missing, and that was my particular expertise – mucking around deep, dark secrets, often in the decaying infrastructure of booze-addled, dysfunctional families. It was satisfying when I recovered lost souls, but the downside was that sometimes I shattered lives in the name of truth – and at the beginning of a case I could never tell how it was going to fall.

Lew Archer

There are certain families whose members should all live in different towns—different states, if possible—and write each other letters once a year.

Sam Spade

My way of learning is to heave a wild and unpredictable monkey-wrench into the machinery.

Liza Blue

Saturday was going to be my first day off after a string of sleepless nights tracking down a wayward husband. Turns out he had not one, but three girlfriends, but I only told the wife about two of them. She didn’t need to know about her sister.

The Loner

Liza Blue

As I stared at my rumpled queen bed, I thought of another of Dad’s tricks. He slept on alternate sides of the bed to avoid washing the sheets so often.   Turns out it was good advice for a single woman.

Liza Blue

Here’s a tip.  A small frying pan can be multi-purposed as a nifty cereal bowl, allowing for a better dispersal of milk and bran flakes.

Lew Archer

As a man gets older, if he knows what is good for him, the women he likes are getting older too. The trouble is that most of them are married.

Philip Marlowe

I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.

Liza Blue

She came from old money, but tattered old money, the kind that needed a refresher every now and then from people like Sam.

Lew Archer

The Galton household had hot and cold running money piped in from an inexhaustible reservoir.

Philip Marlowe

For people with money, you and your sister don’t seem to have much fun.


Liza Blue

The adjacent ridge was still untouched, on its own starkly beautiful, but next to Sam’s turreted house, the scrubby bushes took on an exhausted and weary look, a victim of the one-sided battle between Sam Todd’s wallet and a fragile ecosystem.

Lew Archer

Twenty or thirty miles out, a string of brown hunchbacked islands lay on the bright horizon like basking tortoises. The woman looked at the Pacific and its islands as if they belonged to her. I found out later that one of them did.
Philip Marlowe

About the only part of a California house you can’t put your foot through is the front door.

Liza Blue

In the sweltering heat her thick make-up looked like it could crack and slide off at any moment, a miniature version of an iconic Californian landslide.

The Cynic

Liza Blue

This guy was either a sarcastic asshole, a pretentious asshole, or most likely a complete asshole.

Lew Archer

There was nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn’t cure.

Kinsey Millhone

Thinking is hard work, which is why you don’t see a lot of people doing it.

Philip Marlowe

I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.

Liza Blue

Even more impressive was her choice of a lavender dress. The slightest sweat stain would be immediately visible like a salty tide mark. I bet she’d had her armpits botox’ed along with her face.

Kinsey Millhone

I know people who believe you should forgive and forget. For the record, I’d like to say I’m a big fan of forgiveness as long as I’m given the opportunity to get even first.

Pot Pourri

Liza Blue

Bitty, all these women look like they have a serious case of not-enough-to-do.   We’re the only two at this luncheon who have to work for a living.

Liza, you’re right, that’s why I work so hard to make it look like I don’t have to. If only you made more of an effort.

Lew Archer

I used to think the world was divided into good people and bad people, that you could pin responsibility for evil on certain definite people and punish the guilty. I’m still going through the motions.

Kinsey Millhone

I didn’t take the death-and-dismemberment talk very seriously. Where could you rent a chainsaw at this time of night?

Liza Blue

His physical presence was all about his hair, rising in thick gray curls from his forehead, brushed back into a cascade of thicker curls in the back. I’d seen this type before, a man in love with his hair, who derives confidence from his hair, someone who bullies and belittles, sucks the confidence from those around him.  It starts with the hair.


I’d like to think that Liza Blue can hold her own, but nothing can top the film noir movie Chinatown. I still remember leaving the theaterre in 1974 thinking that I’d just seen the perfect crime movie weaving together greed, politics and dysfunction.  I’m jealous of those with the opportunity to watch it for the first time.  Here is the classic scene.

Mrs. Mulwray (played by Faye Dunawayt): I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you the truth.

Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson): Good. What’s her name?

Mrs. Mulwray: Katherine.

Gittes: Katherine who?

Mrs. Mulwray: She’s my daughter. [Gittes slaps Mulwray.]

Gittes: I said I want the truth.

Mrs. Mulwray: She’s my sister.  [He slaps her again.]

Mrs. Mulwray: She’s my daughter.  [Another slap.]

Mrs. Mulwray: My sister, my daughter.  [Two more slaps.]

Gittes: I said I want the truth!

Mrs. Mulwray: She’s my sister and my daughter!…My father and I – understand? Or is it too tough for you?

















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  1. sean xiao on October 5, 2020 at 1:55 am

    Reading this article touched me very deeply, thank you so much for writing such a great article, I will definitely follow your blog.

  2. erotik on January 11, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    Some really choice articles on this site, saved to favorites . Layla Chas Joachim

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