Reading the Detectives

Today’s post is from Terry Newman, author of Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf – if you missed the first chapter excerpt we posted yesterday, read it here! I was a reader of science fiction and fantasy. It was what I did, what I spent my free time doing. It helped define me, along with a healthy contempt for any literature that involved bonnets and bodices. However, I had always enjoyed the old black and white movies – they had to be ‘movies’, never ‘films’ – that graced the Sunday afternoon TV of my youth. So, one day – I’m pretty sure it was on holiday with my collection of space operas read too quickly – I picked up

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a well-thumbed paperback that had been left in the self-catering accommodation. And then… It wasn’t the murders at first; it was the language that attracted me. This was a world full of Davenports, Chesterfields and heaters where ‘Dead men are heavier than broken hearts’ and ‘To say goodbye is to die a little’. I didn’t know what half of it meant and I didn’t care. I just wanted to be there – or at least visit, had to be worth it, if only for the women. ‘A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window’ who ‘gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket’. Great language, and great hats too. Don’t forget the hats. It was a world as far away, but as real, as Narnia. Where once I had sailed around Earthsea with Sparrowhawk, fought with Frodo and flown on Mnementh with F’lar, now I followed lowlifes with the Continental Op and hung around low dives with Phillip Marlowe: the ‘hard-boiled’ detectives. We talked like we meant it and walked like we owned it. These were the guys who could mix with heiresses and showgirls, princes and paupers: the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. Later I made the acquaintance of Ezekiel “Easy” Porterhouse Rawlins and Germany’s Bernie Gunther and they took me to different places and different times. The deaths became more important too – justice had to be done, not just seen to be done. There were pieces of the jigsaw to be put together, even if sometimes corners had to be cut. I mean, so what if there’s a war on; people can’t just go round killing each other. But always the smell of cheap booze, the Californian sun and the women who looked like they had seen better days and better men too, drew me back. Just like the elves did. I couldn’t completely let go of them, or the dwarfs for that matter. They are a difficult habit to break. Dwarfs, by and large, get a bad press. They’re always depicted as too short for a start and their shoulders aren’t broad enough and their gift for great hat wear is often overlooked. Dwarfs, in fact, can mix with all sorts: from High Councillors to tavern girls, princes and paupers. They don’t let a bad deed go unpunished and they don’t let go: the best dwarf in his world and a good enough man for any world. Hmm, a dwarf would make a mighty fine detective – now there was a thought to run with.

Terry Newman’s Essential Hard-boiled Detective Introductory Reading List

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett

The Maltese Falcon

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Devil in a Blue Dress Walter

Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Berlin Noir   All quotes: Raymond Chandler, who else? Terry Newman’s first novel Detective Strongoak and the Case of The Dead Elf is out December 18th and available to pre-order here.

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