The title of this blog entry was stolen from an essay written by Raymond Chandler, the creator of the iconic hard-boiled private detective, Philip Marlowe. In the 1940’s and ‘50s, Chandler changed the mystery genre in fundamental ways, though in his essay, he suggests that those changes were made by other writers before him. He names Dashiell Hammett (the Maltese Falcon) among a few others, as the real pioneers.
In any case, Chandler’s ideas about the “new” mystery genre remain a guiding light for my Superior Mystery Series. Chandler advocated realism; in my opinion, actually, he advocated a “reality” that was a lot grittier and darker than the real lives that most people live. Even so, he also advocated redemption in the person of the main character:
“But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished, nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor – by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”
I didn’t read this essay until recently, but I find that I have been writing this way all along.
The Lake Superior Mystery Series stands or falls upon the capable, but human shoulders of Jonah Borden. He is the hero; he is everything Chandler describes above. A few of my negative reviews said he is too good. So be it. He stands in exalted literary company if that is the case.
As Chandler says:
“If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”
What are your thoughts? Who are your favorite main characters in mystery literature?