Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Short Foray Into Hardboiled Fiction: A East of Desolation Review

Noir and hardboiled fiction is not a genre that has ever overly interested me. Part of the reason could be that its popularity peak and time of prominence is a few decades before I was even a thought in my mother's mind. Hardboiled crime fiction was a hugely successful genre in the 20s and 30s that started in the highly sold pulp magazines of the time. It then spawned the highly successful film noir genre in cinema that was a major hit in the 40s and 50s. By the time I was a consumer of entertainment and fiction, there really wasn't a lot of hardboiled crime fiction for me to partake. Though I do acknowledge its contribution to fiction, and recognize it has been a major influence on many of the authors, screenwriters and directors that I enjoy. Though I am personally more familiar with film noir or hardboiled satires such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit that used common tropes and cliches from the genre to help form the story. The lack of solid representation of the genre on my book and DVD shelves is enough proof of my ambivalence towards it.

I don't think the time of my birth is the only reason I never really ever took to the genre (though on a total aside, I've never really been a big fan of labeling stories under a particular genre to begin with). When I've seen clips of films that are considered film noir, I typically see the cynical and hard drinking detective that have given up hope for humanity and is only out for his next pay cheque. The scene is often done in black and white, and not only because it is an older film, but because it helps convey the notion of bleakness and darkness. At some point, the detective is going to be hired by the femme fatale, and the viewer (or reader) is going to be quickly assured that the women should not be trusted. It often seemed, a strong female character usually meant she was deceitful and had evil ulterior motives. Though at the same time, this fictional world was usually littered with tough and dark characters who would stab the protagonist in the back at a moments notice. It was a place littered with mob bosses, thugs, and liars. Of course, I am over simplifying the entire genre, and I also firmly believe that a good story should never completely be pegged into one genre anyway.

I bring up noir and hardboiled fiction, because that is exactly what I was envisioning while reading Jack Higgins' (principal pseudonym of author Harry Patterson) novel East of Desolation. The men are battle worn, tough and cynical. If the women aren't mysterious and deceptive, than they are naive and simple. The men don't have any problems using their fists, even if it is women on the other end. The story for the most part seemed to fit with the genre I described in the above paragraph (with a few exceptions). Though I do like darker fiction that contains characters that have a checkered past, I can't fully relate to the hardboiled crime genre. I am not a cynic by nature, and can't engage into a story that lacks any form of optimism or hope (because I think even the darkest tales tend to have a glimpse of it). I can't personally relate to the majority of the characters that occupy the tale. I definitely am uneasy about the depiction of women in the stories. I personally feel uneasy when all strong women are depicted as untrustworthy, and how a good woman should be reliant on a man. As I stated, that isn't a necessary part of this genre (and again, genre is really just a term often used to lazily label a story without having to describe it properly) but it appears to be a common theme among many of the stories.

East of Desolation is categorized as a thriller by critics or the almighty labeling gods, but as I've spent many words describing, I think it is best suited to be seen as a hardboiled crime type story. The main character isn't a detective (thought there is a police sergeant), instead he is a freelance pilot, but there is a mystery/crime that must be solved which is pivotal for that type of story. The main character isn't a hard drinker (though he is a former alcoholic that now takes medication that makes him ill if he drinks), but basically every other character is chugging away at the bottle at some point or doing their best impersonation of a chimney stack. The male characters are all ready to fight you over farting and would be considered tough as nails. The women characters, well, they fit in exactly with my previous description, and they were probably the part that bothered me most when reading this novel. The plot goes at a swift pace and remains fairly focused on the crime and mystery. Though of course, it contains many twists and turns that would be required for such a story. Though at times, I feel the novel tried to be a little too smart and contain a few too many twists or surprises. In the end, I think a few twists actually caused for some plot holes to the story and forced me to get farther withdrawn from a story I was already unengaged from (due to not being able to relate).

Jack Higgins is a best selling author, and has many supporters. I will readily admit that this novel may be a hit for any of his fans. Though this story was initially published in 1968, which is apparently before his novels started becoming huge hits. I also haven't read much of his stuff, and can't really compare this work to any of his others. I do know that it wasn't a story I felt engrossed in, and was thankful that the novel was fairly short.

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