Growing-up in India I never understood the invincibility of Bollywood movie’s ‘hero’–the lead male character. The Bollywood hero is usually poor, wronged by society, pious, and has combined strength of Superman, He-Man, and Spider-Man. I often questioned his characteristics; after all no human is mentality, emotionally, and physically strong at the same time. I wondered about Indians’ sensibilities to believe that such men exist.
I learned that the Bollywood hero is THE fantasy man of most Indian women and THE role model for most Indian men. I find that the hard-boiled detectives are same as Bollywood’s heroes. They give an escape from harsh realities. Both are the macho men–silent, strong, tall, charismatic, and broody with sharp jawlines. To describe them best, I borrow a line from the 1997 movie Austin Powers, in which Mrs. Kensington said, “Women want him and men want to be him.”
My biggest issue with the hard-boiled detective–the Americanized darker version of the Bollywood hero–is that I never understand them. I don’t get their modus operandi and motive. They never share anything with their readers. They don’t have a partnership with their readers.
It is only near the end of The Maltese Falcon that I realized and learned that Sam Spade is not after the money earned from finding the Maltese Falcon, instead Spade was trying to find the killer of his partner. This begins the difference between Hammett’s Sam Spade and Crais’ Elvis Cole. Spade doesn’t talk much. Spade‘s feelings are described by his body language–his abruptness, the setting of his jaw, and the movement of his eyes. Cole can’t stop himself from sharing his feelings.
Spade was sleeping with his partner’s wife. He started sleeping with his client turn crime-partner, Brigid O’Shaunessey. Sam Spade is the quintessential hardcore hard-boiled detective–the man so sexually attractive that no women can resist him. On the opposite spectrum is Elvis Cole. He wouldn’t sleep with Samantha Dolan despite her numerous blatant attempts. He is eternally faithful to his girlfriend.
In spite of the visible dissimilarities, there are inherent similarities between Spade and Cole. To both their relationship with their partner mattered. Their reasons were different; Spade finds his partner–Miles Archer’s killer because of a sense of duty; Cole help saves his partner–Joe Pike because Pike is a “good guy” and is Cole’s best-friend.
Of course, both Spade and Cole know their respective cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles inside-out. I understand that it is a basic requirement of being a detective. This makes me realize, I can never be a detective because I can’t even find my nose without a GPS.
Cole’s love for Los Angeles is apparent. But Spade doesn’t give any such indication. I am supposed to get inside Spade’s thinking by the reading about his jaw tightening or eyes narrowing. I want more than symbolic gestures.
I want a detective who once in a while smiles genuinely. Spade is always sullen. I believe nothing can and will make him happy.
Ideally, I should love the soft-boiled detectives. They are human; they laugh, share their feelings, talk, eat organic food, are kind, and everything human. But herein lies my problem with the soft-boiled detectives. They are too human.
I agree with Budianski’s assessment that we are getting soft-boiled. What is the point of such detectives? For that, I don’t need to read a detective novel; I can just watch my husband solve the mystery of how to set the delay-wash feature on the washing machine. For a detective to be unique, he/she has to be different from a regular human.
Just for the record, I don’t think Elvis Cole is completely soft-boiled. Especially as defined by Budianski.
For any character to be three-dimensional, it has to have flaws. A reader has to dislike something in them. Spade had plenty; he lies, breaks the law, and appears unemotional and cold. Whereas Cole is the ideal man. He is faithful, health conscious, lovey-dovey, and cooks. There is nothing unlikable about him.
The problem with the soft-boiled detective is that the reader needs a reason to dislike them at least occasionally.
I want to coin a new term–Medium-boiled detective. This is, as the name suggests is the middle of hard- and soft-boiled detective. A medium-boiled detective should or must or can have: (1)physical strength of Joe Pike, (2)practice yoga only in secrecy (don’t tell the reader), (3)share his thoughts more than Spade and Pike, but less than Cole, (4)can move his girlfriend’s furniture, (5)has to be less faithful, as-in sleep with Samantha Dolan when you have hots for her, (6)but don’t sleep with every women as though you are James bond, and (7)be mysterious but still take the reader in confidence.