Hard-Boiled Dialogue: From Philip Marlowe to Jake Lassiter

hard-boiled PI

Hard-boiled dialogue…the literary equivalent of a quick punch to the gut.

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

Those hard-boiled lines come from the mind of tough-guy P.I. Philip Marlowe, which is to say from author Raymond Chandler. You’ll find the first one in Farewell My Lovely and the second in The Big Sleep, classics of the noir genre.

hard-boiled Bogey
Humphrey Bogart was plenty hard-boiled as Philip Marlowe in “The Big Sleep.”

Many consider Chandler to be one of the founders of “hard-boiled crime fiction” featuring the weathered, world-weary and cynical private eye. However…

Hard-Boiled Can Be Humorous, Too

Hard-boiled dialogue is certainly an element of tough-guy crime fiction. But a line can be hard-boiled and humorous, too. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, the villains are Nazi spies, so it’s a serious drama…but with humorous interludes. Here’s an exchange between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman:

“Don’t you need a coat?” Grant asks.

“You’ll do,” Bergman replies.

hard-boiled Notorious
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman exchange hard-boiled, sometimes humorous lines in “Notorious.”

Hard-Boiled? Tough Bark with a Tender Heart

All this came to mind when a reader told me that a baker’s dozen of hard-boiled quotes from my Jake Lassiter and Solomon vs. Lord books are posted on Goodreads, one of the most entertaining and informative readers’ websites.

Often Lassiter is equal parts sly and hard-boiled. The ex-second-string NFL linebacker turned renegade lawyer has a tough bark but a tender heart. Still, he shares some rueful cynicism with earlier heroes of crime fiction, and he does dispense hard-bitten lines.

“I’m a brew and burger guy in a paté and Chardonnay world. I’m as health conscious as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sitting on a bar stool.” – FALSE DAWN

hard-boiled false dawn
Jake Lassiter cracks wise and hard-boiled in “False Dawn”

“I stood there, 230 pounds of ex-football player, ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things, leaning against the faded walnut rail of the witness stand, home to a million sweaty palms.” – TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD

“A good lawyer is part con man, part priest…promising riches if you pay the fee, damnation if you don’t.” – STATE vs. LASSITER

Hard-boiled Jake Lassiter
Hard-boiled Jake Lassiter finds himself behind bars in “State vs. Lassiter.”

Old Heraclitus Had it Right: “Character is Destiny”

Heraclitus wrote that “character is destiny,” which is a pretty nifty line. If he hadn’t died 2,500 years ago, he could probably get a job writing for NCIS. I’d add this corollary to Herac’s three words of wisdom: “Dialogue reveals character.” I’ve long believed that it’s better to reveal your protagonist’s character traits through his or her own voice, rather than clunky narration. I call these unspoken thoughts “internal dialogue.” Wikipedia uses the phrase “self-talk.”

From the quotes above, you might already have a feel for Jake Lassiter, even if you’ve never read any of the ten books in the series. He’s the guy they call “Last Chance Lassiter,” because he takes on impossible cases no other lawyer will touch. On the other hand, sometimes he turns down a case:

“I could have used the work, but I prefer cases I believe in. Best is to have a client you like, a cause that’s just and a check that doesn’t bounce. Two out of three and you’re ahead of the game.” – FLESH AND BONES

While defending a murder trial:

“At the prosecution table, Flagler gave me his Ivy League snicker. If I wanted, I could dangle him out the courtroom window by his ankles. But then, I was picking up penalties for late hits while he was singing tenor with the Whiffenpoofs at Yale. I’m proud of my night school diploma. Top half of the bottom third of my class.” – LASSITER

And finally from Lassiter, on the practice of law:

“We eat what we kill. Hey, they don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”FOOL ME TWICE

But let’s close with a Raymond Chandler classic from the short story Red Wind:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.”

Yikes!

Paul Levine

You can watch Paul’s video interviews (including one about dialogue), learn about bargain books, and make purchases on the Paul Levine Amazon Author Page.

Crime Fiction: Brash New Kid on the Block

Brash Kindle EBooks

By Paul Levine

Crime Fiction authors Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman remind me of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. And no, neither Lee nor Joel has a mustache.

crime fiction chaplin
Charlie Chaplin wanted to control his own work.

Ninety-five years ago, Chaplin and Fairbanks (along with Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith) opened their own studio: United Artists. They’d been working for the big-name studios and thought they could do a better job making movies. They also wanted the creative control that the commercial studios wouldn’t give them.

crime fiction...fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. bears a strong resemblance to Joel Goldman in the sense that they both wear hats.

Brash Books Bursts Onto the Scene

This month, Goldberg and Goldman, both highly successful writers in the crime fiction genre, opened “Brash Books,” a new publisher of ebooks and paperbacks. They are already offering selections from crime fiction stalwarts Bill Crider, Dick Lochte, Dallas Murphy, Barbara Neely, Bob Forward, Tom Kakonis, Noreen Ayres, and others. Here are some of the paperbacks.

The Brash Books tagline is…well, brash: “We Publish the Best Crime Novels in Existence.” Oh, how the ebook revolution has turned the publishing industry upside down. Twenty years ago…make that ten years ago, this would not have been possible. The cost of production and distribution of “dead tree” books would make wanna-be publishers blink.

Crime Fiction Rookies Welcome

While the initial offerings are from established crime fiction writers, Brash is opening the door (or transom?) to unpublished authors, too. Go here to see how to submit your work.  Why do I think they’ll be deluged with manuscripts?

Well, there are lots of unpublished authors out there, some of whom are very good. There is also a contingent of formerly published crime fiction writers who can no longer get a contract with a New York publishing house. But as some doors close, others open.

Crime Fiction Back in Print

In my case, the ebook revolution gave second life to many titles that were long out-of-print in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Those books are now alive and well on Amazon. There’s another benefit for the writer, too. By giving re-birth to the first book in a series — in my case, “To Speak for the Dead” (1990) — electronic publication opened the door to fresh NEW ebooks and paperbacks. Again, in my case, the tenth book of the same series, “State vs. Lassiter” (2014).

As for Brash Books, let’s look back at United Artists a moment. It remained independent for nearly 50 years, producing everything from “The Three Musketeers” with Fairbanks in 1921 to “A Hard Day’s Night” with the Beatles in 1964. I’m hoping Brash Books is around for a half century, too.

Paul Levine

Mystery Books Hard-Boiled: From Spade to Lassiter

By Paul Levine

This question recently appeared on Facebook: “Who’s your favorite character in hard-boiled fiction?”

The answers were smart and reflected knowledge of both classic and post-modern noir crime fiction. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer were among the answers. So, too, of course was Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. How could he not be an icon of hard-boiled mystery books with lines like this from “The Maltese Falcon?”

“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him.”

Hard-Boiled Mystery Books Sam Spade
In the field of mystery books, a hero doesn’t get  any more hard-boiled than Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon.”

More contemporary tough guys like Dave Robicheaux from James Lee Burke’s mystery novels, Matt Scudder from Lawrence Block and Easy Rawlins from Walter Mosley were also on the list. So, too, were Spenser and Travis McGee. I think those two iconic tough guys display a tad too much sentimentality to be considered characters of old-school hard-boiled mystery books, but no one can deny that Robert B. Parker and John D. MacDonald created protagonists who will live forever. The occasional female character also cropped up. Lisbeth Salander, from Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, made an appearance, as did Sara Peretsky’s V.I. Warshawski.  Hard-boiled babes, as it were.

Wikipedia defines hard-boiled fiction as:

“[A] literary genre sharing the setting with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective’s cynical attitude towards those emotions.”

Can Heroes of Hard-Boiled Mystery Books Have Tender Hearts?

One answer on Facebook blindsided me. That was Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer in 10 of my mystery books, including the recently released “State vs. Lassiter.”

Funny thing is, just as with Spenser and Travis McGee, Jake never seemed that hard-boiled to me. Oh, there’s the occasional tough-guy line: “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

Then he’s occasionally getting punched out, digging up graves, and flirting with disbarment.

But is that enough? I always thought he had a hard bark but a tender heart. To determine whether Jake is hard-boiled or merely cynical, I recently had a not-too-friendly conversation with him:

Paul: You look like you’re still in shape to play for the Miami Dolphins. How do you do it?

Jake: Being fictional helps. By the way, you look like pelican crap.

Paul: You’re just peeved because I got you indicted for murder in the new book.

Jake: I don’t get “peeved.” I get pissed, and when I do, someone gets decked.

Paul: Let me ask you a tough question.

Jake: Take your best shot, scribbler.

Paul: You’ve been called many things. “Shyster.” “Mouthpiece.” “Shark.” But murderer?

Jake: I’m not bad. You just write me that way.

Paul: Okay, in “State vs. Lassiter,” your client’s money goes missing…

Jake: I never stole from a client, bribed a judge, or threatened a witness, and until this bum rap, the only time I was arrested, it was a case of mistaken identity.

Paul: How’s that?

Jake: I didn’t know the guy I hit was a cop.

Hard-boiled mystery books Jake Lassiter
Mystery Books: Is “State vs. Lassiter”  hard-boiled crime fiction or a legal thriller or both?

Paul: Okay, at the start of the book, you’re having an affair with a beautiful woman who also happens to be your banker.

Jake: So sue me. Women think I look like a young Harrison Ford.

Paul: One keystroke, I’ll turn you into an old Henry Ford. You and your lady are having a fancy dinner on Miami Beach. She threatens to turn you in for skimming client funds, and next thing we know, she’s dead…in your hotel suite.

Jake: Is there a question in there, counselor?

Paul: What happened?

Jake: I take the Fifth. Ever heard of it?

Paul: You go on trial for murder.

Jake: Hold your horses. No spoilers!

Paul: “Hold your horses?” What are you, an extra in “Gunsmoke?”

Jake: Sorry if I’m not hip enough for you, scribbler. You won’t find my mug on Facebook. I don’t have a life coach, an aroma therapist, or a yoga instructor, and I don’t do Pilates.

Paul: So you’re not trendy. You’re not a Yuppie.

Jake: I’m a carnivore among vegans, a brew and burger guy in a Chardonnay and paté world.

Paul: You’re a throwback, then?

Jake: If that’s what you call someone with old friends, old habits, and old values.

Paul: Bring us up to date. You first appeared in “To Speak for the Dead” in 1990.

Jake: Yeah, and Hollywood made a TV movie with Gerald McRaney. My ass is better looking than him.

Paul: Who should play you in a movie?

Jake: Easy. The Duke.

Paul: John Wayne? You’re kidding.

Jake: “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on.” Sort of sums it up, don’t it?

Paul: “State vs. Lassiter” is the tenth in a series of mystery books. But you’re facing life in prison. Is this the end?

Jake: Not entirely up to me, is it scribbler?

Paul: Last question. Do you consider yourself hard-boiled?

Jake: (Reaches across the table and pops Paul with a left jab. Ka-pow!). What do you think?

Paul: Ouch! You’ll pay for this, Jake.  Wait till the next book.
#
“State vs. Lassiter” is available in paperback and as a Kindle ebook from Amazon Books.