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Slyvane operates in Manhattan even though much of the first book takes place in the Connecticut suburbs. The sheer power of a city like Manhattan still draws the action there. Many key scenes take place around notable places in town. I think what most exemplifies the connection to a particular city and character occurs in Slyvane’s European adventure when several thugs who tell him he’s alone, away from home, confront him can’t speak the language, and is solely without support. He retorts back, “Yeah, but I’m from New York.” The reputation of such a city provides the character with more than bravado or simply being another American adventurer with a gun.

The detective possesses a certain set of sensibilities, which have become iconic. He is the lone figure standing up for what is right or those who cannot defend themselves. You can purchase his services, but not him. Even if each has his personal motivations that certain core behavior is essentially the same. Whether it’s the private detective — and the job title ‘private detective’ or ‘private investigator’ itself is indicative of the man — or the cowboy. For that matter James Fenimore Cooper predates them all with his Hawkeye character. The reader expects certain qualities. It is the author’s responsibility to provide that along with a certain amount of personality or point of view and literary credibility.

Slyvane doesn’t have the bad attitude of some of his predecessors but he is sarcastic and does tend to run low on patience very quickly. He is neither fat, broke or chemically dependant because he is much too concerned with his physical appearance to become so, hence all the workout scenes. Yet he is into cooking, arguing over the finer points of cocktails, and has an eye for design detail. So did Marlowe, by the way. In the second book Slyvane makes it a priority to re-furnish his mid-town townhouse. He is not trendy yet keeps an interest in clothing. Slyvane, being the narrator, never admits these foibles. Readers will easily enough recognize them by scene setting and what he relates as important.

Slyvane is good in a fight. Very good. The Slyvane books are probably more violent than most of his predecessors (with the exception of Mike Hammer) even if it takes a while for the action to come forth. His adversaries tend to be more violent too. There are no drawing room murders were the body is conveniently found with a bullet hole in the temple or knife in the back –and no mention of the ramifications that such an injury will do. The action in the Defience books comes to the surface quickly and realistically graphic unlike Conan Doyle’s tidy mention of a singlestick fight or “Watson, I trust you have your pistol!”

Marlowe fought mobsters but those guys weren’t bent on world domination nor did they dismember bodies. Not in Chandler’s literary Los Angeles. The real place was another matter even back in the 1930 and 40s. Chandler was too poetic to bask in gore. And Chandler wrote them as hard-boiled as possible.

Spenser (named after another Medieval author) went up against a bevy of criminals but Parker kept the scenes so laconic that your imagination filled in all the blanks. Yet Parker was accurate in depicting a fight. Spenser could fight and dished it out when necessary as if it was a perfunctory action. He loved to cook and only one woman. The city he worked in was also important. Again Parker kept all these descriptions terse and accurate. If you have ever been to Boston you know I am right. The dialogue is brilliant, snappy and at times funny and propels most of the books with little trouble from florid exposition getting in the way. The reader mentally fills in the blanks as he reads, identifies with the characters, and falls in love with the series.

Mike Hammer, it seemed to me, always brutalized or killed every adversary he ever faced. It took a lot to read past the tough-guy cliché speech patterns and descriptive carnage. Spillane made no qualms about painting Hammer as a homicidal misanthrope. The violence and tone became too predictable and therefore incredulous since it was a foregone conclusion Spillane’s tough-guy would shoot to resolve the issue. Sometimes this was his one and only goal. While this is entertaining it limits the reader’s and the series’ imagination and makes the book little more than a beach read. Being so singular in the path Hammer sought for justice detracted from some of Spillane’s better stories. The first Hammer appearance in the classic I, the Jury set the tone and may have set it too high. The series did not have the eloquence of the others I’ve mentioned and that may have been Spillane’s point. Nevertheless, he sold a lot of books.

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