Of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler once wrote this:
Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.
I always took that quote to partially explain the move, by mystery and crime fiction, into the twentieth century. And, by extension, brought it to the American city. Sure, there is the famous foggy London of Sherlock Holmes and there is death there, and danger. But what Hammett,
By the time Ed McBain began writing fiction, this tradition was decades old. McBain scanned the landscape, saw what was what, judged the speed of the moving traffic, and merged right in, going zero to sixty in seconds. And he never looked back, even when he changed lanes. Everyone else had to swerve to get out of the way of this fast-moving car whose driver knew exactly what he wanted and where he wanted to go.
Originally published in 1958 under the title I’m Cannon—For Hire, I read the republished version from Hard Case Crime entitled The Gutter and the Grave. A quick check at Thrilling Detective (thanks again!) reveals that McBain liked the new title. The new title is quite apt. The first sentence of the story finds Matt Cordell basically in the gutter. The last sentence finds Cordell…well, I don’t want to ruin the ending.
McBain’s prose is, like Hammett’s, tough, ornery, and punchy. I use punchy because there are a few fights in the books, both in flashback and in the book’s present day. And the beating Cordell takes is brutal. It’s brutal by today’s standards. I can’t imagine the reading public’s reaction back in ’58.
I listened to the audiobook version. The good folks at BBC Audiobook
Just don’t blame me if it starts an addiction. I warned you.