On the occasion of the death of Donald Hamilton (one of the greats in my opinion), I decided to re-read a couple of his novels. The two I chose were Murderers’ Row (1962), from the Matt Helm series, and Line of Fire (1955), a standalone. I enjoyed both of them immensely, and yet while I was reading them I had a feeling that some readers would say, “How can you like stuff like that? It’s so dated.” The answer is simple. I don’t have any problem putting myself into the era in which the books were published.

Easy for me to say, right? After all, I was around then, and in fact I read Murderers’ Row right around the time of its original publication. But that’s not it. I don’t have any trouble reading Jane Austen or William Shakespeare, either. In their way, they’re as much products of their times as anything else. Ah, but they have Universal Themes. Maybe. But you can’t really get much from them if you don’t know a little bit about the period in which they were written, and the more you know, the better.

But the language is stilted. It’s true that writers in different times used a style that might take a little getting used to. I don’t have a problem with that. I can read Poe and Hawthorne and Melville without a struggle. Or Hammett and Queen, for that matter. Others might not be able to adjust.

I know there are plenty of writers who avoid putting anything into their books that would tie them to a time period. They don’t mention songs or TV shows or Burger King. Not me. I put all that stuff in. I figure that if future readers are going to find the books dated, that’s not my problem. I just hope I’m lucky enough to have a reader in the future.

So what do you think? Read any “dated” books lately. Avoided putting a mention of Sanjaya into that novel you’re working on?

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I don't mind markers of the time. What I often find dated is the approach to the story-telling or the style of writing. I can still enjoy stories by Bobbie Anne Mason or Ray Carver who littered their books with topical markers. But story-telling used to be so much more didactic (Lewis, Dreiser, Zola,, Sinclair, Steinbeck). And the early adherence to the "mystery" being solely about "whodunnit" seems very dated now. Also the need for the perpetrator to pay for his crime.
I wrote an MA thesis on Frank Norris, so I even like the didactic guys.
I thought you'd already made that much money!
I don't mind the ageless character at all. Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe never changed, which is just the way I wanted it.
I like the dated feel. If I'm reading a book set in 1952, I want the feel of 1952. I want to get the idea of what people were wearing, or drinking, or what they were listening to, or how they spoke. And while there are certain words or ideas that might make me wince or laugh because they sound so odd to my 21st century ears, I want the whole feeling. It all adds to the experience of the book.

I have a book from that year in Mt TBR called THE CORPSE THAT REFUSED TO STAY DEAD by Hampton Stone and the back cover reads:
"They lived in a city within a city, one of those hulking tenements of furnished rooms, shared kitchens, dismal studios...They were kids, some jazzy and some with hair down to their eyes, but all of them gone on the same Big Dream...One of them played the craziest violin east of Heifetz, another could make a clarinet weep...Another was the sour soprano whose morals were always off beat...Then one fine morning someone smothered the soprano, and a red headed old lady who was batty as a baird sang some fantastic lyrics for the cops...She called the tune on another killing which happened to be her own...From then on - hot, cool or frozen stff - the kids all had one little item in common...stark terror!"

Doesn't that just put you right there? I might have a few laughs at the language, and maybe a spot of bother picturing the locations and the characters that people who were actually around then might not have, but if the book's good I will get the picture. And an entertaining read, is an entertaining read. Solid gone daddy-o.

So I'm glad you put all that stuff in Bill - count me as one who likes it. For example, I love Pelecanos' cultural references. I might not know all the music he speaks of, but even if I don't it adds to the flavour.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes that kind of thing. But does that make us weird? (Please don't answer that; it's one of those rhetorical questions.)
No Bill. THAT'S not what makes us weird :o)
Oh. Well, something does.
Bill has a shoe fetish???? How weird is THAT?
Not that kind of shoes, Donna. He means the American comic strip, "Shoe."
But then who doesn't?
..."another could make a clarinet weep". That was me, Donna. I was the only person in high school band that the director celebrated when I graduated. Yes, the clarinet weeped, but it wasn't a good thing.

My dad would bring bags of paperbacks home from his buddies at the coal mine when I was a kid, most of them pulp detective novels. I devoured them. Reading them today just brings back great memories. Dated? Yes, but no different than watching a movie like INVADERS FROM MARS, which still scares the crap out of me despite the zippers up the backs of the aliens.


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