We're Living In a Political World
Eyes Left

Crime fiction in general may be about maintaining the status quo, and ensuring that those with the power continue to keep it, and therefore has a conservative agenda, but more than one wag has suggested that the private eye novel is actually political commentary for the masses, with a decided left slant, probing and exposing the injustices of society.

Certainly not all private eye fiction (consider Race Williams, Mickey Spillane or any of Cleve F. Adams semi-fascist Irish dicks) but a case can certainly be made that Dashiell Hammett was no fan of the status quo. In the intro to Red-Handed, an anthology of "radical crime (short) stories," editor Jon E. Lewis states that a "central concern of Hammett's works...is the civic corruption which grew up in the wake of Prohibition. As Hammett revealed, corruption had become all-pervasive... In such a world the only guarantor of justice was the shamus or private eye."

It's a notion that has certainly continued, from Hammett through Chandler and his ilk, through the compassionate eyes such as Lew Archer, Thomas B. Dewey's Mac and Michael Collin's Dan Fortune, with their concerns for young people, workers and the environment, and right into the present era, with the adventures of gay, black, female, hispanic or other "minority" eyes. Their mere existence is a boot right into the nuts of the status quo.

In fact, back in the late seventies/early eighties, Pluto, an academic press in England with unabashedly left-leaning politics and published a lot of "serious left wing books", even had an imprint called Pluto Crimeline. The idea was that since mysteries are the meat of the masses, they would publish these politically edged mysteries to make money for the more serious stuff. Among the authors originally printed by Pluto were Gordon DeMarco, Jeremy Pikser, Gillian Slovo and Manuel Vasquez Montalban.

Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.


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