Why do people read detective novels? Critics often say that mysteries are modern morality tales — we like to see bad guys punished. Maureen Corrigan suggests another part of their appeal in her memoir Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage, 247 pp., $14.95, paperback).
A book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, Corrigan writes of hard-boiled detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser:
“Like other novels by and about the working class, the hard-boiled detective novel offers an unadorned picture of class tensions – the antagonism between those who sweat to make a living and those who can afford to hire them. … With ‘contemptuous tolerance’ in his heart and a snappy put-down ever ready on his lips, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer is always venturing into some moneyed enclave in the California suburbs where he’s hired to tidy up some dysfunctional family’s dirty laundry. The message of the grand tradition of American hard-boiled detective fiction – from Hammett to Chandler to Macdonald to Chester Himes to Robert B. Parker to their many contemporary inheritors – is clear: too much money corrupts the soul. It makes men soft, even emasculates them, and the leisure lifestyle it buys is un-American.”