In the words of the entertainment historian Keith Howes: “All the plots were hugely convoluted, usually set in and around shady nightclubs and studded with murders and attempted murders, halting deathbed revelations, breathtaking escapes from gunfire, flooded mills or burning boats, [and] a final episode gathering of the suspects.”
That’s an interesting mixture of genre elements, since the show has all the “gentleman detective” fixtures (the sophisticated detective and spouse, the comfortable lifestyle, the banter, the cocktails, the cigarettes, and the gathering of all the suspects at the end of the story — often for cocktails) but there are also all those exploding booby traps, and cars with the brake lines cut, and snipers.
And, unlike most “gentleman detective” stories, the bad guys are almost always criminal gangs, often drug smugglers or blackmailers (or both). So, the solution at the end often has two stages: 1) Of all the characters introduced, which ones are in the gang, and 2) Which one is the head of the gang?
It makes me think of the Ellery Queen stories, where a gangster sometimes appeared as a suspect, but experienced Queen readers always knew that this was a red herring. In one story, the police had actually arrested the gangster, and at the end, when Ellery explained the whole crime, he gently pointed out that they really needed to release the crook, who was, in this case at least, completely innocent.
More Papa Hemingway
In addition to reading Across the River and Into the Trees, as I talked about before, I’ve also reread Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir, by A. E. Hotchner. So, I’m reading Across the River…, and simultaneously reading about the (mostly negative) reaction when it was published.
(By the way, I don’t think Across the River… is actually good, but it’s certainly not the worst book he ever wrote.)
The Hotchner book also brings out what Orson Welles talked about — Hemingway’s deteriorating mental condition when he killed himself. Some of that, especially the helplessness of the people who cared about him as they saw him slip further and further away from reality, is difficult to read.
That part had stuck with me from when I read the book the first time (some decades ago), but I had not remembered the amount of alcohol in the book. Up until the last portion of the book, when Hemingway’s health was bad and he was strictly limiting his drinking, everybody seems to be nearly drowning in booze. I had that in mind when I read this article in the Guardian: “Time to face the brutal truth: there’s no glamour at the bottom of a glass.”
Not that I’m against drinking in general (although I haven’t had a drink since the pandemic started), but the romanticized connection between drinking and writing (most of it by non-writers) is ridiculous.
The Guardian article starts:
When I was 21, I decided I should make a proper effort to be a writer. I knew what I needed: countless films and television shows had told me. I needed a typewriter, fags and a bottle of whisky. I acquired them, and set myself up at the kitchen table. Yep, I thought. Now I am the business. I was Dorothy Parker, Carson McCullers, Raymond Chandler. So I would die miserably – who cares? I was 21, and still immortal.
As always, I go back to my father’s words: “There is only one rule in writing: Write well.” I think Hemingway would have agreed with that.