Kevin Starr, film noir, crime fiction, and (California) history
Starr is a passionate, engaging writer and a great lover of California, which he served as state librarian. Yet he is fair-minded in dealing with the violence that has attended the on-going birth of this strange piece of the planet. He is the sort who can give history a good name.
He's also savvy enough to tie the state's raucous, dream-filled history to the crime writing that arose there. (It's no accident that Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler lived in California and set some of their most celebrated work there.) Starr makes the connection during a discussion of a period perhaps surprisingly early: the 1870's and 1880s, when promoters touted California as an El Dorado of health. After citing examples of recovery from consumption and other complaints, Starr notes that:
"Many. however, lost their struggle for health and succumbed, and this drama of hope and defeat conferred upon Southern California a certain interplay of healthfulness and morbidity that in various forms, including the hard-boiled detective story and film noir, would persist into the mid-twentieth century."Elsewhere California history is filled with colorful episodes and characters: the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856. The settlement during California's American period of land claims dating from its Spanish and Mexican eras ("That meant that lawyers got rich.") Great engineering feats, but also environmental depredations. (Starr mentions Chinatown in a discussion of the mammoth problems that attended getting water to San Francisco and Los Angeles.) And that's just a few decades. Some of California's prospectors and health seekers were doomed disappointment, but crime writers looking for material struck it rich.
What can match California as a location for crime stories, and why?
© Peter Rozovsky 2013