My Scrapbook: The Hard-boiledness Scale

Ten Hard-boiled Dicks, Rated

All of the American private eyes have tough exteriors and are well-skilled at delivering a punch. Some, such as Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, are unremittingly hard-boiled. Others reveal a soft centre at times and occasionally pull their punches. The leading private eyes are here rated 1 to 10 for “hard-boiledness.”

Thus reads the caption for the infographic which–as far as I can tell–first appeared in Whodunit? A Guide to Crime, Suspense and Spy Fiction, an enjoyable 1982 grab bag of essays, reviews, sidebars and the like, edited by H.R.F. Keating and featuring contributions by a veritable, if mostly British, who’s who of crime fiction critics and writers, including Reginald Hill, Robert Barnard, Michele Slung, Eric Ambler, Stanley Ellin, P.D. James, Len Deighton and Keating himself. It was one of the very first reference books on the genre I ever purchased, picked up for probably only a few bucks from a semi-basement bookstore that sold remainders, on Montreal’s Sherbrooke Street across from our apartment. An at-times cheeky guide, loaded with photos and often tongue-in-cheek illustrations and digressions, it covered the whole gamut of the genre, tracing its history from short stories and gothics to police procedurals (separate chapters on both the English and American varieties) and Julian Symons‘ take on “The American Detective Story” (from which the above cartoon was snatched).

The essay was written by , and provided a short but succinct (and perhaps harsh but fair) overview, noting that “It would be hard to overstate the importance of the American crime story’s origins in pulp fiction.”

I have no idea who actually wrote it, or even who drew it–there’s no credit, and there’s a long long list of illustrators credited on the copyright page, but no indication of who drew what, but I figure regular visitors to this site will get a kick out of it. It’s also an inadvertently revealing look at how the private eye genre was viewed as an exclusively male domain–1982 was the year both V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone made their P.I. debuts. Neither Sara Paretsky or Sue Grafton appear anywhere in the book. Nor does Marcia Muller, for that matter, although Lisa Cody managed to slip in once, in the final chapter “Writers and Their Books: A Consumer’s Guide,” where she draws praise for her John Creasey Award-winning “girl detective.”


  • Keating, H.R.F.
    Whodunit? A Guide to Crime, Suspense and Spy Fiction | Buy this book
    London: Windward, Inc.,1982.
    Edited by H.R.F. Keating
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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