Saturday, August 6, 2011


There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Of course that's Raymond Chandler's opening to his story entitled "Red Wind."  He might as well have been talking about the dog days of summer.

This last week, brawls on the professional baseball fields seemed to be everywhere.  Multi-millionaire pitchers threw at the heads of other multi-millionaires in line with the approval and even instruction of multi-millionaire managers but for no good reason that the rest of us could discern.

In the newspapers this week, evidence can be seen of repressed or excessive testosterone finding expression through violence or lust as the temperature rises.  Slights that should be shrugged off routinely lose their proper perspective and become crisis situations.  Other drivers on the road suddenly seem to be stalkers and psychopaths.  Mad hatters from the Tea Party.

Maybe it's the crazy weather.  Maybe they're not bad people really but, like Jessica Rabbit, they're just drawn that way.  Our safe world goes off kilter, our tempers teeter on edge, our complacency comes ajar.  We try to shut it out, but the surrounding doom and gloom talk filters into us as if by osmosis.  We wake up in the middle of the night and we can't get back to sleep.  The dogs howl outside at nothing we can see, and they will not be comforted.

Anything can happen.  Noir novels come alive in this kind of world.  They create a disturbance in the perceived normality, some uncomfortable twitch to match our own.  In the usual genre detective novel, this is resolved by an intelligent and humane protagonist in a way to make the reader vicariously feel good about the world again.

It is just fiction, a fantasy, escapism good and proper.  But in these dog days, after hearing all the propaganda on the national news, it may be the right medicine for the moment.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard - Just letting you know you won a copy of Absolute Zero Cool over at Crime Always Pays. Can you drop me a line with your address at dbrodb(at) Cheers, Dec