Chapter 4: The Books

Part 2

 

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In true Lone Knight tradition, the hero doesn’t seek out danger for money or fame. It’s simply his destiny to eliminate evil. Sure, he might be stimulated by a reward, or a sense of justice, he might be angered or driven by love, but in the overall picture, Dane, Largo and a host of other detective-heroes have no more choice than Ulysses or a bloodhound to carry out their duties. It’s decreed by the gods and implanted in the genes.

In Ard’s works, as with others of this particular period, the hero’s reward is some good liquor and the company of a woman. The pleasures are momentary, though, because the hero is driven. The challenge of confronting and destroying evil is not only a destiny, it’s the ultimate high.

And guys like this are driven to search for new women just as they are forced to search for new challenges, new faces of evil. You don’t spend your life battling one bad guy and you don’t spend your life with one woman.

Some writers of the hard-boiled school such as Peter Rabe, Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis and others, leaned toward the psychological. Some, such as John D. MacDonald, James M. Cain, Chandler, Hammett, etc., found a good balance.

Ard, like Spillane, sought action. Dane is a cynical, satiric observer, but he’s no philosopher. When he gives any of his precious time over to thought, it is to reflect angrily on some aspect of a bureaucratic society that has grown beyond the individual.

Lou Largo spends no time in thought. In both the Dane and Largo novels, nonviolent scenes exist only to set the stage for the next confrontation, the next flurry of beatings and bullets.

In one sense, characters become chess pieces, or figures in a video game. The hero is going to encounter the bad guys and get knocked flat. He’s going to get up and keep pushing. Get knocked down. Up again, advancing a little forward. Injured more seriously. Up again. Advance. With each confrontation, each barrier, he figures out a little more of this game and who is behind the final curtain, directing the guys who are knocking him down. He’s going to wipe out the bad guys who provide the layers and eventually make it to the Head Villain. When he confronts this guy, he’s going to kill him.

Then he’s going to have steak and the woman whose life he’s saved.

And he’s going to enjoy her until the next threat and the next woman comes along.

Each new book is a new game of challenges from the world of evil. The hero comes with no baggage, nothing to bog him down in the mundane (or comfortable) world of society. Neither Dane nor Largo has a mother, father, or siblings. No Thanksgiving dinners for them, no exchange of Christmas presents. They don’t celebrate birthdays or have family reunions.

They don’t read books or go to movies. The closest they get to entertainment is jazz clubs and that’s only because that’s where business takes them.

The hero exists only for the game. Sherlock Holmes surrounds himself with books and classical music, but beneath this patina of erudition, he reads the gossip columns and keeps in touch with his irregulars because he exists for the same challenge — the game of eliminating evil. Not because it’s evil but because it’s a challenge, a puzzle to be solved.

Ard seemed, from his advertising days throughout his writing career, to be fascinated with the world of entertainment

Much of the action in the Dane and Largo novels revolve around the entertainment field, the nightclubs that provide fronts for gambling and other organized crime activities.

The clubs are part of the underworld. Talent resides with evil but only because evil takes advantage of or buys the talent.

There is no question but what William Ard was the master of the fast-paced. By the time he hit his stride as a writer in the mid-50s, his novels were pure motion. Within the first four pages a fight takes place and the action never lets up. The hero moves through the novel in short, lightning scenes mirroring the old movie serials and anticipating the quick, multi-dimensional pace of later movie and TV editing.

You don’t find the self-absorbed ratiocinations of Sherlock Holmes or the philosophical discourses of Travis McGee and Meyer.

Ard’s goal was not depth. It was speed and action, and Ard quickly became a master at it, as a leading book critic at the same so often pointed out. More about that in a later post.

 

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