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Formula Done Right

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Joe Gores is a favorite of hard-boiled mystery fans in part because he adheres to the genre’s style. Its conventions are his long suit—there in Spades, if you will. For example:

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTIONS OF CHARACTERS.(Metaphors optional, but desirable.)

Hector Tranquillini was small and neat and nasty, like a scorpion in your shoe. Five-four in his artfully constructed high-heeled boots, an invariable 145 pounds before a session of handball at the YMCA on Golden Gate. Handball, not racketball. And no sissy soft inflated blue handballs: the little black hard rubber ones that made red swollen catchers’ mitts of your hands. (Cons, Scams & Grifts)

REFLEXIVE STEREOTYPING CONSISTENT WITH THE GENRE’S HEYDAY.

If you sentimentalize Gypsies, you run the risk of ending up with a car that won’t run, a roof that won’t stop the rain, or a driveway that comes up on the sole of your shoe. (32 Cadillacs)

UNERRING SENSE OF PLACE. (Details essential; imagery desirable.)

[In Martinez] the Shell Oil Cracking plant . . . looked like a science-fiction city: great vertical towers and stacks, tall and lean and industrial against the round-topped hills beyond which lay Carquinez Straits. When Kearny entered town on one-way Howard Street, he could smell the dark, intense reek of oil through the open window. Not so distasteful when your job depended on it. (Dead Skip)

PROTAGONISTS WHO THINK CLEVER THOUGHTS IN BAD CIRCUMSTANCES.

Dunc’s first coherent morning memory was of throwing up into the Rio Grande from the middle of the bridge. He shambled back into the States wondering: which one did I puke into, Mexico or Texas? He sort of hoped both. (Cases)

WHEN YOU MIGHT NOT EXPECT IT, A NOTE OF TENDERNESS.

Goodbye, Pops. Goodbye to the deer-shining out of season in the hardwood belt across the creek. Goodbye to jump-shooting mallards down in the river bottoms. Goodbye to woodsmoke and mellow bourbon by firelight and all the things that made a part of you mine. The part they could never get at. (“Goodbye, Pops”)

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