Dysthymic Dicks: On the Melancholic Shamus, from Dupin to Cracker
by Harvey Greenberg
June 29, 1998
The psychoanalytic study of detective fiction by clinicians has been sparse. My previous investigation of the Maltese Falcon (1941) chiefly addressed Sam Spade's paranoia, misogyny, and oedipal conflict. The profound despair concealed by his engaging tough facade was but briefly touched upon. This paper analyzes at length the depressive tendencies of literary, cinematic, and televisual detectives throughout the genre's history, focusing particularly upon dysthymic private/public gumshoes of the American "hard-boiled" school and their progeny.
Having interrogated the articulating cultural, psychodynamic, and biological origins of the melancholy shamus' inveterate despair, I overview an especially intriguing recent example of the breed: Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, forensic psychologist-hero of the BBC/Arts & Entertainment Network's Cracker series, who melds the personae of wounded healer and dysthymic dick in one gargantuan frame.
I conclude by speculating that more members of the dysthymic dick's durable fellowship are likely to succeed the irksome, charismatic Fitz, consonant with an ever expanding readership seeking to be pleasured by a hero more in tune with, and touched by the harsh realities of existence; more vital in appetite; more profound in doubt and failure; ultimately more catalytic to generic narrative potential than the ever imperturbable Poirot, elegant Wimsey, and disdainful Miss Marple, with their eternal locked rooms, poisonous vicarages, and predictable assemblies of the usual suspects.
Psychoanalytic study of detective fiction by analytic clinicians has been sparse. Writing in the Forties, Bellak2 theorized that the genre satisfies enthusiasts by promoting vicarious identification with the sleuth or criminal---or even the victim---according to a reader's psychic lights. Amidst the angst of an uncertain existence, the audience is pleasured by carefully manipulated anxiety in which death and danger always befall another. Bellak also described an innate "closure satisfaction" attendant upon the case's solution,and the comfortable assurance that justice has been properly served (if not by the authorities, one notes, then by the sleuth). Several years later, Pederson-Krag3 postulated that the private eye represented the curious child who seeks to ferret out the secrets of grown-up sexuality; at base, the "crime" he aims to unravel is the Freudian primal scene.
My investigation of The Maltese Falcon two decades ago in The Movies On Your Mind chiefly addressed Sam Spade's paranoia, misogyny, and Oedipal conflict.4 The profound despair concealed by his engagingly tough facade was but briefly touched upon. This paper develops my earlier remarks, comprehensive elucidates the depressive tendencies of the most significant literary, cinematic, and television detectives throughout the genre's history; also investigates the complex socio-cultural factors which informed their creation.
I conclude with an overview of arguably the most intriguing melancholic shamus to date: Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, forensic psychologist-hero of the Arts & Entertainment Network's Cracker series, who melds the personae of wounded healer and dysthymic dick in one gargantuan frame.
Nodding familiarity with current psychiatric nosology and theory about depression will facilitate navigating my arguments. In the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV to the initiated),5 depressive conditions are subsumed under the general category of mood disorders (also described elsewhere as "affective" illnesses). The common syndrome known as dysthymic disorder was formerly classified as neurotic depression. Nominated as the "common cold of psychiatry" and assuredly the detective's most common psychiatric ailment, dysthymic disorder encompasses a significant darkening of affect, a leaching away of joy nonetheless compatible with reasonable, indeed even substantive functioning as the world knows it. The condition is often chronic and recurrent; it may last months or years. Its precise inception and conclusion are frequently difficult to delineate. Many sufferers' despair seems to have been with them for so long---often since adolescence, even childhood--- as to become inextricably knotted up with character; a chronic, central focus of being.
More devastating, generally more circumscribed and periodic depressive syndromes include major depressive disorder (frequently preceded and/or suceeded by a less crippling dysthymic disorder), and the severe "low" occuring in the context of bipolar illness (the entity formerly classified as manic depression, marked by pathological mood swings of variable duration, intensity, and direction). In the most ruinous depressive illnesses, self and world may both seem so loathsome as to produce dangerous suicidal ideation or grossly psychotic perceptions.
Depression of whatever stripe is accompanied by a host of symptoms and behaviors which have beset one or another dysthymic dick to varying degrees: disturbances of sleep, appetite, and libido; difficulties with concentration, attention, and other cognitive functions; social withdrawal; sundry manifestations of anxiety; alcohol and drug abuse; feelings of irritability, inadequacy, and alienation; pervasive cynicism and ennui; guilty ruminations about the past; dangerous risk-taking or anti-social deeds---sometimes carried out to court punishment or death, sometimes to reanimate a deadened self. Depression-related attitudes and activities may virtually mask the underlying mood disturbance (vide infra).
Contemporary and past investigators have debated whether depression was caused by disturbances of the internal psychophysiological milieu, versus afflictions in the sufferer's proximate or wider external world. The Freudianism of my Sixties training chiefly invoked the depressive's difficulties in handling anger, an overestimation of its power to harm others, the turning of aggressive fantasies against the self which had originally been directed at a real or perceived abandoning Other.6 Sensitivity to separation experiences during infancy (possibly on some constitutional/hereditary basis) was also thought to render the adult more vulnerable to loss, hence more prone to melancholia.
During the Seventies and Eighties, the family therapy and community psychiatry movements emphasized the role of skewed family relationships, warped communication, and broader socio-cultural stressors in engendering depression. Cognitive/behavioral researchers postulated that the depressive's habitual self-defeating, doom- ridden thinking and language patterns could prove powerful re-enforcers, regardless of what factors might have initiated dysthymia.
In the Nineties, prozac and genetics rule the clinical roost, while the rubrics of psychoanalysis and other paradigms are frequently deemed faulty or irrelevant (with the possible exception of cognitive theory). Psychopharmacologists now flog the depressive's deranged serotonin levels and inheritance rather than derangements of the superego or family system.
Despite the siren song of Merck and Ciba, astute clinicians probe the roots of dysthymia on a case-by-case basis, seeking to integrate biological, constitutional, psychological, existential and cultural factors. One may thus ponder the relevance of Freud or Jung, Ackerman or Durkheim to the depressed patient's plight, as well as evaluating heredity and neurotransmitter status. This resolute catholicity informs my approach to the vicissitudes of the dysthymic dick.
The house of detective fiction has many mansions, inhabited by practitioners in virtually every time, place, and circumstance creative invention has been able to summon up, from the Appian Way to the streets of Cincinnati.7 The genre is very old and popular: in ancient China, the exploits of a travelling Judge Dee, who approached tangled crimes with a subtle intellect and Confucian sensibility, were eagerly consumed by cultivated readers (Robert Van Gulik has penned an excellent modern version of the Dee tales). Winkling out the perp of murder most foul also constitutes the mainspring of high tragedy, from the Greeks to the Elizabethans and thereafter. Hamlet has been appraised by scholars as a sleuth manqué.8
The temperament of the two most significant Western detective founding fathers more resembles the Melancholy Dane's than the equable Dee's.9 Poe, himself consumed by alcoholic despair, created C. Auguste Dupin, elucidator inter alia of the hideous Murders in the Rue Morgue . His anonymous companion describes Dupin's eccentric brilliance and reclusive dolor:
This young gentleman was of an excellent, indeed of an illustrious family, but . . . had been reduced to such poverty that the energy of his character succumbed beneath it, and he ceased to bestir himself in the world, or to care for the retrieval of his fortunes . . . I felt my soul enkindled within me by the wild fervor, and the vivid freshness of his imagination . . . "10
Sherlock Holmes inherits Dupin's deductive brilliance as well as his dysthymia. Holmes' episodic monumental boredom---his famous "brown studies"---interpret as yet another depressive related symptom or clinical "equivalent" (the equivalency can occur at any age, but adolescents are particularly prone to experience their dysthymia as painful ennui). Life for the Great Detective appears as weary, stale, flat and unprofitable as it did for Hamlet, except when the game's afoot. Clinical experiences with similar personalities leads one to suggest that Holmes' chronic cocaine abuse is pitched at relieving a sense of intolerable inner deadness (vide supra).
Away from his work, Holmes allows himself no abiding friendships saving his association with his amanuensis, Dr. John Watson. He eschews romance; is courtly but distant towards his female clients (he does admit a frosty admiration for the ex-diva Irene Adler of A Scandal In Bohemia,11 but never acts upon it). His sole source of feminine comfort is his long-suffering landlady, Mrs. Hudson, whose unstinting care he often takes completely for granted.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle furnished scant biography about his hero, from which one can only conjecture that Holmes inherited his dysthymic disposition.12 His immensely obese brother Mycroft, with whom Holmes has little contact and whom he deems even more precocious, is immured in reclusive sloth at his London club. Food seems to function for Mycroft as does Holmes' "seven-percent solution" in holding dysthymia at bay. Mycroft is said to exert considerable power behind the scenes in some mysterious governmental capacity. He derives but slim pleasure from playing eminence grise.
Holmes' dysthymia would not surface in his British successors for decades. Instead, the classic English story of detection which flourished in the first half of this century (and still attracts devotees today) featured sleuths like Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and her Miss Marple who, far from being depressed, stand on excellent terms with themselves to the point of exasperating narcissism. They are upper-crust by origin or lifestyle, or they are at least completely sympathetic with establishment values. Both criminal and victim frequently come from similar fortunate backgrounds. The action unfolds in a setting of implacable gentility, replete with rose gardens and high tea.
Cawelti has asserted that murder in the classic school of detection comprises the canker within the rose, threatening "the serene domestic circle of bourgeois life with anarchy and chaos . . . "13 The work of supremely self-confident investigators like Poirot or Miss Marple implicitly aims at disposing of the menace to a relentlessly stable, class-obsessed establishment posed by the vicar's throttling or the headmaster's defenestration. Cawelti contends that, commencing with late Victorian times,
English society began experiencing substantive, if covert unease about the viability of its priveleged institutions, especially of the bourgeois family. The detective fiction of the day offered a tidy resolution of that apprehension. While the motivation for murder might appear on first glance less significant than puzzling out the elegant riddle of its commission, Cawelti believes it was crucial for the classic detective narrative to offer readers reassurance that the disruptive forces betokened by the crime resided "not in the social order itself, but in the individual motives of an often marginal, 'least likely' person."14
Another genre of mystery with quite separate, inelegant conventions emerged out of Twenties and Thirties American pulp fiction---notably Black Mask magazine---to thrive during a postbellum era of social unrest and economic depression. Masters like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler---themselves no strangers to depression and alcoholism---transformed the genre from a pallid teatime affair into a searing psycho-social critique. Instead of decorum, their stories privileged the sheer will of the private eye to endure and prevail with his skin and precarious integrity barely intact, usually having unmasked ugly truths about evil in high places. Now the method of death was openly subordinated to the motivation residing in the unquiet past, the dark promptings of a venal mind or troubled heart.
Unlike his English predecessors, the American shamus' pedigree was common, his lifestyle marginal, his culture ridden with blatant turmoil and corruption. A perennial outsider, he rebelled against the establishment; derided the sanctimonious hypocrisy of his wealthy clients; mocked the police whose investigations the powerful movers and shakers hoped to dodge by hiring him. Frequently he was a former cop who had quit the force in disgust with incompetent, unscrupulous authority to follow his own path down the mean streets of a degraded urban milieu. His sympathies clearly lay with the the underdog, the weak and disposessed. His cool self-sufficiency and cynical, wisecracking facade concealed an engrained despair, the origins of which were multiple and ambiguous.
Like the Holmes narratives, early American hard boiled fiction provided scant details about the protagonist's antecedents to account for his dysthymia. Traumatic loss of lovers, friends, or colleagues is sometimes intimated, but frequently unclarified. Beyond professional contacts, the eye is an inveterate loner, his hip flask a more reliable companion than a lover---whiskey the self-prescribed antidote against dysthymia.
Distrustful of intimacy, the American tough detective remains ever vigilant for the double meaning, the iron fist concealed in the velvet glove, especially when the glove is worn by the subgenre's standard-issue treacherous villainess (The Maltese Falcon's Brigid O'Shaughnessy personifies this perfidious breed).15 Long term commitment to romance is avoided because of the potential for feminine duplicity, or merely because a woman gets in the way of a schizoid/anomic lifestyle. Often, his most durable source of feminine companionship is his secretary, who with few exceptions16 updates the asexual, devoted, and underappreciated nurturing Mrs. Hudson lavished upon Holmes.
It can be argued that the hard-boiled dick's perennial world-weariness resulted from the constant exposure, that his work entailed, to the worst in human nature. But did the man seek the job, or the job claim the man? Often he seemed deliberately to court the grim death waiting for him around every corner. But was he a thanatophobe seeking to cheat the Reaper, or a thanatophile ambivalently seeking the bliss of the grave?
The melancholic private eye quickly became an enduring genre staple. His persona was aptly cut to fit the silver screen. With the support of Bogart's ironic charisma, benchmark Forties films noirs like The Maltese Falcon (194l) and The Big Sleep (1946) forged his international repute, transformed him into an existential hero, close kin to Camus' Stranger. (In the famous trench-coat photo, Camus could pass for Philip Marlowe.) French New Wave filmmakers, with their adulation of Hollywood style and genre, found the dysthymic dick's disaffected romanticism particularly congenial (e.g., the mordant Eddy Constantine/Lemmy Caution of Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville , itself a parody cum homage of Constantine's homage to Bogart in the preceding Lemmy Caution series). Jean-Pierre Melville's played-out gamblers, gangsters, and hitmen (e.g., Bob Le Flambeur , Le Samourai ) also interpret as brothers under the same disaffiliated skin, on the other side of the bars.
In his current literary and cinematic reincarnations, the dysthymic dick can be as tough as or more brutal than Sam Spade (e.g., Burke, the alienated ex-con sleuth of Andrew Vacchs' blistering fiction). But he can also display Philip Marlowe's gentler side, with less defensiveness than his predecessor.
Today he works privately, or as a public servant. He may be disabled, gay, or female;17 married or divorced, retired and gone to seed (e.g., Art Carney's acerbic Ira Wells in Robert Benton's The Late Show ). His personal life is still problematic, or frankly in tatters. He can drown his troubles in booze, like the inebriated sleuths of James Crumley's work. Increasingly, however, he has struggled to attain a precarious, precious sobriety---e.g., Dave Robicheaux, the tough but tender Cajun investigator of James Lee Burke's atmospheric Louisiana series.
External circumstances, recent or remote, seem more important precipitants of his ironic dolor than heredity or biochemistry. Considerably more is revealed about the traumas and losses which have harrowed his spirit. Vacchs' Burke was raised in a succession of foster homes and institutions where his body was abused and his spirit hobbled. Matt Scudder, Lawrence Block's Edgar winning gumshoe, is another recovering alcoholic who still broods over killing a child in a crossfire when he was a Manhattan cop.
The unflagging competence of his predecessors offered some redress against sorrow, but the contemporary sorrowful gumshoe does not inevitably prevail against powerful malefactors---added burden to an already tenuous self-esteem:
Jake Gittes of Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974) has left the Los Angeles police force several years after a woman under his protection was either killed or grievously harmed (it's hinted he was romantically involved with her; the ordinarily insouciant shamus is grimly taciturn both about the event, and the terrible impact of personal and professional failure upon him). Chinatown's labybrinthine plot pits Gittes against tycoon Noah Cross. The appalling Cross murders his partner in aid of gaining control over the city's water supply even as he schemes to reclaim the child he spawned upon his daughter, Evelyn, who subsequently married the partner. Gittes becomes smitten with Evelyn. At the end, Cross manipulates the police into gunning her down on the very streets where Gittes' former lover was forever taken from him. Ravaged by his retraumatization, Gittes can only watch in impotent anguish as Cross strongarms his helpless daughter/grandaughter into his custody, then drives triumphantly away.
At best, in Chinatown or Ross MacDonald's later Lew Archer novels,18 the dysthymic dick's solitary anguish articulates with a starkly tragic view of the human condition, endowing his quest after deadly truth with a depth and poignancy that transcends the genre's limitations. The bitter terminal admonition of Gittes' associates---"Go home, Jake, it's Chinatown . . . "---crystallizes a central barreness in the despairing detective's life; speaks to an essential irreparability, yet nobility in his enterprise; a Lear-like recogni- tion of a fate which sui generis, or through its appalling human manifestations is pictured as indifferent, when not frankly inimical to our frail hopes.
Inevitably the dysthymic dick voyaged to England. There he flourished in fiction as well as the large and small screen, and not merely because of his considerable intrinsic appeal. The power and prestige of Empire was already beginning to decline in the Thirties. So, too, was the class-bound culture which had sustained the Gentleman Detective and Spinster Sleuth. One speculates that the radical changes in post-World War II British society may have provided the same turbulent substrate which facilitated the melancholy shamus' advent in Depression-era America. John LeCarré and Len Deighton's novels, strongly adapted for film and TV; their spin-offs like The Sandbaggers television series, gave yet another continental spin to his persona. He was reinvented as the anomic secret agent who traverses a compelling no-man's land of Cold War danger and deceit, haunted by doubts about the justness of his, or indeed of any cause.
After becoming the greatest cash cow for British television since the Tudors, Forsyths, and Bellamys, dysthymic dicks achieved similar success upon migrating back to the colonies via the Public Broadcasting System and the Arts and Entertainment Cable Network. Notable English shamuses in the melancholic vein have included: Adam Dalgleish, P.D. James' poet detective, whose grief over the accidental death of his wife and child years ago still cripples his current relationships; Colin Dexter's morose, misanthropic Morse, the tippling Oxford investigator whose razor-sharp intuition flees whenever he is smitten by yet another hopeless infatuation; Prime Suspect's Inspector Jane Tennyson, who routinely sacrifices personal happiness for justice and promotion in a virulently sexist police department; and the last object of this inquiry, Cracker's huge, hugely gifted and troubled Manchester psychologist-detective.
In Irish actor-comic Robbie Coltrane's astonishing impersonation, Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald does not appear to be merely dysthymic, but diagnoses as at least cyclothymic (in the DSM-IV classification, the cyclothymic personality constitutes a less virulent form of bipolar disorder).19 Like many with this syndrome, he may well suffer from intermittent descents into fullblown manic-depressive illness. His gargantuan consumption of drink, food, and tobacco; his fatal passion for gambling; his ornery stirring up of calm waters all attest to a pathologically labile mood conflated with infelicitous attempts at self-cure.
As with Holmes---and Morse---one can only deduce constitutional causes for Fitz' extravagant affective ills, in the context of the little disclosed about his past. He comes from a Manchester-Scots working class background, from which he has amputated himself for obscure reasons. Quite possibly he's ashamed about his humble origins: his guilt on this score can be inferred from the moving eulogy given to the mother he abandoned at her funeral, on the only occasion he returns home.
Many of Fitz' character traits are discovered in real-time compulsive gamblers and other manicky types. He's irritable, impatient, stubborn, opinionated, scornful of correction; impulsively addicted to action and risk at the tables or away; elitist about his prodigious intellectual gifts; possessed of a quicksilver gallows wit. He can be charming; demonstrate exquisite delicacy of feeling, yet turn suddenly, crudely dismissive when his attentions are elsewhere engaged by a horse race or card game.
Fitz possesses an uncanny ability for getting inside others' heads. But he's utterly unknowing about his own inner life (the clinical term for the state is alixythymia), storm-tossed by volatile emotion with ruinous consequences for himself and his intimates. His wife, Judith (Barbara Flynn), once adored him, but, as the series opens, she's been driven bitterly out of patience and is contemplating separation. He's become a virtual stranger to two post-adolescent children.
Fitz outrageously provokes colleagues at the various locales where he chases after a fragmented livelihood as part-time lecturer, occasional therapist, minor call-in radio personality, and consultant to the local police force which has ambivalently hired him to help unravel its most disturbing cases. The constabulary is itself ridden by grave personal and systemic conflict, mirroring the complex disorders of the tumultuous city it serves. Fitz typically becomes overinvolved as infuriating gadfly, quondam therapist, and boundary-violating lover (of Jane Penhaligon [Jane Somerville], his feisty young assistant).
Strong scripts by Jimmy McGovern, supported by an exemplary cast, hearken back to Dennis Potter's powerful teleplays in their unique meld of pathos, wry humor, and acute social observation (one particularly discerns the influence of The Singing Detective). Rather than locked-room murders committed by genteel aristocrats armed with "dueling pistols or tropical fish"20 Fitz encounters grisly deaths rooted in the twisted sexuality of repressed working or lower-middle class family life, as well as the afflictions of an unruly post-colonial urban society---e.g. the serial rapes committed by a Jamaican immigrant of mixed parentage, who scarred his body and mind as a child by bathing in corrosive bleach to become "whiter".
The rapist episode is one of two culminating in a terrifying invasion of Fitz' family, a familiar genre ploy which acquires a quirky edge from the intimation that in each case the evildoer has been drawn to Fitz as a kindred unbalanced, rebellious spirit. However, like the hard-boiled American shamus who must consort with villains to solve crime (and arguably disavow his own unconscious criminal impulses), Fitz' dark receptivity to his depraved clientele is enlisted in aid of preventing further evil. He's no therapeutic milksop, either: his pity for the aberrant is always tempered by his awareness of the horrors they've perpetrated. Some of Cracker's most affecting scenes depict his extraordinary compassion for victims and their relatives.
Driven by the dysthymic dick's outsider sensibility, Fitz' sympathies become passionately engaged whenever he senses innocence, against all proof or accusation by authority. In one episode, an amnesiac suspected of a series of gruesome railway serial murders. Over howls of protest, Fitz has him remanded to his custody. The man turns out to be a monastic who left his religious order after a crisis of faith, only to be further traumatized by witnessing the actual killer at gruesome work. Fitz helps restore his memory in aid of his exoneration. The priest's devotion to God and solitude are also reawakened by exposure to his healer's stressed-out sordid world, a piquant point not lost upon the psychologist. He returns to the monastery with Fitz' ironic blessing.
Cracker concluded its third American season in 1996,21 with Fitz' life in terminal disrepair. The disastrous romance with Penhaligon has terminated after she herself has been raped by a tormented colleague; and a no longer so long-suffering Judith is pondering an affair with Fitz' uptight brother. One imagines that, were she to pursue it, she would rapidly become as bored with his ponderous rectitude as she was incensed with her husband's boisterous derelictions.
This study has foregrounded only the better known members of the dysthymic dick's durable fellowship. His numbers have been legion, and one forecasts that more of his gloomy breed will surely succeed the irksome, charismatic Fitz. The dysthymic dick and his genre debuted together. Many of his creators were no stranger to his despair. His popularity escalated with the evolution of the hard-boiled school, consonant with a growing readership on both sides of the Atlantic who desired a hero more in tune with, and touched by the harsh realities of existence; more vital in appetite; more profound in doubt and failure; ultimately more catalytic to generic narrative potential than the ever imperturbable Poirot, elegant Wimsey, or disdainful Miss Marple, with their eternal locked rooms, poisonous vicarages, assemblies of suspects.
A closing digression: one is struck that many of the same readers who prize the dysthymic dick's idiosyncratic misery are vastly entertained by Lovejoy and Rumpole. (Their series also air intermittently on PBS and A&E.). The scalawag exploits and rambunctious good cheer of such heroes are signatures of yet another subgenre of mood-elevated detectives, which would require a separate paper to adumbrate. As observed---many mansions . . .
4 Harvey R. Greenberg, "The Maltese Falcon---Even Paranoids Have Enemies, in The Movies On Your Mind: Film Classics On The Couch From Fellini to Frankenstein (New York: Saturday Review Press/E.P. Dutton, 1975), pp. 53-78. Reprinted and updated in Screen Memories: Hollywood Cinema on the Psychoanalytic Couch (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 67-92.
12 Of the early life histories provided for Holmes, Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Percent Solution (New York: W.W. Norton, 1976/93; filmed version, 1993) is the most instructive from a psychoanalytic perspective, especially in the context of Pederson-Krag's remarks about the detective's primal scene fantasies (vide supra). Watson inveigles Holmes into treatment by Sigmund Freud for an acute paranoid psychosis brought on by cocaine abuse. Holmes' delusions swirl around his supposed arch-enemy, master criminal Professor Moriarty. Freud discovers that Holmes has been using cocaine to self-medicate a chronic depression that began after his traumatic discovery of his mother's infidelity with a tutor named Moriarty.
A later film, Young Sherlock Holmes (1984), less successfully proposes that Holmes' vocation is grounded in the youthful acting out of a voyeuristic preoccupation with parental sexuality. After being poisoned by a dart from the blowgun of an Egyptian death-cult assassin, the late adolescent Holmes hallucinates a scene which is intimated to have actually occurred during his earlier 'teens, or possibly childhood: in it, his father flies into a murderous rage because Holmes has winkled out evidence of his infidelity, which he then either disclosed to his mother or which she has discovered accidentally, with disastrous consequences.
14 Cawelti (n. 13), p. lOl. The marginality cited by Cavelti was usually not constructed by providing the killer with a lower class background, but with impulses and behavior clearly contravening conventional bourgeois morality.
15 My essay on The Maltese Falcon viewed the dangerous noir anti-heroine as an avatar of the "desparately needed/feared Witch-Mother, the death-goddess of myth and nightmare---Medusa, the Harpy, Kali, the Furies, the Sphinx are her adumbrations" (see n. 4, p. 90). Brigid O'Shaughnessy conflates cure and disease, embodying the dark side of the hard-boiled detective's disavowed desire for maternal nurturing. She lures Spade to the precipice of the terminal oblivion he unconsciously craves, but which he must repudiate if he is to survive. He "sends over" Brigid to life imprisonment to affirm his alienated independence.
The ambivalent splitting of the feminine imago in the masculine unconscious was addressed compellingly by Freud in "The Theme of the Three Caskets" (1913), Standard Edition, 12: 291-301.
16 A notable exception is Velda, Mike Hammer's pneumatic secretary in the enormously popular Mickey Spillane series. Hammer maintains a jejune, boyishly idealized romance with her throughout the novels.
17 Although no statistics have been advanced on the subject, one intuits there are fewer female Dysthymic Dicks than male. However, depression on the distaff side seems to be on the rise, arguably correlated with the emergence of the masculine dysthymic hard-boiled eye's feminine counterpart over the past two decades. The latent dysthymia of V.I. (never Vicky) Warshawski becomes blatant in Tunnel Vision (New York: Dell, 1996) the latest in Sarah Paretsky's admirable series. Superior examples of disabled and gay Dysthymic Dicks include, respectively, Michael Collins' one-armed Dan Fortune, and Joseph Hansen's Dave Brandstetter.
18 For example, The Chill (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1963/1996); The Far Side of the Dollar (New York: David McCay/Random House, 1964/1996); The Underground Man (New York: Warner, 197l/1996). At the beginning of Archer's career he presents with a shrewd eye, mordant wit, and little dysthymia. The later cases embroil the detective in increasingly intricate scenarios spun out of paternal abandonment or contested paternity (Millar's own father left his family during the writer's childhood). The narratives develop an exceptional richness inflected by a distinctive, unlabored Freudianism, as Archer waxes ever more melancholy. For a trenchant discussion of the Oedipal context of Archer's desolating odysseys, see Peter Wolfe, Dreams Who Live Their Dreams: The World of Ross MacDonald's Novels (Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976). For more on the articulation between Archer's quests and the vicissitudes of Millar's life, see Ross MacDonald, "A Preface to The Galton Case", Afterwords: Novelists on their Novels, ed. Thomas McCormack, (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).
21 At this writing, one more Cracker episode---"White Ghost"---has appeared, relocating Fitz to a temporary lecture series in Hong Kong. His Manchester marital and vocational problems are clearly on hold. One hears rumors of a feature film, and an attenuated, thoroughly unsatisfactory version of the Cracker series sans Coltrane is currently airing on American television. Reruns of the earlier episodes still appear sporadically on the Arts and Entertainment Cable Network.
Received: June 19, 1998, Published: June 29, 1998. Copyright © 1998 Harvey Greenberg