As any fans of this blog will know, hardboiled detective fiction is my guilty pleasure. While the Golden Age brings the most amazing authors, and I like modern work, I can’t help but enjoy reading the exploits of rugged, hardboiled detectives of the 1920s.
I’ve often lamented the lack of old-school PIs in today’s literary world, so I was excited to read the latest short story collection from crime fiction author A.B. Patterson, who I interviewed previously.
Patterson’s latest book, Harry Kenmare, PI- At Your Service is a short story collection featuring an introduction from the author and a selection of incredible illustrations and stories.
Each story features the titular Kenmare traversing through modern day Sydney in Australia. He works, and very proudly lives in the seedy underbelly of the city, frequenting strip clubs, dodgy bars and biker gang hangouts. Along his travels, he intervenes with corrupt drugs police officers and the ensuing gunfights, searches for missing young women and gets himself into a whole load of mischief and mayhem.
Something I love about this short story collection is Patterson’s liberal use of swear words. There’s even a short story that’s actually called Wankers, which is brilliant. Patterson’s even as liberal with the C word (which I won’t use here in case it offends anyone). He’s almost as liberal with the word as my Scottish housemate, and she uses it more often than any other word.
The swearing, like Patterson’s incredible use of similes, speaks of the literary influences from the hardboiled detective genre. Many of the stories are reminiscent of something that Raymond Chandler wrote when he was creating Philip Marlowe. The similes are particularly inventive and keep the reader engaged. My particular favourite is ‘He looked as ugly as a hatful of arseholes.’ His dialogue is also incredible, and reminiscent of some of the best examples of the hardboiled crime fiction genre.
One thing that I’m uncertain about is the lack of agency in Patterson’s female characters. They all seem to be raging nymphomaniacs who are irresistibly drawn to Kenmare, a man who can’t possibly have that much money left after his boozing to pay for flash clothes. He also doesn’t seem like the type.
Every woman in the stories is ready and willing to sleep with Kenmare, not just because they want something from him, but in many cases simply because they want to. That’s an unrelenting male fantasy that’s a definite hangover from the pulp fiction novels that Patterson is emulating so successfully in every other particular.
I’d like to see, in the future, Patterson make more of an effort to move away from that out-dated trope and towards a more balanced view of female characters. However, that’s my only gripe, and it’s clear that Patterson does it in order to remain faithful to the works he’s trying to emulate. By bringing his stories into the modern era, he should adjust some of his views, but for the most part the stores are engaging and incredible representations of a modern PI.
It does have to be said, the representation of sex workers is great in terms of volume, but again, they tend to lack agency. There are a lot of them; almost every story contains at least one sex worker, but they’re not a striking example of female empowerment. Patterson’s runaways and missing women are almost entirely sex workers, because apparently women who leave their parents and families can only start stripping, performing in sex shows or sleeping with blokes for money. None of these women seem to be working in the sex industry because they enjoy it, but rather out of desperation, because they can’t find any other work after leaving home.
These aren’t stories for the faint of heart; if you’re not a fan of swearing and debauchery, then you’d be better off sticking to Golden Age crime fiction. Even some of the most renowned hardboiled writers didn’t stoop to the level of debauchery and graphic description that Patterson gives to his readers. I’m pretty sure the Karma Sutra has less graphic sexual description than this collection of short stories. So, if you’re a bit prudish, or you don’t think that swearing belongs in books, then stay away from the Harry Kenmare series. You’ll be missing out on action-packed tales of
Overall, I’m impressed by this series of incredible short stories. Patterson has bought the hardboiled private eye back to live in Harry Kenmare, and created a character that perfectly embodies the genre for the modern age.