Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Decline of Moral Authority

Susanna Lee


October 10, 2016

256 pp. 6x9

$84.95 printed case 978-0-8142-1318-6
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Table of Contents


Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Decline of Moral Authority promises to become the go-to text for readers, writers, and critics looking for an account of what makes the hard-boiled tradition an ongoing moral touchstone. Like the best arguments, Lee’s book has forced me to question some of my own cherished readings of specific texts.” —Christopher Breu, author of Hard-Boiled Masculinities

“The book’s highly original thesis about shifting models of (anti-)heroism in the American and French hard-boiled is presented through masterful prose. It will be of interest not only to scholars in transnational literary and cultural studies, religious studies, and philosophy but also to general readers intrigued by the ethical questions raised by the ever-popular crime fiction genre.” —Andrea Goulet, University of Pennsylvania

The cynical but kind-hearted detective is the soul of the classic hard-boiled story, that chronicle of world-weary urban pessimism. In Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Decline of Moral Authority, Susanna Lee argues that this fiction functions as a measure for individual responsibility in the modern world and that it demonstrates the enduring status of individual conscience across a variety of cultural crises. In this major rethinking of the hard-boiled genre, Lee suggests that, whether in Los Angeles, New York, or Paris, the hard-boiled detective is the guardian of individual moral authority and the embodiment of ideals in a corrupt environment.

Lee traces the history of the hard-boiled detective through the twentieth century and on both sides of the Atlantic (France and the United States), tying the idea of morality to the character model in nuanced, multifaceted ways. When the heroic model devolves, the very conceptual validity of individual moral authority can seem to devolve as well. Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Decline of Moral Authority charts the evolution of that character model of the hard-boiled hero, the mid-century deterioration of his exemplarity, and twenty-first-century endeavors to resuscitate the accountable hero. The history of hard-boiled crime fiction tells nothing less than the story of individual autonomy and accountability in modern Western culture.

Susanna Lee is Associate Professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at Georgetown University.