Thursday, October 15, 2009


I’ve been reading a dodgy book by Gene D. Phillips, called Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir. Not unreasonably, the author decides to define the term “hard-boiled detective,” at which point the dead hand, and deader prose, of academia asserts itself (this is on page 3).

He writes, “Hard-boiled fiction was so named because the tough detective-hero developed a shell like a hard-boiled egg in order to protect his feelings from being bruised by the calloused and cruel criminal types he often encountered.”

But wait a minute, the shell of a hard-boiled egg isn’t any tougher than the shell of a raw egg, and certainly not any more impervious. It’s the inside, the white and the yolk that get harder with boiling, until eventually they’re as solid as each other all the way through, though still, obviously, not as hard as the shell.

But in any case this metaphor doesn’t remotely describe Philip Marlowe. His shell may be hard, which of course is in the nature of shells, but his center is really soft, gooey and sentimental. In other words he’s a soft-boiled detective.

So I started wondering what other egg cookery metaphors might be available to the creators of fictional detectives, the coddled, the devilled, the Detective en Cocotte. The Art of French Cookery by Escoffier et al lists well over 100 names for egg dishes, though admittedly not all of them work as qualifiers for a sleuth: the Frou-Frou Detective, for example, doesn’t sound like a winner. (As I’m sure you know, Eggs Frou-Frou involves doing immensely complicated things with eggs, Chaud-Froid sauce, and black truffles.) THUS:

But why should detectives be restricted to egg metaphors? A detective who was soft on the outside but hard in the middle would be the Parboiled Detective (like a potato). There’d be the Deep Fried Detective, the Battered Detective, the Flambéed Detective, and (a healthy but angry choice) the Steamed Detective.

Another angry PI would be the Simmering Detective. One who was constantly being interrogated by bad cops would be the Grilled Detective. And of course there’d have to be (a comedy romp, you knew it was coming) the Half-Baked Detective.

Since a great many detectives tend to be boozers, you might also have detectives who were soused, pickled, juiced, potted or stewed.

But in today’s fancified literary and culinary environment we might want a detective who was a little more upscale, who was more of an amuse bouche. How about the Sun-Dried Detective, the Spice-Rubbed Detective, the Detective en Croute? But maybe even these are all a bit old school.

The one that I hope to be pitching to a publisher any day now, is the Molecular Detective (as in molecular gastronomy). He’d be expensive, he wouldn’t address any real problems, and wouldn’t have much taste, but he’d blow an awful lot of nitrous oxide in your face.

1 comment: