Sunday, May 30, 2010
Joseph T. "Cap" Shaw
I wish I could have worked with Joseph Shaw during the heyday of Black Mask.
Someone, when they saw that my new e-book Reaper's Dozen is dedicated to him, asked who he was and why he deserved my mention. A couple of reasons...
I think he's the one who realized that the American detective story needed to go in a direction different than the traditional style at the time, one where bodies turned up in libraries and the butler did it and all that. None of those stories, we are told, spent much time on characters, but used "symbols" instead. I think Hammett's work was Shaw's inspiration, but Hammett had left the Mask by the time Shaw arrived. If he hadn't been able to lure Hammett back, perhaps one of the other regular contributors would have paved the way; but since so many were inspired by Hammett, who knows if that would have happened. The American detective story as we know it may not have developed as it did.
He said as much in the introduction to The Hard-Boiled Omnibus, where he stressed that character mattered more than story, and used a Hammett quote to back it up. Hammett was of the opinion that when you kill a symbol instead of a character, no crime has been committed; kill a person, and you have something to be concerned about.
I'm not sure I agree with Shaw or Chandler that if you take away the crime, you still have a good story because of the characters and their conflict; for me, not only are characters the thing but the plot's the thing. I can't see any of the classic hard-boiled stories working without the crime and resolution. But they believed it, so that's fine.
Shaw was at the right place at the right time, with the right idea, and the right writer to carry out the idea, who then, I say, inspired many others. Take away either one, and you have no revolution.
So that's why I dedicated Reaper's Dozen to Cap Shaw. I think he would have liked my stories, and I think I would have found a home in his camp. If time travel were possible I'd certainly go back and find out.
And if you've never read The Hard-Boiled Omnibus, it's a must read for fans of the genre. Not only is Shaw's introduction priceless (for writers) but you get some great stories, too. Unfortunately I have the Pocket Books version which chopped two stories that originally appeared in the hardcover version; maybe someday I'll get the original and have them all together.
And if you want to see how a student has learned from the masters, check out Reaper's Dozen, available for download on Smashwords.Com and at the Amazon Kindle store.
You can read a sample to see if you like it. At $1.99, it costs less than one of those triple frap lattes you buy every day.