Fictional Murders in Real "Mean Streets": Detective Narratives and Authentic Urban Geographies

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					Fictional Murders in Real “Mean Streets”:
Detective Narratives and
Authentic Urban Geographies
Malcah Effron
    Though Raymond Chandler’s notion of realism in crime fiction is asso-
ciated with his term “mean streets,” his critical essays on the crime genre
promote language over setting, extolling speech as a mark of authenticity
(18). In establishing a theoretical validation for the hard-boiled detective
novel, Chandler attributes the genre’s superiority over its clue-puzzle
counterpart to its ability to present the detective story in a manner he de-
fines as realistic. From this, his term “mean streets” has come to codify the
grittiness and the chaos that signifies a text as realistic rather than con-
trived, so for critical appropriations of Chandler, setting becomes the cru-
cial component to writing reality. However, Chandler’s essay focuses not
on the streets themselves but on the language used to describe these
streets. He notes that his model Dashiell Hammett “put these people down
on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language
they customarily used for these purposes” (14–15, emphasis added), and
he summarizes the superiority of the hard-boiled detective in that “[h]e
talks as the man of his age talks . . . because it belongs to the world he
lives in” (18, emphasis added). With this focus, Chandler defines realistic
presentation, particularly in the detective novel, through close attention to
language rather than setting. Following the challenges critics of minority

JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 39.3 (Fall 2009): 330–346. Copyright © 2009 by JNT:
Journal of Narrative Theory.
                      Fictional Murders in Real ‘Mean Streets’             331

literatures have raised against the notion of authenticating speech, this
paper argues that Chandler’s successors instead return to the realism of the
“mean streets” by using real city settings.
    Contemporary detective fiction writers seem to gravitate toward Chan-
dler’s notion of the streets rather than his notion of the language, as can be
seen in the increasing number of novels in both the hard-boiled and the
clue-puzzle subgenres that are set in real cities. In these cases, the settings
are presented with near-cartographic accuracy, so the novels practically
serve as street atlases, resulting in the real-life Rebus tour of Edinburgh
and the Inspector
Description: [...] contemporary detective fiction's topographically accurate settings highUght the failure of speech or texts to present an authentic experience of reality. Since the language of these realizations ultimately only refers to an absent signified, these detective novels strengthen the reality of their effect by basing their presentation of reaUty not on an abstract representation of the city but on the concrete foundation of the city streets.
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