When I set out to write hardboiled mystery novels, very much influenced by Mickey Spillane and the Gold Medal writers, I made sure my work was strong on sex and violence. I still do. Not only are these ingredients key to the noir sensibility, they represent (as I’ve said numerous times) the big topics: life and death.
And while my historical novels have an element of education/information in them, the primary purpose is to entertain, and usually in the fashion that I established early on – meaning there will be sex and violence.
Over the years this has been commented on occasionally by reviewers, but not really that often – the subject tends to come up in a more general way, i.e., why is there so much sex and violence in noir fiction?
But in the past several years, I have been getting criticized much more often about the sexual component of the books. I don’t mean to defend myself here or to complain about those reviews – I am just observing that there seems to be something afoot in the culture, something more staid, even more prudish. I graduated high school in 1966, so the sexual revolution was all around me, reflected in popular culture from underground comix to nudity-flung films.
So what’s up lately with this anti-sex scene sentiment? And almost always coming from men. Men who don’t want to read about sex. Which strikes me as bewildering. These comments often come from readers who otherwise like the books. Here’s an excerpt from an Amazon Review of CARNAL HOURS that is otherwise a rave:
I might wonder why any reader of book with the word “carnal” in the title would be surprised to find sex scenes in that book. But this Amazon reviewer is joined by a handful of professional reviewers who have lately made similar comments. George Easter, for example, in the fine magazine Deadly Pleasures, made that his sole carp in a very positive review of BYE BYE, BABY.
Again, I mention this because I find it odd, not to complain about it or defend myself. I will say this: anyone who considers the sex scenes in Nathan Heller novels to be mere gratuitous porn isn’t really paying attention. I don’t believe there is a single Heller sex scene involving my guy with some casual pick-up in a bar or whatever – there are references to such happenings, but they remain off-stage. The sexual encounters are there for characterization reasons, usually to build emotion and establish a closeness, even a love, between Heller and a woman who is crucial to the tale being told, often tragic romances as in TRUE DETECTIVE, TRUE CRIME, THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND, FLYING BLIND and BYE BYE, BABY. Some of these are real women, like Amelia Earhart, Sally Rand and Evelyn MacClean Walsh, and this gets me nasty letters at times (“How dare you?”). I had death threats over my depiction of Earhart as bisexual. Here’s the thing: Nate Heller didn’t have sex with any of these women, because Nate Heller is a fictional character.
My sex scenes do make people uncomfortable at times, and I’m rather proud of that. A mystery writer pal of mine, when TRUE DETECTIVE came out, was offended (perhaps the term is “grossed out”) that Heller used condoms and he and the lady in question cleaned up after the act. The sex was too real, apparently. An editor talked me into toning down oral sex passages in ANGEL IN BLACK…between Heller and his wife (oral sex was both characterization and a major clue in that novel).
Anyway, if you guys out there want to skip the sex scenes, fine by me. My generation of guys would more likely have underlined them. If this is progress, count me out.
And isn’t it interesting that none of these reviewers have ever complained about the graphic blood-splattering violence in my work?
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Our good friend and that good writer Ron Fortier wrote a lovely review of ANTIQUES DISPOSAL on his fun Pulp Fiction web site.
Brandywine Books posted yet another fine Heller review, this time looking at TRUE DETECTIVE.
The low price ($2) this month of FLYING BLIND on Kindle e-book caught some nice attention here.
Perfect Crime Books has announced their Nolan reprint series, with all the covers posted.
Nate is heading to Japan for a month on a business vacation. He will still be handling the weekly Updates, but they will likely be a little shorter in the near future. Also, I’m working on ANTIQUES CHOP, which means you may be spared these longer entries until I am finished and Nate returns.