Tag Archives: simile

The Hard-Boiled Voice

It’s bad business to plug your client. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.


Pardon the ego, but I thunk that one up all on my own. Ain’t it a pip? That line’s hard-boiled all over. Goes all the way back to the second yarn in my series. A whole eighteen months old as I write this. Almost. Fifty-one adventures later, it remains one of my favorites. And not so easy to come by.

I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.

I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.

That’s a funny one, the hard-boiled voice. Sometimes it threatens to run right over the voice of the author. Always real, frank. Real frank until it approaches brutal. So much so, on occasion, it’s downright humorous. But never sentimental. It’s got to be plain, straight talking prose with the kind of punch that doesn’t take any prisoners.

Part of the trick’s keeping it simple without letting it go limp. Simple’s one thing, plain’s another. Plain’s weak, dull. Plain’s not the stuff that dreams are made of. Pairing down the length of clauses ain’t necessarily the easiest task. Let alone pairing down the length of long sentences. Or making shorter sentences even shorter.

Did Paul Cain take the form too far? The guy dropped subjects and added more harsh clauses than Agatha Christie had red herrings. And he did it back in the 1930s. Maybe Cain’s too thick for some tastes, but you can’t disagree that his narrative had impact. If you can pull that off, slicing and dicing and otherwise mangling sentence structure, you can drive your prose off the page like drilling through a banana. All it takes is the wit to write dialogue like this: “You want a glass or a funnel?”


It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.
—Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely


One of the best. And one of the best known from Chandler. The king of simile. And doesn’t it play a tad better than That blonde was a real looker? You want simple? You want brutal? All in the same bite? How’s about I felt like an amputated leg. That from Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business.”

Something to spin on, all right. Achieving the hard-boiled voice. Doing it well is a challenge and a half. Doing it well and putting your own stamp on it—that sounds like an other post altogether. Sure.

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Hard-Boiled Thought of the Day: Collection #2

You can’t keep a good simile down. There’s nothing like a catching the aroma off that first cup of the day, that curl of smoke off your first stick, and the whiff of a finely tuned, hard-boiled thought.

Here’s another set of favorite thoughts of the day, collected from my throw-back series and posted with semi-frequence upon the ether.

  • “You ought to be ashamed, pop. You’re old enough to be her dead grandfather.”
  • I could trust her about as far as I could throw the Monadnock Building.
  • You could see at a glance she’d been around the block, as long as the block was clean, god-fearing and cut off from the real world.
  • “Lookit. It’s just like cooking, see? You cook, don’t you?”
    “Does toast count?”
    “No, toast doesn’t count.”
  • Believe nothing the first time around.
  • You can count on a walk in the park being anything but.
  • “I don’t mean to be rude. It’s like this proclivity I’ve got,” I said. “Whenever I get strong-armed, it kicks right in. I go on autopilot. It’s like a syndrome with me. Sometimes I can’t help myself. The rudeness bubbles out of me just like Alka-Seltzer. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.”
  • I needed work from this gink about as much as Venice needs a plumber.
  • I pictured her likeness on some prow down at the harbor. Then I recalled that feeling I always get in my gut from sailing—a group of bats having a go at badminton.
  • I smiled. Tom, Dick and Harry didn’t crack a smirk. I’ve seen cattle on meathooks with warmer dispositions.
  • “You’ve got more sales angles than a used car dealer with a three-way mirror.”
  • The surreptitious glimpses and rounded shoulders, the way she clutched the handbag in her lap—the whole mousy demeanor fit her like an ascot fits a python.
  • He looked forward to it as much as a corpse anticipates a funeral.
  • Who stumbles into a P.I.’s office with nothing to kick? Especially at that hour? Nothing from this baby. No “hello.” No “allow me to introduce myself.” No nothing. Instead, the guy’s lousy with hiccups.
  • I felt as rumpled as the two-bit bed beneath me. I felt as two-bit as the room. I felt like something somebody had spit out.
  • Murphy came off as irresistibly cute approaching saucy. Something of an innocent live wire. The girl next door ready to go wrong.
  • He quivered like a priest giving communion to a pair of stripteasers.
  • A few have too much of everything. Too many don’t have enough of anything. In between there’s hardly enough left to go around.
  • Even in the dark you could tell they’d croaked. There’s no mistaking that peculiar stillness of death. A quality of frozen permanence. Time hangs on a corpse like eternity. Like a busted clock.
  • I felt like a feather caught between two bowling balls.
  • I’ve seen plenty of clients try to rub out their past like chalk on the sidewalk—it never holds up. You can’t swap faces in the mirror. You can’t help but look at yourself square on. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.
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Hard-Boiled Thought of the Day: Collection #1

Ego, sweet ego. There’s nothing like giving yourself a pat on the back. Well deserved or not. We all need a little stroke, from time to time. A little bracing up. A peck on the cheek. Just a small chuck under the chin. Sure.

So I found me a swell way to pull it off, a sure-fire method to give yourself a nod. All you need is a little self-quotation. Beat ’em to the punch, I say. Don’t stand in line. Don’t wait. What better way to acknowledge yourself than by quoting yourself? If you can’t appropriate your own stuff, what’s the point? Am I right, or am I right?

So I drummed up my little “Hard-Boiled Thought Day” and began posting them, every so often, on one of those social networks. There they are, in all their glory, little quips straight out of my fiction series. I’ve posted a bunch over the last month or two. Seemed like it was high time to present them as a set.

  • It’s bad business to plug your client. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.
  • Homo sapien is the only animal that, after making love, smokes a cigarette.
  • He’ll never get lost going out of his way.
  • Never trust a dame, even when she’s on all fours. Especially when she’s on all fours.
  • Sykes needed that dream, sure. Sykes needed it like a thermometer needs the fever.
  • “You’re becoming impertinent, again.”
    “That one was on the house, Mrs. Leblanc. “
  • The place stank like all gyms. That heavy air hits you first, the thick perfume of cheap labor.
  • She used more foundation than a Chinese fortress.
  • “Hmmm. Now we are in dangerous waters.”
    “Yeah, and me with my lifejacket at the dry cleaners.”
  • “If you’d care to wait? I could offer you a Frango Mint.”
    “No thanks, sister. They make my nose bleed.”
  • Chardonnay? Whiskey? I thought you’d of requested a shot of hemlock.
  • I figured I must of have been his last hope–I didn’t care much for the idea.
  • Don’t get me wrong. I adore these little sessions of ours. About as much as I adore a tooth extraction.
  • So there she was: attractive, well fixed, with something to hide. You could say she interested me immediately.
  • “My life!” That little voice became loud. Damn shrill, too. “My life is in danger!”
    “That’s what you come stumbling in here at this hour to tell me?”
    “My life was not in danger earlier.”
  • “I know what you’re thinking.”
    “Then you’re one up on me, sister.”
  • If that’s how he croons sober, I’d hate to hear him drunk.
  • His movement conjured up the grace of a concrete butterfly.
  • “Perfect,” I said. “You’ve got the timing of bad melodrama .”
  •  I passed the gunman as I approached the restaurant patio. Dead as prohibition.
  • He barked all kinds of advice at me, most of it as useful as a casket with a vanity mirror.
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