A hard boiled protagonist is generally someone who is jaded, grisly, and alone. This character has some skeletons in their closet, and copes with these issues using a sort of vice, typically alcohol. This man does not play by any rulebook, and almost always ends up in a direct (usually violent) conflict with an enemy. Philip Marlowe, a rogue detective, is an excellent example of this image, and it is implied that under his layers of grit he has a strong moral compass. The audience is meant to empathize with him, understanding that life has been unfair to him and therefore hardened his heart. A hard-boiled storyline appeals more to an emotional audience who appreciate a character with many levels, and a mysterious personality to accompany the plot (Gatweli).

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Sherlock Holmes Analysis

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Sherlock Holmes is the quintessential example of a classical model. Holmes, the classical detective, is a charming man of superior intellect who resides in a cozy home and uses his brains, rather than shady hard-boiled methods, to solve crime. He acts alone, in and outside of the law, relying very little on help from others. Unlike the hard-boiled character, the classical detective does usually not have an overly dramatic confrontation when apprehending a criminal. Focus is instead placed on the explanation of the crime, which appeals more to an audience who really enjoys mystery and complex puzzles (Rzpeka, Horsley).

Lastly, the police procedural, with its strong commitment to institutions and rule following, lacks a general appeal to a wide audience. They are often presented as fumbling, for example commonly missing clues that Holmes or Marlowe would easily have picked up on. In addition, customs and institutions sometimes prevent the police procedural from acting at all, forcing an individual detective (read: Marlowe or Holmes) to go above and beyond. They are presented as faceless, gutless, and without much to offer.

  • John G. Cawelti, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. pp. 142 – 54.
  • Rzepka, C. J., & Horsley, L. (2010). A companion to crime fiction. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.