the pioneer detectives

An Introduction to 3 Foundational Authors of Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction, With Several Digressions

Dashiell Hammett was one of the only pulp detective authors to have actually worked as a detective, with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, back when it was basically a countrywide mercenary police organization. The Pinkertons were actually closer to modern police than their official contemporaries in the machine politics era, who tended to fall somewhere between patronage-hire watchmen and the mayor (or sheriff)’s sanctioned gang. The establishment of the FBI was in many ways a nationalization of the Pinkertons, with key figures brought on as advisors, replicating the network of local bureaus with focuses on both investigation and the infiltration and undermining of labor radicalism. Big city police forces then remodeled themselves after the FBI - famously the LAPD under William Parker (the NYPD had professionalized already under Teddy Roosevelt, and Chicago managed to preserve its machine structure).

This process continued into the early 1970s, as the RFK/FBI-led attempt to shatter the Mafia shook out. This was part of the mid-20th century American centralization of power. If you’re ever tempted to look with contempt upon modern African states, or pre-Mao China, or pre-unification Germany, keep in mind that America was largely structured as a loose coalition of local bandit-warlords until the 1960s. At the national level, civil rights laws and the attempt to merge the two (black/white) American nations were as much a cynical front for advancing this centralization as they were an honest idealism. And not without cost - organized crime, and the permeable borders between that and urban politics, were one of the major mechanisms by which immigrant groups were integrated to and advanced within the American system, a way to translate sheer numbers and cultural affinity into structural power. American blacks largely fit the immigrant pattern, if you date “arrival” to the Great Migration, but then stall out in the ‘70s-‘80s, and a lot of that has to do with RICO laws, post-60s reformist idealism, and the nationally-sponsored “war on crime” blocking this path. In an earlier world, black local politicians and street gangs would form alliances, eventually using patronage to co-opt and take over police forces, and extract rents that would be partially redistributed down the machine ladder. As is, you still have corruption, but it accrues to politicians, pastors and other organizers, and white property developers, without trickling down to street level.

You can quote me on that - the sorry state of American blacks is because criminal gangs are too weak and police aren’t corrupt and brutally extralegal enough.

What was I saying? Dashiell Hammett. Lived in San Francisco and set his fiction there. Was an actual private investigator, and accordingly has a strong focus on tradecraft, especially with the nameless “Continental Op”, employee of a fictionalized Pinkerton, protagonist of some of his books and most of his stories. Though the climaxes could get colorful, the Op’s assignments - quietly track down a runaway heiress, locate a fled embezzler - and methods - use 3-man teams to tail people on the street, question and dig up background on the target’s acquaintances, sit around and eavesdrop on conversations - were true to actual practice. (Hammett said the major difference is that what his characters accomplished in a week would in reality take several months, while they worked multiple cases in between).

While the Op was proudly professional (a recurring theme being his contempt for hotel staff “detectives”) but otherwise opaque, Hammett pioneered detective characterization with other characters. Where the Op was based on actual detectives he worked with, Sam Spade (protagonist of The Maltese Falcon) was based on those detectives’ romantic self-image, and his stoic facade, cynical chivalry, and romantic entanglements were a *huge* influence on later writers. Nick and Nora Charles, based on Hammet and his beloved, playwright Lillian Hellman, mixed investigation with screwball banter in a more lighthearted tone, and can be considered the predecessor of Maddie and David (of Moonlighting), Mulder & Scully, and even non-(explicitly-)romantic buddy partnerships like Crockett & Tubbs.

Hammett’s real-life experience exposed him to less picturesque aspects of the private investigator’s role in society as well. He complained that employers doing background checks were interested in issues of moral character that, gambling debts aside, had no correlation to trustworthiness, and he especially disliked working to suppress labor agitation. Starting as a Pinkerton agent, Hammett ended up being blacklisted and imprisoned as an enthusiastic communist activist.

Next is Raymond Chandler, the most literary of the detective greats. Where Hammett had been an actual PI, and reflected it in his writing, Chandler was a cuttingly observant man who retreated into drink because he was way too intelligent and cynical for Los Angeles, and reflected it in his. His Phillip Marlowe inhabited a thinly-to-the-point-of-pointlessly veiled LA, and passes through it with gimlet eye and poison tongue, all backhanded compliments and sideways insults. Hard-boiled fiction’s love of brilliant turns of phrase, of meandering digressions that end with a surprise punch to the gut, largely comes from him.

While at first glance Marlowe might seem to perform the duties of a detective same as the Op, on close examination you realize that none of what transpires has anything to do with his intentions, and that the plot is moved along by coincidences he encounters while out on assignment, with the ultimate plot of a tale usually about as unrelated to the inciting incident as in golden age Simpsons. This is equally true of The Big Lebowski, which is a loving Chandler tribute, and Chandler himself parodies this (and his/Marlowe’s booziness) in one of his later stories in which the plot is advanced by the things his protagonist literally runs into while drunk driving around LA.

Chandler’s novels are usually composed of the plots of 3 or 4 of his short stories banged together, but that’s fine, because the plot was never the thing, the meat being the wonderful language, setting, and characterizations, which were crafted anew. You can still to this day drive around LA and discover most of the places he described, looking exactly as stated. And while I can’t speak to his period accuracy, I was myself once a too intelligent, cynical Angelino writer for a while, to the point I avoided leaving home sober, and I can confirm that the kind of person who inhabits LA, their nature and motivations, are exactly as he laid out back then.

Chandler’s output eventually trailed off. One story, appearing years after any others, reads like absolutely terrible Chandler pastiche. Scholars disagree whether this was the product of an alcoholic wreck of a man who had known better than to try to publish anything for years but needed the money, or his wife pretending to be him because he was an alcoholic wreck of a man incapable of even writing anymore but needed the money.

If you’re only going to read one of these three, read Chandler.

Finally, a bit of a contrast in Mickey Spillane. Spillane’s famous recurring detective character was Mike Hammer. Given the name, you might not be surprised to learn he spent less time in cautiously piecing together mysteries than punching communists in the jaw, in much the same way Captain America spent a lot of time punching Nazis in the jaw. Actually, Spillane had been a writer for Captain America in the ‘40s. Actually, the character was originally written as a comic book protagonist named “Mike Danger”. Beyond communism, Hammer often found himself arrayed against such other corrupt and corrupting trappings of the decadent elite as drugs, psychotherapy, and trial by jury.

Spillane’s writing was, I’ll say, not up to the level of Hammett or Chandler, though he has been favorably cited by prominent writers like Ayn Rand and Frank Miller. If you look at pulp of the time though, he’s appreciably above average. Pulp… basically the closest parallel we have to pulp today is fanfiction, in terms of its average quality, low cost of production and consumption, sheer volume, and the rate at which it produces critical and commercial successes. And dear god, the smuttiness. Mike Hammer banged a lot of the broads he ran into. Before barefacedly honest pornography became as ubiquitous as it is, pulp filled the role of mainstream erotic product, with much detective pulp serving the same “drugstore-available erotica” role for men that romance pulp did for women. (Appreciating this makes the “Seduction of the Innocent” comic book scare about drugstore-available pulp for kids a bit more comprehensible).

This crossed over into other formats like cinema - Deep Throat, Beyond the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones were all received as at least in the same ballpark as mainstream releases, and up into the ’80s, pornographic movies had plots and runtimes that roughly approximated Hollywood product, and even in the ‘90s, softcore product at least had narrative framing devices. Between gonzo and DVD nonlinearity and the internet and the collapse of obscenity prosecution against which to offer artistic content as defense that’s faded, though as the Valley studio system’s share of the industry shrinks you’re seeing them play to their strengths in production values and plot (particularly with parody content, Tijuana Bible/H-Doujinshi-style).

On the other hand you had whole parapornographic mainstream subgenres as the erotic thriller, the rape-revenge drama, the teen sex comedy - American Pie was released in 1999, which was really pushing the limit at which it was worth it to watch 90 minutes of material for the chance to briefly see a bare-chested girl masturbating. (It’s still worth it to hear Alyson Hannigan talking dirty, though.)

The one thing that pulp still has a hold on is violence. (In addition to the jaw, there are many loving passages of Hammer battering guys in the crotch.) While splatter-horror may be a flourishing niche genre, with regular DVD releases, it’s still that, a niche genre, and not the mega-industry of pornography. Video games yes, but detective pulp and “true crime” genres have mostly just migrated to another medium and become hourlong police procedurals like CSI or Law & Order, offering the same thrills of vicarious brutality masked by the fig leaf of nominal identification with the forces of law and order. (Though cable antihero dramas and serial killer procedurals like Dexter and Hannibal seem to be moving a half- to full step beyond that.)

Mickey Spillane. Ah, fuck it, I don’t have anything else to say about Mickey Spillane.

Murdoch Mysteries Calendar 2018


Righty ho! Since @mariannenorway requested to have the entire calendar posted, and I am always one to grant people’s wishes, I’ve got the entire calendar here for you!

And don’t worry if you can’t read the writing on the pages, underneath each photo will be the title of the page, notable dates, birthdays and the writing from the bottom of each page! So let’s begin!

Note: For the different phases of the moon, it should be obvious what they are but if not, here you go:

First Quarter - First Quarter of the moon’s phase

Last Quarter - Last Quarter of the moon’s phase

New Moon - Moon phase starts again

Full Moon - The moon should be completely full in the sky

Current 2017 Months from September to December

Notable dates:



Set in Toronto at the dawn of the 20th century during the age of invention, Murdoch Mysteries is a one-hour drama series that explores the world of Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson), a methodical and dashing detective who pioneers radical forensic techniques to solve some of the city;s most gruesome murders. Murdoch’s colleagues include his wife, the fiery and fiercely intelligent Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy); Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), Murdoch’s eager but sometimes naive right-hand man; Inspector Thomas Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), Murdoch’s skeptical yet reluctantly supportive boss; and morgue assistant Rebecca James (Mouna Traoré), a resourceful young medical student taken under Ogden’s mentorship.

One of Canada’s most successful and longest-running drama series, Murdoch Mysteries is watched around the world in 110 countries and territories. The Season 10 finale ‘’Hell To Pay’’ marked 150 episodes of the series! Do you recognise and of your favourites in the collage above? Season 11 of Murdoch Mysteries will premiere in 2017/2018.


Notable dates:

January 1st - New Years Day

January 2nd - Full Moon

January 4th - 1 Year Anniversary of the Henry Higgins Trash Club

January 6th - Epiphany

January 7th - Orthodox Christmas

January 8th - Last Quarter

January 14th - Orthodox New Year

January 15th - Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the USA

January 17th - New Moon

January 24th - First Quarter

January 31st - Full Moon


In the series premiere, ‘’Power’’ (Episode 101), the electrocution of a young woman finds Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) in the middle of warring rival electricity suppliers, one being Nikola Tesla (Dmitry Chepovetsky) himself! In a case that’s further complicated by bribery, scandal and dirty backroom dealings, Murdoch must find out who killed the woman - and why. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the world premiere of Murdoch Mysteries!


Notable dates:

February 7th - Last Quarter

February 12th - Georgina Reilly’s Birthday and Family Day in British Columbia, Canada

February 14th - Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day

February 15th - New Moon

February 16th - LACHLAN MURDOCH’S BIRTHDAY WOOOO! (Also Chinese New Year, Year of the Dog)

February 19th - Provincial Holiday in the following Canadian provinces:



Nova Scotia


Prince Edward Island


It’s also President’s Day in the USA

February 23rd - Heritage Day in the Yukon and the First Quarter

February 28th - Purim begins at sundown


In Episode 714, ‘’Friday the 13th, 1901′’ Crabtree (Jonny Harris) drunkenly challenges Leslie Garland (Giacomo Gianniotti) to a curling match and is forced to hurriedly assemble a team. Unfortunately, Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) is hardly in the mood for games after his proposal to Ogden (Hélène Joy) was rejected, leaving Crabtree and Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) to appeal to Murdoch’s affinity for science in hopes of luring him out to the rink. This February, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Canada will defend its gold medals in both Men’s and Women’s curling.


@sibylle1898 you’ll like this month’s photo :)

Notable dates:

March 2nd - Full Moon

March 9th - Last Quarter

March 11th - Daylight Saving Time Begins

March 17th - New Moon and St. Patrick’s Day

March 20th - Spring Equinox

March 24th - First Quarter

March 25th - Palm Sunday

March 30th - Good Friday and Passover begins at sundown

March 31st - Full Moon


In Episode 701 ‘’Murdoch Ahoy’’, a new passenger liner bound for Rochester is about to set sail, and Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) and Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) are called aboard by the owner, who is concerned about threats. When Murdoch spots Ogden (Hélène Joy) amongst the guests, he suggests they stay and monitor the situation. This episode was filmed aboard the S.S. Keewatin, the only remaining Edwardian passenger steamship in the world, which is now moored in Port McNicoll, Ontario. Built five years before the RMS Titanic, the S.S. Keewatin utilizes similar machinery including a quadruple expansion steam engine and Scotch boilers.


Notable dates:

April 1st - Easter Sunday and Orthodox Palm Sunday

April 2nd - Easter Monday

April 8th - Last Quarter and Pascha (Orthodox Easter)

April 16th - New Moon

April 22nd - First Quarter and Earth Day

April 23rd - Maureen Jennings’ Birthday and St. George’s Day in Newfoundland and Labrador (as well as over here in England)

April 30th - Full Moon


In Episode 1002, ‘’Great Balls of Fire, Part 2′’, a massive fire consumes Toronto, complicating Murdoch’s (Yannick Bisson) investigation into the murders of two young women. When Ogden (Hélène Joy) is trapped by the intense fire, Murdoch braves the flames to rescue his wife. On April 19th, 104, Toronto’s business district was consumed in flames in what is known as The Great Fire of 1904. While no lives were lost in the fire, the cause of which was never determined, more than 250 firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze. Over 100 buildings were destroyed and 20 acres of the city levelled.


Notable dates:

May 5th - Cinco De Mayo in the USA

May 8th - Last Quarter

May 13th - Mother’s Day

May 15th - New Moon and Ramadan begins at sundown

May 16th - Yannick Bisson’s Birthday!

May 21st - Victoria Day all across Canada and National Patriot’s Day in Quebec

May 22nd - First Quarter

May 28th - William and Julia’s Wedding Anniversary and Memorial Day in the USA

May 29th - Full Moon


In Episode 804, ‘’Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!’’, wedding bells finally ring for Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) and Ogden (Hélène Joy) in the landmark 100th episode of the series. When best man Crabtree (Jonny Harris) loses the ring, Higgins (Lachlan Murdoch) comes to the rescue by finding it just in time for the nearly derailed ceremony. Despite a case nearly getting in the way of the wedding, everything comes happily together for the lovebirds in the end. The two were wed on May 28th, 1902.


Notable dates:

June 6th - Last Quarter

June 13th - New Moon

June 14th - Eid al-Fitr begins at sundown

June 17th - Father’s Day

June 19th - Henry Higgins Trash Club’s Birthday! (aka my birthday)

June 20th - First Quarter

June 21st - Summer Solstice and National Aboriginal Day in Northwest Territories of Canada

June 24th - National Holiday of Quebec in Quebec

June 25th - Discovery Day in Newfoundland and Labrador

June 28th - Full Moon


In Episode 1008, ‘’Weekend at Murdoch’s’’, after two witnesses in a murder trial are killed while birdwatching, Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) and Crabtree (Jonny Harris) must protect the third witness. Much to Crabtree’s dismay, the witness is Roger Newsome (Cyrus Lane), the obnoxious playboy who flustered him during previous investigations into crimes at his automobile, golf and puzzle-solving clubs. Unfortunately, Newsome fails to grasp the risk to his life and when he sneaks out and is shot and killed by a sniper, Murdoch devises an outlandish ploy to keep the case alive and smoke out the killer by faking Newsome’s survival.


@detectivewatts I believe this is your month :)

Notable dates:

July 1st - Canada Day

July 2nd - William Murdoch’s Birthday! (born in 1863)

July 4th - Independence Day in the USA

July 6th - Last Quarter

July 9th - Nunavut Day in Nunavut and Orangemen’s Day in Newfoundland and Labrador

July 13th - New Moon

July 19th - First Quarter

July 27th - Full Moon


In Season 10, the rumpled and gruff Llewellyn Watts (Daniel Maslany) arrives from Station House No. 1. Upon hearing about Brackenreid’s temporary departure, in addition to being asked to leave his home station over personality conflicts, Watts decides that Station House No. 4 needs another detective and decides to make himself comfortable in the Inspector’s office.


@crabtreee your month I presume?

Notable dates:

August 4th - Last Quarter

August 6th - Civic Holiday in every Canadian province except the following:


Newfoundland and Labrador


August 11th - New Moon

August 18th - First Quarter

August 20th - Discovery Day in Yukon

August 21st - Eid al-Adha begins at sundown

August 26th - Full Moon


In Episode 912, ‘’Unlucky In Love’’, the electrocution of an elderly groom leads Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) to suspect a black widow, while Crabtree (Jonny Harris) meets Lucy Maud Montgomery (Alison Louder) at a writing class he teaches. While the charming constable is arguably a romatic at heart, it seems that he hasn’t quite found the right person at the right time, though at the end of Season 10 he may be falling back into the arms of Nina Bloom (Erin Agostino)…


Notable dates:

September 3rd - Last Quarter and Labour Day in Canada and USA

September 9th - New Moon and Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown

September 10th - Muharram begins at sundown

September 16th - First Quarter

September 17th - Daniel Maslany’s Birthday!

September 18th - Yom Kippur begins at sundown

September 21st - UN International Day of Peace

September 22nd - Jonny Harris’ Birthday!

September 23rd - Autumn Equinox

September 25th - Full Moon


In Episode 1005, ‘’Jagged Little Pill’’, James (Mouna Traoré) has been studying to become a doctor at the Medical College for Women at Ogden’s (Hélène Joy) urging. But when one of her fellow students is found drowned from an apparent suicide, she is convinced something is amiss and begins her own secret investigation. She soon discovers some unsettling information with repercussions for Murdoch’s investigation, leaving her in a quandary over whether to reveal her meddling or stay quiet.


Notable dates:

October 2nd - Last Quarter

October 8th - Thanksgiving Day in Canada and Columbus Day in the USA

October 9th - New Moon

October 13th - Arwen Humphrey’s Birthday!

October 16th - First Quarter

October 21st - Hélène Joy’s Birthday!

October 24th - Full Moon and United Nations Day

October 25th - Kristian Bruun’s Birthday!

October 31st - Halloween and Last Quarter


In Episode 1016, ‘’Master Lovecraft’’, the discovery of a young girl’s dead body and some grotesque sketches lead Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) to suspect a gang of death-obsessed teenagers, which includes a young H.P. Lovecraft (Tyler East). Meanwhile, the macabre seems to be spreading to civilized society when Margaret Brackenreid (Arwen Humphreys) finds out her reading group has chosen Dracula. After a creepy run-in with Lovecraft, Margaret soon finds him haunting her subconscious when literature’s most famous vampire (East) pays her a visit… in her nightmares!


@tommy-two-cakes this is your month I imagine :)

Notable dates:

November 4th - Daylight Saving Time Ends

November 7th - New Moon

November 11th - Mouna Traoré’s Birthday, Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the USA

November 15th - First Quarter

November 22nd - Thanksgiving in the USA

November 23rd - Full Moon

November 30th - Last Quarter


In Episode 1006, ‘’Bend It Like Brackenreid’’, as Murdoch investigates the strange death of a footballer, the player’s death puts his team’s run for the Olympics in jeopardy. Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) gets caught up in the team’s training, and finds himself in a position to coach Galt F.C. and the opportunity to bring Olympic glory to Canada. Galt F.C. went on to win the gold medal at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis in a tournament played from November 16-23, 1904.


Notable dates:

December 2nd - Advent and Hanukkah begins at sundown

December 4th - Thomas Craig’s Birthday!

December 7th - New Moon

December 15th - First Quarter

December 21st - Winter Solstice

December 22nd - Full Moon

December 25th - Christmas Day

December 26th - Boxing Day

December 29th - Last Quarter


In the holiday special ‘’Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas’’, brazen robberies target Toronto’s wealthiest businessmen just days before Christmas. Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) and Brackenreid (Thomas Craig) realise that their jobs are under fire if they don’t quickly solve the case. Meanwhile, Jackson (Kristian Bruun) and James (Mouna Traoré) team up to bring Christmas spirit to the Station House with a police choir, Crabtree’s (Jonny Harris) latest novel finds some unlikely fans, and Ogden (Hélène Joy) is stalked by two street urchins who need her help. All the while Murdoch works to surprise Ogden with a mysterious gift.


Watch on

Exploration Of The Planets (1971) - Vintage NASA film about upcoming planetary missions in the 1970s.

Starting with Nixon’s announcement in 1970 of the objectives of a space programme that would include the scientific investigation of all the planets in the solar system [footage of Nixon shaking hands with delegates], this NASA documentary outlines NASA’s proposed missions. Each planet is dealt with in turn, as follows: image of the Earth from space; Mercury; Venus; Mars, illustration of surface; satellite image of Jupiter; satellite image of Saturn, rendering of Saturn from Titan; illustrations of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto; 1960s Mariner images of Mars; model of Mariner 9 orbiter and Viking lander, animations of Mariner flight path, planning of 1975 Viking lander mission [scientists work with computers and photographs], graphics of Viking lander; 1973 Mariner 10 mission to Venus and Mercury flight path animation, graphics of onboard television cameras, 1969 radar map of Venus, Mercury’s orbit around the Sun; illustrations of Pioneer vehicles, due to be launched in 1972 and 1973 to study Jupiter, animation of asteroid belt, Pioneer asteroid detection equipment, helicopter view of large satellite receiving dish, rendering satellite orbits Jupiter, animation Pioneer escapes solar system; impressions of Saturn and its rings, Uranus, Neptune and Triton, Jupiter and its moons; animation flight paths using Jupiter’s gravity; plans for the “grand tour’ spacecraft,later known as Voyagers, exploring the outer Solar System.