William P. McGivern Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

William P. McGivern’s work differs considerably from the general run of crime fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s, the years when the author did his best work. Although much of the writing of his contemporaries during this period presented protagonists with fixed, relatively stable personalities, McGivern’s work generally took another direction. His novels on crime are particularly notable for their depth and sensitivity in the portrayal of the central character and for their trenchant analysis of the moral and psychological effects of the corruption that surrounds him in the netherworld of big-city politics and public service.

The McGivern protagonist is generally at the crux of a moral dilemma, wrestling with problems of ethical, moral, even spiritual responsibility. Although formidable and independent in his interaction with others, the McGivern protagonist struggles with an inner world of psychological complexity and moral peril. He is consistently engaged in reluctant self-analysis and introspection, following a path that inevitably leads to self-discovery.

McGivern also brings to his writing a thorough knowledge of police work. In a subtle blend of casuistry and objective analysis, he examines the implications of its pressures and scant rewards, its frequent inability to meet the high and often-unrealistic expectations of the public, with an insight achieved by few of his contemporaries in the genre of crime fiction.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Breu, Christopher. Hard-Boiled Masculinities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Study of the representation of masculinity in hard-boiled detective fiction; helps contextualize McGivern’s representation of the inner psychology of his protagonists.

Gunning, Tom. “The Big Heat.” In The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity. London: British Film Institute, 2000. Study of the most famous film adaptation of a McGivern novel, emphasizing its distinctive place in the modern culture of the 1950’s.

Horsley, Lee. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Scholarly, theoretically informed study of the thriller genre. Analyzes McGivern’s two most famous noir novels, The Big Heat and Odds Against Tomorrow.

Irwin, John T. Unless the Threat of Death Is Behind Them: Hard-Boiled Fiction and Film Noir. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Study of noir fiction and film that emphasizes the interrelationship of the two forms and the representation of masculinity in each. Provides perspective on McGivern’s work.