“Out of the mouths of babes,” they say. I guess they mean wisdom pops up when you least expect it. I don’t know much about wisdom, but this guy was no babe. In any meaning of the word. He looked more like he’d be felling trees with a blue ox named Babe. Looked like a mountainous mountain man. Long white hair down to the middle of his back, and beard about as long in front.
He also wasn’t someone I’d expect to be very wise. He walked around town muttering and bellowing imprecations. Sometimes at passers-by. Sometimes at other bums. Sometimes at no one in particular.
today he was more sociable than usual. He sat more or less placidly in front of the supermarket. A bagboy on a smoke break talked at him, but the old prospector just listened. The bagger thought he found wisdom when he looked in the mirror every morning. Couldn’t wait to share it, either.
The geezer just listened until bagboy started going on about the wonders of ethanol. The bagboy didn’t know to call it ethanol. He just was amazed that someone had figured out a way to make gasoline out of corn. This was too much, even for the old coot.
“But we need that corn to eat!” The growl crept back into the tattered man’s voice. ”That’s fuckin’ stupid! How are we gonna eat if we put all the corn in our cars.” I doubted he had a car to put gasoline, corn or anything else in. But I wasn’t going to butt in as he belittled the bagger.
The bagboy tried to make a weak defense. ”Maybe they just use the bad corn!”
But the geezer’s calm was gone. ”They need that to make whiskey, you asshole!”
I’m not one to interfere. I just walked away. Besides, the old man was right. I doubted he read The Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times. If he did, he’d know corn prices were increasing because of the demand for corn to make ethanol. He didn’t have to read any newspaper to know how important whiskey is.
The mouths of babes, yessiree. But not just babes. Wisdom also comes from the whiskey-soused mouths of bums.
Are there softboiled novels? Certainly, but they are not referred to as such. Hardboiled detectives were referred to as hardboiled because they were being contrasted with Golden Age crime fiction: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, etc. In the classic locked-room mysteries, and subsequent cozies, mannerly sleuths solve elaborate crimes with equally elaborate ratiocination.
In his essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler argued that “[Dashiell] Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish.” Hardboiled detectives were gritty, morally ambivalent and (for the time, at least) sexually frank. You certainly would not use this list of characteristics to describe Lord Peter Wimsey or Miss Marple.
These Golden Age mysteries were around long before hardboiled fiction makes an appearance, so they aren’t really described as softboiled. I, however, am not above using softboiled as a disparaging term for crime fiction which strikes me as too gentle.