Archive for the ‘Raymond Chandler’ Category

If you’re looking for a good, general, all around anthology of short story detective fiction then I’d recommend the Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction edited by Deane Mansfield-Kelley and Lois A. Marchino. It will give novice and experienced mystery readers a good foothold into detective fiction.


The book is divided into three sections: The Amateur Detective, The Private Investigator and The Police. Each section begins with  a critical essay and commentary (which I skipped). There are also two appendices: Notable Annual Awards for Mystery and Detective Fiction and a Bibliography of Critical Essays and Commentaries.

But the heart of the book is stories. Each section contains stories by some of best authors, classical authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe, pulp authors of the 1930s-1950s such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ed McBain and current authors such as Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and Peter Robinson.

There is a short author bio before each story, suggested books by the author and suggested read-alike authors. Granted, there are some great mystery authors not included in the anthology, but if all the greats were included it would be a thousand pages, just like Otto Penzler’s Black Lizard books.

The Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction is an entertaining way for mystery fans to spend some time. It also makes readers appreciate the art of the short story. Go for it.

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TheBigSleepThe Big Sleep–The Book: We all know the movie The Big Sleep based on Raymond Chandler’s book. The main story in the movie basically follows the book so I won’t repeat it. Here are my thoughts on the book. (I’m going to watch the movie tonight and compare.)

I love the way Raymond Chandler writes. His descriptions are unique. Such as the way he describes approaching General Sternwood’s house.

“The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and I thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”

Or the way he describes Carmen Sternwood’s teeth, “…she had little sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain.”

While his dialogue can be captured on film, his descriptive language cannot, even if sets were created that mirrored his thoughts.

However, his use of similes throughout the 231 pages of The  Big Sleep became somewhat monotonous towards the end. (I never thought I’d say that about Chandler’s writing.) I will also admit that the story was confusing at times. This took nothing away from my reading enjoyment, however.

The characters in The Big Sleep run the gamut of pulp mystery stereotypes; the rich Sternwoods, the sophisticated racketeer and the grungy low lifes. The Sternwood sisters are described to perfection, the more adult, manipulative Vivian as compared to the childish, naïve Carmen, the old dying General Sternwood confined to his hot house and wheelchair and, of course, Philip Marlowe, wisecracking as always. BigsleepTheMovieThe casting of the film was perfect and since we’ve all seen the movie, readers will picture Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers as the sisters. Charles Waldron is a perfect General Sternwood. Philip Marlowe is Humphrey Bogart (or vice versa), the wisecracking, honest, ethical private detective.

One thing I did notice, in this age of enlightenment, the manner in which Chandler refers to homosexuals would cause a major backlash among the gay community. (All references to homosexuality were absent from the movie.)

All in all, reading The Big Sleep one realizes why it is pulp mystery classic as well as a classic mystery, in general. An all around enjoyable time was had by this reader!

The Big Sleep–The Movie: The Big Sleep is still another case of the book being better than the movie, regardless of how great the movie is. As I mentioned earlier, you can’t capture Chandler’s descriptive language on film…despite the fact that the movie script was written by William Faulkner. There were also a few puzzling points. (Have to have seen the movie or read the book to understand most of my comments.)

1. In the book, Vivian is married to Sean Regan who disappears, supposedly with the wife of Eddie Mars. However, in the movie, Vivian is married to a Mr. Rutledge, who never appears in the movie, nor is he mentioned. Sean Regan, who still disappears, supposedly with Eddie Mars’ wife, is hired help at the Sternwood mansion. I can’t imagine why this change, since it affects nothing.

2. In  the book, Mr. Geiger, who held gambling notes signed by Carmen, was in a seamy business, running a pornography lending library. Thus when Marlowe notices that after Geiger’s death someone was moving all the books to take over the business, it made sense. This was quite confusing in the movie, as Geiger’s occupation was just hinted at.

3. Regan’s ultimate demise in the book was explained quite nicely while in the movie it was obscure.

4. And finally, with stars like Bogart and Bacall, one realizes they had to be a love interest in the movie. However, in the book, they were quite cool to each other and there was no hint of them running off into the sunset. I like the book better on this score. Even an ending like that in the Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade might be in love with Brigid O’Shaunessey but she’s got to pay for her crime would have been a better ending than Vivian and Marlowe declaring their undying love. It would have been a more fitting pulp mystery ending.

So, if I had to rate the book and the movie, The Big Sleep, the book, rates a 5+ and the movie a 5-. Both first rate, but in different ways.

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The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words is a TheWorldOfRaymondChandlermust read for pulp mystery fans in general and Raymond Chandler fans specifically. Anyone who reads this blog knows I love pulp mystery fiction and one of its icons is Raymond Chandler. Barry Day does an excellent job of synthesizing Chandler’s life and thoughts through his writing, both published output as well as letters. I’ll try to use Chandler’s own words in this review.

Dashiell Hammett certainly was the father of the hard-boiled mystery. “Hammett took the murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley…He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”  But Chandler “…concentrated on the detective story because it was a popular form and I thought the right and lucky man might finally make it into literature.” And he did!!!!!

For instance, “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edges of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” Literature!

Or, of Miss Morny in The High Window: “The mascara was so thick on her eyelashes that they looked like miniature iron railings.”

Or, more sparingly: “…a shaft of sunlight tickled one of my ankles.”

Chandler was a big fan of Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Houseman and Shakespeare, not so much of Hemingway, mystery writer James M. Cain and playwright Eugene O’Neill. Included are many excerpts of letters to Gardner, Chandler’s publishers and friends.

Using both photos and words, Day tackles many of the things that Chandler (and his alter ego Philip Marlowe) liked and disliked:

L.A.: “Los Angeles…a city where pretty faces are as common as runs in dollar stockings.”

Veronica Lake (or Miss Moronica Lake, as he liked to call her) in The Blue Dahlia: “The only times she’s good is when she keeps her mouth shut and looks mysterious.”

Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep: “Her eyes were pools of darkness, much emptier than darkness.”

By the way, he always pictured Cary Grant as Philip Marlowe but agreed that Humphrey Bogart was a natural for the part.

Day follows Chandler’s descriptions of Marlowe’s various offices and apartments in earlier and later works and how they changed…or in some cases how he described the same scene in different words. He follows Chandler’s and Marlowe’s thoughts on women, big business, homosexuality and Hollywood. He enumerates Chandler’s preoccupation with hairlines, eyes, people’s figures, and faces, such as: “He was a tall man with glasses and a high-domed head that made his ears look as if they had slipped down his head” or his face was “…like a gnawed bone…”, “…as intelligent as the bottom of a shoe box…” or my favorite “…a great deal of domed brown forehead that might at a careless glance have seemed a dwelling place for brains.”

Marlowe was always wisecracking, such as “Take your ears out of the way and I’ll leave.”

Chandler’s thoughts on mystery writing include: “I really don’t seem to take the mystery element in the detective story as seriously as I should…the mind which can produce a cooly-thought-out puzzle can’t, as a rule, develop the fire and dash necessary for vivid writing.” He certainly didn’t want to be lumped in with the Agatha Christies and Rex Stouts of the mystery genre. “Very likely they write better mysteries than I do, but their words don’t get up and walk. Mine do.” (Very modest, wasn’t he?)

Throughout most of Chandler’s troubled life, there was one constant, Cissy, his wife of over 30 years (who was 18 years his senior): “She was the beat of my heart for thirty years. She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound.”

While The World of Raymond Chandler is somewhat of a biography, it is really a tribute to Chandler’s words. So, in conclusion, to quote the London Times in its obituary to Chandler, “In working the common vein of crime fiction he mined the gold of literature.”

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Just like a well designed plate of food enhances the taste of a meal, so too a well designed book HistoryOfMysterycover enhances the reading experience. In the 1700 and 1800s and even into the early 1900s book covers were considered decorations to be viewed. The Golden Age of book covers lasted from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, ending with the advent of book jackets and paperbacks. However, from a mystery book standpoint, the pulp mysteries published in the 1930s to 1950s have some of the best artwork imaginable, in my mind anyway. It may be considered ‘campy’ now, but it added a flavor to the book that would be missing otherwise.

The History of Mystery by Max Allan Collins, a mystery writer in his own right, combines the history of the ‘non-policeman’ detective with plentiful photos of book covers, movie tie-ins, TV show ads, etc. Divided into 10 sections, Collins covers the people who made mystery what it is: A. Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett. He covers female detectives (Kinsey Millhone, VI Warshawski) and TV detectives, reminding me of some of my favorite shows such as Mannix, Spenser for Hire, Honey West, the Rockford Files.

There’s a lot of interesting trivia (I never new there was an Ed McBain detective magazine) and a lot name dropping of many people who might be unfamiliar to mystery readers but were influential in the field, such as Roy Huggins who created a number of wonderful TV shows including 77 Sunset Strip.

Collins must think like me–that the presentation is an important part of the package. The glossy pages, some with a colored background, the full color photos of book covers, the portraits of mystery greats all add up to a great reading experience. The History of Mystery is an easy to read, eye-catching history of one of the great genres.

As I said in the beginning, this book doesn’t cover policemen so don’t expect to see Harry Bosch or the 87th Precinct mentioned here. Maybe that’ll be Collins’ next book…hint, hint.

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HardBoiledWhere else can you read this kind of great description but in pulp mysteries? “I was sitting at my desk, wondering about the office rent, when the door opened and in walked in the most beautiful assemblage of female parts that ever shrugged into a mink coat. She had hair the color of burnished copper and dead white skin and her eyes were as green and as hard as emeralds.” They just don’t write them like that anymore.

Hard Boiled Detectives: 23 Great Stories from Dime Detective Magazine is another wonderful anthology of pulp mysteries by the masters: Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and more. These stories range from the 1930s to the 1950s. I personally can’t get enough of this stuff.

So, if you’re looking to expand your mystery horizons and you don’t want to tackle Otto Penzler’s 1,100 page anthologies The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps and The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, then this is a good staring point.

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MalteseFalconI’m into the classic noir movies now and decided to make it a Humphrey Bogart trifecta (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and Casablanca), although, where there’s Humphrey, there also seems to be Peter Lorre and Sydney Greetstreet. And while Rita Hayworth and Joan Bennett are front runners in the femme fatale roles, Lauren Becall, Mary Astor and Ingrid Bergman clearly outpace them in the ‘love interest’ category, as well as in sophistication.CasablancaBigSleep

There’s no need to summarize the plots of these three classic movies. I’m not sure I’d call them noir movies either, although they are mentioned in Nova Ren Suma’s book, Dani Noir (remember, that’s what got me started on this whole noir movie kick). They are star studded, action packed, well acted, absorbing movies. The actors are a delight: Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Lauren Bacall, Mary Astor, Ingrid Bergman. Of the three, Casablanca has to be my favorite, followed by The Maltese Falcon and lastly The Big Sleep. I could, and have, watched the first two multiple times. If I had to choose a femme fatale, it would have to be Ingrid Bergman.

I know I’m rambling here, so I’ll end by saying these three movies define great movies. See them. You’ll never tire of them.

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LongGoodbyeI told Susan the other day that I liked Dashiell Hammett as a writer better than Raymond Chandler. But that was before I read The Long Goodbye. Yikes, was that good! Unlike the Maltese Falcon by Hammett which has three film versions which I wanted to watch, The Long Goodbye has two, one with DIck Powell and one with Elliot Gould as Marlowe. Neither actor is Marlowe, as far as I’m concerned, so no watching the movie for me. But that’s way off topic.

I really don’t want to go into the plot too much. It’s much better if you read it cold. But Marlowe, a ‘cheapie’ according to one gangster is hobnobbing with the rich set and of course gets into trouble, beaten up once or twice, etc. It also shows Marlowe’s ‘romantic’, ‘justice for all’ side. Once Marlowe is on your side, you’ve got a true friend.

There are so many passages I want to quote. Every page has one. Unlike modern authors’ descriptions of people (designer label, etc.) Chandler has a knack. So I’ll quote from the first page. “There was a girl beside him. Her hair was a lovely shade of dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.” What writing!!!!!

Chandler seemed to use the book as an oratory on the ills of the world from crime to big business to dishonest politicians to drugs. It’s funny how nothing has changed since 1953.

As I’ve continued reading pulp mysteries (1953 was towards the end of the pulps), I more and more realize that there are no more ‘hard-boiled dicks’. They died with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and some of the other pulp detectives. Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Parker’s Spenser and McBain’s Steve Carella may aspire to such status but the writing style and thus the heroes have gone by the wayside. Quite the shame. But, hey, I haven’t exhausted the pulp genre and I understand that The Mysterious Bookshop will be issuing some reprints and there’s an unreleased Hammett book (The Hunter and Other Stories) coming out in the Fall. So, I’ll still have plenty to read.

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As a librarian I take offense to “As it is she will probably turn out to be one of those acid-faced virgins that sit behind little desks in public libraries and stamp dates in books.” penned by Raymond Chandler in The High Window.  However, you can without a doubt, picture the woman he’s talking about. As I was reading this book, I came upon example upon example upon example why Chandler’s prose are the benchmark by which mystery writers are compared.

When a mean old rich lady (“She had a lot of face and chin. She had pewter-colored hair set in a ruthless permanent, a hard beak and large moist eyes with the sympatheic expression of wet stones.”) hires Philip Marlowe to find a rare coin that was stolen and hopefully blame it on her daughter-in-law, a simple task becomes complicatecd by multiple murders, an array of snobbily rich or sinister or down trodden characters. Detective Breeze (every P.I. needs a detective as a foil) is perfect for the role, hard nosed but with a soft side. Despite no fisticuffs or car chases, Chandler’s plot moves quickly, again, proving he is the Master.

There’s smart talk, ample action and incomparable writing. What more can you ask for?

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Who writes like this? “It’s a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization.” OR “Mom is in front of her princess dresser trying to paint the suitcases out from under her eyes.” OR “Beyond the swing door is a dark dining room with an open end to a glassed-in lounge into which the moonlight poured like water through the floodgates of a dam.” Raymond Chandler, that’s who, in I’m assuming one of his lesser known Philip Marlowe books, The Little Sister.

I loved every second of this book. I’ll admit the plot and characters are a little muddled, but who cares with writing like this. I could go on and on citing examples of his prose that I think are fantastic.

Briefly, Orfamay Quest (what a name-Orfamay) picks Marlowe’s name out of the phone book for so many irrelevant reasons. She has come from Manhattan, Kansas that is, in search of her brother, Orrin, who has not written home in weeks. She can only pay Marlowe $20, but he accepts the challenge, against his better judgment. This simple search ends  with several murders, incriminating photos, and conniving damsels appearing to be in distress.

Chandler paints a picture like no other author, be it a picture of a location or a person or a situation. We use the word ‘riveting’ so often, but in this case that is the only way to describe his writing. You need to read his books slowly to savor every word but you can’t because you need to find out what happens.

Another thrill of reading this book was the book itself. I got the original 1950 Pocket Book paperback version with the above cover art. The paper was thin and fragile. The page edges were red. The spine was in great shape so I didn’t want to bend the book too much. I needed to preserve its condition. I carried it around in a small envelope so that it wouldn’t get crushed in my messenger bag. Call me Crazy. But that, too, is the fun of reading some books.

You probably know I’m a fan of mysteries from the 1920s through 50s and The Little Sister is a prime example of this genre. And the cover art is just great, as well.

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