I have a soft-spot for Mr Chandler because he does a few things very well:
- He takes two stories and makes them relevant to each other over the course of each book (sometimes they intertwine and sometimes they only touch right at the end)
- His protagonist (private detective Philip Marlowe) is not always too bright, but believably pig-headed and well intentioned
It is sometimes hard to ignore the eye-watering racism of his character descriptions, but these are books from the 1940s so you are either going to roll with it, or not read them I guess!
The magic for me with Chandler’s writing is that, in Marlowe’s voice, the world is all metaphor:
- The man in the back seat made a sudden flashing movement that I sensed rather than saw. A pool of darkness opened at my feet and was far, far deeper than the blackest night. I dived into it. It had no bottom.
- She reached into her bag and slid a photograph across the desk, a five-by-three glazed still. It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.
- He snorted and hit me in the solar plexus. I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor.
- The minutes went by on tip-toe, with their fingers to their lips.
Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s clever and sometimes it doesn’t quite work, but there’s a rhythm to the text when it is so heavy with metaphor which is easy to slide along with.
The stories are perfect movie fodder, but while I like some of the film versions they can’t give you all the first person narration and that’s where the gold is.