This review follows hot on the heels of a recent post of mine about detectives, pulp fiction and authenticity.
Overall, I liked it. It was worth reading if only for Chandler’s essay of the same title of this collection of short stories published by the Atlantic in 1950. It appears at the beginning of this book.
I am fan of this style of writing. Some may call it pulp fiction. Perhaps, hard-boiled? I suppose it is similar to comparing bare knuckle fighting and boxing under the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Chandler’s style, and those like him, is down and dirty, and supposed to be realistic. Indeed, in his essay, he writes: “Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic.” He was writing in the context of denigrating the old-fashioned British-style mystery. I do believe he had a point.
These short stories are, I guess, realistic of the time and place they were set in: 1930’s Los Angeles. Reading them now in 2020, they are a microcosm of society and its attitudes in those times. His stereotyping of black and Asian people is something that would not be tolerated today, and rightly so. But if the reader can get past all that, these are stories that bring to mind old black and white movies full of characters wearing hats and mink fur coats (men and women), smoking cigarettes, slurping hard liquor, and of course toting guns or should I say “gats.”
They were all okay but no more than that. They tended to become a bit tiresome in that they covered the same types of characters but different names, and slightly different story. However, I am looking forward to reading The Big Sleep to see how he writes in a full length novel. I also vaguely recall seeing the movie so many years ago.
I pose an interesting question about Chandler and his “realistic” style. I really do wonder just how “realistic” his dialogue was. Did folks really talk like that back then? Or is it yet another case of life imitating art found in books and movies?
I mean, how would Chandler really know how tough guys and their molls talked? He became a detective fiction writer at the age of 44 after losing his job as an oil company executive. Prior to that as a British-American, he was a British civil servant then fought in WW1 with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, before undergoing flight training in the fledgling Royal Air Force (RAF) when the war ended. In 1919 he returned to America and by 1931 Chandler was a highly paid vice president of the Dabney Oil Syndicate.
Food for thought??
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