23 July 2007

Raymond Chandler's birthday

Today is the birthday of the great (some would say the greatest) author of roman noir and hard-boiled detective works, Raymond Chandler. Chandler who died in 1959) has stayed at the top of my list of favorite writers since I started reading him in my sophomore year in college. I consider his penultimate novel, The Long Goodbye, one of the finest achievements in the 20th-century American Literature. You can read my earlier indulgence of praise of it here.

It's appropriate that Chandler's birthday should arrive today, as I'm in the middle of reading the only Chandler volume I’ve never gotten through previously: Killer in the Rain. This short story collection contains the “Cannibalized Eight,” stories that Chandler used extensively as the basis for his novels. He never collected the stories in his lifetime and objected to them appearing in anthologies. This makes some sense, because an author would want to mask the method of how his novels were written, and the novelized versions work far better than the constituent parts originally published in Black Mask and Dime Detective Magazine. The collection only came out in 1964, and it isn't currently available in the U.S. I bought my copy (British edition) at an English language bookshop in Munich. With the stories printed in the first volume of the American Library edition of Chandler’s work, I now have all his pulp stories collected.

Chandler was a great stylist—no, brilliant—but wasn’t much of a plotter, and this always weakened his short stories in my view. Short stories have to depend on tighter plotting and pacing because of their length restrictions, and Chandler could never stretch his legs and reach for profundity like her could in his novels. Also, to please the readership of Black Mask, he had to put in action scenes and a higher body count than makes sense. Some of the tales in Killer in the Rain are quite good, especially “Try the Girl” (later to turn into the Moose Malloy and Velma part of the novel Farewell, My Lovely), but otherwise I can»t help but compare the superior version in the novel. Fortunately, these stories won't stick in my memory, and I can return to the novel version without much sense of Chandler's borrowings.