Chandler: Later Novels and Other Writings (Library of America) Hardcover – 16 Oct 2014
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Chandler: Later Novels and Other Writings The library of America is dedicated to publishing America's best and most significant writing in handsome, enduring volumes, featuring authoritative texts. Hailed as the "finest-looking, longest-lasting editions ever made" (The New Republic), Library of America volumes make a fine gift for any occasion. Now, with exactly one hundred volumes to choose from, there is a perfect gift for everyone.In C... Full description
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Detective stories aren't as common as they once were, but if you look at the offspring of the Pulp magazine once so popular, television, they are still as popular as ever. Chandler was one author who defined what a detective story was. This book contains four novels:The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, and Playback. These are wonderfully entertaining stories that contain the archetypical hard-bitten detective, Philip Marlowe. After reading these stories you will forever see Marlowe in every detective story you see or read, from Magnum to the latest TV cop. How can you not love an author who sums up Modern American Capitalism with lines like these? "We make the finest packages in the world, Mr. Marlowe. The stuff inside is mostly junk." Or an author who in the early 50's, (50 years before the current 'Queers Dress Up' shows) so presciently wrote, "The queer is the artistic arbiter of our age, chum." Or his comment on a speech by a politician, "He did not bore us with any facts."
These books are not just riveting, fun reading, but full of thoughtful quotes like the above.
Chandler also is must-reading for his understanding of criminality, venality, human nature, Southern California, Movies, American culture and American relationship dynamics. I hate to use the word "classic" to describe stories that are just so plain fun to read, but I find it hard not to.
This volume also contains a screenplay, Double Indemnity, and a few essays and letters. The essays "The Simple Art of Murder", and "Writers in Hollywood" should be required reading for anyone interested in 20th century culture, movies, and literature. Just a few tidbits more. Chandler on English Mystery Writers - "The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers." Chandler on boredom - "There are no dull subjects, only dull minds." Chandler on critics - "The average critic never recognizes an achievement when it happens. He explains it after it has become respectable."
My only criticism is that the plots are contrived and sometimes complicated. But such criticism is like complaining that the Mona Lisa would be a fine painting if only it were of a different size.
Chandler is simply wonderful, funny, cynical, and yes, - respectable.
I won't try to list all the ways these novels are great and entertaining, but here's one thought that hasn't been mentioned in other reviews. Chandler is excellent at presenting a hero-character who has to worry about money and making a living. Indeed, Chandler makes this issue integral to the character's persona and to the plot line. Yes, the books are escapist in so many ways. Yet, in this respect at least, they are far more realistic than almost all of the fiction, and much of the non-fiction, these days.
In one of these letters he even discusses fellow hardboiled writer Ross Macdonald's (here called John, as he hadn't changed his name yet) The Moving Target, which cribbed some ideas from The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man.
The novels themselves? Classic Chandler - enough said. If you'd like to know why you should expect the best in hardboiled detective fiction, well, read 'em all, or at least one. (If you're planning on that course of action, try the first in the series, The Big Sleep, included in a similar volume called Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories/The Big Sleep/Farewell, My Lovely/The High Window.)
Bottom line, this is required reading for anyone who won't read just anything but at the same time doesn't limit themself to Anna Karenina.
'But down these mean streets must a man go who himself is neither tarnished nor afraid.'
As Chandler remarked in his classic essay, The Simple Art of Murder, Hammett rightly deserves the title of Founder of the modern mystery because he succeeded in giving murder back to the kind of people who commit it. So what kind of person goes up against the kind of people who committ murder? Chandler responds with Exhibit A: Philip Marlowe.
Chandler's Marlowe resonates in my favorite mystery romps, the Spenser series, and the archetype also finds its way into more than a few 'Good Cop' dramas.
I enjoy the escapades of Philip Marlowe simply because the wry cynicism, coupled with the tough moral fibre to get to the bottom of any affair and see justice (or at least some sort of closure) served, makes for truly fascinating escapist reading. Each of the books in this collection, as in the collection preceding it, amply deliver on this score.
If you happen to acquire this masterpiece, never let it go. These are classic books, and will never become dated. I personally prefer The Long Goodbye to The Big Sleep, and found the former a longer and more satisfying read. In every story of both collections, there is to be found a depraved tapestry of gilded greater Los Angeles society, quite literally ripped from the headline news of the day. Most mystery fans will love the idea of an honest man in a thoroughly dishonest world, on a righteous quest for justice.
Once you get this triumph of American literature in your hands, mix your favorite drink, disappear to a quiet place with a comfortable chair (with good lighting), and enjoy the Great Master at work. If only more writers could write like this, then I would not need cable TV...
But, just like in the first collection, he wasn't a great, or even good, mystery writer. The Lady in the Lake has a brilliant beginning, leading up to the discovery of the body, and a brilliant twist ending. Everything in between is rough going, plot-wise. There is a whole secondary mystery which transpires off-screen and involves side characters who are only briefly sketched out. This is a big drawback, since characterization is Chandler's biggest strength and some of these half-baked characters are central to the plot: for example, Mildred Haviland is said to be an irresistible seductress and manipulator of men, but this is never shown or described. Among the other failings of the plot, there is also yet another scene where Marlowe gets knocked out and has to make a rather improbable escape (also a pointless one, since he's discovered almost immediately -- there would have been no difference if this part had been written out). The antagonist is also quite bland: too self-centered and angry to be sympathetic, and too simple to be a master villain.
At the same time, the book is compulsively readable for the dialogue, such as Marlowe's interrogation of the playboy Lavery or his professional discussions with the sheriff at the mountain retreat. The descriptions of the woods and lake are also atmospheric and serve to disrupt expectations for the book, since all of the previous Marlowe stories took place in LA. At some point the failings of the plot catch up to the witty conversations, but getting there is enjoyable in and of itself.
The Little Sister is notable for its paranoid atmosphere (even among Chandler's own work). It is a thoroughly pessimistic tale in which no one can be trusted, and every conversation is full of lies and evasion. Like in The Big Sleep, it is not always clear just how much Marlowe understands, and so the reader has to guess where, and whether, he is trying to lead his interlocutors. It helps that these verbal duels are striking even when they lead nowhere (like the startling encounter with one "Mr. Toad"). The novel also draws on Chandler's experience as a Hollywood screenwriter to viciously criticize, in extremely specific detail, vacuous show-biz ambition and the pointless cruelty that it creates.
A common trope in detective fiction is the Incompetent Policeman who does nothing but get in the sleuth's way. Chandler criticizes corrupt and over-confident cops a lot in this collection (particularly in The Long Goodbye), but The Little Sister also gives the police a chance to reply, in the form of the articulate police detective Christy French, who gives a completely ironclad, irrefutable objection to Marlowe's loose-cannon behaviour. Chandler was willing to briefly step outside Marlowe's perspective in order to show its limitations.
Then we come to The Long Goodbye, Chandler's magnum opus about misplaced trust and bitter disappointment. There are two murders, both of which are also quite improbable. But, although they set all the events in motion, they're actually very tangential to the narrative. To drive the point home, Marlowe never even visits the scene of the first crime, and his investigative work for the second consists of dredging up obscure documents, which serve as a deus ex machina for the "logical" part of the story.
The rest of the book is filled up with truly bizarre, grotesque supporting characters, many of whom have no direct relevance to the plot: a misanthropic billionaire; no fewer than three shady doctors, each one with a very distinct brand of sleaze; an enraged cop; a psychotic and self-obsessed Mexican gangster; a jaded former friend from the police force; a nutty ex-colonel running a corporate detective agency; and really any other episodic character. The main characters are likewise vividly drawn: the whiny alcoholic writer Roger Wade, allegedly a stand-in for Chandler himself, wallowing in endless self-pity; his icy wife Eileen, who isn't quite all there after living through World War II; and the book's lynchpin character Terry Lennox, Chandler's highly critical take on the charming and shiftless Jake-Barnes "Lost Generation" archetype.
Marlowe himself is different in this book, and has a different role. He searches for contact and repeatedly loses it for different reasons -- with Lennox, the Wades, Linda Loring, his former colleague Bernie Ohls, and even with the gangster Menendez (even as they are exchanging insults and threatening each other, their conversation at times has an odd camaraderie). Perhaps it isn't fair to say that his trust in Lennox was betrayed. Maybe his expectations were too high. All the other characters in the book seem to be quite content focusing on the shells they've built around themselves. The book allows the reader to look at them through the eyes of someone who thinks that this is wrong, and who proves his conviction by subjecting himself to considerable personal risk and inconvenience. But, as Marlowe admits, by doing this he may have actually brought about a worse outcome.
The book also contains Playback, the last long Marlowe story. It suffers in comparison to its immediate predecessor, but on its own merits I think it's quite enjoyable. Actually it might be the best pure detective story out of the seven Marlowe novels. The collection also includes the excellent screenplay of Double Indemnity and sundry essays, which are largely unnecessary (I'd have liked to see the final Marlowe short story "The Pencil" instead). But core of the collection is the novels, which are brilliant and contain enough depth in both style and content to reward numerous readings.