on 14 August 2016
These four stories are essential reading for any fan of Raymond Chandler who wants to watch how the legendary character Philip Marlowe evolves from the hard drinking, laconic shamus of the short story to the more rounded hero of the classic novels such as 'The Big Sleep' and 'The Lady in the Lake'. It's interesting to note one of Chandler's ploys which involves giving a full physical description of a new character before revealing that the character is dead - this happens a couple of times in these short stories (or novellas). My only criticism, and it's a pretty small one, is that Chandler devotes perhaps too much detail to Marlowe's excessive drinking habits. Hard drinking is not considered quite so masculine these days as it might have been in the 1930s and readers often perceive it as a weakness rather than an indication of toughness. Overall, these stories are a great showcase for Chandler's unique literary skills, including the trademark similes.
on 28 November 2010
Four short novellas featuring everyone's favourite jaded shamus, Philip Marlowe. The stories were originally published with the protagonist's name as John Dalmas - Chandler hadn't yet found the right name for his most famous creation - but that's been rectified here. Quite right too, because Dalmas was Marlowe in all but name, with the same office, same car, and same sardonic wit, independent code of ethics and way with the dames.
Chandler's prose is superb, as you might expect, and his dry wit and way with similes made me laugh out loud more than once. Here are just some gems:
"The voice that answered was fat. It wheezed softly, like the voice of a man who had just won a pie-eating contest."
"I moved around slowly, like a cat in a strange house."
And, maybe best of all, "Did anyone invent this on purpose?" (whilst drinking Tequila).
Chandler's also too good to let all of this teeter into self parody - there's plenty of darkness to contrast Marlowe's wisecracks. In short, perfect "entry-level" Chandler for newcomers, and something to savour for established fans.
on 6 July 2013
Four classic Chandler tales, all noir setups, tough-guy talk and gorgeous but unreliable women, snappy backtalk and sudden violence, doublecrossing cops and elaborate plots -- a great reminder of why Chandler was such a genius.
on 9 July 2005
Chandler fans reading this book for the first time will have many "deja vu" moments. The book contains four of the twenty short stories written by Chandler in the 1930s that were warm ups for the seven novels that followed. Chandler wrote detective mystery stories, and became famous for seven novels and a number of Hollywood screen plays, mostly about crime and private detectives in the "film noir" genre of Hollywood black and white films, or what is called LA "pulp fiction". Far from being an ordinary writer of cheap crime stories, Chandler became one of America's best writers from the mid 20th century.
Chandler was a Los Angeles accountant turned writer and he developed his own careful writing style. He started by first analysing other works, such as articles in the Black Mask mystery magazine. He used those stories plus local newspaper crime articles for plot ideas. He would set some of his stories in the fictional ocean side town of Bay City which is really Santa Monica, or set his stories in west Los Angeles, or other parts of southern California. He lived in Santa Monica after being fired from his oil executive job for drinking in the 1930s. He detested the place and moved into LA proper when he became wealthy as a screenplay writer in the early 1940s while working at Paramount. In the late 1940s he moved to La Jolla, just north of San Diego. Chandler started with short fiction pieces in the 1930s and then graduated to novels in 1938-39. From the early novels he was hired to write screen plays and eventually he wrote or created 59 works including stories, screenplays, and novels. His novels with the private Detective Phillip Marlowe brought him fame including the Bogart-Bacall movie The Big Sleep.
This book contains four short stories each about 50 to 60 pages long from the 1930s. These are a warm ups to his seven novels and screenplays that followed. There are plot elements and prose that are almost a duplicate of some of the later novels. For example, the second story Finger Man has scenes and references that are almost directly inserted into The Big Sleep (1939) and Farwewell, My Lovely (1940). For Chandler lovers like myself, it is like eating chocolates to go back and be able to read these early works. Also Chandler has a four page introduction where he makes a number of comments on his writing style and philosophy at the front of the book. Trouble is my Business is the first of the four short stories.
His career did not take off until after he had written three or four novels and started to do screenplays in the mid-1940s. He was lucky in that he was able to write the screenplays and make a lot of money. He became famous for the screenplays, but simultaneously, he rose to further fame by the growth in popularity of paperback books in the 1940s. As a result, millions of his Phillip Marlowe detective novels were sold and after just a few years he had moved from a run down flat in Santa Monica to a large house with an ocean view beside the Kellog family in La Jolla. He is now recognised as one of America's best writers from the 1930s through 1940s era. If you get a chance, have a look at the movie Double Indemnity, where Chandler co-wrote the screenplay with Billy Wilder at Paramount - his first attempt at this type of writing - and he and Wilder were nominated for an Oscar but they did not win. I think that is an excellent film, and it is generally regarded as one of the best films of the period.
His technique was to pull old stories apart, then change them, then re-write them as short stories, and then take that work and extend it, modify it again a second or third time or even more, and finally put together complete novels. He would take six months to write a short story - as found in the present collection, while some other mystery writers wrote a complete novel in a week - by dictation. He was not big on plots, but more of a craftsman on the individual scenes and the prose, especially descriptions of the people. He said that it took him two years to write a short description of a person getting up from a table and walking out of a room. So there is a high level of refinement and a certain style that he was able to develop as a result of this writing process. This technique is not new. Shakespeare himself used this technique in virtually every play, taking old myths, stories, and historical accounts such as King Lear. He would break them apart, change them, and make new works with new twists, turns, and addnew characters; his last play The Tempest is his thought to be his only completely original play. Chandler used to joke that if Shakespeare was alive, he would be a Hollywood writer. Chandler is a little more obvious in that some of the prose in the seven novels are almost lifted from the early works - in part because Chandler wrote only one half page increments at a time, and kept those half page writings on file to use as source materials for later works. His aim was to make each segment as complate as possible, but some of his early short stories are similar to and have almost identical names to the full novels.
In any case, this is a book that is not to be missed by Chandler fans and it is simply excellent for anyone else.
on 10 December 2009
Having only got around to reading the novels after many years of watching the films, these books are an absolute treat. The words and thoughts on the page just have more impact than when they are spoken. I found myself re-reading sentences over and over.
The language is just brilliant and I can only think of Elmore Leonard who is even in the same class when it comes to crime fiction. Despite being set 50+ years ago they seem very contemporary and not all all past their time.
I would recommend all this series and to read them in order.
on 1 November 2014
Yet again, an ebook that is hampered by being scanned without proper subsequent proof-reading to counter software errors. I found random semi-colons and hap-hazard words transformed into nonsense. It is such a pity that the publishers of such masterly prose should be so careless of their customers and the memory of great authors. Why can't the text be proof-read to the same standard as the printed article? It would appear that there is a general assumption that all readers of ebooks are willing to accept carelessness and unprofessional production.
Chandler is here in his early phase. The Marlow presented is more jargonistic and more chronologically trapped, a heavier drinker, and less of a well-rounded character. However, he's still fascinating and the speed of the story line and the description of the action and the inner life of Marlow still holds the reader like a vice.
on 30 April 2015
These are early, shorter versions of the classic novels featuring Philip Marlowe and they are pretty damned good, though sometimes I wonder if RC wrought his plots on the hoof, impatient for the next tough guy with a blackjack to make an appearance. The tales are no more realistic than Hercule Poirot or Inspector Morse, of course, but LA's moral sleaze is effortlessly conjured and the writing is sublime, trademark similes and all. "I saw him look along the glistening row at a canary-yellow convertible which was about as inconspicuous as a privy on a front lawn." You want another one? "The lift rose as softly as the mercury in a thermometer." There you go. Perfect. So buy already, punk.
on 30 November 2013
Where Philip Marlowe goes, trouble and mordant wit pursue. So it is with this vintage collection. Oh, that some of our more modern crime writers had half the master's expertise! Oh, that they would buy a copy and find out how it's done!
Short stories are inherently less satisfying than novels and so it proves, even with a writer as great as Raymond Chandler.
I enjoyed the humour of the title story, as Marlowe is enlisted by an elderly miser to shield his son from a gold-digger ('I need a man good-looking enough to pick up a dame who has a sense of class but he's got to be tough enough to swap punches with a power shovel'). However, the remaining three tales failed to enthrall me. They seemed like husks, lacking the beating heart of the novels.
Die-hard fans may appreciate seeing how the thriller maestro's mature work developed from this, his journeyman days of writing for magazines. More general readers may prefer to stick with the novels.