”I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”
Farewell My Lovely
Tag Archives: Raymond Chandler
The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter is as ambitious a work of noir as any I’ve ever read. Presented as three separate novels, wrapped in the same binding, telling the story of a tortured author across decades. This daring undertaking is further complicated by his literary approach, channeling the prose styles of three noir fiction legends; Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. With such an innovative narrative, I feel my normal style of review too clumsy an effort, especially when paired with the elegant depth and scope of Mr. Winter’s work. I’ve agonized over the correct approach, and decided to forgo my traditional noir definition run down; instead opting for a simpler book-by-book evaluation. Let it suffice to say that his books are indisputably noir, with each defining element meticulously observed. The Twenty-Year Death is the magnum opus of a noir-loving madman.
Book 1- Malniveau Prison
Pelleter shook his head, trying to soften his expression. “You never can tell. Later, afterwards, of course, and then you wonder if you always knew.” He considered his words. “Men are capable of anything.”
A small town in France in 1931, a dead body and a missing person– a classic noir opener to stage act one of the novel. Chief Inspector Pelleter, a cigar smoking veteran from the city, must expose the filthy underbelly of pristine Verargent while challenging shy citizens who like their secrets buried. A complex tapestry emerges, composed of Simenon-esque methodical stitchwork, and two seemingly unimportant side characters shift into focus; A boozing American author, Shem Rosenkrantz, and his very young French wife, Clotilde-ma-Fleur. Winter’s treatment of the narrative is impressive, his channeled Simenon convincing if not perfect.
“I’m just about finished with the case.”
She looked at him then, but it didn’t look as though she saw him. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It might not. But for the living, it’s all we can ever do.”
Book 2- The Falling Star
I had been hired to babysit a paranoid prima donna, and I had ended up finding a dead woman cut almost to pieces. For some reason, I felt as though I hadn’t done a very good job.
Ten years pass, and Shem and his french wife (who now goes by Chloe Rose) have become permanent fixtures in Hollywood. He’s a quickly sinking author, now spending his evaporating talent writing for porn-rags, while living large on Chloe’s widespread fame as a golden-era film starlet. The narrator is another investigator, this time a private eye named Dennis Foster, hired to investigate claims that Chloe is being stalked. What he uncovers is a climate of corruption and scandal that too many who want him out of. Written in the metaphor heavy style of Raymond Chandler, even the plot feels like genuine imitation; Foster a carbon-copy of the incorruptible Phillip Marlowe. The Falling Star is an homage to powerful men in their prime, and how they become victims of their own success and desires. Trying themes of adultery, homosexuality, pornography, violence, and murder coalesce in a novel that feels straight from Chandler’s pen.
Gilplaine moved his mouth like he had just tasted something sour. “My men tell me you tried to bring a gun into my club.”
I shrugged. “I thought I might need it.”
“And what do you think now?”
“I was right.”
Book 3- Police at the Funeral
She faked shock, raising her hand to her mouth in the perfect oops pose. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she said, and then she made herself ugly by laughing.
Another ten years pass, and we’re nearing the only possible conclusion; the inevitable one that keeps us turning the pages and feeds the gloomy pit in our guts. 1951, and Shem Rosenkrantz is our narrator. He’s a picture of paranoia, on and off the wagon and bleeding from debt, a pattern that perpetually forces him into greater feats of lunacy. His deranged wife is now a shut-in at the Enoch White Clinic in California, but Shem’s back home in Calvert Maryland– attending to the will of his recently dead ex-wife Quinn, desperate for a piece of her inheritance. Forget the family- man slant–he’s brought along his prostitute girlfriend Vee, and you can bet her eye is on the dough while she’s working the week for the local mob boss. When Shem sees his son Joe for the first time in years, he realizes that he’s more desperate for his affection than anything else- a yearning that may not be fulfilled this late in his life. Act 3 in The Twenty-Year Death is the darkest tonally of the trio, and Shem’s pained narration is loaded with gravitas. I felt that Police at the Funeral was vaguely Brubaker-ian (new word anyone?)– we watch Shem make poor decision after poor decision, and his self destructive choices constrict all hope from the plot.
“All you care about is that somebody’s read your damn books. Well nobody has.”
She said that just to hurt me. And it worked every time. We were like a broken record, having the same fight over and over, and still each word squeezed me tighter and tighter.
Upon completing all three novels, the final product felt magnetic and beautiful– a torturous picture of a life destroyed. Police at the Funeral was my personal favorite, but Malniveau Prison and The Falling Star were essential to its construction. Each novel added to the last, strangely without feeling like sequels, each a self contained and wildly different narrative. Cheers to Mr. Winter on what is sure to be considered an instant noir fiction classic. He spent so much time imitating the prose stylings of different authors, I can’t wait to read his own.
Raymond Chandler is heralded as one of the fathers of American noir crime fiction, and after reading some of his work I agree wholeheartedly. His prose is calculated and cool, confident in handling the taboo, and always on point with unique descriptions and phrasing. In January of 1935, Mr. Chandler published his first noir crime fiction story in the pulp magazine Black Mask. The story was called “Killer in the Rain.” Later he expanded and adapted the story for his first novel The Big Sleep. I recently read both works, and I was delighted by their caliber.
“You’re awfully tall,” she said. Then she giggled with secret merriment. Then she turned her body slowly and lithely, without lifting her feet. Her hands dropped limp at her sides. She tilted herself towards me on her toes. She fell straight back into my arms. I had to catch her or let her crack her head on the tessellated floor. I caught her under her arms and she went rubber-legged on me instantly. I had to hold her close to hold her up. When her head was against my chest she screwed it around and giggled at me. “You’re cute,” she giggled. “I’m cute too.” -pg-6
Possibly the most rewarding aspect of reading both of these noir crime fiction tales one after another was seeing Raymond Chandler’s writing process in action. I’ve never had that opportunity with any author before, and it was so interesting to see which aspects of his story he kept and those that he cut. There were certain descriptions that he kept verbatim, and others that he reworked and reworded to greater impact. Also, where there were plot points that were confusing or lack-luster he trimmed and polished to streamline the story. For instance, in “Killer in the Rain,” his main character (the private detective) was never given a name. In The Big Sleep, the same main character became his most famous, the P.I. Philip Marlowe.
The essential components of the story remain basically the same, yet he added an additional femme fatale to the noir crime fiction (2 is better than 1 I guess?). The main plot still revolves around a pornographer who is attempting to extort a wealthy gentlemen with a wild pair of daughters (Vivian Rutledge and Carmen Sternwood) by producing lude photos of the youngest. Phil Marlowe is brought into the case to protect the reputation of the family while simultaneously unraveling the web of lies that entangles them. Really great noir.
I agreed with Captain Gregory that Eddie Mars would have been very unlikely to involve himself in a double murder just because another man had gone to town with a blonde he was not even living with. It might have annoyed him, but business is business, and you have to hold your teeth clamped around Hollywood to keep from chewing on stray blondes.-pg. 128
I would highly recommend both of these noir crime fiction tales, the pacing is dynamite, the characters memorable, and the plot tangled. A couple of things that are worth mentioning: Phil Marlowe is barely an Anti-Hero (per our noir definition). He is a model of honesty, loyalty, and self-control. In two scenes back-to-back, both of the wild daughters attempt to seduce him, and he denies them both. This refusal/denial of sexual urges was very akin to what I have previously discussed in The Maltese Falcon. If he were to succumb to their advances, he would be surrendering that power and control that makes him the masculine ideal. Also, this hits on the misogynist theme of noir crime fiction, because it is showing that the female gender is wicked and lacks self-control. It espouses the idea that women are only powerful when they can use sex to subdue a man. Intriguing stuff.
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