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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