RARA-AVIS: "Simple Art..." stories

Bill Hagen (billha@ionet.net)
Sun, 10 Jan 1999 20:32:55 -0600 (CST) Let me see whether I can get something started here, about some of the
stories in "The Simple Art of Murder." I don't have the original
anthology--only the "Red Wind" and "Pickup on Noon Street" collections--so
I'm missing a few stories. And having read most of what is available only
once, I don't know them that well.

Having excused myself at length (!), let me say that I was surprised to
find in several of the stories a gallant or even romantic attitude toward
women. The girl friend of the boxer, who kills (in self defense), in "Guns
at Cyrano's," Francine Ley in "Nevada Gas," and "I'll Be Waiting" all
prove themselves, in a fashion, and there is either an anticipated or
possible future relationship with the protagonist at the end. In each
case, the women have been attracted or connected to another man, now dead,
and could stay with a guy who knows how to survive. I especially like the
wistful ending of "Guns at Cyrano's" (the girl falling asleep in the middle
of the smile), which occurs after Carmady gives the "if you're a tramp, I'm
worse...so we belong together" speech.

Is 1936 regarded as a year when Chandler elevated his art?

I ask, because "Guns...," "Pick-Up on Noon Street," and "Goldfish" were all
published that year, and seem especially strong. I like the treatment of
the "pick-up," a scared kid who could, up to the end, fall for the Pete,
after all he's done for her, but she has the bad taste to fall all over the
wounded hunk, Vidaury. Nice, minor key turn. And then "Goldfish" has the
memorably ruthless Carol Donovan--is she the first of her type in
Chandler's fiction? (Don't think we should count the wife who kills her
husband in "Smart-Aleck Kill" or Adrian in "Guns...") I liked the way
Carol is "echoed" by another woman who can kill and scheme a bit, Mrs.
Sype--like a musical variation of a main theme.

In both "Goldfish" and "Pick-Up...," Chandler seems to have moved his
protagonist nearer to Marlowe, too, since both are professionals, rather
than complete freelancers with a code.

Anyway, it's a treat to see more character development, and a more
deliberate plotting, moving away from the hectic (confusing) pace of
"Blackmailers Don't Shoot."

Early stories (1934-5) I didn't have access to include "Spanish Blood" and
"Finger Man." Be interested in how they might back up or undercut my
speculations about the 1936 stories in the collection.

Hope the revs some responses. I miss the "old days," when we really got
into it about the readings.

Bill Hagen

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