Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: The Marlowe Paradigm

Date: 06 Dec 2002


Re your comments below:

> I thought your point was Chandler's
> influence on everyone.
> Sure, most P.I. writers are still American, but that
> also explains
> why most of them set their stories in American
> cities.

Okay, I misspoke (or miswrote). My overall point was Chandler's influence. My corollary point was the the prevalence of large American cities as a home base for PI characters is at least partly attributable to Chandler's Marlowe working out of a large US city. Certainly the fact that the large speicific US city is so often Los Angeles is attributable to Chandler's influence.

> Well, yeah, but those guys (by the way, you forgot
> Carter Brown,
> another wordpump) are, well, they're not exactly
> Chandler.

My point was certainly not that the writers who slavishly followed in Chandler's pattern were the equal of Chandler, or even in Chandler's league. It was that so many writers, tellingly even those who neither US citizens nor US residents, were so influenced by Chandler that they wrote according to the pattern he set.

> And, uh, Cheney's P.I.s were Brits, weren't they?

Slim Callaghan was. I acknowledged this error in an earlier post. I don't know about his other PI characters. Lemmy Caution was certainly American, but, of course, he was a federal cop, not a PI.
> To put it another way, do you really think someone
> like, oh, George
> Pelecanos, would still write about Washington, DC,
> if he grew up and
> lived in Shepherd's Bush, London?

No, and I think current events when the "hard-boiled" mystery was in its embryonic state (Prohibition, gang wars, etc.) was at least as responsible for the relentlessly urban settings of HB crime fiction as the fact that Chandler used an urban setting. But there was lots of rural crime, too. The Dillingers, Nelsons, Floyds, Bonnnies & Clydes, etc., of the era came from rural backgrounds and often operated in rural settings. Yet the home base of the PI was always urban, never rural or suburban.
> You can credit Chandler with a lot, but the American
> setting for
> P.I.s isn't one of them. Especially since most P.I.
> writers are, as
> you point out, American.

I don't say that Chandler originated all, or for that matter ANY, of the points in the Paradigm. Hammett and Daly, to name two, established a lot of them first. The Op and Williams were both first person narrators operating out of large US cities. Williams owned and operated his own one-man agency. Alec Rush was an ex-cop operating a one man agency in a large city. But the Continental Op was a Continental op. Williams was never a cop. Alec Rush's single appearance was a third person narrative.

What Chandler did was combine all of these points into a total package that became the model for all (or at least MOST) who followed.

> What good writers (as opposed to hacks) got from
> Chandler is the
> notion of really crawling into a setting, and making
> it come alive.
> Hacks saw just the Los Angeles setting, good writers
> saw beyond it,
> to what Chandler really did. And I would argue that
> the very strong
> regionalism of the P.I. genre, be it Parker's
> Boston, Malet's Paris,
> Grafton's Santa Theresa, Peter Corris' Sydney or
> Christopher Moore's
> Bangkok, is one of Chandler's true legacies.

I certainly have no argument with that. But I don't think my original point is, or should be, that controversial. Chandler had and continues to have the greatest influence on the PI genre, for better or for worse. The opening of the entry on Marlowe on your site acknowledges as much.

One of the interesting things about really good PI characters is to see them pull away from the Paradigm as their creators develop their series.

Bart Spicer's Carney Wilde, for example, starts out fitting the Paradigm in every respect, but in the course of the series, his business grows and he starts to hire new operatives until, by the last book, he owns and operates one of the biggest investigative/security agencies in Philly. A confirmed bachelor in THE DARK LIGHT, he's happily married by EXIT RUNNING.

Stephen Marlowe's Chet Drum also follows the model in every respect (a fact that Milton Lesser was probably acknowledging in his choice of pseudonym), but to the familiar Chandler recipe he adds one very original ingredient, world travel.

Bill Pronzini's Nameless starts out by following the model in every respect save his age, but in the course of the a long and well-thought out series, he takes on a partner, splits up, falls in love and gets married, takes on new employees, changes his world-view, and ages with some realism.

Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer starts out as one of the most slavish of Marlowe imitators (as Macdonald himself admits in his intro to the omnibus volume ARCHER IN HOLLYWOOD), but in the his regular use of the "crimes of the past" plot, and the development of Archer as a truly compassionate man, not just a tough and honest one, he adds new dimensions to the genre that have had almost as great an influence as Chandler.

But, while all these writers took their characters in different directions, they were all clearly influenced by Chandler. Which is all I was saying.


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