Re: RARA-AVIS: "Criminal Conversation" in the PARIS REVIEW Crime issue, #164

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 28 Mar 2003

Al wrote:

"Jim has raised a number of intriguing questions:"

Indeed he has.

"Is Chandler's writing flawless?"

Of course not. Is any author's?

"Of those who did learn something from them, who writes as well as Chandler or Hammett?"

Crumley at his best?

"Is Chandler's dialogue superior to Leonard's?"

I see these as being so different that they can't be compared. Chandler's isn't real dialogue. True or not, it's easy to believe the story that the dialog in The Maltese Falcon was simply copied out of Hammett's book, but you could never claim the same for Chandler's dialog. It is not real speech. It does not sound right when said out loud. Be assured that I don't mean this as an insult; I love Marlowe's witty remarks and they read great on the page. Leonard, however, strives for more realistic speech.

"Is PLAYBACK better than THE SWITCH?"

Talk about setting up an unfair match. Plenty of books, even by authors far less worthy than Leonard, are far better than Playback (the only Chandler I've only read once). Out of curiosity, why did you choose The Switch? Are you implying that was one of Leonard's better books? Although I enjoyed it well enough, I wouldn't put it in my top 5, or even 10, Leonards (none of which I've read more than once).

"And finally, should Hunter and Leonard have lied?"

No, of course not. And of course, we're basing a hell of a lot on excerpts. I haven't read the whole conversation, so I don't know if these comments sound as cocky in context.

In addition, both Hunter and Leonard have written a hell of a lot more books than Chandler or Hammett. So should we just be comparing their best 5 or 7? Or should we just put asterisks after their names?


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