RARA-AVIS: More Chandler stories

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 15 Mar 2004

I've read a few more Chandler stories and thought I'd weigh in on them. I've already given the thumbs down to "Blackmailers Don't Shoot (1933)," and my opinion of "Smart-Aleck Kill (1934)" is the same. I see them both as cliche-riddled pastiches that reveal little of Chandler's eventual talent. The atmosphere, the brooding protagonist, and the sharp dialog that Chandler is famous for is virtually nonexistent.

I believe that "Finger Man (1934)" is the first story that Chandler was satisfied with later in life. It's his first story narrated in first person. Even though I wasn't overly enthused with it, there were still passages that showed Chandler coming around. The first person narrative allowed the cynical protagonist to get in some good shots: "I didn't say anything. I was way past the age when it's fun to swear at people you can't hurt." Or: "He was the kind of man who liked to have a desk in front of him, and shove his fat stomach against it, and fiddle with things on it, and look very wise." And he was warming up to the simile: "As a bluff, mine was thinner than the gold on a week end wedding ring." The biggest problem with the story is that Chandler had a lot riding on the plot, and it wasn't very convincing.

Not all the imitation work he did was poor. "Spanish Blood (1935)," is a superb tribute to Hammett's MALTESE FALCON. The writing is concise and objective, the characters are more believable, and the dialog is more subtle and less cliche. The very unsentimental detective, unusual for Chander, is reminiscent of Hammett's Sam Spade. Is it a coincidence that Chandler's detective's first name is Sam, or is it a tip of the fedora to Hammett? Played against the FALCON, the ending is a fine ironic twist. It's a fine story that goes beyond the narrow requirements of pulp. My only complaint is the endless description of the characters' eyes.

I read "Goldfish (1936)" quite a while ago, and I reported on it then, so I won't go much beyond repeating that I thought it was a good story. By easing off the logistics of a complex plot, Chandler is able to concentrate on the mood and atmosphere. In this story he hammers out a dirty sordid background. Later he would attach an esoteric beauty to this ugliness.

"Red Wind" is a beautiful bluesy piece. It was written in 1938, so Chandler's writing skills had several years to mature since "Blackmailers," and his trademark style is evident. "Red Wind" has got everything that Chandler is famous for. The story is narrated in first person voice by a tough yet romantic protagonist who moves in a dark world. It starts out with his oft-quoted passage about the hot dry Santa Ana, and how it touches everyone with madness. It's all there, the cynicism, the simile, and the scenery.


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