Re: RARA-AVIS: More Chandler stories

From: Marc Seals (
Date: 16 Mar 2004

My two cents (from my dissertation) on the stories that Michael brings up... Please excuse the length.

Chandler's third story was "Finger Man," published in Black Mask in October of 1934. The protagonist in the tale is unnamed, though he was "identified" as Philip Marlowe in 1950's The Simple Art of Murder. Leaving the detective nameless might reflect yet another literary debt to Dashiell Hammett, who had already achieved great success with his own unnamed detective (dubbed
"the Continental Op"). "Finger Man" is the first story that Chandler said that he "felt at home with" (Selected Letters 187). The reason for this statement is not entirely clear. Peter Wolfe says that though Chandler says he was "at home" with the story, this "ease and confidence isn't felt by the reader" (101). In particular, Wolfe faults the "overcrowding" of the story with "mayhem and murder" at the expense of character development (102). William Marling agrees, finding the story itself rather unremarkable and faulting the lack of "significant tensions and female characters" (Raymond Chandler 53). In marked contrast to Wolfe and Marling, Tom Hiney calls
"Finger Man" Chandler's "first memorable" story, praising Chandler's improved pacing, characters, and imagery (84).

Regardless of the relative literary worth of "Finger Man," the most significant change in Chandler's style that this story marks seems to be the use of first-person narration, a trademark of each of his novels. Traditional British-style detective stories do not work well with first-person narration by the detective (as the few examples by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes as narrator-rather than Watson-painfully illustrate); Chandler's brand of hard-boiled detective fiction, with its emphasis upon character and mood over carefully crafted plot, fits the use of first person ideally. The shift away from plot that largely distinguishes hard-boiled detective fiction from that of the traditional form is inherently modernist; Fredric Jameson, in "On Raymond Chandler," called the first wave of modernism "a reaction against narration, against plot" (66).

"Spanish Blood" (Black Mask, November 1935) represents a significant move towards the Marlowe novels. In fact, much of the finer thematic elements of The Big Sleep may in fact originate in "Spanish Blood." Chandler considered this story to be one of his best (Raymond Chandler Speaking 218). Critical opinion of this story varies widely, with Marling calling it "well constructed and paced" (Raymond Chandler 54) and Wolfe dismissing it by faulting its "cheating" plot (113). Such seemingly contradictory opinions aside, "Spanish Blood" represents a milestone in Chandler's narrative development. The hero is a police detective named Sam Delaguerra. Though this story was indeed reprinted in several of the short story collections, the name of the protagonist was never changed. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there are simply too many references to the hero's ethnicity. For example, Delaguerra tells Commissioner Drew, "My blood is Spanish, pure Spanish" (295). What distinguishes Delaguerra from Chandler's earlier protagonists is that this is the first of the cynical idealists. Delaguerra, as Marling observes, is "a hero with a code" (Raymond Chandler 56). Delaguerra's name means "of the war," and the war that he is fighting is the struggle to maintain his code. Police detective Pete Marcus states this view of Delaguerra explicitly: "'Listen,' he said thickly, not looking up, 'this is a job to me. That's all it is. A living. I don't have any ideals about this police work like you have'" (293). No one else in Delaguerra's world has these ideals; Delaguerra is a Spanish hero in a culture that no longer understands such heroism, perhaps making him a twentieth-century Don Quixote
(and an obvious proto-Marlowe).

In "Spanish Blood," Delaguerra is investigating the murder of an old friend, Donegan Marr. Complicating matters is the fact that Delaguerra once loved Belle Marr, Donegan's wife (and now widow). Delaguerra eventually realizes that Belle Marr committed the crime, but that Donegan Marr's dying act was an attempt to hide the fact that his own wife murdered him. Respecting his friend's wishes, Delaguerra agrees to go along with a cover up; Commissioner Drew tells Delaguerra, "For the good of the department, man, and the city-and ourselves, it's the only way to play it" (316). Delaguerra agrees-on the condition that it gets played exactly the way that they have agreed. It is significant that Chandler describes Delaguerra's voice as
"dead" as he agrees to the cover up, perhaps implying that something within Delaguerra has been killed. This prefigures Marlowe's realization at the close of The Big Sleep when he says, "Me, I was part of the nastiness now"
(764). As Marlowe does later, Delaguerra decides to make the best of the fact that he is no longer a model of the code, saying, "Got the badge back
[. . .]. "It's not quite as clean as it was. Clean as most, I suppose. I'll try to keep it that way" (318). This might be seen as a statement of redemption, at least in part; Delaguerra, another pre-modern hero on a modernist quest for truth, had been teetering dangerously on a postmodern precipice, but he has regained his balance. Although Chandler defines the hard-boiled hero (in "The Simple Art of Murder") as a man who is "neither tarnished nor afraid" (992), it seems that Delaguerra is, like Marlowe after him, a knight with tarnished armor. As such, "Spanish Blood" is a major turning point in the development of Chandler's chivalrous hero.

Chandler returned to the character of Carmady and the use of first-person narrative in "Goldfish" (Black Mask, June 1936). Peter Wolfe, who calls this
"Chandler's best short work" (113), contends that it "fuses morality and art more convincingly than does any other Chandler title" (115). Chandler apparently agreed that "Goldfish" had merit, because he writes in a 1939 notebook entry that it might be worth using in a later novel (Raymond Chandler Speaking 208), though he never followed through on this impulse. The story's greatest strengths are well-developed characters, a sound plot, and a strong sense of place. The last of these traits is one of Chandler's strengths throughout most of his fiction, but is a pleasant surprise in this story due to the fact that the setting ranges from California to Washington. Much of the story takes place in Westport, a quaint little coastal town in northern California that could hardly be more different than the usual urban haunts of Chandler's heroes.

"Goldfish" contains one of Chandler's best-developed early femmes fatales in the character of Carol Donovan, who will eagerly kill to get what she wants. In this story, what she wants are the incredibly valuable Leander pearls. One of Donovan's coconspirators says of her, "She's too damn rough [. . .]. I've seen hard women, but she's the bluing on the armor plate" (488). This seems an odd metaphor. Bluing is a process of heating metal to imbue a blue color and to inhibit rust. The reference to armor plate might evoke images of knighthood. In stark contrast to Donovan is, of course, Carmady himself. Carmady joins the search for the pearls largely to help his friend, Kathy Horne, a former policewoman who lost her job when she married a "cheap little check bouncer" (475). Carmady does find the Leander pearls; Wally Sype, the man who stole them years earlier (and served a prison term for the theft), has actually hidden them inside a pair of Chinese Moor goldfish. After Sype's death, his wife asks Carmady, "Do you remember the old Bible story of the scapegoat?" (519). She says that she sees her husband in this light, but the reader cannot help but think of Carmady as the true focus of the allusion. This might reinforce the idea of Chandler's protagonist, who in this story nearly lost his life to help a friend, as a Christ-figure.

William Marling calls "Red Wind" (Dime Detective Magazine, January 1938) a
"lesser effort, despite its reputation" (Raymond Chandler 65). Chandler himself, in contrast, told Hamish Hamilton in a 1948 letter that he considered the tale to be one of his best (Raymond Chandler Speaking 218). Marling is perhaps a bit harsh in his valuation; "Red Wind" is one of the most fully developed of Chandler's short stories, with a complete Chandler hero-a wisecracking, chess-playing, simile-delivering, chivalrous private detective. Though most of these elements are present in earlier stories, Peter Wolfe points out that in "Red Wind" Chandler avoids "stock characters and settings." This allows Chandler, Wolfe says, to "write with verve, concentration and conviction" (104). There are several noteworthy elements to be noted in "Red Wind." The story concerns a confluence of Chandler's favorite plot elements-blackmail, a necklace, and pearls. As the title indicates, Chandler again utilizes weather as a motif. In this case, the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that plague southern California autumns are used to foreshadow violence and death. Calling these winds "red" might evoke thoughts of blood, passion, violence, and perhaps even communist influence. The opening paragraph of the story, a description of the wind, is surely one of the most striking and frequently quoted passages from Chandler's fiction:
"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge." (685)

The story does indeed open with John Dalmas sitting alone in a cocktail lounge drinking a remarkably full glass of beer. The only other people present are the young bartender and a drunk throwing back glasses of straight rye whiskey. The relative peace of a quiet drink is interrupted when a man enters and asked if they have seen a tall, pretty brunette with a
"print bolero jacket over a blue cr갥 silk dress" (687). It becomes clear that Chandler is implying that this man, initially identified as Waldo, is homosexual; Dalmas says Waldo had a white handkerchief that "peeped coyly from his pocket" (686) and a "tight voice [he] didn't like" (687). The drunk at the bar, later identified as Al Tessilore, recognizes Waldo and shoots him. In case the reader did not pick up on the implication of homosexuality, Dalmas later muses, "I was thinking that Waldo had described the girl's clothes in a way the ordinary man wouldn't know how to describe them. Printed bolero jacket over blue cr갥 silk dress. I didn't even know what a bolero jacket was" (692).

One element that is introduced in "Red Wind" is chess as an interest for the protagonist. Chess as a device of plot, setting, and theme is developed more fully in The Big Sleep, published the following year, but in "Red Wind" chess does play a key role. When Lola Barsaly (the woman in the blue cr갥 silk dress) enters Dalmas's apartment, the first thing she notices is a chessboard with "a chess problem set out that [Dalmas] couldn't solve"
(695). Al Tessilore arrives, intent upon killing Dalmas (who was a witness to Waldo's murder). He also immediately notices the chess set and assumes that a game in progress means another person is in the apartment; Lola is indeed still there, but she is hiding in another room. Dalmas tells Tessilore, "It's a problem [. . .]. Not a game" (701). It is not clear what it might mean that Dalmas views chess, with its war between anachronistic kings, queens, knights, etc., as a problem, rather than a mere game. This may be a comment on the nature of modern (or postmodern) life itself. Chandler brings this implication to completion in The Big Sleep, but perhaps he had not quite realized it here. The chessboard is eventually knocked over when Dalmas subdues Tessilore; Andrew Mathis suggests the image of scattered chessmen represents a rejection of certain elements of knighthood, as if
"chivalric rules of combat no longer apply" (49). This may be, as the only reason that Dalmas is able to defeat Tessilore is because Lola distracted Tessilore; in other words, the damsel in distress rescues the knight, an obvious inversion of the traditional pattern of romance narratives.

Dalmas is shown to be a brave and chivalrous hero. After he witnesses Tessilore kill Waldo and flee, Dalmas runs after him without thought of his own safety. Tessilore is already driving away; Dalmas tells the reader, "I got its license the way I got my first million" (688). His noble nature is demonstrated through his relationship with Lola. After Lola distracts Tessilore in Dalmas's apartment (allowing Dalmas to disarm and subdue Tessilore), Dalmas tells Lola, "That buys me," I said. Anything I have is yours - now and forever" (705). Lola asks Dalmas to find a pearl necklace that Waldo (whom she knows as Joseph) has stolen. The pearls were a gift from a now-dead lover named Stan Phillips. Dalmas does find the pearls, but they are high-quality fakes-Bohemian glass. To prevent Lola from ever discovering this fact, Dalmas has another set of fakes made up with the original (and distinctive) clasp. Lola assumes that Waldo/Joseph sold the originals. Dalmas then drives to the ocean and throws the original pearls into the water. The only logical reason for Dalmas to do all this is to protect Lola's memory of Phillips; Marling criticizes this as "excess sentiment" that "torpedoes the tale" (Raymond Chandler 66), but it does establish Chandler's hero as a knight who will do whatever he must to protect his lady fair.

One final element in "Red Wind" that demands attention; Chandler's use of racial stereotype seems more sophisticated in its rhetorical effect. The story is a mixture of various ethnicities: Caucasian, Hispanic, and Russian. One might expect a pulp story from the 1930s to conform to a largely negative portrayal of ethnic Otherness, but that is not the case here. In what I posit represents a pattern in Chandler's novels, "Red Wind" is the first of his stories where he manipulates cultural stereotype to alternately fulfill and thwart his readers' expectations. Chandler creates almost a caricature of the foreign Other in the character of Eug鮩e Kolchenko. Kolchenko is the mistress of Lola Barsaly's husband, who calls her a "white Russian [that he] met in Shanghai" (724). Though she is Russian-which perhaps plays on the readers' fears of communism-Kolchenko is herself a menagerie of foreign markers. She wears "miniature temple bells" as earrings
(719). Her home has a tiger skin, a few Navajo rugs, and a few Turkish rugs on the floor. Other decorations include a Chinese screen and a tall Chinese lantern. Finally, she speaks in an absurd accent that sometimes sounds as German as it does Russian, which is perhaps what prompts Dalmas to say,
"Snap out of it, Nazimova" (720). Kolchenko delivers lines such as "We-el, what ees it, little man? You want sometheeng? You are lost from the bee-ootiful party across the street, hein?" (719) and "Goddam, these hot wind make me dry like the ashes of love" (725). Further complicating her apparent ethnicity is that fact that "Hein?" is a French word meaning "huh?"

In stark contrast to Eug鮩e Kolchenko's absurd parody of foreignness is one of the two police detectives in the story, Detective Ybarra. Ybarra is Mexican, while his partner Copernik is Caucasian. Based on the other ethnic portrayals in "Red Wind"-Miss Kolchenko and a dead Uruguayan hustler named Leon Valesanos, for example-one might reasonably expect Copernik to be the better of the two police detectives. By the end of the story, though, it becomes clear that Copernik is a stupid, brutal, unethical brute of a cop, while Ybarra is thoughtful, intelligent, and trustworthy. Throughout the story, Copernik calls Ybarra "guinea," a racial slur usually directed at those of Italian descent; Copernik is, therefore, too ignorant to be even a good racist. While Chandler may simply be trying to surprise his readers by straying from their expectations of racial stereotype, this sort of ethnic portrayal lends credence to the idea that Chandler was not the unapologetic racist that some have suggested.

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