RARA-AVIS: Re: Tobias Jones on Ross Macdonald in yesterday's Guardian

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 06 Aug 2009

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    Re your comments below:

    "The linking of Hammett and Chandler is far less obvious than is usually assumed. They were very different writers. Even in his early stories, Chandler does not sound much like Hammett. I know that he admired Hammett, but I doubt that he took him as a model. If he did, he succeeded in writing... like Chandler."

    This is generally true. However, in his very earliest work, Chandler WAS attempting to emulate Hammett in style and approach. His first two stories, featuring Chicago PI Mallory on an extended visit to L.A., "Blackmailers Don't Shoot" and "Smart-Aleck Kill," were both third person narratives, attempting to evoke the style of THE MALTESE FALCON and THE GLASS KEY. Both tried to duplicate the spare, stripped-down style that was Hammett's forte. Neither one was completely successful, particularly compared to Chandler's later work. Chandler himself would dismiss both stories as "pure pastiche." "Blackmailers" didn't make the cut for Chandler's short story collection, THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER, and "Smart-Aleck" barely made it (and, curiously, in TSAM, Mallory inexplicably became "Johnny Dalmas").

    Chandler's third story, "Finger Man," was the first in which he used the highly personal first person mode that would become his signature style, and would so influence later PI writers. He later said that it was the first story that he felt was truly his own. Significantly, it was also his first Marlowe story (though, at this point, he was still an anonymous narrator, and would go through periods being Carmady in BLACK MASK and John Dalmas in DIME DETECTIVE before emerging as Marlowe in the novels).

    So, in the main, you're correct. Chandler established his own style and his own voice very early on, and it was a very different style and voice than Hammett's. Further, Marlowe is much less directly patterned on, say, the Op or Spade, than Archer is directly patterned on Marlowe (as Macdonald freely admitted).

    But there was a time, very early on, when Chandler was self-consciously aping the author he regarded as the Master.



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