In December, John gave me a homework assignment: “You want to include some sort of ‘mystery’ element in your stories? You better get familiar with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.” It seemed like a simple enough request. Get down with the classic, defining bodies of pulp noir. Sam Spade? Philip Marlowe? You better know these bastards inside and out.
Having gotten through these now2, I can see why John recommended them as “homework assignments”. These are definitely classic pieces of American literature worthy of a second or even first tier position in the pantheon. Looking back on these two collections now, I should have dove into Chandler’s work first. John commented on some parallels between Chandler and William Gibson (one of my perennial favorites), citing the former as a major and obvious influence on the latter. I enjoyed Hammett’s work but I also found it a bit gruff and fragmented — but fragmented in that random way and not fragmented in that serendipitous way. On the other hand, I found Chandler to be elegantly staccato, gritty and yet dirt-on-the-knees proud. I agree with John that Chandler’s influence on Gibson is apparent though I think they are going after far different goals as writers: Case is the illegitimate son of the illegitimate son of Philip Marlowe and though they’re living in the same neighborhood, headed in opposite directions on the same street.
Or maybe it makes more sense to compare Marlowe with Hammett’s Sam Spade? Marlowe as the teeth-clenched pragmatist to Sam Spade’s hopeless romantic? Or maybe that’s just Marlowe’s LA to Spade’s San Francisco? In any case…
I have never been much in to mysteries as a genre before. Noir has no surprises; when you expect a twist, it’s just the grateful realization of your expectation. And while this has not really changed my mind so much on mysteries, it was certainly nice to branch out a bit. And finish my homework.
- Three of five; had to get it back to the library. [↩]
- Again, 3 of 5 for Hammett, 2 of 3 for Chandler. [↩]
About Rob FrieselSoftware engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →
2 Responses to Raymond Chandler
The Chandler/Gibson comparison was meant more stylistically than anything else. Though I do like your assessment of Marlowe and Case.
I always thought of Marlowe as a teeth clenched moralist rather than a pragmatist.
As for Spade, I’ve never been entirely sure that the romantic speech he gives at the end of Maltese Falcon is entirely genuous.
Hmm… Moralist, eh? I’m not so sure about all that — too quick on the violence, too free with the booze for that. But that’s just one man’s opinion, I suppose.
As for Spade: genuous or not, if the character had the speech in him… Well, that’s enough for me.