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Archive for June, 2012

After the fight I looked like the other guy you should’ve seen

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s 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. – Red Wind

Possibly the coolest modern First Edition collector’s book is a copy of Goldfinger signed by Ian Fleming to his friend Raymond Chandler. It recently sold for £40k and is now offered for double.

Fuck me. Epic cool.

Chandler is the king of hardboiled crime fiction, my favourite of the three subgenres* of detective novels. It always starts the same way with morose private investigator Philip Marlowe sitting in his office, feet on the desk and a quart of whiskey in the drawer. A shifty floosie comes in to ask for help without giving a straight account of herself and over the next 200 pages Marlowe dredges the cesspools of 1950s Los Angeles streetlife taking a few beatings, turning down a few come-ons, until gradually piecing together a mystery that would’ve been a whole lot simpler had his client just told what she knew.

There are few better writers of quips and comebacks than Chandler. The pages crackle with intensity.

“Tall, aren’t you?” she said. “I didn’t mean to be.” Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her. – The Big Sleep

We sneered at each other across the desk for a moment. He sneered better than I did. – Farewell My Lovely

I hung up. It was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough. I ought to have locked the door and hid under the desk. – The Little Sister

When I read him I’m furiously commanding my subconscious to store and catalogue all the one-liners for future use in conversation. It’s futile. I’ve only ever used one, when being threatened on the phone – “If you listen carefully, you can hear my teeth chattering”.

The genre was mostly invented by Dashiel Hammett with his Continental Op short stories that have aged remarkably well. Hammet worked briefly for the Pinkertons as an operative and it’s likely where he picked up his sharp dialogue, unromantic colouring of people’s character, and the technical details of investigating. Thus his stories feel real. Where Chandler completed the picture was adding dry humour. Lately I’ve caught back up with the Hard Case Crime series which carries the banner into the current era. These paperbacks are pumped out once per month with new lurid covers. Unbelievable as it is to me, the editors seem to share an identical taste as I’ve never been disappointed in a single one of the fifty I’ve read so far.

I plan to read one book per week this year. It’s important to pursue your hobbies for the pure leisure of it, without a care for if you are advancing yourself in a self-development-y sense. So I’ll read the classics, I’ll read science and history, but I shall also read whatever I damn well please no matter how little it contributes to my ongoing project of knowledge accumulation.

A man shall have his fancies.

* The other two being Police Procedural exemplified by the likes of CSI, and Locked Room Puzzles exemplified by Agatha Christie. But that’s for a different post.