Classic Murder Mysteries by Raymond Chandler (1940s and 1950s)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror June 30, 2015
Murder mysteries. Don’t you just love ‘em? What is the appeal of Raymond Chandler crime stories? They’ve endured for decades and still snag readers and admirers today. You can pick up any one of Chandler’s stories and they don’t seem to show their age. Who doesn’t love a detective like Philip Marlowe who’s a drinker, a lonely guy, witty, and so stylishly sexy.
Maybe it’s Chandler’s snazzy descriptions like in Farewell My Lovely:
He wore a shaggy borsalino hat, a rough gray sports coat with white golf balls on it for buttons, a brown shirt, a yellow tie, pleated gray flannel slacks and alligator shoes with white explosions on the toes. From his outer breast pocket cascaded a show handkerchief of the same brilliant yellow as his tie. There were a couple of colored feathers tucked into the band of his hat, but he didn’t really need them. Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.
Or maybe it’s Chandler’s sassy dialogue that appeals like in The Big Sleep. Here’s a scene between Marlowe and Vivian:
She looked down.
I sipped some more coffee and lit another cigarette for us.
“So you shoot people,” she said quietly. “You’re a killer.”
“The papers and the police fixed it up nicely. But I don’t believe everything I read.”
“Oh, you think I accounted for Geiger—or Brody—or both of them.”
She didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t have to,” I said. “I might have, I suppose, and got away with it. Neither of them would have hesitated to throw lead at me.”
“That makes you just a killer at heart, like all cops.”
“One of those dark deadly quiet men who have no more feelings than a butcher has for slaughtered meat. I knew it the first time I saw you.”
“You’ve got enough shady friends to know different.”
“They’re all soft compared to you.”
“Thanks, lady. You’re no English muffin yourself.”
To be really straight about it, you won’t find a more convoluted plot than The Big Sleep, but it’s still endures as a suspenseful and fascinating read. A pornographer and drug addict named Geiger is blackmailing young and beautiful Carmen Sternwood who likes to chew her thumb. Carmen’s father hires Marlowe to get rid of Geiger. Vivian, Carmen’s sister, is suspiciously overprotective. There’s a murder and screaming and a body that disappears. The Sternwood chauffeur is in love with Carmen and he’s killed. Another blackmailer and he’s killed. Revenge and more revenge. Eddie Mars, a gambler and Shawn Regan, a gun runner are also blackmailers. More murder, which builds to a huge shootout where Marlowe and Vivian fall in love. Ah-ha, finally some tenderness. Overplotted? Probably, but who cares with so many fun twists and turns. Bogart and Bacall did the film and wow is it ever steamy.
You can read The Big Sleep on Gutenberg.ca/ebooks.
One of Chandler’s most anthologized short stories is Red Wind. His opening paragraph is quintessential.
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.
Marlowe is in a bar with two men—a drunk and the bartender. A man walks in and asks about a woman, describing her beyond what most men would say. The drunk stands up and shoots the man dead. Blackmail, an illicit affair, love and pearls, blood and violence– just like the red Santa Ana winds.
You can read Red Wind short story at Design.caltech.edu.
Who is your favorite murder mystery writer? Is it a classic like Chandler or contemporary author?
Read The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler at En.UTexas.Edu
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit
For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed
Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror classic authors.