Raymond Chandler is able to deliver a combustive mixutre of strong plot and great characterisation not just once but several times in this short story collection.The usual formula of the view coming from the eyes of a detective, or former detective, is deloyed but that repetition of style does not undermine the enjiyment of this collection of stories.
As I posted a couple of days ago in an early response to The Big Sleep there is something almost akin to a feeling of guilt when you come across a book that is not only easily digestible but also enjoyable. the snob in you comes out and makes you feel like it has been a waste of time that could have been spent reading something else more ‘heavyweight’. To stick to that line would be a real mistake because not only is the hard boiled detective a very popular genre (there was a piece in The Guardian about this yesterday) but it can teach a reader about what it takes to write in a style that demands the ability to maintain a level of tension and intrigue from start to finish.
There are sevral stories in the collection but just higlighting a couple will give an idea of the standard. The title story, which opens the book, is great but the Goldfish is something special and the last story are both examples of Chandler’s craft.
Kathy is a woman with a cocaine addicted lodger who served time in prison with a man named Sype who was responsible for a famous hold-up that stole the Leander pearls worth $200,000 and although no one ever found the pearls Sype hid them somewhere and made the mistake of telling the cocaine addict while they were serving together and so Kathy turns up at Carmady’s office, a detective friend and asks his advice.
The insurance company has a reward of $25,000 on offer for the return of the pearls and so she tells Carmady that the lodger knows where they are so he pops round to see him only to discover a murder victim who had his feet burn with an iron. He then gets called by the murderers, a ruthless girl and a dodgy business man, who need Carmady because they failed to get the information out of their victim before he died.
Soon the knowledge is shared that the character with the pearls is a goldfish loving old man who is now living in Canada and Carmady and the two killers set off independently to track him down. Carmady meets the cocaine addicts partner and they are about to head off and stake out Sype’s house when the other two turn up and after another killing Carmady manages to fool them and heads off to meet the old criminal and after a shoot out Carmady guesses that the pearls are hidden in a fish and he manages to work it out and leave the house with a dead Sype, injured and dead mudering duo and a bitter wife who watched her fortune dissapear.
Guns at Cyrano’s
The last story in the collection differs from most of the usual Chandler stories with the hint of romance.
It focuses on an ex detective who seems to be the son of someone who was very well connected in the town, Ted Malvern, comes across a woman in a doorway who has been hit in the face. After talking to her it turns out that her boyfriend is a boxer who is meant to throw a fight and he is being warned off by his backer who is concerned the fighter will not play ball. Malvern seems to know everyone and heads off to see the fight which is not thrown because the rival is so bad that the fight just cannot be thrown and Malvern heads backstage to warn the fighter that he is now going to be in trouble.
The fighter has a bodyguard who ends up in a fight with Malvern and then after they break apart all of the interested parties head to Cyrano’s night club where the boxer and his singer girlfriend are held up in a booth which results in the stick up man being shot by the boxer and then being taken by the police. Back at the apartment block Malvern heads to the girl’s room and tells her he has to speak to her but they get on badly and he decides to leave but is confronted by two armed men who take him to a criminal’s hideout. Once there it turns out the girl is blackmailing a senator trying to make him believe she is his daughter and because the senator is in the pocket of the criminal he dislikes the idea but after an argument, which Malvern loses with a punch to the jaw, they are all bundled in a car and taken to the senator’s house
Once there they confront the old man and claim that the blackmailing will stop but Drago the boxer, who has been sprung from police custody, takes a dislike for him and is shot for his trouble and then the criminal turns on the senator and shoots him. Back in the apartment block the girl tells Malvern she is leaving and he replies that his whole life has been based on dodgy money and that he will be around if she wants to be with him despite her blackmailing attempt.
Is it well written?
There is something confident about the writing that is similar to the lead characters and in the same way that you feel James Bond will not be let down by Ian Fleming. Howver many guns are pointed at the lead he will survive and no matter how off the pace he appears he always manages to nail the criminal comings and goings. It is a smooth and enjoyable ride reading Chandler and even if he is going to be classed as pulp fiction then at least he is one of the masters and not one of the numerous imitators that followed in his wake.
Should it be read?
If you have read any Chandler then it’s not so much a case of should it be read as can you avoid reading it? Chandler’s books are addictive in quality and once you start from either this collection or one of his novels it is only a matter of time before you get round to consuming this collection. For anybody looking for a literary escape from the rigours of the world for a spell that starts the minute you read the first line then this along with all Chandler’s works delivers and deserves to be read.
Version read – Penguin paperback