“I let go of the gun and took hold of his wrists. They were greasy and hard to hold. The Indian breathed gutterally and set me down with a jar that lifted the top of my head. He had my wrists now, instead of me having his. He twisted them behind me fast and a knee like a corner stone went into my back. He bent me. I can be bent. I’m not the City Hall. He bent me.
I tried to yell, for no reason at all. Breath panted in my throat and couldn’t get out. The Indian threw me sideways and got a body scissors on me as I fell. He had me in a barrel. His hands went to my neck. Sometimes I wake up in the night. I feel them there and I smell the smell of him. I feel the breath fighting and losing and the greasy fingers digging in. Then I get up and take a drink and turn the radio on.”
That is a quote from Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely.
He was a plump, dark, youngish man of medium height, broad through the jaws, narrow between the eyes. He wore a black bowler hat, a black overcoat that fitted him very snugly, a dark suit, and black shoes, all looking as if he had bought them within the past fifteen minutes. The gun, a blunt black .38-calibre automatic, lay comfortably in his hand, not pointing at any-thing.
This is a quote from Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man
If you love crime fiction, why not go back to the source and read some of the classics? Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were the first to write about the LA detective, a witty, hard-boiled guy who didn’t melt down under pressure and who survived to tell his sometimes-confusing tale in a dark, cynical tone.
Readers of any crime fiction will love these hard-boiled classics. There are some hallmarks of hard-boiled crime that you won’t find anywhere else, at least not this clear-cut. The plot is usually linear and the audience doesn’t know that a man is about to come through the door with a gun in his hand until he does. Likewise, if the detective gets conked on the head and knocked out (that may very well happen, since while hard-boiled detectives are often shrewd and very smart, they’re not superhuman or endowed with the catlike reflexes of some of our more contemporary heroes), we don’t know what’s going to happen until he wakes up. This close, almost claustrophobic POV highlights the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles, where most of these early detective novels are set.
The detective himself is a cynical, world-weary type. He’s more intelligent than he is a thug, but he won’t hesitate to take out his gun and menace people. He’s often principled and well-read, so you get the feeling that this is a detective who oscillates between wanting to be in the world he is in (wanting to stand up for his client, wanting to solve the crime or simplify it) and condemning it, as if he landed in this world of greys, of lies and half-truths, of crime and virtue, by no fault of his own. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe explains in his first novel appearance, The Big Sleep, that he is a college dropout who worked for the DA until he was fired for disobeying orders. Later on we see that he grew up in a small town and that he abhors the thought of that stultifying life: working in a hardware store and marrying the boss’s daughter. Although he hates the lies and murky morality that some of his clients surround him with, he prefers this life to another. He values his education and is widely read, but he feels smothered in rich settings. He enjoys living by his wits. Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer is a similar knot of contradictions. Archer has a past as a juvenile delinquent, and although he falls in love with many of the women he meets we know that he is divorced and that he is often disgusted with himself when he falls in love with another femme fatale. Archer hates being a tough guy, but he can’t help it.
The detective is always just a little bit detached, a little bit of an outsider. He’s tailor-made to observe and pass silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) judgement.
Many hard-boiled detectives have a quirk that makes them more reflective, something they use as a sort of escape from their work: Chandler’s Philip Marlowe often makes observations informed by the chess games he plays against himself.
If you’re a crime fiction fan (as I am), come in and have a look at our classics. We have plenty of Ross MacDonald, some James M. Cain, the last of Chandler’s novels and a couple by Dashiell Hammett. It’s refreshing to see the roots of the hard-boiled crime fiction we see today, and they’re always a great, breathless read.
- Agnestest Filed under Cool Crime Writers | Tags: Classic Crime, Cool Crime Writers, Recycled Books | Comments Off