Raymond Chandler, local haunts

Over the past few months at my newish day job I’ve been editing a mystery novel. This particular manuscript isn’t a strict member of the genre, but it spurred my interest. With the exception of a few John Le CarrĂ©s in recent years and a couple of Mrs. Pollifax mysteries when I was nine or ten (which I know, I know, are also both departures from the main), it remains an unread corner of the library I suspect might be a real gold mine. The Pollifaxes were actually located in the large-print section of our library, which I originally mistook as being the obvious segue from Y.A. to adult fiction.

Last weekend I spent a happy hour or so perusing in a secondhand bookstore I’d been meaning to visit in my neighbourhood. A little jazz was playing on the stereo inside the store, and there was a pair of older gentlemen in armchairs in the middle of the store discussing bicycles. Can I reserve my spot now? The back corner was dedicated to detective/mystery/crime/espionage and I found a recent edition of the first of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, The Big Sleep. I was going to attempt a definition of Chandler’s place in the world of detective literature, but coming from me it would only be a paraphrasing of various Wikipedia entries, so I’ll leave you to consult amongst yourselves. He just about had me at hello, though. Here’s a sample from page 1:

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.

I was cackling and the older gentlemen were now staring at me, so I decided to shove off. They approved of my purchase and pointed out that there were lots of lady mystery writers too. I look forward to it.

I want to get back to this business of genres sometime, though. I take real issue with the whole notion. If we can label a well-crafted piece of fiction that happens to centre on, say, a murder/disappearance/heist (aliens/androids/mermen), then can we please also declare the angst-ridden Canadian family saga its own genre rather than simply calling it Literary? Certainly there is less ambitious work being written to a bungled understanding of the example set by the best in this vein. I feel an unwieldy rant coming on that I want to save for another time. Besides, I have to price an order of What Would Marlowe Do? bracelets. Takers?


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