After Snow White Must Die – another book where I was itching to get out my red pencil – I discovered that it was the 70th anniversary of the creation of Raymond Chandler’s iconic private detective Philip Marlowe. I’d been meaning to rectify the fact of never having read any Chandler for ages, and got 3 of the books for Christmas, so this seemed like a good moment to do so.
In the foreword to my Penguin edition of The Big Sleep, Ian Rankin warns against writing these books off as pulp:
What sets it apart from the crowd, however, is the quality of the mind which conceived it. Chandler’s pulp credentials shows in the twisting of the plot, yet it reads with the simple inevitability of classical tragedy […] Few writers have come close to matching him. [pp. v-vi]
Boy, is he right to do so! Every single word is perfectly pitched and the dialogue never falters. It wasn’t something I could race through as quickly as I expected because the slang is so very much of its time and place that it was sometimes like reading a foreign language, but the slight effort is well worth making. Yes, it shows it’s age in terms of sexism, homophobia, racism etc too, but Chandler laid the foundations for so much of what followed and is referenced so frequently in films, fiction and pop culture in general that if you’re a crime fiction lover and haven’t read these books, you’re seriously missing out.