Raymond Chandler’s Not-So-Simple Art of Murder

As you splendid readers might – or more likely might not – remember, the hardworking staff waxed nostalgic the other day about the great hardboiled writer Raymond Chandler and his trademark essay, The Simple Art of Murder.

We subsequently re-read Chandler’s 1950 down these mean streets manifesto, which eviscerated more than several other detective-story scribes for their implausible plot lines.

Representative sample:

In Trent’s Last Case (often called “the perfect detective story”) you have to accept the premise that a giant of international finance, whose lightest frown makes Wall Street quiver like a chihuahua, will plot his own death so as to hang his secretary, and that the secretary when pinched will maintain an aristocratic silence; the old Etonian in him maybe. I have known relatively few international financiers, but I rather think the author of this novel has (if possible) known fewer.

Fair enough, but then we dipped back into some of Chandler’s stories, starting with Red Wind, which features one of the great ledes of all time.

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.

Fabulous!

But then we re-read Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, which has such a convoluted, corkscrew plot that Chandler should’ve felt the edge of the carving knife and studied his own neck.

Of course, this is the same guy who, when he received a telegram from John Huston Howard Hawks [thanks, splendid reader Bob] (director of the film version of The Big Sleep) asking “Who killed [the Sternwoods’ chauffeur] Owen Taylor,” telegraphed back “I don’t know.”

Which leads us to this conclusion:

Raymond Chandler can’t actually pass his own test regarding the simple art of murder.

Then again, who cares.

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4 Responses to Raymond Chandler’s Not-So-Simple Art of Murder

  1. Bob Gardner says:

    I remembered the Big Sleep story a little differently, so I checked Wikipedia where I found that it was not John Huston but Howard Hawks who directed the movie, of course. But that’s not what I was checking for. I missed that you had the director wrong, but I thought that it was Faulkner, one of the screenwriters who didn’t know who killed the chauffer. But I was wrong: it was Chandler, with the typewriter, in the bungalow.

  2. “On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight.” Great line.

    But…can any writer pass his own test?

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