Friday, January 15, 2010

Private Eyes

A friend of mine e mailed me a link to a somewhat absurd article that seemed to claim that there hasn't been a good private eye writer since the era of Chandler and Hammett. And my God the claims the writer made for Chandler. Fawning praise that turned ridiculous in places.

I won't go through my usual litany of Chandler's shortcomings as I see them. He was a wonderful stylist and storyteller but with few exceptions his characters were straight from B movies and his vaunted tour of LA seems (again to me) shallow when compared to Nathaneal West, John Fante or even William Saroyan. I might even throw in John K. Butler whose stories about a cabbie gave us some good Polaroids of the place and era. Compared to Hammett he knew zero about his mean streets.

I say all this with some regret because reading Chandler (and rereading Chandler as I frequently do) has given me so much pleasure. Virtually all of us who work in the form have learned from him. He's the giant; the head of the class. That I don't argue.

But when you compare him to the private eye writers who came out of the second world war and who spawned the generations that followed--this is the Golden Age of the private eye novel. Writers who write about reality from James Crumley to Loren Estleman and Marcia Muller and Harry Hunsicker.

I don't want to start ranting so I'll sign off.


Steve Oerkfitz said...

How can one ignore such writers as Ross MacDonald, Arthur Lyons, Stephen Greenleaf, Michael Lewin, etc.

Todd Mason said...

But they don't verge on purple!

Dan_Luft said...

Except for The Long Goodbye -- the loneliest book book ever written about manhood -- Chandler almost reads like Bukowski with a job. I love him but Hammett holds up better through the rereads.

Different medium but same genre -- I thought Rockford Files was top notch.

Anonymous said...

I recently re-read West's Locust and Fante's Ask the Dust and enjoyed each. Sharp views of CA. On thing I saw was Chandler's Marlowe turned goofier in the later books. Rockford Files was fun TV.

Ed Lynskey

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Chandler was more interested in style than gritty reality. Some of the latter comes through in his work, but it's the stylistic choices we remember Chandler for.

Anonymous said...

"The Little Sister" is my favorite work by Raymond Chandler. Estleman is underrated - his recent novel about a hangman (title escapes me) was a fine read. Nathanael West, of course, is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the sordid reality of L.A. - I'd add Horace McCoy to that list of L.A. authors, too (THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? and I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME come to mind.)

Cap'n Bob said...

The hangman book is THE MASTER EXECUTIONER, a wonderful work.