What the Editors Are Reading

I’ve been reading and rereading Raymond Chandler’s novels for more than 30 years; also his Letters, the best epistolary volume by an “American” writer (Chandler was an Englishman who arrived in Los Angeles as a young man to work for an oil executive), with the sole exception of Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being.

Chandler liked to say that the work of all really fine writers is endowed with a special magic.  His own writing—literary novels under the black flag of detective fiction set in L.A. in the 1920’s and 30’s—had magic and charm in spades: magic of mood, magic of place, and magic of character, particularly where his lowest and most unprepossessing characters were concerned.  No more evocative scene has ever been written than the opening pages of The Long Goodbye, where Philip Marlowe enters a bar at opening time and is served a gin gimlet on a cocktail pad by the barman who’s just wiped down the bar wood with a cloth.  Rereading Farewell, My Lovely, which I had always considered Chandler’s best book, I am charmed as usual, though I catch myself experiencing a certain reservation about Marlowe’s famous one-liners and wisecracks.  All of them are wonderful (none better than, “It was a blonde.  A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window,” though many others...

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