Posted on May 3, 2013
In the introduction to Trouble Is My Business (1950), a collection of his short stories published twenty years earlier in pulp detective magazines, the great Raymond Chandler asks why the popular mysteries of the time, despite their gaudy covers and trashy titles, had a kind of “authentic power” that made the other fiction of the time “taste like a cup of luke-warm consummé.”
“It certainly was not a matter of fine writing, since any attempt at that would have been ruthlessly blue-penciled by the editorial staff. Nor was it because of any great originality of plot or character. Most of the plots were rather ordinary and most of the characters rather primitive types of people.”
“Possibly it was the smell of fear which these stories managed to generate. Their characters lived in a world gone wrong, a world in which, long before the atom bomb, civilization had created the machinery of its own destruction, and was beginning to use it with all the moronic delight of a gangster trying out his first machine gun.”
“A few unusual critics recognized this at the time, which is all one had any right to expect. The average critic never recognizes an achivement when it happens. He explains it after it has become respectable.”
The “hard-boiled” mystery stories Chandler is talking about call into question the age-old premise that “murder will out and justice will be done.”
“As to the emotional basis of the hard-boiled story,” he writes , “obviously it does not believe that murder will out and justice will be done — unless some very determined individual makes it his business to see that justice is done. These stories were about the men who made that happen.”
Never pass up a novel or a story or a screenplay by Raymond Chandler. He couldn’t quite write like Dashiell Hammett, but nobody could write like Dashiell Hammett, even Dashiell Hammett! Chandler always knocks himself out to make sure that you, the reader, get a great read.