The second half of Killer in the Rain features the stories Mandarin’s Jade, Bay City Blues, The Lady in the Lake and No Crime in the Mountains. As with the first four stories, elements of each of these were recycled in Raymond Chandler’s later, fuller novels.
Mandarin’s Jade contributed to Farewell, My Lovely, but it’s nowhere near as obvious as in either The Man Who Liked Dogs or Try the Girl (see the first half of this review). In this story, the detective is called John Dalmas, but he’s essentially the same character as Carmady or Philip Marlowe. Dalmas is hired by a wealthy fop named Lindley Paul to act as his bodyguard when he exchanges ransom money for a stolen jade necklace. Carmady feels uncertain about this job but goes ahead with it anyway. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and pretty soon his client is dead and he is a suspect.
As the story progresses, Dalmas teams up with Carol Pride, a tough newspaper reporter. Carol Pride is probably one of the strongest female characters to appear in any of Chandler’s work. All too often the women in Chandler’s books fall into the role of either femme fatale or wild child, but Carol Pride is different; a determined professional woman who matches Dalmas’ barbed dialogue quip for quip. Carol Pride became Anne Riordan in Farewell, My Lovely, but she’s arguably even stronger here.
Also setting the scene for the Philip Marlowe novels is the appearance of cop ‘Violets’ M’Gee, who would go on to be a regular character. Although the central character is still not Marlowe, you can see the slow change towards Chandler’s most beloved character as the rough edges are knocked off and his character is fleshed out. Mandarin’s Jade isn’t the best story in this collection, but it’s solid, enjoyable stuff and a definite progression towards the fiction we associate with Raymond Chandler.
At 100 pages, Bay City Blues is by far the longest story in this collection. In fact, with minimal fleshing out, Chandler could have adapted it into a novel in its own right. Instead, he cannibalised bits of it for Farewell, My Lovely. It’s a shame, because there’s definite potential in Bay City Blues. John Dalmas is back, as is ‘Violets’ M’Gee and this time the plot revolves around the apparent suicide of the wife of a wealthy dentist; M’Gee suspects that it wasn’t quite as clear cut as that and asks Dalmas to investigate.
Although it’s longer than the average for this collection, Bay City Blues is quite low on incident for a lot of its length, which probably explains why Chandler elected not to flesh it out as a full-length novel. The basic storyline is quite clever, but it rather plods along towards its conclusion with less of the wit and exuberance of Chandler’s other stories. Don’t get me wrong, Bay City Blues isn’t bad, but I enjoyed it a lot less than the other stories in this collection and I have to say I somewhat struggled through it.
Of all the stories that Raymond Chandler borrowed from for his later novels, The Lady in the Lake has the most explicit route to its later adaptation; not least because it shares the same name. It’s the first of two stories in Killer in the Rain that take the hard-boiled detective out of the sweating city and into a more rural environment – and I have to say that I really enjoy that angle. There’s something about the fish-out-of-water story that really appeals to me and it works wonderfully in detective fiction. Surrounding our hero with unfamiliar people and places adds an extra frisson of peril that really makes the story pop.
John Dalmas undertakes a case from Howard Melton, whose wife has done a disappearing act and he suspects that she is staying at their upstate lodge in Little Fawn Lake. Travelling to the lodge, Dalmas asks the groundskeeper Bill Haines to give him access to the lodge. Haines is depressed and hitting the bottle after his wife left him. They find no trace of the missing wife at the lodge, but walking out onto a jetty into the lake, they discover a dead body weighted down in the lake. Everything points to the lady in the lake being Mrs Melton, but Dalmas has his doubts.
The novel The Lady in the Lake has always been one of my favourites in the Philip Marlowe series and this seminal short story reads pretty much like an abridged version of the novel. More or less every beat from the novel is here and though the extraordinary cast of colourful local characters might not be quite so fleshed out, they still shine and come across as totally authentic. The Lady in the Lake is probably my favourite story in this collection, which is a tough choice because they’re all of a very high quality.
The final story No Crime in the Mountains features a detective we haven’t met before, John Evans, though he’s basically John Dalmas. The reason for these different names for what is basically the same character is that the original short stories were published in different magazines. The Carmady stories originate from Black Mask, John Dalmas from Dime Detective Magazine and John Evans from Detective Story Magazine. In the years that follow, they would all mesh together and become Philip Marlowe.
No Crime in the Mountains follows a similar vein to The Lady in the Lake, and in fact bits of it were salvaged for the novel. Private eye John Evans is sent a letter from a man called Fred Lacey requesting him to attend his mountain retreat for an urgent case. When he gets there, Lacey is dead; his killers cosh Evans and when he regains consciousness, the body is gone. More dead bodies follow, even though the local sheriff insists that this sort of thing just doesn’t happen round these parts.
This is an interesting story because it contains a lot of elements that are unusual for Chandler’s oeuvre. The villains of the piece are Nazis (though this isn’t apparent at first) and they are assisted by a rather stereotyped Japanese man, but it’s best to remember that this was written in September 1941, when Europe had been at war for two years and the attack on Pearl Harbour would occur before the end of the year. In this sense, it’s much more a product of its time than the rest of Chandler’s output.
Also unusual is that, although he is the first person narrator, John Evans takes a back seat to grizzled local lawman Sheriff Barron for the latter part of the story. Evans seems to be almost an observer of Barron’s brusque handling of the case once things get moving. I couldn’t help getting a feeling of early Twin Peaks in the contrasting relationship between the cosmopolitan hero and the small-town policeman. Barron is a great character and I’d have liked to have seen him in a story of his own.
No Crime in the Mountains is a great way to cap off what has been a wonderful collection of short stories. If you’re a fan of Chandler, you’ll get a lot from this, but if you’ve never read any of his novels, you’re almost at an advantage because this will be so much fresher to you. Definitely recommended for fans and newcomers alike, just don’t be put off by the enormous page count.
KILLER IN THE RAIN by Raymond Chandler is published in the UK by Penguin Books (2011)