‘Killer in the Rain’ by Raymond Chandler (Part Two)

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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)

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‘Killer in the Rain’ by Raymond Chandler (Part One)

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Killer in the Rain is a collection of early short stories by Raymond Chandler from the pulp crime magazines Black Mask and Dime Detective Magazine. Although they don’t feature the iconic Philip Marlowe, many of the concepts were recycled by Chandler in his later and more famous novels. At nearly 600 pages, it’s a weighty tome and I’ve decided that I can only really do justice to the eight stories in Killer in the Rain by splitting my review into two parts. This first part covers the stories Killer in the Rain, The Man Who Liked Dogs, The Curtain and Try the Girl.

The private detective in the first story, Killer in the Rain, goes unnamed throughout, but to all intents and purposes it’s Philip Marlowe. He talks like Marlowe, he acts like Marlowe and he reacts like Marlowe. Add to that the fact that an expanded version of Killer in the Rain makes up the first half of The Big Sleep and you’d probably find it difficult to imagine him being anyone else. It’s not always easy to read Killer in the Rain if you’re familiar with The Big Sleep, because your memory keeps filling in little details that aren’t actually relevant to this version of the story; so it’s unfair to judge the short story as being in the same canon as the full length novel that it spawned.

Our nameless hero is hired by a millionaire to find the man who is blackmailing the family and send him on his way. It soon becomes apparent that it all revolves around the millionaire’s wayward younger daughter and her wild and excessive lifestyle. No sooner has the detective discovered that the daughter is being drugged and persuaded to pose for pornographic pictures than the book dealer who’s been peddling the porn is shot dead in his own home. From there it’s a tightly wound-spiral of deceit and betrayal where no-one is quite what they seem.

Killer in the Rain doesn’t suffer at all from being in the short form. If you had no prior knowledge that it existed in any longer format, you would not be left thinking that this is a story which is abrupt or unfinished. The action is taut and well-paced and it’s easy to see why it made such an impact in the pages of Black Mask, leading towards it being picked up and adapted for Raymond Chandler’s first full-length novel.

If Killer in the Rain rang a bell, then you’ll doubtless also find something familiar about the second story in this collection, The Man Who Liked Dogs, as the story crops up again in the latter part of the novel that is often considered to be Chandler’s best, Farewell, My Lovely. The hero is no longer nameless, but he’s not Philip Marlowe either; his name is Carmady. Does he come across like Marlowe? Well, yes and no. He has the characteristic first person narration but there’s something rougher, less principled about his behaviour.

Carmady is hired by a wealthy elderly lady to find her niece, who’s done a runner with not only one of the shady men she’s been hanging around with, but also the family dog. This leads him first to a boarding kennels, owned by a classic Chandler ‘camp’ character. In the seedy world of faded Hollywood glamour that Chandler centres his tales around, we’re often presented with characters who are clearly supposed to be gay, but because of the decade in which the stories were written, their proclivity is usually represented by a subtle description of their clothes and mannerisms.

Carmady’s investigation eventually leads him to the lower decks of an off-shore gambling ship and here you may recognise the closing chapters of Farewell, My Lovely. However, The Man who Liked Dogs reads differently to any of the Philip Marlowe books; it has an almost comedic streak in its early moments that gets darker and darker towards a very bloodthirsty ending.

We return to the roots of The Big Sleep with the next story, The Curtain. Elements of The Curtain were combined with Killer in the Rain to make up the bulk of the first Philip Marlowe novel, so if you’re familiar with The Big Sleep, you might find this rather confusing reading. When our hero Carmady mentions having been hired by a wealthy but sick old man to find his wild-child daughter, I was convinced I’d already read that in Killer in the Rain, but eventually realised that I was just mixing it up with my prior knowledge of The Big Sleep. If you’re a fan of Chandler, these early stories can be very confusing!

The Curtain rattles along at a brisk pace and I was convinced that it was one of the shorter stories in the collection, until I looked at the index and saw that it’s around the same length as the others. Once again, it’s sharp stuff and it’s easy to see why Chandler chose this story to be part of his first full length novel.

With the fourth story Try the Girl, we’re back to Farewell, My Lovely, and as with the full length novel, we have an opening sequence set in a blacks-only bar that sits uneasily upon the modern sensibility. Now, Raymond Chandler didn’t often touch upon the matter of race or racism, but when he did his references were very much of their time. I’m afraid to say that Try the Girl does use the N word, but only once and in a non-aggressive context. That doesn’t excuse it of course, but I’m not getting into the whole can of worms of whether vintage literature should or should not be censored for today’s ears.

Although Farewell, My Lovely is a fantastic book, I have to say that Try the Girl didn’t really do that much for me. It seemed a little confusing, trying to cram a lot into its short length. Sometimes with Chandler you feel like he’s just firing names at you and it’s hard to keep up with who has said and done what; this was one of those occasions. I haven’t disliked any of the stories so far, but I would have to say that this is my least favourite – which isn’t to say that it’s actually bad. Raymond Chandler rarely is.

TO BE CONTINUED

KILLER IN THE RAIN by Raymond Chandler is published in the UK by Penguin Books (2011)

‘Trouble is my Business’ by Raymond Chandler

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A while ago I started making my way through Raymond Chandler’s excellent Philip Marlowe novels in order. Sadly for this blog, I completed the last full length novel Playback shortly before starting to write reviews for Hot Bullets. It’s not all over for Philip Marlowe however, as I still had the short story collection Trouble is my Business to read. I say short stories, they’re probably more properly defined as ‘novellas’, but I detest using that word, so to me they’ll always be – fairly long – short stories.

The first of the four stories in this collection is Trouble is my Business, from which it gets its name. This 1939 story sees world-weary private eye Philip Marlowe hired to scare away a disreputable woman from the adopted son of a wealthy businessman. He’s no sooner started following this potential gold-digger before he stumbled across the first murder. From there, the bodies just keep piling up – but who’s responsible? Chandler cheekily waves suspects and red herrings in your face, so the reader – as well as Marlowe – hit many false leads before the final pay-off.

This is much more explicitly a whodunit than most of the longer Philip Marlowe books and even has an Agatha Christie-esque line-up of suspects at its climax, but all of the classic Raymond Chandler elements are still present and correct. Brusque police chief – check! Sharp-tongued femme fatale – check! Troubled offspring of rich industrialist – check! I don’t mean this as a criticism; it wouldn’t be a Philip Marlowe story without this unique cast of archetypes. And this is definitely a Philip Marlowe story.

Trouble is my Business definitely gets this collection off to a great start. It doesn’t suffer from being in the short form at all; it’s like a compressed novel and subsequently cracks along at a hell of a pace. Also moving at a swift pace is Finger Man, the second story in the collection, though it’s quite a different beast from its predecessor.

Finger Man starts with Philip Marlowe being basically hired as a bodyguard for a gambler who’s all set up for a big win from a local mobster. Because this is Raymond Chandler, things naturally don’t go according to plan; Marlowe is separated from his client, who subsequently ends up dead while his lady friend disappears with the cash and Marlowe is blamed for the murder. He’s got both the cops and the mob on his back and nobody’s even paying him for the inconvenience.

I didn’t enjoy Finger Man as much as Trouble is my Business; the pace is a little too frenetic and it seems crushed into its short story format. This is a story that could definitely have done with being longer. I’m not sure that Marlowe really fits into the role of hired bodyguard either; is it a job that he would have accepted? He’s usually so shrewd about what he will and won’t do for money and it doesn’t seem to ring true that he would take such a case.

Any problems I had with Finger Man are more than made up for by Goldfish, probably my favourite story in this collection. In this, the shortest story collected here, Philip Marlowe is put onto the trail of some stolen pearls worth $250,000 (a lot of money in 1936!) but another less scrupulous party is after the pearls and his main lead is already dead by the time Marlowe goes to see him – tortured to death with a hot iron to the soles of his feet. Ouch! Yes, Goldfish is a surprisingly violent story, with more than one gun fight spelled out in operatic detail.

It’s a brisk story, briskly told in almost real time, and full of larger-than-life characters. Like Chandler’s novel The Lady in the Lake, it strays away from the big city and into a picture book countryside which is full of hidden secrets. Oh, and there’s a cracking twist at the story’s end which just reeks of the cynicism that makes Chandler’s stories so great.

Pearls also play an important role in the final story, Red Wind, only this time Marlowe isn’t specifically aiming to find them. In fact, he’s not aiming to do anything much, other than take a quiet drink in his local bar, but this is Chandler-world, so pretty soon there’s a dead body and a gorgeous dame to deal with. Unusually for a Philip Marlowe story, Red Wind doesn’t start with the detective taking on a case; he’s just kind of thrown into the action against his will.

It’s a strange jigsaw of a story that presents a series of seemingly unrelated events that only really fit together towards the end. Also, there’s not really any good guys, certainly not the cops and possibly not even Marlowe himself. The story is told with an interesting sense of detachment – a sort of Day in the Life of Philip Marlowe – that sets it apart from the other stories in this volume.

Trouble is My Business is a worthwhile coda to the adventures of Philip Marlowe and an interesting collection of stories, though in truth I could probably live without Finger Man. The next (and last) Raymond Chandler book in the Penguin series I’m working my way through is Killer in the Rain; short stories again but this time without Philip Marlowe. Ah, I’m going to miss him.

TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS by Raymond Chandler is published by Penguin Books in the UK