Blaugust #17: hard boiled

Today I’m going to talk a little about a much cooler Philip than I — Philip Marlowe. I think I fell in love with Raymond Chandler’s work the moment I read this line:

Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.

The Big Sleep (1939)

My partner Kateri has introduced me to a lot of great things, but I think the detective novels of Raymond Chandler might be my favourite. She got me started with The Big Sleep, and I’ve gone to read a bunch more since then. I’m very conscious that there’s a limited supply, so I’m rationing myself.

The crime reading group at work have just chosen The Big Sleep as their novel for August/September, so I’m joining them for a re-read.

"Tall, aren't you?" she said. "I didn't mean to be."
“Tall, aren’t you?” she said. “I didn’t mean to be.”

I’m also reading it aloud to Kateri when we get together on Google Hangouts; we’ve found that reading to one another is something we really enjoy, and it gives me an excuse to “do all the voices” — my Marvin the Paranoid Android during The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was particularly notable, if I do say so myself.

I love the dry, weary humor of Marlowe, which is not so dissimilar to my own. I love the way he keeps a $5,000 bill in his safe throughout The Long Goodbye and only takes it out to look at, never going to far as to do anything with it. I love how he’s six-foot of streetwise muscle, and yet still somehow manages to get roughed up in every story. He works long and hard to close his case — sometimes without managing to tie up all the loose ends — and usually things end 300 pages later with Marlowe no better off than when he started, often worse.  He’s an archetypical underdog, and I like him all the better for it. There’s no identifying with someone catches all the lucky breaks and gets everything tied up with a neat bow on top.

“The literary equivalent of a quick punch to the gut”

— Contemporary crime writer Paul Levine on Chandler.

As brilliant a character Marlowe is, it’s Chandler’s writing that really makes the novels. They’re tough, gritty, murderously violent, but he has such a brilliant turn of phrase. He’s funny and lyrical and comes up with such perfect similes; almost every other paragraph contains a line worth underlining (or tweeting). Not just Marlowe’s spoken dialogue (though that is frequently jaw-droppingly droll), but his narration and description of the scene. She’s not just a blonde, she’s “a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window“.

Perfect. Pour me a whiskey and tell me more.


The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective.

— Personal correspondence, 19 April 1951, published in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962)

  2 comments for “Blaugust #17: hard boiled

  1. Owl
    August 18, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. The bishop line has always been one of my particular favourites.

    Sadly, Mrs. Owl does not share my love, and Marlowe doesn’t happen out loud at parliament house. You’ve got yourself a keeper there…

    • Phil
      August 18, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      Yep, I know it! 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *