Wednesday, 20 August 2003

Raymond Chandler: Killer in the Rain (1964)

Edition: Penguin, 1969 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1181

There is one official, authorised, collection of Raymond Chandler short stories, The Simple Art of Murder, and then there are the eight collected in Killer in the Rain. So why was Chandler against the re-publication of these stories (he was very unhappy when several of them appeared in other, unauthorised collections). They are all early, and the development of the famous Chandler style and of the character who eventually became Philip Marlowe is easy and interesting to trace. The problem is not, though, that the stories betray an apprentice writer; they only appear to do so in relation to Chandler's later work.

When Chandler came to write his first novel, The Big Sleep, he turned back to these short stories - not just for inspiration, but for plot and character, and even for the details of description. (he aptly described this process as "cannibalization".) He then did the same for his next three novels, with the result that any fan of Chandler's work will find much that is already familiar in Killer in the Rain.

The result of this is paradoxically that these stories might well appeal to Chandler novices - the stories are good enough in their own right, and authentic examples of his work - and to die-hard fans. The latter will find themselves constantly running into nuggets that they recognise, which is a fascinating experience, and they can start to trace how both Chandler's style and one of the most famous characters in both literature and film developed. And, of course, that would also make the collection indispensable for Chandler scholars.

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