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My Favourite Authors: Raymond Chandler

Friday February 17, 2012

It is a cliché for mystery writers to admire Raymond Chandler, but I have to admit, I do.   Chandler's prose caught me from the very first time I opened The Big Sleep and read his description of the glass panel over General Sternwood's door.

"...there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armour rescuing lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair.   The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying."

Lesson one: heroes really should have a sense of humour.   It was that cynical wit – despite Chandler’s somewhat two-dimensional view of women - that kept me reading.

But to me, the most inspiring aspect of Raymond Chandler writing was his ability to create a vivid atmosphere, portraying emotionally charged scenes through the observation of small details. The paragraphs in The Lady in the Lake, when the rock thrown into the water dislodges the body under the dock stuck in my mind from the very first time I read them.

The splash it made went over both of us. The rock fell straight and true and struck on the edge of the submerged planking, almost exactly where we had seen the thing wave in and out.

For a moment the water was a confused boiling, then the ripples widened off into the distance, coming smaller and smaller with a trace of froth at the middle, and there was a dim sound as of wood breaking under water, a sound that seemed to come to us a long time after it should have been audible. An ancient rotted plank popped suddenly through the surface, stuck out a full foot of its jagged end, and fell back with a flat slap and floated off. The depths cleared again. Something moved in them that was not a board. It rose slowly, with an infinitely careless languor, a long dark twisted something that rolled lazily in the water as it rose"

I was only 15 or so when I first read those words, but I remember thinking: that that is how I would like to be able to write. I am still working at it

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