The Brandon Copple Blog

Such as it is.

‘A coat, a hat and a gun’

Posted by bcopple on March 26, 2009

fmlFifty years ago today, Raymond Chandler died. We’ve yet to get over it. By we, I mean those of us who love detective novels, film noir and other forms of that distinctly American genre: the hard-boiled arts. Chandler took what had been a trade — writing pulp fiction for cheap magazines — and turned it into an art form. He’s been followed by (probably) thousands of imitators. Nobody comes close. Nobody. Not Dennis Lehane, not Ross McDonald, not Robert B. Parker. Those guys are considered fine mystery writers. But try reading a Chandler novel, then reading one of theirs. Kinda like reading A Light in August followed by The Bridges of Madison County.

That analogy is no joke. Chandler created great literature. A master stylist, he wrote with spare, disciplined prose, a relentlessly tough (and also distinctly American) sensibility and a wit as sharp as the creases in Marlowe’s hat. Consider this, from ‘Farewell, My Lovely:’

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.

Chandler did a lot of other things well too. He created a crusading hero, Philip Marlowe, who never got political or preachy — an archetype that’s still being copied, poorly. He turned a city, pre-war Los Angeles, into a recurring character — as tough, corrupt and beautiful as one of Marlowe’s treacherous blondes. He loved the city the way Nelson Algren loved Chicago – not in spite of its naked brutality, but because of it.

Chandler once said of the style of writing he honed in the pulps: “When in doubt, have a man walk through the door with a gun in his hand.” He was half-joking of course, but that’s still great advice for a writer.

Of course most of us don’t have Raymond Chandler’s gift for creating something beautiful out of worlds where men burst in waving guns. In fact, none of us do.

So anyway, here’s 10 Things to Read on the 50th Anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s Death.

Better yet, just read some Chandler. I’ll lend you some of mine – but you have to bring it back.


4 Responses to “‘A coat, a hat and a gun’”

  1. Ah, a fellow Chandlerite. The thing I always liked about Chandler and this genre in general was the idea that these characters, times, and events really happened. And that’s cool. It’s one thing to be into sci-fi or fantasy or modern spy novels – but deep down we know it is fiction.

    Combine cool and interesting characters with a sexy, dark era and write about it with sly and clever humor – and nobody touches Chandler. Here’s a quote from “The Long Goodbye”:

    “Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.”

    Some other quotes are here:

  2. bcopple said

    Amen, brother Walls. Glad to see you’re ignoring your kids long enough to read ‘The Long Goodbye.’ It’s his best, or at least tied for first place w/ ‘Farewell, My Lovely.’

    BTW, why the alias? You got something to hide?

  3. matt said

    This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  4. Witness Protection Program is a bitch.

    “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings.” – The Big Sleep

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