Monday, February 11, 2019

Passions Just Like Mine--Raymond Chandler

My love for the work of Raymond Chandler happened in the reverse of my usual progression in that I saw it dramatized on television before I read any of it. The item in the center is the DVD collection of Philip Marlowe, Private Eye starring Powers Boothe which ran on HBO from 1983-1986. I think the show was one of the first episodic series that ran there, long before HBO became the original programming juggernaut with shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood (which Boothe also starred in). There were only eleven episodes, but I must have caught the first one after school in 1983 (my prime television watching years were my early teens; hours and hours of MTV, HBO, The Movie Channel, and Creature Double Feature. Once I was in college I watched almost no television at all other than Carson's The Tonight Show with my mother when I was on break).

I was fourteen in 1983, and a heavily committed horror, science fiction, and fantasy fan and reader (and war and role playing game addict--you know, one of the cool kids), but I was instantly taken in by Boothe's deadpan delivery and tough guy demeanor, the snappy dialogue, the classy costuming and sets, and especially the opening theme song.  I think the one I like is "Marlowe's Theme" by Moe Koffman, but I'm not certain because there was a much inferior second opening theme song in the later episodes and that's the only credit I can find. I've never found a legitimate recording of it but you can catch it in YouTube clips if you don't want to spring for the DVDs.
Smoking is bad, kids. So's murder.

On my next trip to the Paperback Booksmith I was on a mission to find some of this Raymond Chandler guy's stuff, and I came home with the copy of Trouble Is My Business in the photo above and was hooked for life. Not only did the show (a couple of the episodes are kind of clunkers, but the majority are stellar) and that book open up the world of Raymond Chandler for me, it opened up a lifelong love of noir and detective fiction, especially series detective fiction. Over the years I'd read Ross MacDonald, John MacDonald, James Lee Burke, James Crumley, Robert Crais, Robert Parker, George Pelecanos, Walter Mosley, Stephen Greenleaf, Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard, Harlan Coben, Dashiell Hammett, and many others.

Just looking at that short list of authors I realize I've read at least two or three hundred crime and noir novels over the years. No wonder I have to write about my passions! I never leave my house to talk to anybody, whut with all the writin' an' readin' I been doin'!

Up next is James Ellroy as I mentioned HERE, and, having been sucker-punched by the mastery of The Song Is You by Megan Abbott last week I'm going to read all of her by the end of the year, too--anything to keep the neurons firing.

I already had a copy of The High Window, but as I may have mentioned elsewhere I'm fetishistic about covers and books in general and just look at this:
A confession: it was only a dollar at the Book Barn
That one and Trouble are my favorite covers of the ones above; my least favorite is the Eliot Gould/rubber chicken of The Long Goodbye, which is weird, because that might be my favorite book as far as the writing goes. I've seen the Gould movie and many of the other Marlowe movie adaptations, but Boothe is the guy I always see in my head when I'm reading the books (yes, Boothe and not Bogart, sorry). I also love the radio show starring Gerald Mohr, but I can somehow still see Boothe in my head when listening.

I loved the way the language in crime novels could be alternately playful and then stark and harrowing, sometimes within the same paragraph. As a reader with a burgeoning desire to write I also loved the concision and brevity in most crime fiction, an interesting stylistic counterpoint to the often florid and purple dark fantasy I'd been reading, not to mention the technical and pedantic prose in much of the science fiction I grew up on. I love the idea of being able to follow a character (or characters) through a novel every year and I don't even mind when the plots sometimes seem recycled if the character and the way they perceive and intersect with the world around them is unique. I don't commonly suffer from writer's block, but if I'm feeling like I'm swimming through mud and the work is starting to feel like something other than fun, my #1 recovery strategy is to take a break and read a couple series' detective novels--or Trouble Is My Business.

If anyone has any recommendations for other authors or series detectives I should check out, I welcome your comments. Anything set in Hollywood--especially 1930-1960--goes to the top of the stack.

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