Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Evolution of the Mystery Genre

The Big Sleep


Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep was Raymond Chandler’s first novel although not his first published work. Due to his meager financial circumstances during the Depression, Chandler discovered his latent writing talent and earned a living, teaching himself to write pulp fiction by studying the Perry Mason story formula of Erle Stanley Gardner. Chandler's first professional work, Blackmailers Don't Shoot, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933; his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, featuring his famous Philip Marlowe detective character speaking in the first person.

Chandler’s first novel is noted for its complexity, with many characters double-crossing one another and many secrets being exposed throughout the narrative. The title is a euphemism for death, referred to frequently in the book about "sleeping the big sleep".

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1888, Chandler and his mother moved to England in 1907 after his father deserted the family. Supported by his uncle, he became an English citizen and didn’t reclaim his American citizenship until three years before his death in 1956. He returned to America in 1912 and lived in San Francisco. He finally settling in the Los Angeles area in 1918 where he began and ended his writing career.

He wrote only seven novels all of which were made into films most more than once. He twice received Academy Award nominations for his screenplays.

Some of Chandler's novels are considered to be important literary works, and three are often considered to be masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely, The Little Sister, and The Long Goodbye. The Long Goodbye is praised within an anthology of American crime stories as "arguably the first book since Hammett's The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery".

Novels by Raymond Chandlier:

The Big Sleep 1939
Farewell, My Lovely, 1940
The High Window 1942
The Lady in the Lake 1943
The Little Sister, 1949
The Long Goodbye, 1953
Playback 1958

Raymond Chandler
(July 23, 1888-March 26, 1959)

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

Red Harvest

Dashiell Hammett

In The Golden Age of Detective Fiction (1920’s-1930’s) the field was crowded by British authors. But one American writer, Dashiell Hammett, emerged with a hard boiled American style in his first novel, Red Harvest (1929). The story is narrated by the Continental Op, a frequent character in Hammett's fiction. Hammett based the story on his own experiences in Butte, Montana as an operative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency (fictionalized as the Continental Detective Agency). The labor dispute in the novel was inspired by the 1920 Butte Anaconda Road Massacre.

Time included Red Harvest in its 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Nobel Prize-winning French author André Gide called the book "a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror."

Despite his involment with the Communist Party and his controversal personal life, Hammett’s novels had a significant impact on the detective genre and on films of that period. Hammett is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time and was called, in his obituary in The New York Times, "the dean of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction.”

Novels by Dashiell Hammett:

 Red Harvest (February 1, 1929)
The Dain Curse (July 19, 1929)
The Maltese Falcon (February 14, 1930)•
The Glass Key (April 24, 1931)
The Thin Man (January 8, 1934)

Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 –January 10, 1961)