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Chandler, Raymond

marlowe mean writers private

(US, 1888–1959)

For many readers, Chandler's creation Philip Marlowe is the archetypal private eye. It is hard to overestimate the influence on generations of hard-boiled crime writers of the man who wrote: ‘Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.’ The image of Marlowe, reinforced by many film adaptations starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, is that of the lone maverick driven by his own demons to take arms against the morally corrupt. That this drives him to drink or into the arms of a beautiful woman merely adds to the romantic myth.

Chandler began writing short stories for pulp magazines when he lost his job as an oil executive. He went on to write seven classic novels, beginning with The Big Sleep (1939), a tortuous tale of the collision of family feuding and the world of mobsters. Chandler elevated the American detective story partly by his emphasis on atmospheric sense of place and character rather than plot, partly by his attraction to wider themes than mayhem and murder, but mostly by the elegance of his writing style, with its throwaway wise-cracks and illuminating similes. In spite of his generally unsympathetic depiction of women, Chandler's novels are still the benchmark for private investigator writers. Among the best are The Little Sister (1949), which begins as a missing person case, and The Long Goodbye (1953), where friendship with a suspect drags Marlowe into a murder investigation.

Dashiell Hammett, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosley. See CRIME, FILM ADAPTATIONS  VM

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