Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trouble Is My Business (collection; Chandler, Raymond)

Overall rating: 4
Year: 1950?
Genre: Crime
Read again? In a few years, maybe.

I'm glad I read it, but I'm not happy that it took a solid month to do so.

The book itself didn't drag; the killer is in the formula. The detective is asked onto a case, he goes to interview an important witness, who turns up dead. It's a time-honored formula, and obviously successful, but it made for some disorientation. Good thing I took notes.

The big surprise, as mentioned in several of the early story reviews, was that Chandler went on to build novels from several stories. The upshot of this is that a reader who's already seen the novels will already know where a component short story is going.

Here's the breakdown:

The Big Sleep (1939) uses "Killer in the Rain" and "The Curtain."

Farewell, My Lovely (1940) uses "The Man who Liked Dogs," "Try the Girl," and "Mandarin's Jade."

The Lady in the Lake (1943) uses "Bay City Blues," "The Lady in the Lake," and "No Crime in the Mountains."

I do like Chandler's style, but it doesn't seem as developed in the shorts as in his novels.

Red Wind (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 5
Year: 1938
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

Number 12 of 12 in "Trouble is my Business." This is a good ending, since I'm sort of dealing with detective fatigue.

Marlowe's sitting in a little club, minding his own business, chatting with the bartender. There's a fat guy at the other end of the bar buying and devouring his booze a shot at a time. Other than these three gents, the bar's empty.

Another man enters and asks some very specific questions about a woman, right down to describing her clothing. No one's seen her. He turns to leave.

Fat Guy shouts at him, then pulls out a gun and wastes him, walks out, and steals the man's car.

Marlowe finds the woman without even trying (she turns up in the hall near his apartment), but then things start getting complicated.

Goldfish (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 5
Year: 1936
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

One of the better shorts! Number 11 of 12 in "Trouble is my Business."

Marlowe's brought in on a chance to make a cut of $20,000 in reward money being offered by an insurance company. All he has to do is find some pearls that went missing in a train robbery years before.

Chief suspect Wally Sype admitted to killing a mail clerk on the train and stealing the other stuff that went missing in the operation. This admission (and the recovery of everything but the pearls) got him a pardon.

But one Peeler Mardo claims that his cellmate (Sype) admitted to grabbing the pearls and hiding them in Idaho.

Marlowe goes to interview Mardo. Mardo's dead, tortured--but did he spill before he died?

It's a race to find the pearls, and Marlowe's up against a tough broad and her ambulance-chaser partner in crime.

Much more entertaining than most of the previous stories--the angel-faced tough broad is a lot of fun and is probably the best fleshed-out character, even with the relatively small amount of screen time she gets.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Finger Man (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 5
Year: 1934
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes.

Number ten of 12!
Marlowe has just finished testifying in a Grand Jury on a murder. He's offered a job as a bodyguard by one Lou Harger, who has an angle on a roulette wheel he used to own. The wheel's at Canale's casino. Harger wants Marlowe along in case he starts winning and Canale gets pissy.

Marlowe takes the job and goes to the club as though he's just a customer, sitting at the bar and people-watching. Harger's girlfriend racks up more than $20,000 in winnings. But Canale has noticed Marlowe and asks him to leave.

He gets sapped before he even reaches his car. His gun is taken away...then the girl shows up at the office with the money and Harger turns up dead...and fingers are pointing at Marlowe as the killer.

Trouble is my Business (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 4
Year: 1939
Genre: Crime
Read Again? maybe

Nine out of 12, and I'm ready for it to end. Time for something different.

Anna Halsey hires Marlowe to dig up dirt on Harriet Huntress, an unsavory woman who works a scary gamblin' kingpin. Harriet's on the prowl for a rich man's son; the rich man wants her gone.

Mr. Jeeter's the prissy rich man, a complete snob who carries his air of superiority the way a man wears a hat. Marlowe doesn't like him--and he doesn't take crap from the man, rich or not.

Jeeter Junior owes the gamblin' kingpin $50,000 in debts. Pops refuses to pay, even after he hires an investigator to see whether the debts are legitimate. Marlowe goes to meet the investigator, John Arbogast.

Arbogast is, of course, dead. Shortly afterward, some heavies try to scare Marlowe off the case.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

No Crime in the Mountains (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 5
Year: 1943
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

Number 8 of 12 in "Trouble is my Business" and another piece of the "The Lady in the Lake" novel.

John Evans gets an urgent note and an advance payment: his services are needed by one Fred Lacey out at Puma Point. Evans heads out, finds a hotel, and calls Lacey's number. Mrs. Lacey says he's not in, so Evans relaxes a bit.

I liked this description of the band: "In the deep, black corner of the room a hillbilly symphony of five defeatists in white coats and purple shirts was trying to make itself heard above the brawl at the bar." This is the kind of descriptive I've been hoping to see more of, but it's been rare in these shorts so far.

Evans decides to go looking for Lacey himself. He finds the cabin number and location and heads that way. He stops near the lake short to admire the view and look at Lacey's body. As he's walking back to his car, he's confronted by a little man with a big enough gun...and gets himself knocked unconscious.

When he wakes up, he goes to visit the widow, who tells him that Lacey had found some counterfeit money....

A good story, good characters, though the bad guys are almost comically clichee'd true-believing Nazi Germans and an inscrutible Japanese man.

The sheriff isn't the same character as the one in "The Lady in the Lake," but the descriptions and manner are identical.

Still...not gonna knock points.

The Lady in the Lake (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 5
Year: 1939
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

Number 7 of 12 shorts in "Trouble is my Business," and also a chunk of the novel of the same name.

John Dalmas is hired to look for a missing wife; she's told her husband she's leaving him and getting remarried in Mexico. But Mr. Melton saw loverboy just a few days earlier.

Dalmas goes to loverboy's house and pokes around the outside of it, knocking on doors, before finally tripping a spring-lock in back and letting himself in. Loverboy is dead in the living room.

Mr. Melton supposes that wifey could be up at the lake house, so Dalmas hoofs it up there and meets Mr. Haines, the caretaker of a few cottages, including Melton's. Haines is unhappy. Dalmas shares out a pint of whiskey to loosen him up, get him to talk. It seems his wife left him a few days before, about the same time Melton's wife went missing.

They go for a walk so Haines can talk some more...and they find a woman's body submerged in the lake.

Bay City Blues (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 4
Year: 1938
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes.

Number 6 of 12. Halfway there numerically, but it seems like so much more. As I'm writing this one, I'm reading #9 ("Trouble is my Business").

John Dalmas is set up with a case: A woman is dead, supposedly of carbon monoxide poisoning. There was no coroner's inquest, no police investigation. She was given a once-over, proclaimed a suicide, cremated, and that was that. Now Dalmas is asked to help Henry Matson, a P.I. from Bay City who didn't think the woman was a suicide, and that there are dirty cops and medical types who rigged the whole thing. They pulled Matson's P.I. license and ran him out of town.

Dalmas shortly receives a parcel with clues that point him to an apartment. Shortly after he gets there, Matson shows up and dies.

This story forms part of Chandler's novel, "The Lady in the Lake." I haven't read that one yet, but I'm going to give it a few months (or years) at least so I won't know what's about to happen, given that the shorts so far are lifted scene-for-scene into the later novels.

Mandarin's Jade (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 4
Year: 1937
Genre: Crime
Read Again? maybe.

Fifth of 12 shorts in "Trouble is My Business," and another chunk of "Farewell, My Lovely."

John Dalmas is hired by a rich guy to act as protection while he pays off some jewel thieves. They drive to a secluded place. Dalmas gets sapped (as always--the guy's got to have some headache issues by now!). The client gets his head caved in.

We also see the Big Indian, the psychic, and the girl reporter in scenes that later became part of "Farewell."

At first, the novelty of these shorts kept me reading...but by the time I got done with this one (or it got done with me) I was getting tired of the formula and of having read it all already. Still, I'll give it a 4 like the ones before. It's not a bad story. I just want to see something different now.

Try the Girl (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 4
Year: 1937
Genre: Crime
Read Again? Yes.

Fourth of 12 shorts in "Trouble is My Business." This is another of the stories Chandler combined with some others and made into a novel--in this case, the opening scene and parts of "Farewell, My Lovely."

John Carmady is hijacked by a big man at the entrance to a Blacks-only bar. The man is fresh out of the Joint, looking for his old girfriend. He kills a couple of guys during his interrogation.

Carmady goes on the case, looking for the woman, hoping to reach her before the Big Man does.

So far, this story's got the most "dirty" words--but because of the censorious mentality of the time, they're all rendered as dashes: "-- you!"

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Curtain (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 4
Year: 1936
Genre: Crime
Read Again? Maybe

The third short story in the "Trouble Is My Business" collection.

Carmady wakes up to find a man with a gun in his bedroom; it's an acquaintance on the run from some bad guys.

The man gets aced by some thugs with a chopper, so now Carmady's looking for the killers and their bosses...

...and this brings us to a matching scene from "The Big Sleep," where Marlowe went to visit a sick old man who wanted his son-in-law found, had a followup discussion with the old man's daughter, and then a run-in with the house sociopath (Carmen in "Big Sleep," a little boy in this one).

Both "Curtain" and "Killer in the Rain" (1935) were the basis for 1939's "The Big Sleep;" two of his other novels--"Farewell, My Lovely" and "The Lady in the Lake" are also built from earlier short stories. While it was confusing at first (while reading "Killer in the Rain"), and disappointing because now I knew what was about to happen, it's still fascinating to see how Chandler plugged slightly different characters and situations into these pieces.

Man Who Liked Dogs, The (short story; Chandler, R)

Rating: 4
Year: 1936
Genre: Crime
Read again? Maybe

Second of 12 shorts in Chandler's "Trouble is my Business" collection.

Carmady's the shamus on the case, looking for a missing woman and her police dog; he goes to a kennel in search of the dog and finds it there. Then he pretends to leave, tails the kennel man--Sharp--who's trying to play it sneaky, get rid of the dog. Carmady watches the man and the dog enter a house; there's barking, shouting, more barking, and a man's scream. He rushes to the door and inside: Sharp's lying and dying on the floor, the dog standing over him, growling, and there's a woman with a gun, then a man with a bigger gun. Carmady disarms them both and asks some questions. They've only been there a week. They say they don't know Sharp or the dog; he was trying to knock the critter out with chloroform and stuff it in a closet.

Then the cops show up--and they sap Carmady without asking any questions.

...and this brings us to a scene right out of "Farewell, My Lovely"--Carmady wakes up in what amounted to a rehab back in the day, a private hospital. From there he faces down corrupt cops and the thugs keeping them as pets.

This is the first of the shorts to use the wise-ass dialogue I liked in "The Big Sleep," stuff like this:

Dirty cop, to nosy nurse: "Go climb up your thumb."

Bad guy, with a Tommy gun, ordering the dirty cop to rais his hands: "Grab a cloud."

After a brief firefight: 'In the room were five statues, two fallen."

The dirty police chief glares at him: 'He measured me for a coffin.'

It's looking like most of the shorts in the collection went on to become major parts of Chandler's novels. That's disappointing, but interesting, so I'm not going to beat him up over it.

Killer in the Rain (short story; Chandler, Raymond)

Rating: 4
Year: 1935
Genre: Crime
Read again? Maybe

"Killer" is the first of 12 shorts in Chandler's "Trouble is my Business" collection.

The story opens with Philip Marlowe (never named in the story--I'm naming him) in his apartment, interviewing a big man who has a problem. Tony Dravec wants Marlowe to warn off one H. H. Steiner, who's showing too much interest in Dravec's girl, Carmen. Marlowe takes the case and goes to Steiner's book shop, knowing the man's running a porn-for-rent gig in back.

He follows Steiner home and settles down in his car to watch for a while...and a girl shows up. Marlowe sneaks over to her car to scope out the license. Carmen Dravec. He sneaks back to his car.

There's a bright flash and a scream! He runs to the house just in time to hear three gunshots and running footsteps out the back of Steiner's house. He breaks the lock on the front door and runs in. Carmen's sitting in a chair, naked and stoned. Steiner's lying on the floor with a fatal dose of lead poisoning.

It was at this point that I realized that "Killer" is a shorty version of Chandler's "The Big Sleep," right down to the stoned girl named "Carmen." Dravec's cheauffer turns up dead, someone tries to blackmail Dravec with naked pictures of Carmen. It reads like an alternate-universe version, given that I've read "Sleep" a couple of times and seen both the Bogart version and the pitiful 1978 Robert Mitchum remake. There's a gangster heavy with a business interest in Steiner's porn library, but he's not as friendly or smart as the gangster in "Big Sleep."

Not as snappy as "Big Sleep"--you can see Chandler's style, yes, but where are the amusing descriptions of people and situations? Call it a sort of proto-Marlowe story.

After I did this writeup, I did a little Google hunt and found my answers at Wikipedia. This short and "The Curtain" (the 3rd story in the collection) were used as the foundation for Chandler's novel "The Big Sleep."