Saturday, July 4, 2009

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."

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