Chandleresque

Guest Post by Joel D Canfield, Author of A Long Hard Look

A style so strong your name becomes an adjective: Chandleresque.

It means, clearly, “like Chandler.”

Author Photo Joel CanfieldWhat that means is, perhaps, less obvious, unless we go with “I know it when I see it” which is, for a writer, ultimately, unsatisfying.

Because I call my mysteries “Chandleresque cozies” I feel obligated to define my terms. Others have done so more completely, probably more correctly; others of greater literary stature than I.

Tough. I’m the only one here right now, so I get to make the calls.

In his introduction to Trouble is My Business, he epitomized my feelings about his style (and, I flatter myself, mine) saying, “The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing.”

Most traditional mysteries would be much less satisfying without the denouement, the moment when the sleuth reveals all to the characters gathered in the drawing room. We’ve been watching for clues, trimming red herrings, keeping track of this, that, and the other thing, and seeing the devilishy clever circumstances of the crime revealed by an even more clever hero is, in the end, the main point of the mysteries our favorite authors write.

Can you imagine Poirot shrugging and admitting he hadn’t a clue? Picture Kinsey Millhone deciding it didn’t matter and going home for a peanut-butter and pickle sandwich. Inconceivable that Nero Wolfe would admit defeat — or that Archie Goodwin would tolerate it. Their bravery and problem-solving prowess is the reason we read Christie, Grafton, and Stout.

Written in 1939, this was Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel

But Chandler? I don’t care whodunnit. In some cases, I don’t even know whodunnit. The famous example is the chauffer in The Big Sleep. Nobody, not even Chandler, knows how he ended up washing in the surf inside a Packard off Lido Pier.

Because it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Marlowe becomes convinced there’s a deeper darker game than simply finding Shawn Regan. And someone is prepared to kill more than once (or more than one someone is prepared to do it) in self-interest, self-preservation.

People, not puzzles.

The city. Los Angeles. He hated it. He loved it. As he loved and hated the people. Everyone was flawed. Marlowe was no saint. Cops were sometimes kind, sometimes nefarious. Les femmes fatales were not always fatal, were sometimes even innocent victims.

Good versus bad. Wrong or right. That’s the stuff of most crime and mystery writing.

Not Chandler. Sure, Philip Marlowe is staunchly ethical, even when he’s breaking the law. His sense of justice, of right, is unimpeachable. Marlowe’s morality, though, is a given.

We’re not here for givens. Nobody lines up at the coffee shop because they can pour a cup of joe without spilling. But if their espresso is a shot of roasted creamy heaven, word gets around.

That paradox, the sweet cream taste made from darkly bitter beans; that’s where Chandler rises to the top. His characters are real people. Sure, they have flaws. They make stupid choices. They make intentionally bad, mean, hurtful choices.

They also die for someone they love. They suffer ignominy rather than betray a confidence.


They love deeply, maniacally, redeemingly.

And his plots. Called by one reviewer “rambling at best and incoherent at worst” they are, no argument from me, convoluted. Corkscrews jammed in a vice. Keep track of who did what with whom, and where and when, in any of his books. I never even bother.

Because, once again, that’s not why I took this ride.

In The Long Goodbye, Terry Lennox is the poster child for redemption. Beaten down by everyone including himself, when he’s pushed past his limit, he doesn’t fold, he soars. Revives himself, reinvents himself, redeems himself. And at the same time kicks the pins from under those who hurt him most.

When I read a work of fiction and then aspire to become more like some imaginary character, any information pertaining to Colonel Mustard, the lead pipe, and the conservatory is not only meaningless, but positively superfluous.

Death is not some worthy goal. We spend our lives living in defiance of that mortal-coil off-shuffling. It’s the living we crave, not the ending of it.

A life worth living would be worth living whether or not it had an ending.

That’s Chandleresque: a mystery you’d read even if the end was missing.

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Joel D Canfield writes Chandleresque cozies. Read about ’em at http://JoelDCanfield.com/my-books/

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9 Comments

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9 Responses to Chandleresque

  1. Felita

    I think I like the Lady in the Lake best of the Chandler novels.

  2. Thanks so much for hosting me today, Felita. Looking forward to a good conversation here.

    The Lady in the Lake is marvelous. High emotion in that one.

    My favorite is The Long Goodbye. Marlowe’s friendship with Terry Lennox is the happiest Marlowe ever seems, and I like that.

  3. Rex

    Did you know I have an entire leather cover set of Agatha Christie novels, 11 of her best. Loved her as a youth, so my Mom bought me the set. Still have them today, trying to get my kids interested. I was also a big Encyclopedia Brown fan.
    And it just so happened that last week it was Mrs. White with the revolver in the Kitchen (my kids always want to go diagonally.)
    Mysteries are always fun.
    Thanks for writing them, Joel, even if yours are a little different 😉

    • Hulloo, Rex!

      I love Clue. Our Little One is just old enough to get it. Time to buy a copy.

      I used to own lots of Dame Agatha’s work, but they’re long lost. Yours sound marvelous. Let me know if you ever have a yard sale . . .

  4. Joel, I watched the Big Sleep again a few weeks ago, and though I was prepared to be puzzled anew, I was puzzled anew. But as you say: the “facts” adding up don’t really matter—the atmospherics enchant and the people are weighty with mystery and depth. You explain it well.

    • We’re always in some danger, when asked “But WHY do you like that?”, of killing the patient by dissection.

      When I learned music theory, it did indeed kill of much of the pop/rock I’d once thought was totally groovy. It also opened up the worlds of jazz and more complex classical music which previously only confused.

      Understanding what fascinates me about Chandler’s style helps me jazz up (hah!) my mysteries. (Having an editor who believes everything I say, but only when I’m right, is also a boon.)

  5. Jessie Redding

    LOVE Chandler… if you like him.. how do you feel about Robert B. Parker?
    My FAVORITE writers growing up!

    Couldnt pick just one favorite book from either of them.

    • You mean the Robert B. Parker who was entrusted with finishing Chandler’s unfinished final work Poodle Springs? That Robert B. Parker?

      Yeah, I need to get on that train. That book turned out all right, didn’t it?

  6. Hey, if y’all love Chandler, there are two writers you need to read (if, that is, you’re up to a bit spicier language than mine.)

    James R. Preston writes the Surf City mysteries and they are excellent.

    http://jamesrpreston.com/

    And Larry Brooks, phenomenal writing coach and author of Story Engineering has also written two books about Wolfgang Schmitt, underwear model turned sort-of-secret agent: Bait and Switch and Deadly Faux. (One of the best book titles ever.)

    http://storyfix.com/