Been reading up on some old school noir and came across a few interesting articles I thought were worth passing along.
The first takes a long and thoughtful look at what is possibly the first true noir novel and one that helped define the genre: The Maltese Falcon. The article correctly hits upon what sets Dashiell Hammett's work apart from so many others, the struggle of morality. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, while living in something of a more complicated world, is, most times, a much less complicated man. He is morally just, the knight fighting through the filth of LA crime. Sam Spade, Hammett's short lived protagonist, straddles a much hazier moral line. This following article does a good job picking around these scabs HERE.
The second, is a timely review of the new book: The World of Raymond Chandler, In His Own Words, by Barry Day. More than a biography, Day's book pieces together not only the influences and events of Chandler's life, but also takes the effort to reconstruct 1940's LA, and the people and events that helped form the basis of so many novels. Though I already know a good portion of the man's life, this book takes so much from his own words and correspondences I promptly ordered a copy after reading this review to find out more. The article on the New York Times Website is linked HERE.
Finally, heading back to The Guardian and Hammett, and I guess as a way of wrapping up the two men that have influenced pretty much anyone in this field or with even a passing interest in the genre, "The Dean of Hard-Boiled Fiction" goes knee deep into the author's history and, unlike the above glimpse into Chandler's life, we get some nice early comparisons to Hammett's contemporaries (Hemingway being one of them). The author also delves into the sad but fascinating tale of Hammett's writer's block and crippling alcoholism. How much of Sam Spade was actually pulled from Hammett's real life will never be known completely, but his inability to produce more work beyond his five stellar years from 1929 - 1934 is rooted in his life previous to his writing (a Pinkerton and lawman) and ultimately informs his typewriter's paralysis. A lasting quote from Hammett is one all writers fear but most never heed:
“I stopped writing because I found I was repeating myself. It is the beginning of the end when you discover you have style.” You can find this article HERE.
A special shoutout to Ed Lynsky for the Times article, I popped by his Google+ page as I often do (and you should too) and found it through there.
One other quick note, I lifted the above picture from another great article published nearly a year ago which recounts the one and only time these two men met, and I think this picture is the only one ever with the two of them. The LA Times write up is a great quick read HERE.
Somewhere a year or more ago I wrote a blog about my top Chandler novels. I may dig that out and re-publish it here. In the meantime, visit some of the above links and learn up on these interesting dudes.
Two junkie hookers with nothing left to lose attempt to frame their biggest client. Unfortunately for them, someone’s already beat them to it and he’s not ready to share.
“Donny and Rich’s lives ground on in a short cycle of copping, getting high, turning tricks, hiding from the world, then getting sick. Their time was marked by hours, not days.”
It’s not that this book is grimy, though it is. It’s not that its violent, or endearing, or bloody, or wrought with the painful reality of the streets, though it is all of these things.
What Hustle has that a lot in the genre don’t is urgency.
And not the noir urgency of a missing character struggling to stay alive in the hands of a speed-freak killer, or the desperate need to obtain that one last treasure that’ll get a man off the streets for good, (although you guessed it, Hustle has these in spades as well).
The urgency in this tale bubbles from the streets itself, and the addictions buried in the people there. At no point in Pitt’s yarn are we more than a few moments away from the desperate and oppressive need of the next hit, just to get us right, just to get us through the next two hours.
That’s reality on the streets and that’s what makes this novel so compelling. Noir/Crime pieces will always (although don’t have to) spin around the dirty folks skirting the fringes of the law. And some have dark histories and others are getting their hands bloody for the first time, but rarely do we see them so pre-occupied with one singular thought, and even more rarely is this thought a true reflection of reality.
Addiction strangles us at every turn, pressing on our windpipe as Big Rich and Donny turn their tricks with dark men in nice cars just to score some cigarette money, as Bear tries to figure out his next move and how far he should go to save the life of a man who saved his, as Dustin tweaks his way through existence.
It never leaves and just when the countdown hits zero, shakes start, the vomiting and the cramps and the pain, so much pain. It’s not hard to get lost in Hustle’s reverence to addiction, and it’s the book’s most endearing quality. Because in the end, we want Big Rich to be reunited with his chick and their kid, we want Donnie to smarten up and stop getting raped. And most of all, we want Bear to relax on the beers and just settle down with a broad who gets him. But we also know that’s not going to happen. The pull is too strong, the claws too deep. It was always going to end this way, we just needed to see it happen to know for sure.
Tom Pitt’s Hustle gets the reader dirty, sure, but it’s the pain of that dirt, that grit, that makes this small slice of street life so real.
Review by JJS
Blog Author Bios:
J. J. Sinisi started TDC and is a professional out of New York but spends what little free time he has strolling dark alleyways creating and reviewing crime fiction. His work has appeared at Spelk Fiction, Yellow Mama, Spinetingler Mag, Near to the Knuckle, Dead Guns Press, All Due Respect, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive and others.