Knowing that some people won’t get you, but that your fans will be even more delighted to be insiders because of it . . . I guess that’s not arrogance, is it?
Just as Rex Stout became a writer late in life, I became a fan of his writing late in life. Though I was already a teenager by the time A Family Affair was published as Stout’s last Nero Wolfe novel, I didn’t discover the books until I was in my fifties.
I have no interest in writing the definitive treatise on Stout or Wolfe. You can find ten times as many words as Stout ever wrote written about his writings with even a superficial search.
What fascinates me, what draws me to Stout, is my belief that he would have recognized some of himself in me. … more … “Archie and Saul and Fritz and Fred and even Orrie: Nero Wolfe’s Family”
I am a fan of the more cerebral, less action-oriented science fiction. If we separate out fantasy as a separate genre, where Tolkien can be Lord High Master, the King of the Mountain in cerebral sci-fi for the half century of my lifetime has been Isaac Asimov.
A novelist, even his short stories are brilliant. His humor is generally quite humorous. His mysteries intrigue and confuse. His novels, wherever they fall on the science fiction/fantasy continuum, are fulfilling and fascinating.
And when he wrote his epic Foundation Trilogy, not content with simply creating an epic, he created an entire universe.
Raymond Chandler has the second most distinctive voice in fiction. (Dr. Seuss has the first.)
I’ll pretend you don’t already know everything there is to know about Chandler and his invention of mystery noir and creation of the most human detective in the genre, Philip Marlow. I’ll also assume you don’t need the full story, just enough tease to make you want to find out for yourself.
At the age of 54 the Great Depression took his job as an oil exec. (What a wasted life that would have been.) He published his first short story a year later, and his first novel 7 years after his life change.
The Big Sleep.
The Big Sleep.
Yes, I’m shouting.
Writers and readers and lovers of the mystery genre will live in its shadow eternally. It is a universe unto itself.
The first paragraph annihilates all the foreshadowing of Poe (inventor of the mystery story) and Hammett (creator of Sam Spade, author of The Maltest Falcon which is the greatest mystery film ever made.)
Approach this with an open mind. Let the words be what they are and not what you expect. And hear the voice of Philip Marlowe, a man who sees the darkness around him and knows irrevocably his duty to bring light.
Try reading that aloud and not sounding like the wise-cracking tough guy from the movies. This is that guy, the original.
Look at what meaning he conveys in a paragraph full of non-meaning: a man who shares that much about his clothing is clearly a careless dresser. A man who announces he’s sober, well, if that’s news, we know one more thing about him. And a man who says he doesn’t care who knows it — this is a man who feels the weight of society’s disapproval and wishes he didn’t.
In fact, he shares precisely two facts of any value in that paragraph:
- he’s a private detective; and
- his client is wealthy.
You will never once care that it is October or that it’s a gloomy rainy day, although Chandler is brilliant at giving us enough environment to let our unconscious put us there with Marlowe. We may or may not see the black wool socks with blue clocks on them again. We will not care, either way (though Marlowe’s attire is at least a hint of the time period.)
Whether you care about mysteries or not, The Big Sleep is an important book and should be read by any writer of fiction.
I had some fun with it at my personal site.