SELECTED BY DAVID VINETARD:


RAYMOND CHANDLER “Guns at Cyrano’s.” Ted Carmady #1. Novelette. First published in Black Mask January 1936 (with the leading character named Ted Malvern). Collected in: Five Murderers, Avon, paperback, 1944; Red Wind, World, hardcover, 1946; The Simple Art of Murder, Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1950; Pick-Up on Noon Street, Pocket, paperback, 1952; Stories and Early Novels, Library of America, hardcover, 1995. TV episode: Season 2 Episode 4 of Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, 18 May 1986 (with Powers Boothe as Philip Marlowe).

   Ted Carmady liked the rain; liked the feel of it, the sound of it, the smell of it. He got out of his LaSalle coupe and stood for a while by the side entrance to the Carondelet, the high collar of his blue suede ulster tickling his ears, his hands in his pockets and a limp cigarette sputtering between his lips. Then he went in past the barbershop and the drugstore and the perfume shop with its rows of delicately lighted bottles, ranged like the ensemble in the finale of a Broadway musical.

   “Guns at Cyrano’s” is one of the many short works written by Raymond Chandler for the pulps between 1929 and the publication of his first story “Blackmailer’s Don’t Shoot” and 1938 and the publication of The Big Sleep, the first Philip Marlowe novel. It is neither the best nor the worst of the lot (certainly not as good as the John Dalmas stories, particularly “Red Wind”), not even the best of the stories written in the third person (“Spanish Blood” and “Nevada Gas” are both better).

   I’ll go further, it isn’t even the best of the stories featuring Carmady (here known as Ted Carmady).

   I am not damning with faint praise though, because it is my personal favorite of the early stories, a pulpy B-movie of a boozy rainy noir tale replete with women no better than they have to be, a hero who isn’t so noble he’s boring or hard to believe in, a few innocents, and of course that famous man who walks into the room with a gun just as the lull starts to set in.

   Carmady, at least as presented here — and you will be forgiven if you question if this is the same Carmady of “Killer in the Rain” — has money and lives well, unlike anyone else in Chandler’s oveure he is not a private detective (he used to be, and even identifies himself as one at one point, but a rich private eye goes against almost everything Chandler ever wrote elsewhere) nor a good cop or house dick, but instead the son of a father who got his money in a clearly stated illegal way, meaning his son knows a lot of shady people and has a romantic notion that maybe he ought to make up for his father’s sins by helping people in trouble:

   “Okey,” he said thinly. “I’m nosey. So what? This is my town. My dad used to run it. Old Marcus Carmady, the People’s Friend; this is my hotel. I own a piece of it. That snowed–up hoodlum looked like a life–taker to me. Why wouldn’t I want to help out?”

   Here he is headed for the hotel room he lives in when he spots a victim lying in an open doorway.

   She lay on her side, in a sheen of steel–gray lounging pajamas, her cheek pressed into the nap of the hall carpet, her head a mass of thick corn–blond hair, waved with glassy precision. Not a hair looked out of place. She was young, very pretty, and she didn’t look dead.

   Carmady slid down beside her, touched her cheek. It was warm. He lifted the hair softly away from her head and saw the bruise.

   “Sapped.” His lips pressed back against his teeth.

   Frankly at this point you wouldn’t be too shocked if Carmady turned out to have a sobriquet like the Saint or the Toff. Only the language is different, and maybe the attitude, the milieu is pretty much the same.

   The Dame, all women in these stories are some shade of Dames, good, bad, classy, murderous, or saintly, is a chanteuse named Jean Adrian (“I do a number at Cyrano’s.”), no better and no worse than life and men have made her, who likes his whiskey and is loathe to admit she was sapped or explain the.22 he finds beside her.

   Seems Miss Adrian has a boy friend who is a fighter, Duke Targo, and the Boys would like him to drop a fight, and they are trying to get to her through him. Naturally no Chandler hero can let that knightly quest go unmet.

   Of course that knightly quest is far from simple this being Chandler, involving a State Senator being blackmailed, a fixer named Doll Conant (His clothes looked as if they had cost a great deal of money and had been slept in.), an innocent victim to be avenged, and that gunfight at Benny Cyrano’s club from the title.

   Before it is over there is more gunplay (more in this single story than all the Marlowe novels put together), a few beatings, plenty of the kind of tough poetic dialogue Chandler was famous for, and a moral of sorts. It all makes for a satisfying pulp tale with the air of a good B movie and with those little touches that make even early Chandler such a pleasure to read.

   As I said, I like this story much more than it deserves for what it is. I’ve even seen it suggested it is the weakest of the Chandler stories, but it just happens to fit me for some reason, which is all any of us can ask of any story.

   They went through silent streets, past blurred houses, blurred trees, the blurred shine of street lights. There were neon signs behind the thick curtains of mist. There was no sky.

   If, like me you are a sucker for that particular brand of music, “Guns at Cyrano’s” hits all the notes on key, sonata for Thompson Machine Gun in B-Flat.