A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Simple Art of Murder. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1950. Pocket #916, paperback, 1953. Reprinted many times since, in both hardcover and paperback.

   Eleven of the twelve stories in is collection are those that Chandler considered the best of his output for the pulps; the other story, “I’ll Be Waiting” was first published in the Saturday Evening Post (although Chandler admittedly felt uncomfortable and restricted writing for the slick-magazine medium). Also included here is Chandler’s famous and controversial essay on detective fiction, first published in the Atlantic Monthly, in which he lauds Hammett and the realistic school of crime writing, and takes a number of shots (some fair, some cheap) at such Golden Age luminaries as Christie, Sayers, and A. A. Milne.

   The stories here, as the dust jacket blurb says with typical publishers’ overstatement bur accurately nonetheless “hit you as hard as if [Chandler] were driving the last spike on the first continental railroad.” “Red Wind,” for instance, begins with one of the finest opening paragraphs in the history of the genre:

   There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of the hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edges of carving knives and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

   In the original appearance of that story, the private-eye narrator was Johnny Dalmas; here he becomes Philip Marlowe. Similarly, the unnamed narrator in “Finger Man,“ Carmady in “Goldfish,” and Dalmas again in “Trouble 1s My Business” are also changed to Marlowe. Johnny Dalmas does get to keep his own name in “Smart-Aleck Kill,” no doubt because that novelette is told third-person.

   And the same is true of Carmady in “Guns at Cyrano’s.” The only other first person story in the collection, the lighter-toned and somewhat wacky “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” features a much more refined dick named Walter Gage whose antics in search of a string of forty-nine matched pink pearls provide chuckles as well as thrills. Also included arc the tough Black Mask novelettes “Nevada Gas” and “Spanish Blood,” “The King in Yellow” from Dime Detective and “‘Pick-Up on Noon Street” from Detective Fiction Weekly.

   All of these stories appear in several other collections, such the paperback originals Five Murderers (1944) and Finger Man and Other Stories (1946) and the Tower Books hardcover originals Red Wind (1946) and Spanish Blood (1946). Next to The Simple Art of Murder, the most interesting and important Chandler collection is Killer in the Rain (1964), which gathers the eight “cannibalized” stories that were used as the bases for The Big Sleep, Farewell. My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.