Monday musings: Chandler had it easy

Share

By Scott Bury

This post is re-blogged from Scott Bury’s blog of February 15, 2016.

I’ve been re-reading Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels in a probably vain attempt to capture the mood and inspiration to write my own crime fiction, and when I compare Chandler’s prose to 21st-century mystery, thriller and crime fiction, it seems that Chandler’s challenge was less than today’s writers’—or at least, very different.

The Big Sleep was Chandler’s first full-length novel, and the first to feature the tough, cool and sarcastic private eye, Philip Marlowe. The book became a bestseller quickly, and I think part of the appeal was the titillation factor: Marlowe finds the daughter of his client drugged, sitting nude in front of a camera. In 1939, drugs and pornography were very racy stuff, stuff not talked about in polite society. So racy, in fact that in the movie version made in 1946, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, that the Carmen character was wearing a “Chinese dress.” There was no mention of pornography, and the homosexual relationship of two minor characters was completely left out.

In a time when people make their own sex videos and publish them on social media, naked pictures are no grounds for blackmail. Today, it’s almost impossible to shock or titillate an audience merely by hinting at a character’s homosexuality.

Shockers sell books

No, this is not a Nicholas Sparks “white people almost kissing” theme. This is as steamy as Hollywood got in 1946.

New writers who reach bestseller status often do so with a taboo subject. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo launched Steen Larson into international fame with its depiction of Nazis in modern society, child sexual abuse and a main character with Aspergers Syndrome. To Kill a Mockingbird wrote honestly about racism in the American South. The Virgin Suicides’ eponymous theme was something that no one wanted to talk about in the early 1990s. All these books were the first novels published by their respective authors.

The problem with shock as a literary device is it only works the first time. Writers of popular fiction have to keep upping the ante. Occasionally, I toy with the idea of writing a noir detective novel for the 21st century. Which means I would have to trawl the seedy underside of a big city and bring to light the dirtiest laundry of wealthy society, and the desperation of those clinging to the edge of their economic class.

But for shock value, it’s hard today to expose sins worse than what we read in the news: sexual abuse of children by clergy; self-proclaimed moral guardians having sex with strangers in public washrooms; institutional racism and sexism; wars being fought over made-up crimes. And of course, the biggest and most damaging sin of all: the manipulation of the economy to impoverish a once thriving middle class by transferring their wealth into fewer and fewer pockets.

How to shock?

I could probably dream up some horrible new crimes, something to surely shock or perhaps titillate an audience. Beyond the potential damage to my own psyche, I hesitate to inspire some twisted reader to emulate my fictional horrors.

And that brings up another question: should I write to shock? I write to tell stories, to present characters reacting to situations, not to horrify my readers.

Which means today’s noir writers are spending more psychic time in deeper, dirtier dungeons than ever before, writing about more damaging sins.

Raymond Chandler. Image courtesy Venture Galleries

Does the noir mystery translate to the 21stcentury? Sure. Plenty of writers have published these dark, moody mysteries with flawed characters who succumb to all sorts of temptations since 2000. But it seems to me that the crimes are grislier, the suckers more depressed, the gangsters more bloodthirsty and the femmes even more fatal.

I was right. Chandler had it easy.

Share

Thursday Teaser: Small Town Focus

Share

The latest Reed Ferguson mystery

By Renée Pawlish

smalltownfocusShe got right to the point. “I think my father might have killed my mother.”

That wasn’t what I’d expected to hear. “Why do you say that?”

She frowned. “I guess that’s not the best way to start the conversation.” Gina Smith let out a little nervous laugh. “Something odd is going on.”

“I’m an only child. According to my father, my mother left us when I was a few weeks old. We moved to Colorado shortly after that, and he raised me by himself.”

“He never remarried?”

“No.”

“Has your father ever said why your mother left?”

She shrugged. “He’s been very vague, and said that she was unhappy, and she had some problems. It’s a touchy subject, but when I’ve asked questions, he tells me that the past is in the past, that he loves me enough for both of them, and that I should let it go.”

I studied her for a few seconds. “But you’ve had a hard time doing that.”

“Yes. Dad doesn’t even have a picture of my mother, let alone anything that belonged to her. And he never even told me her name. It’s like he cut her completely out of his life, so she’s a complete mystery to me, and that’s always made it hard. I have an intense desire to know more about her, to know what she looked like, what things made her who she was, and what made her tick.”

“And what made her leave.”

“Yes,” she said softly. She took another drink, and stared at me with intense brown eyes.

“This is all intriguing,” I said, then hesitated. “But I still don’t see why you think your father may have killed your mother.”

“There’s more,” she said.

“I’m listening.”

“A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting Dad and I went into the den. The news was on, and the anchor was talking about skeletal remains of a body that had been found in a field east of Denver. Based on the size of the bones, the authorities thought it was probably a woman. You should have seen the look on Dad’s face. He was in shock, just staring at the screen with his jaw open. I spoke to him three times before he noticed I was there, and his face was as white as a ghost. I asked him about the remains, and he snapped at me to shut up.” Pain wrinkled the corners of her eyes. “He never talks to me like that. I asked him why the news was upsetting him, and he told me it was nothing, and he changed the subject. Then, the next time I was there, a few days later, I overheard him on the phone. I have no idea who he was talking to, but he said something about the woman in the field, and about it being taken care of, and she was never supposed to be found. He was furious.” She tapped the table for emphasis. “He was talking about that woman.”

I gazed into her pleading face. “Okay,” I finally said. “I’ll look into it.”

Although her dad had certainly been acting strangely, I doubted there was anything sinister behind his behavior, but it would be easy enough to find out, and put her mind at ease.

How wrong I was.

About Small Town Focus

Reed Ferguson is back!

“I think my father might have killed my mother.”

With this one sentence, Gina Smith immediately draws Denver private investigator Reed Ferguson into a case. Questioning her past and yearning to find the mother she’s never met, Gina hires Reed to find answers. With the help of his wife, Willie, his best friend Cal, and the always amusing Goofball Brothers, Reed’s search for Gina’s mother leads him to a rural Colorado town and a puzzling mystery that involves a decades-old kidnapping, a powerful small-town mayor, a seductively charming pastor, and an unsolved murder. And if Reed isn’t careful, the murderer’s focus could turn to him.

Small Town Focus is a suspense-filled mystery, with a Bogie-wannabe detective, a dose of humor, and a clever homage to film noir. From the award-wining author of This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies.

Great for fans who love a fast-paced, humorous read, without a lot of swearing or sex.

About the author

Renee PawlishRenée Pawlish is the award-winning author of the bestselling Reed Ferguson mystery series, horror bestseller Nephilim Genesis of Evil, The Noah Winters YA Adventure series, middle-grade historical novel This War We’re In, Take Five, a short story collection, and
The Sallie House: Exposing the Beast Within, a nonfiction account of a haunted house investigation.

Renée has been called “a promising new voice to the comic murder mystery genre” and “a powerful storyteller”. Nephilim Genesis of Evil has been compared to Stephen King and Frank Peretti.

Renée was born in California, but has lived most of her life in Colorado.

Visit Renée’s

And follow her on Twitter @ReneePawlish.

Share