Find out what that means just below these links, along with my thoughts on what made Raymond Chandler’s writing special.
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What is a Chandleresque Cozy?
Raymond Chandler didn’t write hard-boiled mysteries. He’s noir, the very pinnacle. For examples of his work see his first novel, The Big Sleep, or his best, The Long Goodbye. The movie version of The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart, will also give you a pretty clear indication of what Chandler was all about.
Noir. Not cozy.
Cozies are Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher having tea in a restored Victorian B&B on an island off the coast of Maine. No one says anything you couldn’t say in front of the kiddies, nor are social mores examined, nor disturbing thoughts shared. Very few guns are fired, and knives and other scarier things just aren’t mentioned.
Chandler is the opposite corner from cozy. I’m bringing those two corners together to form an isosceles triangle, Bermuda shorts and all.
Maybe because I haven’t seen it done before, at least, not well.
Maybe because it’s what I wish I could read more of, but I can’t find it.
Maybe because I love Chandler and want to be Chandler when I grow up. (I was born precisely 9 months after his death. Go figure.)
For those who like cozy mysteries, but find they’re sometimes a bit bland: Chandleresque cozies stretch the cozy concept, yet retain the good manners you expect.
For those who love Chandler and similar mysteries, but who’d like less sordid detail, thank you very much: Chandleresque cozies are convoluted as all get-out with satisfying emotional crunch, but maintain their (and your) dignity.
There are no sex scenes. No gore. No profanity, not even the mildest. Some of these things may be alluded to, but in a way which we think even the most delicate sensibilities won’t find offensive. I don’t believe those things are required ingredients in a great story; that, in fact, they detract.
The stories, though, touch on darker themes. Betrayal. Our own gut-wrenching fears. Family. (Yes, family. You’ll see.) Depression.
Touch, though, not dwell. The people in Chandleresque cozies feel real because they share the same shadows we all suffer. The stories are uplifting because they shine lights, letting us see why the darkness doesn’t have to win.
A style so strong your name becomes an adjective: Chandleresque.
It means, clearly, “like Chandler.”
What that means is, perhaps, less obvious, unless we go with “I know it when I see it” which is, for a writer, ultimately, unsatisfying.
Because I call my mysteries “Chandleresque cozies” I feel obligated to define my terms. Others have done so more completely, probably more correctly; others of greater literary stature than I.
Tough. I’m the only one here right now, so I get to make the calls.
In his introduction to Trouble is My Business, he epitomized my feelings about his style (and, I flatter myself, mine) saying, “The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing.”
Most traditional mysteries would be much less satisfying without the denouement, the moment when the sleuth reveals all to the characters gathered in the drawing room. We’ve been watching for clues, trimming red herrings, keeping track of this, that, and the other thing, and seeing the devilishy clever circumstances of the crime revealed by an even more clever hero is, in the end, the main point of the mysteries our favorite authors write.
Can you imagine Poirot shrugging and admitting he hadn’t a clue? Picture Kinsey Millhone deciding it didn’t matter and going home for a peanut-butter and pickle sandwich. Inconceivable that Nero Wolfe would admit defeat — or that Archie Goodwin would tolerate it. Their bravery and problem-solving prowess is the reason we read Christie, Grafton, and Stout.
But Chandler? I don’t care whodunnit. In some cases, I don’t even know whodunnit. The famous example is the chauffer in The Big Sleep. Nobody, not even Chandler, knows how he ended up washing in the surf inside a Packard off Lido Pier.
Because it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that Marlowe becomes convinced there’s a deeper darker game than simply finding Shawn Regan. And someone is prepared to kill more than once (or more than one someone is prepared to do it) in self-interest, self-preservation.
People, not puzzles.
The city. Los Angeles. He hated it. He loved it. As he loved and hated the people. Everyone was flawed. Marlowe was no saint. Cops were sometimes kind, sometimes nefarious. Les femmes fatales were not always fatal, were sometimes even innocent victims.
Good versus bad. Wrong or right. That’s the stuff of most crime and mystery writing.
Not Chandler. Sure, Philip Marlowe is staunchly ethical, even when he’s breaking the law. His sense of justice, of right, is unimpeachable. Marlowe’s morality, though, is a given.
We’re not here for givens. Nobody lines up at the coffee shop because they can pour a cup of joe without spilling. But if their espresso is a shot of roasted creamy heaven, word gets around.
That paradox, the sweet cream taste made from darkly bitter beans; that’s where Chandler rises to the top. His characters are real people. Sure, they have flaws. They make stupid choices. They make intentionally bad, mean, hurtful choices.
They also die for someone they love. They suffer ignominy rather than betray a confidence.
They love deeply, maniacally, redeemingly.
And his plots. Called by one reviewer “rambling at best and incoherent at worst” they are, no argument from me, convoluted. Corkscrews jammed in a vice. Keep track of who did what with whom, and where and when, in any of his books. I never even bother.
Because, once again, that’s not why I took this ride.
In The Long Goodbye, Terry Lennox is the poster child for redemption. Beaten down by everyone including himself, when he’s pushed past his limit, he doesn’t fold, he soars. Revives himself, reinvents himself, redeems himself. And at the same time kicks the pins from under those who hurt him most.
When I read a work of fiction and then aspire to become more like some imaginary character, any information pertaining to Colonel Mustard, the lead pipe, and the conservatory is not only meaningless, but positively superfluous.
Death is not some worthy goal. We spend our lives living in defiance of that mortal-coil off-shuffling. It’s the living we crave, not the ending of it.
A life worth living would be worth living whether or not it had an ending.
That’s Chandleresque: a mystery you’d read even if the end was missing.
In the Works
Another series, my first with a female protagonist. The first half of the story was finished over a year ago when I paused my writing to make a long-overdue study of advanced writing craft.
anacrusis will be released the third quarter of 2015.
From the Fog
The third entry in my Irish adventure series will complete the “lost map” story arc begun in Through the Fog and continued in Into the Fog. It will be released by the end of 2015.
Various Other Works
A coming of age novel, another Phil Brennan novel probably called A Still, Small Voice, and maybe, just maybe, my first album of music.
It was one of those days when breakfast wanted to be cheap whiskey straight from the bottle.
A short, fat banker. A willowy, buxom blonde. Phil Brennan’s latest client is the former. He prefers the latter — until he gets to know her better. She and her family back Brennan into a corner. His only way out is to choose between truth and love.
With this family, there’s a third choice, just for good measure.
— Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams, author of the Memphis Barbecue Mysteries
The day his dream career ends, Jesse Donovan reconnects with an old flame. All he has to do to live happily ever after is abandon everything he’s ever believed in.
An amnesiac is pursued through the wilds of west Ireland accompanied by a beautiful woman who may or may not be his friend. As flickers of memory return they only add to his confusion.
A light mystery that’s more about people than puzzles. Includes 50 black & white photographs by the author.
After 3 years this sequel to Through the Fog is finally available. How do you choose which innocent person gets hurt? In this sequel to Through the Fog, the two living O’Quinn brothers are back, luring Web Martin into another Irish adventure. An ancient map showing the earliest voyage of an Irish hero can’t fall into the wrong hands — especially since it’s a forgery. Niall and Fearghal make it sound so simple. Web doesn’t believe a word of it, but with an Irish police officer for a girlfriend and a security specialist as his best friend, Web has no doubt they can sort out what the O’Quinns are really up to without getting in over their heads. You’d think he’d know better by now. ISBN: 978-1434867360
After 3 years this sequel to Through the Fog is finally available.
How do you choose which innocent person gets hurt? In this sequel to Through the Fog, the two living O’Quinn brothers are back, luring Web Martin into another Irish adventure.
An ancient map showing the earliest voyage of an Irish hero can’t fall into the wrong hands — especially since it’s a forgery. Niall and Fearghal make it sound so simple. Web doesn’t believe a word of it, but with an Irish police officer for a girlfriend and a security specialist as his best friend, Web has no doubt they can sort out what the O’Quinns are really up to without getting in over their heads.
You’d think he’d know better by now.