No malice aforethought

3 Jan

I feel like I’ve been insulting Raymond Chandler.

Not deliberately. But given his tough-guy persona, I’m pretty glad he’s no longer alive to hear my insult.

What insult?

I’ve been telling people that when I write the Nascent Payne mysteries (The sort-of Murder of Fiona Galloway, The Man with Two Eyes and the upcoming The No-Good Book), I’m channeling my inner Raymond Chandler.

But I’ve been reading the Kindle version of Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake and I feel put to shame. Here’s a sample from the opening chapter:

I went past him through an arcade of specialty shops into a vast black and gold lobby. The Gillerlain Company was on the seventh floor, in front, behind swinging double plate glass doors bound in platinum. Their reception room had Chinese rugs, dull silver walls, angular but elaborate furniture, sharp shiny bits of abstract sculpture on pedestals and a tall display in a triangular showcase in the corner. On tiers and steps and islands and promontories of shining mirror-glass it seemed to contain every fancy bottle and box that had ever been designed. There were creams and powders and soaps and toilet waters for every season and every occasion. There were perfumes in tall thin bottles that looked as if a breath would blow them over and perfumes in little pastel phials tied with ducky satin bows, like the little girls at a dancing class. The cream of the crop seemed to be something very small and simple in a squat amber bottle. It was in the middle at eye height, had a lot of space to itself, and was labeled Gillerlain Regal, The Champagne of Perfumes. It was definitely the stuff to get. One drop of that in the hollow of your throat and the matched pink pearls started falling on you like summer rain.

A neat little blonde sat off in a far corner at a small PBX, behind a railing and well out of harm’s way. At a flat desk in line with the doors was a tall, lean, dark-haired lovely whose name, according to the tilted embossed plaque on her desk, was Miss Adrienne Fromsett.

She wore a steel gray business suit and under the jacket a dark blue shirt and a man’s tie of lighter shade. The edges of the folded handkerchief in the breast pocket looked sharp enough to slice bread. She wore a linked bracelet and no other jewelry. Her dark hair was parted and fell in loose but not unstudied waves. She had a smooth ivory skin and rather severe eyebrows and large dark eyes that looked as if they might warm up at the right time and in the right place.

And sprinkled throughout the book are gems like this one from later in the same chapter:

The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips.

Chandler was a master at massaging words into sentences never seen before, so if you like mysteries and good writing, I highly recommend The Lady in the Lake.

On the other hand, I feel sometimes like I’m doing well if I avoid tired old chiches. Like, “tired old chiche.”

Sorry, Mr. Chandler.

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