The King in Yellow by Raymond Chandler (1950)

Okay, okay – last Chandler nibble for a bit. The indignity of being shot at.

“He shot at me,” he repeated quietly. “With a gun. This gun. I’m tender to bullets. He missed me, but suppose he didn’t? I like my stomach the way it is, with just one way in and one way out.”

Me, too. Only one of mine’s bigger than the other.

Keep dodging those bullets, gals and boys.

Thanks for being here.

(The King in Yellow is the second of third and last story in Pearls are a Nuisance.)

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Finger Man by Raymond Chandler (1950)

Fancy a quick one?

Here’s the maestro on suspense – and its release.

The ball drifted along the groove, dipped past one of the bright metal diamonds, slid down the flank of the wheel and chattered along the tines beside the numbers. Movement went out of it suddenly with a dry click. It fell next to double-zero, in red twenty-seven. The wheel was motionless.

The croupier took up his rake and slowly pushed the two packets of bills across, added them to the stake, pushed the whole thing off the field of play.

Canales put his wallet back in his breast pocket, turned and walked slowly back to the door, went through it.

I took my cramped fingers of the top of the railing, and a lot of people broke for the bar.

A tantalising rhythm. You can see that ball on its slow whimsical journey. And that … and walked slowly back to the door, went through it releases us.

Love the breaking for the bar, too. Makes my elbows twitch.

Thanks for being here.

(Finger Man is the second of three stories in Pearls are a Nuisance.)

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Pearls are a Nuisance by Raymond Chandler (1950)

Sticking with Chandler’s style for a few short posts.

Here’s the story’s hero trying to be tough and in control but it not working very well. One’s got to smile.

“I am the fiancé of Miss Ellen Macintosh,” I told him coldly. “I am informed that you tried to kiss her.”

He took another step towards me and I another towards him. “Whatddaya mean – tried?” he sneered.

I led sharply with my right and it landed flush on his chin. It seemed to be a good solid punch, but it scarcely moved him. I then put two hard left jabs into his neck and landed a second hard right at the side of his rather wide nose. He snorted and hit me in the solar plexus.

I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor. This made me lose my balance temporarily and while I was thinking about how to regain it a wet towel began to slap at my face and I opened my eyes…

Love even the floor joining in to give him a bashing. But our have-a-go hero gets to his feet and tries again.

“Damn you, Eichelberger!” I said and hit him with all my strength on the side of his jaw. He shook his head and his eyes seemed annoyed. I delivered three more punches to his face and jaw while he was still shaking his head.

“So you wanta play for keeps!” he yelled and took hold of the bed and threw it at me.

I dodged the corner of the bed, but in doing so I moved a little too quickly and lost my balance and pushed my head about four inches in the baseboard under the window.

A wet towel began to slap at my face. I opened my eyes…

You got to feel sorry for the guy through your smiling. That unassuming style of Chandler begs our sympathy. 

And I just love, and his eyes seemed annoyed. Know that look too well. Glad it’s not just me.

Thanks for being here.

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The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (1944)

If you prodded me in the chest and said, ‘Off the top of your balding head, name a writer that makes you frisky when it comes to style.’

I’d say, ‘Trick of the light. Chandler.’

The magical thing about Chandler’s style is you can’t really unpick how he does it. Gotta keep trying, though.

There are some obvious touches like word economy and timing, but you still can’t explain how that rabbit – or the smile on your face – came to be there.

I think I might’ve wised up to a couple of wee wows, though. So turn up your collar, glance over your shoulder, and lean in…

But first. If you haven’t gone any way with Ray, no sweat. It’s all smouldering dames and square-jawed gangstas with mild-mannered Marlowe the private dick muddling along among ’em.

What’s so good is he’s so human. And he’s vulnerable to those same dames. And to being whapped with a sap here and there. Usually on the back of his head when he’s least expecting it. Know the feeling. Reminds me of the black market hooch in Zanzibar.

Wow one – The Chandler Feint

Well I call it that, anyway. Chandler does it so quickly and smoothly, sending you the wrong way.

I waited in the dark, with the flash in my hand. A deadly long two minutes crept by. I spent some of the time breathing, but not all.

Bet you were thinking about breathing in the dark and those two minutes, huh? But not the ‘but not all’.

Here’s another.

You are backed up against the last wall there is now. You are all out of space, and you are all out of living.

Gah, he got me there too. Was wandering off happily thinking about walls and backs and there not being a lot of room around here and pow, my ticket’s being punched. Just didn’t see the ‘all out of living’ coming.

Oh, and clock that the passive (‘…are backed up’) works well here to emphasise the hopelessness of his situation. And the neat beat of wall-all-all. And how the repeating ‘you are all out of’ makes it more adamant.

Wow two – The Chandler Contrast

Chandler loves mushing up hard-soft, big-small and light-dark in his contrasts. Here we go.

He was about six feet two and not much of it soft. His eyes were stone grey with flecks of cold light in them.

He’s big, he’s hard, he’s not soft, he’s cruel. And notice that other little Chandlerier that snuck in there? He likes to say what things aren’t as part of a contrast (‘not much of it soft’). Let’s call that The Chandler Ain’t.

Ok, one more.

A single bright star glowed low in the north-east above the ridge of the mountains. A robin sat on the spike top of a hundred-foot pine and waited for it to be dark enough for him to sing his good night song.

I don’t need to explain what’s going on in there, do I?

Because you’ll know already and besides, I want to get to the dame. Lots of Chandler contrasts and a simmering feint at the end here.

[Describing the ‘tall, lean light-haired lovely’, Miss Adrienne Fromsett]

She wore a steel-grey business suit and under the jacket a dark blue shirt and a man’s tie of a 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 jewellery. Her light hair was parted and fell in loose but not unstudied waves. She had 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 she’s on the first page of this story. Start as you mean to go on, why doncha, Ray.

I’m off to look up Fromsett in the phone book.

Thanks for being here.

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Any Human Heart by William Boyd (2002)

It’s no picnic writing a journal. One that has style, anyways.

Cripes, is it easier to write your own or a fictional one? That’s a good two-pinter for the pub. When they open again.

Meantime, there’s probably only one style that works. Boyd’s honest approach.

The recipe: some exciting bits. But mostly humdrum.

And there you have it. Stuff any human heart – or spirit – can relate to. 

Sex (I’m being honest, okay – it’s the first thing that came into my head), booze (I’m still being honest, okay – it’s the second thing that came into my head), marmite on toast (I’m…), love, arguments, laughter, sadness, joy, aging and death. 

Oh, and good and bad luck. And, erm, compromise. And bullshit. We’re all in on all of these.

In the book, Boyd’s journal writer Logan Mountstuart shows us how to write a journal, with a style tip along the way.

We don’t want to know that ‘Hitler invaded Poland’ – we’re more curious about what you had for breakfast. Unless you happened to be there, of course, when Hitler invaded Poland and your breakfast was interrupted… momentous events do lose something in the telling. Tonight, I had a cheese omelette and a bottle of beer for supper.

It’s easier to empathise around an omelette, isn’t it? Yes, I really did just write that – of course, I’ll come along quietly, nurse. I can taste the cheddar. And smell hops. 

And it’s a down-to-earth, every-day style that works with the soulful stuff, too. Empathise on this – that ‘oh, crikey’ feeling, when you realise what’s a-coming:

As I write this I feel that draining, hollowing helplessness that genuine love for another person produces in you. It’s these moments that we know we are going to die. Only with Freya, Stella and Gail [the women in Logan’s life]. Only three. Better than none.

Did you get that empty feeling inside, too? That’s form. Honesty, empathy, honesty. Honesty:

[On his dog dying] I feel very sorry for myself – that is what grief is.

Stop snivelling.

Thanks for being here.

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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1969)

Putting my pants on back to front this morning made me think of this madly sane and funny anti-war book. 

Preface. Those things sticking up in the air are my hands. I don’t pretend to follow some of what goes on with the intergalactic hero Billy Pilgrim. I’ve always thought of his journeys as blameless, get-away-from-it-all escapes into his head. (For me, that would be too echoey.)

Vonnegut uses three main pulses throughout. Given their make-up, they’re tricky to carry off with panache. Especially in a book that’s frightening one moment, funny the next, and freaky the one after. But the pulses give us emphatic beats in which to absorb the message, pause for thought.

So, let’s touch on those. Oh, and also want to share some flair in describing a sexy lady. Hell, why not.

But first, if you haven’t read it already (what you been doin’, then?), at the heart of the book is the bombing and fire storm of Dresden in 1945. Think devastation. Think desolation. Think death. Think really nasty shit. Everywhere.

The first is chocolate brownie. Oops, no, sorry – I’m eating one. The first is ‘blue and ivory’. Kurt could’ve just gone with skin and blood and bones. But then we wouldn’t get a sense of the once-fragile now cold, lifeless, deoxygenated flesh, and the precious and fragile feet and hands and skulls and blades and caps and carpals, all blown to smithereens. Everywhere. And so severely un-put-back-together-again-able. Devastation.

The next beat’s neat. A simple phrase, ‘A big dog barked.’ So what? Big dogs do. But put lots of them in that bombed and bleak wasteland and your winker will wince with every woof. Desolation. An example:

Somewhere a dog barked. With the help of fear and echoes and winter silences, that dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.

Sidebar. Reminds me of the dogs of Dagoretti. No, not a shit Welsh-Italian poet but a district of Nairobi. Overrun by packs of feral guard dogs, it was. When there, you stayed in your car. About 400-odd moons ago, we used to settle down to our sundowners (always joyfully early on the equator) with those hounds baying away in the background. Eerie. Even eerier when they stopped. No doubt got to the offal of some hapless tourist.

Anyways, back to this brilliant book. Those bow-wows keep a-howling here and there along the way reminding us of the wild and empty aftermath, just in case we’re getting complacent with Vonnegut’s funny bits peppered through the story.

The third recurring pulse is death, summed up in Vonnegut’s ‘So it goes.’ (I spotted 37 instances.) It’s everywhere. And there ain’t a god-damned thing you can do about it. I always think of it as ‘shit happens’. A kind of get over it, it’s beyond your control. An example:

His mother was incinerated in the Dresden fire-storm. So it goes.

Now before you go throwing that rope over yonder beam and looking for a stool, here’s some sexy style to cheer you up.

Maggie White… was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away.

Great way of putting it. A lesser writer would have merely gone with something like ‘voluptuous’ and then chatted about her shapes.

You can just see all those tail-waggingly keen males yapping and stotting with excitement.

Dogs again. Don’t get out of your car.

Thanks for being here.

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