March 21, 2012

Chandler and Hammett

On the left of the blog there's a new link to a longish article on Chandler and Hammett, two of the giants of American crime writing. This is largely the text of a talk I gave to a literary group here in France, in Montmorillon, the Cite de l'Ecrit. The article looks at what Chandler and Hammett did to create the private eye genre and suggests some reasons for why detective and crime fiction has become so popular since they were writing.

Reading their books now is a strange experience because they're both very lively and their plots - especially Hammett's - are amazingly complex. There's no doubting, however, that the social context has changed dramatically and that some of the attitudes and prejudices of the writers - and their detectives - are uncomfortable for modern readers. Because we identify so strongly with Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, when we see them demonstrating prejudices that we don't like, it's hard to stomach. We have to put it down to 'changes in society' ... but that seems somehow to diminish them.

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