Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chandler in South Africa

A year and a half ago I published a short international list of crime writers indebted in various ways to Raymond Chandler or who paid tribute to him. The list included Matt Rees, who is from Wales and who sets his novels in the Palestinian territories, Ireland's Declan Burke and Declan Hughes, Bolivia's Juan de Recacoechea, Algeria's Yasmina Khadra, Australia's Peter Corris and Garry Disher and, in his delightful social history of English crime fiction, Colin Watson.

Readers' comments added to the list, and this week I've come across a clever tribute in Roger Smith's Mixed Blood. Here's the famous opening of Chandler's "Red Wind":
"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."
Here's Smith's opening:

"Jack Burn stood on the deck of the house high above Cape Town watching the sun drown itself in the ocean. The wind was coming up again, the southeaster that reminded Burn of the Santa Anas back home. A wind that made a furnace of the night, set nerves jangling, and got the cops and emergency teams caught up in people's bad choices."
Smith repeats the motif throughout the novel, as here, on page 226:

"The wind howled across the Flats, picking up the sand and grit and firing it at Zondi like a small-bore shotgun. He felt it in his ears, up his nostrils, and it sneaked in and found his eyes behind the Diesel sunglasses."
This and other bits like it may describe accurately the brutal Cape Town Flats, but they also constitute an extended homage to one of Chandler's best-known passages.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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27 Comments:

Anonymous Elisabeth said...

What a tasty topic! And what an apropos short story to reference when there was a high of 83 degrees and a steady breeze in L.A. today.

No one can match that opening of "Red Wind," though many have tried. Smith's is a nice homage, rather than a blatant imitation.

Here's another fine little passage from later in "Red Wind":

"Then I went out to the kitchenette and poured a stiff jolt of whiskey and put it down and stood a moment listening to the hot wind howl against the window glass. A garage door banged, and a power-line wire with too much play between the insulators thumped the side of the building with a sound like somebody beating a carpet."

Perfect.

And no one can convince me otherwise that Robert Towne's famous last line in "Chinatown" ("Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown") was not an homage to Chandler's "It's the hot wind, Sam. Let's forget it" near the end of "Red Wind."

Peter, thanks for providing the link to your earlier post. I'm slowly working my way through Hendrik Rupp's "Something more than crime: Raymond Chandlers Erweiterte Kriminalromane" and it's very interesting to me to get perspectives on Chandler from your non-US/UK readers.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Then I went out to the kitchenette and poured a stiff jolt of whiskey and put it down and stood a moment listening to the hot wind howl against the window glass. A garage door banged, and a power-line wire with too much play between the insulators thumped the side of the building with a sound like somebody beating a carpet."

Perfect.


Yup.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know the Rupp book. It appears to have been a dissertation, and that's a fine topic. What does he have to say?

I deciphered the title with the help of my favorite online dictionary.

February 17, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I knew it would be LEO—we love LEO. I usually have a browser window open to it when I'm working (as I am “im Moment”) with German-language sources.

The Germans in particular seem to take American crime fiction deadly seriously; no pun intended. All that stuff you, I, and other readers of your blog were thrashing through earlier–about genre this and that—is a non-starter for the Germans. They’ve already decided that, yes, crime fiction is real fiction. Rupp thoroughly dissects the development and uses of style in Chandler. From the few articles I’ve read (German is my “worst” language and very slow going, esp. academic German) the Germans really seem to understand Chandler (Hammett, too; re that essay on Hammett’s pragmatism available in English at thrillingdetective.com). The French tend to get overly excited about Hammett’s leftism and Chandler’s visuals.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

LEO is easy to use, it offers comprehensive definitions, and its mascot has an exceedingly friendly appearance.

Christa Faust had some interesting impressions of how Germans regard the kind of crime fiction she writes and loves.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Roger Smith said...

Peter, you are a student of fine crime writing. (Not mine -- Chandler's!) I know there is a school of thought that if you open a book with a description of the weather you doom it to failure, but I went ahead and did it anyway with Mixed Blood. And I'm certainly not ashamed of being inspired by Mr Chandler. Well spotted.

February 17, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter

I started off using LEO but I find myself more often using dict.cc now.

http://www.dict.cc/

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

Didn't Elmore Leonard say "Never open a book with weather," or words to that effect? Maybe he was wrong.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Smith makes up for his gaffe by having plenty of men reach for guns.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Roger, I don't know who originated the taboo on opening stories with weather. It would be nice to think of Chandler taking up the challenge, offering rude remarks about the anti-weather crowd as he did so.

No one ought to be ashamed of Chandler inspirations any more than any writer of English ought to blush over sneaking a glimpse at Shakespeare or the King James Version.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I've added that dictionary to my favorites list. Thanks.

One entertaining feature is its display of recently added translations. When I called up the dictionary, these included "de-plaited" and "value-added tax." One never knows when these might come in handy.

One advantage of LEO is its complete interchangeability of English-German and German-English translation. The user need only type in a word, and the dictionary will recognize which kind of translation is needed. The user need not click anything, need not go to a different window. The process is supremely simple.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Leonard did say that. Its good advice. Except of course if you're starting with "it was a dark and stormy night."

February 17, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Re not opening a book with weather... perhaps that goes back to the infamous Edw. Geo. Bulwer-Lytton opening for "Paul Clifford," (1830):

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

[LEO's] mascot has an exceedingly friendly appearance" -- that's definitely one reason I like it so much (he was so cute in his Santa hat at Christmas), although solo's dict.cc is good, too. The Oxford Language Dictionaries Online is NOT user-friendly (constantly having to rebuild search, etc.) but we get it bundled with our online resources at work.

I also like www.wordreference.com/ for its user forums and type-ahead feature. And it's free.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Elisabeth

Great minds...

Of course I became aware of it was a dark and stormy night through Snoopy years before I'd even heard of Bulwer-Lytton.

Incidentally The Bulwer Lytton competition is always fun.

Although I'm in a bit of huff with them having entered the horrible puns category three years in a row and not even getting an honorable mention. I thought my last year's entry was particularly horrible:

"Natasha, the Russian mail order bride, found it hard to adjust after being fired from the assembly line at Burt’s Bees Skin Care Products - one time her husband even caught her smearing Lip Restorer With Pomegranite Oil on their Slumberland pillow, and, when asked why, she told him: “I love smell of lip balm in the morning, it smells like factory.”"

February 17, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Adrian, yes, we must have hit the "publish" key at the same moment!

Peter, I went to Bernd Kochanowski’s blog through the link you provided and yes, I erred in making “sweeping references to ‘the Germans’” when making a broad generalization about how seriously they take crime fiction. It was only meant in response to how UNseriously we (as a nation) tend to take crime fiction in the US. I enjoyed reading the responses to Kochanowski’s post and, frankly, thought Faust a tad overly defensive, thin-skinned, in her reply to the reception she thought she was getting from the Germans. (Ex., Germans only like angst-ridden, no-sex-please, male protagonists? Hardly.) The responses to BK’s original post helped clarify some of the German attitudes towards crime fiction. When I make generalized observations about the Germans, French, etc. they are just that, generalizations, with many exceptions. What I DO like what I’ve read of German crime fiction criticism, admittedly mostly Hammett and Chandler and a couple of other period writers, is that their approach to it is no different, without qualification, than their approach to any other literature, mainstream or otherwise. It’s written about, well, seriously.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So, what's the origin of that piece of nonsense with which my mother used to delight me:

"It was a dark and stormy night. Not a creature was in sight. And the captain said to Antonio: `Tell me one of your stories.' And Antonio said to the captain: ``It was a dark and story night. Not a creature was in sight. And the captain said ... "

Italo Calvino, maybe?

I occasionally use wordreference.com as well. It offers a number of languages and a handy verb conjugation feature.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you're right. Your entry was pretty bad.

In fact, you entry does what too many Bulwer-Lytton entries fail to do: It's amusing even as it parodies bad writing. Too many entries, even winning ones, are so successful that they's not funny bad, they're just bad. A stunning exception is the 2007 winner in the detective category, from Bob Millar of Hässelby, Sweden:

"I'd been tailing this guy for over an hour while he tried every trick in the book to lose me: going down side streets, doubling back, suddenly veering into shop doorways, jumping out again, crossing the street, looking for somewhere to make the drop, and I was going to be there when he did it because his disguise as a postman didn't have me fooled for a minute."

February 17, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

You are too old to have had your mother read to you Janet and Alan Ahlberg’s 1993 “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” but I remember it from my children’s bookselling days. “After being kidnapped by outlaws, Antonio, an eight-year old boy is asked to tell them a story which he makes up as he goes along.” I'll bet your mother was reading a predecessor to this version.

I am ashamed to admit I have never read Calvino's "Italian Folktales." Turns out we have it here so I will trot over to the GRI and snag it.

Have you ever prowled around the Define This site?

http://www.definethis.org/

From it I copied and pasted the below.

"There are many variants of a linguistic conundrum, often told to children, one of which goes 'It was a dark and stormy night, and the brigands were in their den, and the Captain said to Antonio "tell us a story", and this is what he said. 'It was a dark and stormy night..."

On the same page was this tidbit:

"Andrea Camilleri's "Il birraio di Preston" is an experimental novel where each chapter begins with the (adapted) incipit of some famous novel or play. One of the chapters begins with a translation in Sicilian dialect of this line."

From what I’ve read, "Il birraio di Preston" is considered to be one of Camilleri’s greatest works. I have it, haven't read it yet, but here is how that chapter begins: "Era una notte che faceva spavento, veramente scantusa."

February 17, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Speaking of Bulwer-Lytton, stormy nights, Chandler, pastiches, etc.... The winner of the International Imitation Raymond Chandler Writing Competition (1994) was:

He had a nice seductive manner, like those dark-suited zombies who sell cemetery plots to the not-yet-dead. But I wasn't buying ...

submitted by Harry Hellenbrand

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, here was poor Christa, a slip of a girl, alone in a big country of harsh weather, forbidding architecture and guttural accents (though she could probably knock her critics on their keisters with a quick rabbit punch). I'm willing to excuse a bit of defensiveness on her part in the face of what may have been some blunt questions. Of course. her book did get published in Germany, so at least some Germans take it seriously, as well they should.

What I found especially interesting among the responses is the suggestion that German critics, having fought hard to get crime fiction taken seriously, might in turn become especially protective of it.

I'll agree that American writing about crime fiction in the media formerly known as mainstream is jokey, unserious, sparse and getting sparser.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, my mother was passing on a version ot the conundrum, not reading to me. I am continuing the oral tradition. As far as continuing stories, I read some selections from "The Thousand Nights and a Night" years ago amd enjoyed it so much that I bought the complete set and read it.

Define This looks like fun. Thanks.

I knew nothing of any of Camilleri's work outside the Montalbano stories.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I always wanted to write for that catalog Elaine worked for in Seinfeld. I'd do a Graham Greene style pastiche:

As the jungle ferry pulled out from the dock Scobie wondered if the weight on his shoulders was from the crushing pressure of his adulterous affair with the Ambassador's wife or merely his backpack filled with plastic explosives for the partisans - fortunately he was wearing his stylish J Peterman mesh oxford shirt with a breathable poly cotton uppper and a pure linen back with a sweat wicking moisture system for times when the heat really is on.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of the International Imitation Raymond Chandler Writing Competition, have you ever browsed my own Raymond Chandler simile fest?

February 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Don't know why your Graham Greene sports-clothing pastiche reminds me of this, but I always wanted to rewrite the lyrics to ”Oh Yoko!" as "O-sa-ma!" maybe with George Bush singing them.

February 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

At least there I got an "honorable mention".

February 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And a book, too, if I recall correctly, for your entry "He stuck out like a reasonable man in the Fox News building."

February 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I told you that it was my mother who first told me "It was a dark and stormy night," so in our search for its origins, I went to the source: my mother:

"re: 'It was a dark and stormy night'

I first heard it in the dark, gathered in a circle around a campfire when I was about 10 or 11 years old. It was a very popular campfire tale that was told (not read) exactly as you quoted.
...
For the several years that I went to camp, it was always and often told exactly as I have described. I never knew its origins...nor, as youngsters, did we care. "


Nor did I, in my simple, childlike delight, enquire after the origins.

February 18, 2010  

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