Friday, August 20, 2010

Philip Marlowe went to Mexico

Paco Ignacio Taibo II took him there, in Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, a 1988 collection of short stories by other crime writers in honor of Chandler and featuring his most famous character.

Taibo, whose own crime novels chronicle absurdity and brutality in Mexico, takes Marlowe south of the border as a kind of double, following a mysterious heir for reasons unspecified, and if that reminds you of The Long Goodbye and Terry Lennox, you're on the right track. Taibo pays tribute to that novel in a short afterword:

"The first Spanish edition of The Long Goodbye appeared in 1973. I read it three times. I added it to what I had learned from Simenon, Dürrenmatt, Hammett, and Le Carre, and was certain that crime literature offered me the best possible scenario for the stories I wanted to tell."
Taibo's own novels turned out quite different, he goes on,

"But no doubt Chandler was there; in stories built on dialogue and characters and atmospheres, rather than anecdotes, but which still managed to tell a story."
Taibo's story here, "The Deepest South," takes that aspect of Chandler and builds from it a travelogue full of Mexican vistas, odd encounters, and enigmatic dialogue. It reads a bit like a Wim Wenders road movie, full of pungent, wistful observations, of which this is just one:

"Mexicali at the time was a way station for refugees from all over Europe who were seeking permission to enter the United States. It had been, and probably still is, the trampoline for thousands of Mexicans who illegally cross the border to make themselves a few dollars in the north. Above all, it was a languid city; dirt was everywhere; clouds of dust tried to cover the poor tracks of progress and return the city to its ancient desert condition. It was a city where you heard songs in many languages, songs that were almost always melancholy."
Read more about Raymond Chandler's influence from Ireland to Bolivia, with an addendum here. And here's a bit about Marlowe himself.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Anonymous Fred Zackel said...

I bought that anthology new ... and took it with me to mystery cinventions to have writers who were in the book autograph it. Some lovely names are all inter-twined. I recommend the practice to others.

August 20, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've done something similar with another anthology and also with a novel I had signed by both authors and its editor/publisher.

Not everyone things anthologies such as this Chandler volume are appropriate. I've read just Taibo's story so far, and I like what he did. He took one facet of Chandler's writing and built a story a around it, rather than trying to imitate his style whole. That's more interesting, I think.

August 20, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Apologies, Peter, if this comment is a little bit off the beaten path as far as your post is concerned, but the reference to Mexico reminded me of something I read in a book about the writer Sybille Bedford. She spent some time in Mexico after the second world war and she had this to say about her experience:

Foeigners are apt to get stuck in those Anglo-American enclaves: it's the climate, the cheapness of living, the throngs of servants (rumour had got through about people now doing their own washing up in England).

I do like that last bit. It takes class difference down to its nitty-gritty. It's funny because it's so differnt from our own experience, where domestic service is unknown or defined in quite different terms.

These class considerations were hugely important in the 30s and 40s. Chandler's The Big Sleep has its butlers and chauffeurs but the butler knows how to mind his own business and the chauffeur's presumption in chasing after one of the ladies of the house is rewarded with an early bath, as we soccer fans would put it.

Despite America's reputation as a classless society, there's not much sign of it in books or movies from the 30s or 40s.

August 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Off the beaten path, but in a worthwhile direction because theat statement was funny and because Hammett, too, wrote stories set among people who had servants, some which even appeared in Black Mask.

I wonder if any of the popularity of those story lay in their portrayal of murder and other dirty secrets among the rich -- evidence that those people behave badly.

August 21, 2010  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Always picking on the rich. Mystery writers as a class tend to pin all the really vicious crimes on those with wealth or with power.
Somehow that has always seemed to me at odds with the American idol of the self-made man and the dismissal of fraudulent business practices as "smart." This is not a classless society, far from it. It puts the almighty dollar above everything. The wealthy are the American aristocracy and live in palaces.
As for crime among the rich: most violent crimes are committed by the poor. And these days, almost every segment of society is capable of behaving badly.

Never mind. I'm just feeling grumpy today.

August 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Someday I hope my newspaper will upgrade its Internet connectivity to 1998 standards so I'll be able to reply to comments during down time without worrying that my computer will slow down, seize up, grind to a halt, and die, taking my reply with it.

In any case, what I was trying to say is that I don't know how large tales of depravity among the rich bulked in Chandler's and Hammett's work. I was tempted to suggest that such tales may have had special appeal in the crash and Depression years, but the Hammett stories about the rich that come to mind predate those years. What does Hammett publish in 1933 and 1934? The Thin Man, about two loveable, high-living detectives, the husband making a living by managing his wife's family's industrial holdings.

At any rate, I always associated both writers more with attacks on political corruption than on wealth.

Violent crime among the poor, vicious crime among the rich is a fair starting point for discussion. And I like your observation that blaming the wealthy and powerful seems at odds with American worship of money, power and success. (These days I would add celebrity to that list.) Maybe that's why the sharpest and most telling attacks on politico-financial corruption I have read in crime fiction in recent years come from France, especially in the person of the excellent Dominique Manotti.

August 21, 2010  

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