It was a big year for Chandler: not only did Knopf release his full canon in this hardcover trio, which includes some long-out-of-print stories, but Vintage also released a new set of paperbacks (LJ 7/02) of all his books. (LJ 9/15/02)
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*Starred Review* "The front of her dress was a sudden welter of blood. Her eyes opened and shut, opened and stayed open." That sentence, from Raymond Chandler's 1935 story "Spanish Blood," says volumes about the history of mystery fiction. Death was mostly an offstage plot device in the works of Agatha Christie and other English authors during the so-called Golden Age of the detective story; American pulp writers made guns and blood their stock-in-trade, but most of them knew little about style, and their work didn't circulate much beyond bus stations and drugstores. Then Chandler, getting his start in those same pulps, began using phrases such as "sudden welter of blood," and it was only a matter of time before the literary world took notice. This landmark collection, gargantuan in both size and significance, brings together for the first time all of Chandler's short fiction, the raw material from which he later fashioned all his celebrated novels, from The Big Sleep through The Long Goodbye. Part of the fascination in reading these seminal tales is to encounter bits and pieces of the novels turning up in all sorts of places: the fabled opening scene of The Big Sleep, Marlowe with General Sternwood in the greenhouse, takes place in one story, while the later scene involving Sternwood's thumb-sucking daughter, Carmen, and her adventures with a pornographer becomes the centerpiece in an entirely different story. To read these 25 stories, 22 of which were originally published in the 1930s, consecutively is to watch Chandler's craft develop: the move from third to first person; the fascination with atmosphere and mood; the outrageous similes; the liberating focus on his detective's thoughts and feelings; and, of course, the relish with which he describes violence and death, utterly realistic yet flamboyantly stylized. And, yet, one can also see Chandler chomping at the bit of the short form, the plot demands of the mystery formula keeping him from his real interests: character and place. Only Chandler fanatics will want to read every word of this encyclopedic volume, but anyone with any interest in the history of hard-boiled fiction should sample its groundbreaking wares. A major publishing event. Bill Ott
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