KILLER IN THE RAIN (1964) ***½
by Raymond Chandler
First published by Hamish Hamilton, 1964
This edition: published by Penguin Books, 1979, 432pp.
Blurb: None of these eight stories features Philip Marlowe. He came later. But every one of them already has the deadly Chandler elan that made Philip Marlowe the coolest, toughest private eye ever.
These stories were written whilst Raymond Chandler was honing his craft in the pulp magazines of the 1930s. Seven of the eight were published before his fist novel, The Big Sleep (1939). The detective featured in each is a prototype for Philip Marlowe. Chandler’s detective was always used as an observer and a tool to move the plot, rather than a fully fledged character in his own right. As the books progressed Chandler finessed the Marlowe character to make him more rounded resulting in the masterpiece that was The Long Goodbye (1953). Whilst most of Chandler’s short stories were re-published (in collections such as The Simple Art of Murder and Trouble is My Business, these stories were held back until 1964, after Chandler’s death, as the plots had been re-used by Chandler in some of his novels.
The first story, Killer in the Rain (Black Mask, January 1935) **** is recognisable as the blackmail plot element used in The Big Sleep. Here the troubled young Carmen Dravec would become Carmen Sternwood and gain a sister. Dravec is a doting surrogate father and a heavy rather than the proud General Sternwood. Steiner would become Geiger, Joe Marty would become Joe Brody and Guy Slade would become Eddie Mars. The plot would be expanded for the novel, but many of the elements are here making the story a fascinating read. It lacks the rhythm of prose Chandler would bring to his novels, but the bones of his later style are evident here. The Man Who Liked Dogs (Black Mask, March 1936) ***½ is as hard-boiled and violent as Chandler gets. The story is a straight forward search for a missing woman instigated by in centring around a missing police dog. The two are tied in with a notorious gangster and corrupt police force. There are scenes in a bogus medical institution and a finale on a gambling boat with a bloody shoot-out resolution. Scenes would be re-used in Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely and themes in The Little Sister. The story has lots of twists and action, but it again lacks the poetic prose style of Chandler’s later work. Chandler’s detective is named here as Carmady, one of several name try-outs through his short prose. The Curtain (Black Mask, September 1936) **** became the Rusty Regan (here O’Mara) part of the plot for The Big Sleep. It features recognisable version of General Sternwood and his daughter Vivian. A psychotic 10-year old son for Vivian in this story would be replaced by a sister, Carmen, in the subsequent novel – fusing the character of the son with that of Carmen Dravec in Killer in the Rain. Additionally its opening, concerning a drunken acquaintance of Carmady, was to form the central relationship to his best novel, The Long Goodbye. This is an assured story, well-written and containing more obvious examples of Chandler’s prose style. An action-packed finale acted as a rehearsal for that in The Big Sleep. Try the Girl (Black Mask, January 1937) **** is a fast-paced and well-written warm-up for the main plot of Farewell, My Lovely with an giant ex-con seeking his lost girl, whilst Mandarin’s Jade (Dime Detective Magazine, November 1937) ***½ does the same for its sub-plot of the attempted recovery of a stolen necklace. Both stories again feature John Dalmas. In the novel the two stories would be inter-related, showing how cleverly Chandler cannibalised his own plots. Both show Chandler becoming increasingly confident with his prose style. Bay City Blues (Dime Detective Magazine, November 1937) *** is a little convoluted in its plotting of Dalmas investigating the apparent suicide of a doctor’s wife. Elements form the story were used in his novel Lady in the Lake. The next story would be the key basis for that novel and share the same title. Here, however, The Lady in the Lake (Dime Detective Magazine, January 1939) ***½ overly telegraphs the solution to its mystery plot of a man looking to track down his missing and unfaithful wife, but is otherwise a great vehicle for Chandler’s gift with dialogue. Chandler would rework elements of the plot, and characters (here given different names) as well as using the same mountain lake location for No Crime in the Mountains (Detective Story Magazine, September 1941) *** in which he uses the name of John Evans for his LA based PI, but the plot is less successfully developed than in the previous story.
Taken as a whole these stories are fascinating as embryonic versions of what were to become classic and highly influential crime mystery novels.