Reading about P.D. James’s Talking About Detective Fiction, I found a post at A Work in Progress that excerpted James on hard-boiled American fiction, catching my eye with it’s description of Dashiell Hammet:
Hammett had a rough upbringing and supported his family by writing short stories for the pulp magazines. Interestingly (but maybe not at all surprising) his editors wanted “violent action, vividly portrayed characters and a prose style ruthlessly pruned of all essentials.”
I suppose this is someone’s misprint, or mis-edit, but I read this shortly after finishing The Thin Man, my second go with Hammett, thinking it was a bit too apt. A few weeks ago I noted that Chandler actually made me visualize scenes, which he presents in extreme detail and with admirable precision.
In The High Window, for example, when he goes to the home of a blackmailer who’s just been killed, he gives a cinematic and vivid description of the room the body is found in. That physical description is important, not just as a window into the life and situation of the blackmailer, or even just as a collection of evidence useful in solving the murder, but also immediately important to the events that will unfold in the coming pages.
One of the ways Chandler achieves his vivid images is through his trademark similes. I like them, quite a bit, but what really gets me is his perfect diction. Words are specific and extremely appropriate. It all helps the visualization, and the action, and the characterization.
Hammett feels much more stripped down—not that there’s much wrong with that for pulp, of course. In The Thin Man, the first and completest description of Mimi, one of the three major female characters:
The doorbell rang. I went to the door. Eight years had
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