Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Keep your nose clean, Marlowe.

I have a piece up at Every Other Thursday on Chandler, Marlowe and me that really gets a lot of things off my chest on the subject.

In Marlowe novels, Marlowe always gets a case that he takes more because doing so adheres to his work ethic than because it’s a legitimate problem for him to solve. Almost always it involves a woman in peril. Very soon, what begins as a simple matter of “find the girl” puts Marlowe between two large, resourceful forces – on one hand, a gangster, on the other, the police. Marlowe, like his predecessor Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, starts the story not knowing the script and with the parts all moving. He follows along until he can get enough clues to overtake the action, insert himself into it, and reign it all in with words and a minimum of gunplay. But meanwhile we get what has by now become convention. Marlowe finds a body or two. Someone hits Marlowe over the head. Someone drops by to rough Marlowe up and tell him to “keep his nose clean.” Two cops threaten to pull him in and hold him if he won’t talk – and he doesn’t. One or more femme fatales tries to push her tongue through Marlowe’s teeth. Marlowe reveals the true meaning of a clue or clues he has been holding onto for some time.