Keely's Reviews > The High Window

The High Window by Raymond Chandler
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Jan 15, 10

bookshelves: crime, novel, mystery, reviewed, america, noir
Read in January, 2010

I once read in a mystery readers' newsletter that one invariably favors either Chandler or Hammett, and that the minute difference in character between the two preferences is an unbridgeable gap. I started with Hammett, and expected much more than I got. It was brusque and brooding, but its brusqueness lacked refinement: it was not laconic but merely truncated.

The brooding lacked the sardonic wryness which I had come to associate with crime fiction, and which I now find to be the flourished signature of Chandler, with his abstracted yet fitting metaphors. Chandler also misses the mark when it comes to laconic elegance, leaning more to the luridly painted scene.

Both have that slow-burn plot that is only saved by the aid of an insider (and coincidentally, the delivery of a small box containing the macguffin). Hence, I wouldn't call the plotting tight, exactly, as it hinges on a kind of authorial intervention to keep it moving; but it does move.

In the end, Chandler could have used a bit of Hammett's brusqueness, while Hammet could use a lot of Chandler's elegance, if you could call it elegance. The sort of elegance shown by a nondescript thug pulling and firing, killing without wasting a second bullet, and then disappearing into the wave of screaming, trampling patrons, leaving behind only a body amongst the broken glasses, spilled liquor, and ticket stubs. If there could be any elegance in a thing like that.

But that newsletter was right. I find myself drawn to Chandler and scorning Hammett. As with most such contests, it all comes down to the commas, in the end. In Chandler, they're a shrug, a wistful moment: a recognition that whatever you're about to say isn't what you wanted to say. In Hammett they're a stutter before a restatement.

Both show a recognition of something left unsaid, something sought for but in the end, something not found. That's the legacy of most crime novels: that even when you find what you were looking for, it doesn't change anything, and that need to look is still there.

And when a man searches for that thing and fails to find it, I find him more charming if he shrugs instead of stutters.
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