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Genre Discussions > Hammett vs Chandler: exactly how do they differ?

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message 1: by Feliks (last edited Jan 22, 2015 06:21PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) I hope no one minds me raising this topic.

First, this isn't about 'who is better'.
And of course, this isn't about the obvious differences (San Francisco vs Los Angeles, timeperiod, a 'nameless' op vs Marlowe, etc)

What I'm wondering about are differences in how they each treat characters (the clients who come to them) and the way the tales are narrated. What kinds of clients are they and what kind of problems do they usually have?

If you were handed two stories--one by each author--and you'd never seen either before--how would you immediately know whose was whose? Sure, there's the prose style. Hammett is more laconic, clipped, terse; where Chandler is more elegant, longer sentences, and thoughtful.

But what about differences in the way the mysteries are devised? Are Marlowe's mysteries more complicated? How are the mysteries usually 'wrapped up'? Are there damsels in distress, or femme fatales? Who does more actual brainwork?

Does Marlowe 'muse poetically to himself' more? Does the Continental Op or Spade seem to have no inner life, focusing instead on whats-around-them? Is Sam more of a 'lech'?

Just an open question to see what turns up.


message 2: by Skye (new)

Skye | 2105 comments Feliks, you have a very unusual 'take' on many things. Interesting question, and not anything I have considered.


message 3: by Elle (new)

Elle Thornton | 65 comments Feliks wrote: "What I'm wondering about are differences in how they each treat characters ... what kind of problems do they usually have?
This is a very helpful question for readers and writers and one I will now ask myself as I read and as I write. Thank you for your post.


message 4: by Feliks (last edited Jan 31, 2015 05:06PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Thx for the kind words!

I've been mulling it over a little further myself and I think maybe one aspect is this:

Spade and the Op tend to deal with clients and adversaries who are out-and-out denizens of the underworld, 'gangland', etc. Con-men, grifters, thieves, killers galore. They make no bones about it; they dwell on the seedy side of town, they carry 'rods'. They're openly involved with racetracks, numbers, rackets, or speakeasys as their professions. The mystery usually involves just identifying them and tracking them down, or shooting-it-out-with-them.

Whereas Marlowe is mostly approached by characters who ostensibly are solid citizens, members of society--respectable figures. At least at first. Later, as the cases unravel, we learn that these individuals are double-layered, duplicitous, two-faced. Or perhaps they 'straddle' morality--they try to live lawfully but fail, are tempted to err, or are struck by some accident or urge or lust which makes them 'cross the line'. They have transgressions they want to keep hidden. This is at least one reason why Chandler's mysteries are more intricate than those found in Hammett.


message 5: by Jon (new)

Jon Frum | 12 comments THIS is Chandler: "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."

Hammett, although writing in a similar genre, has a different voice.


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