* I’m 98% finished with Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. It’s very good. It’s my favorite Stephenson book that I’ve read so far. I put it aside a week ago because I was staying up too late reading it. But now I have a chance to return to it and find out what happens, although I can kind of guess, but that’s not a criticism: creating a structure of inevitability is a good thing for an artist.
* Raymond Chandler wasn’t hugely masculine in personal affect, but you can’t exactly disparage his bona fides: e.g., he served as a sergeant in the Canadian Army in 1918 on the Western Front and was the only survivor of his platoon from a direct hit by a German artillery shell. And he didn’t talk about it much, although it’s kind of a subtext of his novels and his life, vaguely surfacing 35 years later in The Long Goodbye.
My view of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe detective novels:
The Big Sleep — The first and most famous Chandler novel. This is the most reasonable choice to start with, although it’s not my favorite. Vastly influential, second only to The Maltese Falcon. E.g., The Big Lebowski is a comic version of The Big Sleep.
Farewell, My Lovely — The second and most lyrically beautiful. My favorite. Peak Chandler.
The High Window — Forgettable
The Lady in the Lake — Pretty good, but not as good as the first two.
The Little Sister — Pretty good, and the movie industry backdrop is more interesting than the Lady in the Lake, which is appealing if you are familiar with Southern California mountain resorts, but if you aren’t, 1940s Hollywood is a more interesting setting.
The Long Goodbye — A famous comeback novel. It’s excellent, but it’s more of an old man’s social novel, while the first two are those rare things, a young man’s lyrical novels by a disillusioned middle age man. Personally, I don’t find The Long Goodbye as much of a knockout as the first two novels, but it clearly had a lot of influence, such as on Larry Gelbart’s musical “City of Angels” and “Blade Runner.” The Mexican-American cop who despises but needs the Anglo detective hero is a brilliant innovation that’s the foundation of Edward James Olmos’s career.
I haven’t read the books past then when Chandler was old and drunk.
The other major Chandler work is the screenplay to the great film noir “Double Indemnity.” Chandler told Billy Wilder that James M. Cain’s novel was terrific, but his dialogue wouldn’t work in a movie so Chandler would have to totally rewrite it. Wilder was dubious and called up Cain, who didn’t much like Chandler, and told him what Chandler had said about his dialogue. To Wilder’s surprise, Cain agreed with Chandler, and told Wilder to have Chandler rewrite his dialogue.
This was a pretty awesome moment of 1940s professionalism. I suspect the Coen Brothers have kicked around this scene a few times between themselves.