Rain beat very hard against the windows. They were shut tight and it was hot in the room and I had a little fan going on the table. The breeze from it hit Dravec’s face high up, lifted his heavy black hair, moved the longer bristles in the fat path of eyebrow that went across his face in a solid line. He looked like a bouncer who had come into money.
He showed me some of his gold teeth and said:
‘What you got on me?’
Why I read it
The Great Book Cull of 2018, mentioned last post, has disgorged a double-stacked shelf of books with the working classification ‘Read or Die’ – books that are in limbo, neither ready to definitively discard nor keep. They have one chance to be re-assessed, and if I don’t get around to reading them soon they’ll get the chuck.
To ease myself back into reading I grabbed a handful of slim Penguin titles – mostly single short stories, or extracts from larger books – and took them with me on the flight to Melbourne for J’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. This was one of them.
What it’s about
This book contains a single eponymous short story first published in the pulp magazine Black Mask in 1935. Four years later this story was reworked and expanded to become Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep.
Most of the establishing elements of the novel are in this book: the driving rain, the blackmail case that starts it all off, the discovery of Carmen naked in front of the murdered book-seller’s camera, the car fished out of the sea off the Lido, the showdown in the apartment with the guy who’s taken over the dirty book racket.
Some things are different: Marlowe isn’t hired by elderly General Sternwood, but by Tony Dravec, a Serbian-born former Pittsburg steel worker who made it rich in the oil boom and now wants to rescue (and date) his wayward adopted daughter Carmen. Other names are different. But the main thing is that there is no Vivian, no Eddie Mars, and none of the labyrinthine complexity that ends up underlying everything in The Big Sleep.
Keep or donate?
It’s nice to have, just as interesting ephemera: as an adjunct to, and insight into the shaping of, one of my favourite books. But if I want a fix of the seedy underbelly of Marlowe’s Los Angeles I’ll turn to the meatier, more polished and more satisfying novels. So: donate.
This book was mostly read on a rainy Newcastle to Melbourne Jetstar flight.