there's something about chandler books. they're really, to me, not about the mystery. who cares what happened to rusty, or where the coin came from or something like that. none of them are pot boilers, to use the expression. the attractions are in the scenes, in the characters, and watching, for the most part, marlowe work his way through them. it always struck me that chandler was never that interested in giving you a tightly wound plot of mystery or suspense that was opened with the protagonist digging around, poking holes in the carpet with his switchblade, or taking a bit of cocaine to reach the high. rather, plots fall open around the character, who isn't much of a detective, and everything opens as part of the scene, as if the coin being there had to be there, or otherwise the scene marlowe was in would not hang together, if that makes any sense. probably not.
anyhow, what always interested me about chandler was the quote he was often claimed to have said. that being, 'When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.'
i've heard writers say this quote, as if it were some sort of gospel, or an amusing thing to suggest to someone who doesn't know better. in my time i've probably said it, though this was probably because there was no man with a gun bursting through the door, and sometimes you need that. but, being that i've read most of chandler's essays and not come across this quote, i was a bit curious as to where it was. maybe it was just a myth. something someone just made up one day. but no, it's found in the introduction to Trouble is my Business.
in the introduction, chandler is talking about the hard boiled detective story and its place in the pulps. In talking about the formula for it, he said that the men in it were hard, and the elements fantastic, as that was necessary for a story in which a lot of strange things happen in such an organised order, with such a close bunch of folks. He was talking about that fantastic element happening quickly, and in such a small frame of logic, and said:
' When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get pretty silly, but somehow it didn't seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to overreach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.'
what i like about that quote now, is how the next line is, 'that could get pretty silly...'