How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth…

Raymond Chandler on Other Writers

As Stephen Blackmore has pointed out, Raymond Chandler was a bit of an asshole. Sure, he had his moments, but he was also vain, egotistical, insecure, jealous, catty, snobbish and of course, alcoholic. Just a browse through his personal correspondence reveals a snarkiness, particularly towards other mystery writers, that’s surprisingly mean-spirited, and almost always behind their backs. And this guy created Philip Marlowe?

We can only be grateful he didn’t have a Twitter account.

Here, then, are a few choice tidbits from Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler (1981), edited by Frank McShane.

  • Raymond Chandler and Cat
    Meow!

    On Kurt Steel
    Although Steel’s novels about private eye Hank Hyer were generally well-received, and popular enough to spawn at least two fims, not everyone was a fan.  Chandler, in a 1939 letter to fellow author George Harmon Coxe, dismissed a couple of Steel’s Hank Hyer books as “two pieces of oh-so-irritating wise guy crap.”

  • On James M. Fox
    Fox, the man behind the popular Johnny and Suzy Marshall books, about a southern California P.I. and his wife, were apparently friends, having first met at a party at mystery collector Ned Guymon’s house, and began a correspondance that that lasted for several years (and was later collected in a 1978 volume, Letters: Raymond Chandler and James M. Fox). Fox eventually dedicated his book Dark Crusade to Chandler, but the love, apparently didn’t always flow both ways. Turns out that Chandler considered him “almost a classic bore” and not much of a writer, urging his publisher not to allow Fox to write a biography, according to a 1956 letter to his agent).
  • On James Cain
    “Faugh! Everything he touches smells like a billygoat. He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naif, a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and aboard fence and nobody looking. such people are the offal of literature…” Cain was a frequent target of Chandler’s barbs and he goes on (and on), in a 1942 letter to Blanche Knopf, his (and Cain’s) publisher.
  • On Cleve Adams
    “I was so steeped in the rugged stuff that I didn’t realize how stupid it can be unless it is superbly well done. Today I could no more read a book by… (Cleve) Adams than I could eat a kangaroo,” in a 1942 letter to Erle Stanley Gardner.
  • On James Hadley Chase
    In a 1948 letter to Cleve F. Adams (see above), Chandler slammed Chase’s bestselling No Orchids for Miss Blandish as “half-cent pulp writing at its worst.”
  • On John Dickson Carr
    “(His) literary performance is so dull I can’t read him…,” in a 1949 letter to Hamish Hamilton.
  • On Henry Kane
    “I picked up a thing called Armchair in Hell (featuring private eye Pete Chambers) which is so godawful tough and selfconscious that it becomes a burlesque and it is not funny enough for a burlesque,” in a 1949 letter to James Sandoe.
  • On Mickey Spillane
    “Pulp writing at its worst was never as bad as this stuff… a mixture of violence and outright pornography,” in a 1952 letter to Dale Warren.
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

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