Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 9-10

 

Chandler, Raymond.  The Long Goodbye.  Boston: Houghton, 1954.

In creating Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler followed the model that Dashiell Hammett provided in Sam Spade.  Both are hardboiled detectives who expect the worst of most people and are seldom proven to be overly pessimistic.  Both operate on the dangerous ground between the criminal underworld and corrupt law enforcement, representing clients who have compromised themselves in trying to conceal some personal or family secret.  But whereas Spade adheres to a personal code that does not preclude his profiting from corruption, Marlowe is more incorruptible, an anti-hero because he behaves heroically without much faith in the established order.  It is Marlowe’s fundamental strength of character that permits Chandler to write so lyrically about the underside of Los Angeles life, whereas Hammett’s descriptions of criminality tend to be much grittier, much harsher.  Marlowe hopes that on some level he can make things better, whereas Spade believes more simply that he can come out on top.

It is difficult to select one Marlowe novel over the others.  The Long Goodbye is not as structurally tight as some of the other novels, but its characters are almost unfailingly interesting, its ambiguous mood is wholly engaging, and its fundamental themes of loyalty and betrayal are compellingly realized.  Marlowe’s involvement with a likeable if self-involved, suicidal novelist named Roger Wade connects unexpectedly with the earlier disappearance of Terry Lennox, a friend of Marlowe’s who, Marlowe uneasily and increasingly suspects, took advantage of Marlowe’s loyalty.

 

Clark, Mary Higgins. A Stranger Is Watching. New Uork: Simon and Schuster, 1978.

One of the most prolific and most popular mystery-suspense novelists of the post-World War II period, Mary Higgins Clark has written more than 50 books, 42 of which have been bestsellers. Together, those books have sold more than 100 million copies in just the United States. Every one of her mystery-suspense books is still in print, and her first mystery-suspense novel (her second published novel; an unsuccessful historical novel was her first published book) has gone through more than 75 printings in the U.S. Her books have been translated into 34 languages, and the Wall Street Journal estimated that each year 3.6 million copies of her books are sold worldwide. Late in her career, Clark has collaborated on novels with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, who is also a bestselling novelist.

What may be most surprising is that Clark did not published her first novel until 1968, when she was 41 years old.

Clark’s novels generally fit into the “woman in jeopardy” sub-genre: that is, the protagonists are typically intelligent women—often professional women—who get caught up in perilous events well beyond their anticipation or control but who ultimately summon the inner resources to save themselves and others.

Clark came to international attention when her second mystery-suspense novel, A Stranger Is Watching, was adapted into a successful film starring Kate Mulgrew, Rip Torn, and James Naughton. The story opens with a convicted murderer named Ronald Thompson facing his impending execution. Thompson, just seventeen years old at the time of the crime, has been sentenced for strangling to death a young woman named Nina Peterson. The only witness to the murder was her son Neil, then six years old, who erroneously identified Thompson as the murderer. Following the trial, Nina’s husband, Steve, has gradually become romantically involved with Sharon Martin, one of the reporters who had covered the case. Convinced of Thompson’s guilt, Steve Thompson feels that his execution will provide much needed closure. In contrast, Sharon is increasingly convinced that Thompson may be innocent. But before she can make the case for Thompson’s innocence, she and Neil are kidnapped by the actual killer, August Rommel Taggert, who likes to be called Foxy because Rommel was known as the Desert Fox. Taggert imprisons Sharon and Neil in a remote space beneath New York’s Grand Central Station. So as Thompson’s execution becomes imminent, the search for Martin and Neil and the effort to identify their kidnapper, and Sharon’s effort to find some means of escape all combine to escalate the suspense very effectively toward a dramatic climax.

 

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Previous Posts in This Series:

Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/24/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-1-2/.

Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 3-4: https://academeblog.org/2015/07/02/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-3-4/

Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 5-6: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/07/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-5-6/

Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 7-8: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/11/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-7-8/

 

Previous Series:

The final post in each series is followed by links to all of the previous posts in that series.

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/02/13370/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/

 

 

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