Penzler Pick, January 2000: Originally published a decade ago and now expanded, this book is a homage to the greatest detective story writer of the 20th century, an Anglo-American who took Los Angeles, his adopted home, off the road maps and into the land of legend. For Raymond Chandler, who died in 1959, his literary descendants will do just about anything, and that includes contributing to an anthology honoring him. Thus, in here we find the likes of Sara Paretsky, Robert Crais, Loren D. Estleman, Jonathan Valin, Robert Campbell, Eric Van Lustbader, Simon Brett, Julie Smith, Jeremiah Healy, Roger L. Simon, James Grady, and numerous others creating stories in the style of Chandler and in the voice of Marlowe. But, as editor Byron Preiss remarks, "The contributors of this book are here to honor Chandler, not to steal from him."
He also says, "Many would not be the writers they are had not Chandler followed Hammett and Cain down the back alley of fiction into the realm of art." That's certainly a succinctly expressive summation. Moreover, today the idea of the "mean streets" that Chandler wished the best heroes to traverse is one that has, perhaps more than ever before, seized the imagination of the public when it comes to popular entertainment. What's old is new again, as they say, and in this case that means noir.
In an introduction by Robert B. Parker--who himself finished the incomplete Chandler novel Poodle Springs (1990)--we learn the essentials of Chandler's life (the British public school education, the wife who was 18 years older than he, etc.). But in the stories essayed here we get the effects of an imagined world that has become an entire universe.
Among the many included are tales of the Thelma Todd murder scandal by Max Allan Collins; of Dr. Seuss's missing watercolors by Robert L. Simon; of a pro wrestler called The Crusher by Jonathan Valin; and of the ancient jeweled skull that was the inspiration for Hammett's Maltese Falcon by Dick Lochte.
Two new stories, not in the earlier edition of this volume, are by Simon, creator of Moses Wine, and J. Madison Davis, the author of Red Knight and White Rook and president of the North American Association of International Crime Writers.
Finally, there is an afterword by Chandler scholar and biographer Frank McShane. And, yes, the real Raymond Chandler is here too, represented by the story "The Pencil," in which that particular writing instrument turns out to be one gift you never want to receive. This book is not quite the real thing; it can't be. But it's as close as you could hope to find. --Otto Penzler