War Noir: Raymond Chandler and the Hard-Boiled Detective as Veteran in American Fiction


War Noir
Raymond Chandler and the Hard-Boiled Detective as Veteran in American Fiction
By Sarah Trott
University Press of Mississippi
ISBN 978-1-4968-0864-6, hardback $65

The conflation of the hard-boiled style and war experience has influenced many contemporary crime writers, particularly in the traumatic aftermath of the Vietnam War. Yet, earlier writers in the genre, such as Raymond Chandler, remain overlooked when it comes to examining how their war experience affected their writing. War Noir: Raymond Chandler and the Hard-Boiled Detective as Veteran in American Fiction (University Press of Mississippi) Sarah Trott corrects that oversight by examining Chandler alongside the World War I writers of the Lost Generation. The volume highlights melding of very different styles in Chandler’s work: the war novel and the crime story.

Based on his experience in combat, Trott explains that Chandler created his detective, Philip Marlowe, not as the idealization of heroic individualism, as is commonly perceived, but instead as an authentic individual subjected to very real psychological frailties from trauma during the First World War. Inspecting Chandler’s work and correspondence indicates that the characterization of the fictional Marlowe goes beyond the traditional chivalric readings and can instead be interpreted as a genuine representation of a traumatized veteran in American society.

Trott argues that by substituting the horror of the trenches for the corruption of the city, Chandler formed a disillusioned protagonist in an uncaring American society, with the sophistication necessary to straddle genre fiction and canonical literature.

War Noir offers a new understanding of Chandler’s war trauma, how that experience established the traditional archetype of detective fiction, and how this reading of his work enables Chandler to transcend generic limitations to be recognized as a key twentieth-century literary figure.

SARAH TROTT is a lecturer in American studies at Swansea University. She has published in the edited collection Men after War and the journal Comparative American Studies.

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