The Simple Art of Murder

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The Simple Art of Murder is a work of crime and mystery fiction that was authored by Raymond Chandler with the intention of positioning the novel as a “realist in murder.” According to Chandler, detective novels are supposed to inhabit a world where murderers and other kinds of dangerous criminals can usurp the control and power over nations and attempt to run the cities. Chandler depicts, through his writing, how detective novels are supposed to make representations of the dangers that come with the world’s civilization, in contrast to how traditional detective novels before this time appeared to idealize and contain the world of the country house (Chandler, 2014). During the interwar period that occurs between First World War and Second World War, detective fiction underwent a certain kind of evolution that would transform it for the better. According to Rzepka and Horsley (2010), this period was characterized by mystery that was instrumental in inspiring a new generation of detective fiction writers. This paper discusses the role of the protagonist, Philip Marlowe, as employed in Chandler’s novel – The Simple Art of Murder – for the purpose of injecting a hard-boiled realistic perspective that is hard to you would find in other detective novels during that era. The paper also analyzes the portrayal of realism in this novel through the character of Marlowe.

Philip Marlowe’s character, which is the hero in novels authored by Chandler, is used in a way that it highlights the life of a fictional private detective in Los Angeles (LA) whom we find in this novel engaging in his relentless irregular searches for truth and justice as the city does what it can to ensure that justice prevails. This protagonist is employed in a way that offers us the image of detective who works towards making his world a place that is ever more interesting. In this novel, Marlowe is also depicted as the first great image of LA whose work is made by the preexisting ways that were replete in colorfulness, sadness, and changelessness. Hence, to be successfully positioned as the champion private detective that would be world’s-great hero. His character alludes to the Athenian who turned into a hero and featured in the dialogues of Plato (Philips, 2015; Chandler, 2014).

However, there are differences in the way that the Athenian was represented in Plato’s dialogues in comparison to the role that Marlowe plays in this novel. While he is not separated from the City (LA), we find that this actually happens in the works of Plato. The city is shown as that the world where he performs his detective work of investigating different crimes privately. We see that the city somehow makes this kind of investigating necessary and possible. Further, we see that before the arrival of Marlowe in LA there were more than 18,000 bars that lacked licenses and about 600 brothels. Organized crime persisted within the city since Big Business, the police, and political heavy-weights collaborated in running the affairs of the city. While the newspapers were happily sensationalizing this situation, Hollywood was eagerly looking forward to glamorizing this spectacle (Chandler, 2014).

This is relatable to one of the most famous of Plato’s dialogue’s passages where Socrates arrives at the conclusion that it will be hard for there to be lasting cure for turmoil and injustice in cities since it is difficult to have societies where philosophers end up becoming the rulers or where, on the other hand, kings engage in philosophizing. Considering wise men and philosophers are rare and, should you find such a one, he has enough reason and conviction as to why he would not prefer to be a king. In Chandler’s novel we see that owing to the folly and crime that was rife in LA needed that some investigators be authority to be more powerful than others in order to enable them to solve most of the hard-to-solve problems within the city. The character of Philip Marlowe was most likely formulated and modeled after that of Sam Spade that is the protagonist in mystery novels of Dashiell Hammett and was greatly admired by Chandler. Chandler once said of Hammett that he “gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse” (Malmgren, 1997; Athanasourelis, 2011). Therefore, even though he does not explicitly make claims about himself as more realistic, he does it for Hammet.

In order to show how effectively Marlowe will deal with the rot in the city’s security that has many bandits, crooks, con men, gangsters, pimps, drunks, murders and even thugs, Chandler attempts to use his character revolutionary to show the inner workings of “realism.” However, inasmuch as Chandler is seen claiming to capitalize on realism in this novel, the perspective associated with his criticism of the lack of realism in the Golden Age novels. For example, Chandler complained about an autopsy was handled in the novel The Red House Mystery which would reveals him as being a bit without ingenuity in his approaching of the endeavor for writing crime fiction in his questioning of the validity of other Golden Age novels (Milne, 1922). His actual problem is if the autopsy was conducted in a good or bad way but, rather, that it would not have been done in the first place. Hence, Chandler focuses his attention away from the clue-based mystery form of writing to a psychological detective means that are more abstract and that is elaborated in his choice of the mystery medium – the archetype Harlowe. Chandler also positions his key protagonist in this novel in a way that makes his and Hammets novels to be viewed as placeholders that indicate the difference in story mechanics and ideology their detective novels and other Golden Age literary works including those by Sayers, Maline, and so on, who appear not to align the realist idea of Chandler and his creative agendas as seen in his book (Margolies, 1987).

Chandler devotes the largest portion of this novel to provide a clear narration of how detectives went about the investigation of the murders within the city according to the notions of the classical school of thought. Further, he openly critics two other Golden Age novels viz: “The Red House” and “Trent’s Last Case.” Essentially, he does so by evaluating the stepwise flow on the investigations with the unfolding of the cases at hand, and elaborates ways in which deficiency existing in the works. He also outlines the degree of sleight-of-handedness that is required in order to ensure that the audiences that are targeted by these works are not triggered into rebelling against the works. By picking on this weakness concerning the aforementioned Golden Age novels and this criticism helps in reinforcing his perspective about the subtle meaning of “realism” as posited in his work The Simple Art of Murder (Chandler, 2014; Bentley, 1978).

Chandler’s effort to show his perception of realism is seen in the way he uses story mechanics to explain the mysteries that revolve around Marlowe and which mostly are hinged upon improbable events and peculiar methodologies for conducting investigations. He also shows how most of those other detective works to consist of the stuff of inferior creative content. However, this may show how he might be attempting to pick on the low-hanging fruit in his criticizing these other detective fiction novels on the basis of being premised on unlikely events since most works of works of fiction depend on a certain alignment of situations in order to function well in the first place. This particular novel has been underpinned by an informal recognition of situations that appear to be in deeply meshed with a degree of complexity. As the title suggests and as revealed by the character of Marlowe, crime [murder] within the city might appear to be quite simple and as investigated through simple means yet the circumstances that the criminal activities in question might be in defiance of belief or apparent reality (Chandler, 2014).

Moreover, the critical hero – Marlowe – as applied by Chandler in this novel falls in between the intensity in his other novels namely, “The Long Goodbye” (TLG) and “Farewell, My Lovely” (FML) which illustrates how the fundamental cause-and-effect structure in crime fiction require lengthy chains of what-if statements in a bid to provide an exposition of “realism” as true reality. In FML, for example, we see that situations leading up to the different ways followed by the protagonist in seeking to unearth hidden truth regarding the crime are entwined in a complex fashion in a way that creates many confusing possibilities of the cause of action required to solve the problems at hand. There are many twists and turns that can possibly happen hinting different steps that Marlowe might follow as Chandler executes the plot. The ex in the novel might even decide to seduce the protagonist after he develops a sudden, inexplicable liking of the woman, which would otherwise make the plot to take a new turn even as engages in committing a crime that is unrelated to the murder that is driven by rage. Hence, there are many what-ifs that are akin to a house of cards. In sum, FML appears to constitute dramas that make it to characterize a soap opera more than it would a strategy. This can be seen in the difference that would be caused by altering the direction that the flow of the plot follows with regard to the respective what-ifs, which would ultimately make the plot of the novel to unfold differently. However, the protagonist in the The Simple Art of Murder does not fall short of showing signs of the characteristics of the famous detective protagonist called Poirot who was very lovable due to his commonness (Chandler, 2014; Chandler, 1992; Chandler, 1992) .

In conclusion, Chandler presents Philip Marlowe as a hard-boiled investigator in his crime fiction novel, The Simple Art of Murder, in a way that is realistic. The hard-boiled worldview promoted in this novel are shown to have hit hardest hit Los Angeles. This paper has discussed the depiction of Marlowe as a sleuthing, lovable character who finds its appropriate to play chess alone. In addition, the paper has provided an analysis of ways in which this novel apprehends pretension and literary criticism. As highlighted in this paper, literary work also represented a major change in the genesis of the mystery fiction novels since it was authored as a counterpoint to the Golden Age novels that were popular during the interwar period where a new paradigm for detective novels arose; and which would later be challenged by this particular novel as it called for a more realistic approach towards mystery and crime fiction.



Athanasourelis, J. P. (2011). Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: The Hard-Boiled                                       Detective Transformed. McFarland.

Bentley, E. C., & Intervenes, T. (1978). Trent’s Last Case [1913]. NY: Harper.

Chandler, R. (1992). The Long Goodbye. 1953. New York: Vintage.

Chandler, R. (2014). The simple art of murder (Vol. 6). Parnell Classics.

Malmgren, C. D. (1997). Anatomy of murder: Mystery, detective, and crime fiction. The                               Journal of Popular Culture30(4), 115-135.

Margolies, E. (1982). Which way did he go?: the private eye in Dashiell Hammett, Raymond             Chandler, Chester Himes, and Ross Macdonald. Holmes & Meier Pub.

Milne, A. A. (1922). The red house mystery. EP Dutton.

Rzepka, C. J., & Horsley, L. (Eds.). (2010). A companion to crime fiction. John Wiley & Sons.

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