I feel like I've been reading this book throughout the whole of lock down, including the extra Leicester time I'm currently enjoying. I really put the effort in the last couple of days to get the damn thing finished though so I can finally move on with a clear conscience to the next half finished book on the sin pile.
I like a bit of hard boiled noir, I really like Raymond Chandler's version of it, so I had high hopes for this book, but although there are interesting things about it, it was generally a disappointment. It's eight of what are billed as Chandler's finest short stories, originally published in Black Mask and Dime Detective, but as each are around 70 pages long they feel more like novellas. There are a couple that work well, but mostly they feel like they're to short to develop character and plot, but long enough to get tediously confusing, or dwell over long on scenes of torture and violence.
A lot of the ideas in these stories were eventually turned into some of his better known novels, so if you're a real Chandler fan this is worth reading to see how they evolve, but even within the stories here there's a lot of repetition, particularly between the last 2 stories - The Lady in the Lake, and No Crime in the Mountains. It's not just that the detectives are interchangeable (different names, everything else the same throughout the 8 entries) but between these two the local sheriff is also much the same, and one longish scene that describes them is almost word for word identical.
If they'd started and finished the book it wouldn't have been especially noticeable, coming together it's mildly annoying. The final story also has a bunch of unlikely Nazi's shoehorned into it and an appallingly racist take on a Japanese character. It's on a par with the depiction of black characters.
I haven't read any Chandler for a while, and maybe this is a feature in his full length novels that I've forgotten, or which I wasn't quite as sensitive to when I first read them. Coupled with what feels like a whole novels worth of graphic violence compressed into a relatively short format it made the whole reading experience feel quite grueling. These really aren't Chandler's best works, but they've been packaged as if they deserve to be held up to them which is probably the thing that's really annoyed me most about this collection.
It would also benefit from some sort of introduction, commentary, or notes that indicated how the individual stories evolved into other things, and a gave a bit more context about the pulp magazines they first appeared in.
This one is best left to the real fans.