HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: 5 (Five) Murderers
Author: Raymond Chandler
Publisher: Avon Books, 1944
Language level: 4
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: ** 2 stars (POOR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Chandler, Raymond. 5 (Five) Murderers (originally published in 1933-1936 by Murder Mystery Monthly; republished in 1944 by Avon Book Company, New York City, NY). Raymond Thornton Chandler (1888-1959) was an American author of crime stories and novels of immense stylistic influence upon the modern private eye story, especially in the style of the writing and the attitudes now characteristic of the genre. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, is synonymous with “private detective,” along with Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. Marlowe first appeared in The Big Sleep, published in 1939, and was in none of Chandler’s earlier short stories, though many of his early stories were republished years later with the names of the protagonists changed to Philip Marlowe, whose character is foremost within the genre of hardboiled crime fiction that originated in the 1920s, most notably in Black Mask magazine, in which Dashiell Hammett’s The Continental Op and Sam Spade first appeared.
5 (Five) Murderers consists of five short mystery stories that had been first published by Chandler in Black Mask as part of their “Murder Mystery Monthly” series. The five are “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” “Spanish Blood,” “Guns at Cyrano’s,” “Goldfish,” and “Nevada Gas.” None of the five stories feature Philip Marlowe. I like mysteries; that is to say, I enjoy decent ones, like Agatha Christie for adults and the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew for youngsters. I had heard of Chandler, so when I saw this book on the free shelf at our local library, I decided to take and read it. However, I am not a big fan of the American hardboiled crime fiction from the early twentieth century, and I must say that I really did not enjoy reading the book. First, the action was somewhat jerky and hard to follow, lurching from one scene to another, so that by the time I got to the end of each story, I had sometimes forgotten what had all gone on before.
Also, a lot of slang was used which people in the 1930s may well have understood but which is nearly unintelligible today. Worse than that, the dialogue is filled with the “d” and “h” words and quite a bit of other profanity. There are references to smoking tobacco, dancing, drinking alcohol, and even using drugs, along with a few subtle hints of sexuality. Of course, as one would assume in a murder mystery, a lot of shooting and killing occurs, with some of the descriptions being rather graphic. “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (1933) was Chandler’s first story, and someone suggested that these are stories from an author who may have been still learning his way. Another said that they read just like early efforts of a major mystery stylist, and are a bit gaudy, mostly over-plotted, and generally pretty awful stuff. Yet, he also wrote that for those who like the hardboiled fiction genre, Chandler’s gifts for sharp characterization and telling prose make it all pleasant to swallow, and that these almost compellingly readable pulp tales are catchy little gems that are well worth looking at. However, I probably will not be doing so.