“There are no ‘classics’ of crime and detection. Not one. Within its frame of reference, which is the only way it should be judged, a classic is a piece of writing which exhausts the possibilities of its form and can hardly be surpassed. No story or novel of mystery have done that yet. Few have come close, which is why otherwise reasonable people continue to assault the citadel.”
“Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.”
“Chandler very cleverly developed a prose style whose very structure and rhythms are somewhat violent. One hears the rat-tat-tat of a sub-machine gun in his sentences.”
Love our boy Rayomond’s take on his on field of crime fiction — his belief that no one, not even he, had penned a classic in the genre he devoted himself to. And yet more than fifty years after he penned his last story, Raymond is still seen as one of the masters in his field and a superb craftsman who lifted the whodunit into the realm of serious literature. Raymond came to writing relatively late: his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published when he was fifty-one. He wrote six more novels and a small raft of short stories, but his reputation in the pantheon of crime writers seems secure (see Blue-clock Socks).
I wonder if one reason for this is the sense of striving that he brought to his work. His assertion that “a classic is a piece of writing which exhausts the possibilities of its form and can hardly be surpassed” set a high bar for both himself and other writers. To me, this view is very liberating because it means that no one has reached the pinnacle yet — there’s always room at the top — and anyone of us at any moment has the chance to claim that prize. And in the end, we’ll never be able to master all the tricks of the trade — there’s always something more to learn and a better word to reach for. So let’s assault those citadels: that’s what writing dangerously is all about. Write on!