29 July, 2010

Chandleresque

Introduction:
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I'm an ex-teacher. I now work at the office of the Victorian state authority in charge of regulating the teaching profession. It's not a bad spot.Teachers have to pay $70 per year to be registered so to say we're about as popular as a Jap on ANZAC Day with some of our constituents is putting it mildly.
Every so often, staff organize lunchtime seminars on topics of general interest. A guest speaker will come in and talk and answer quesions for about 45 minutes. They've all been very entertaining. At one of these lunchtime seminars earlier this year, the guest speaker was writer Shane Maloney. He's published quite a bit of crime fiction and it's very good. He told us that he'd been influenced by writers like Hammett, and Chandler and Peter Corris in building a distinctive style that was of Melbourne's milieu, and he's right, you do get that feeling from his books.
What happened was, Shane Maloney arrived a little late on this particularly hot day. He apologised and then told us a bit about himself. His wife was a teacher so he understood us. We were in the extortion racket, he said. Pretty funny guy. And he'd been Cultural Director of Melbourne's 1996 Olympic bid. Somebody may have organized hookers, but it certainly wasn't him.

Anyway, there's a staff newsletter that goes out once a week and I put together a review of Shane's visit. Being something of a Chandler afficionado I thought I'd have some fun with it. But the Communications Manager couldn't publish it and I was inclined to agree with her. One of the characters was based on a colleague, you see. And there was just the one key phrase that made it inappropriate. See if you can figure out which one it was.

The Writer Who Arrived Late
I wasn’t doing much that day. The frosty blonde who walked into my downtown office looked like she might change that. She eyed me slowly and carefully, like I was something she’d just stepped in, and arched a manicured eyebrow at the Clayton’s bottle on the desk. I shrugged. All class, she raised the bottle to her mouth and uncorked it using her teeth.
She took a long, slow swig and shuddered. Giving her the once over, I could see she was a little on the short side, but with the kind of upholstery that could make a bishop want to kick a hole in a stained glass window.
“Call me Bridget,” she said. “I know a guy wants to meet you. Name’s Maloney. He’s waiting outside.”
“I bet you know a lot of guys, Bridget. Can’t think why any of them would want to meet me. What’s his angle?”
“His bio’ll say he’s a crime writer. The funny stuff. Booked him to crack gags at a lunchtime seminar and he didn’t show. I found him impersonating a foetus in a lane outside. The guy’s a mess.”
“Suppose you tell me how else you’re mixed up in this.”
“Me? I’m a fan of his. Least, I used to be.”
“Okay, show the comedian in. And then scram. Floozies like you I can get wholesale."

He was the kind of tall, stoop-shouldered streak of misery who looked like he’d been slapped around. By a dame. All his life. His oversized glasses sat crookedly on his sallow face. Plenty of laughs so far.
“What do you want, Maloney?”
“I need some protection. The tough guy kind. I think my wife’s trying to get rid of me.”
“What makes you think she’s not on the level?”
“She’s gone and got herself registered with VIT. Then I get this phone call from some dame in the VIT office asking me to come in and shoot the breeze. I’m supposed to be there now.”

“Can’t help you, Maloney. I don’t do matrimonials. But that’s not the whole story either. In my line of work, you get used to taking slaps from guys the size of beer trucks. Or the occasional slug from a pearl-handled .22 straight out of an alligator purse. But if there was any sort of law in this town, it’d say don’t tangle with VIT. I don’t like ‘em. Nobody does. And I don’t like the racket they’ve been running shaking down teachers these last eight years. But we both know a bankroll fed by a guaranteed $70pa from 110,000 chalk-jockeys can buy a lot of nasty friends. So far, only the ambulance chasers and yellow press have had the guts to try to put a kink in their hose. I figure if your wife’s mixed up with them, you’re already near the top of the coroner’s dance card. And I’m not going to be the sucker wiping up the grease stain left behind once they’re through with you.”
His bottom lip trembled like a Liberal leader making a concession speech on election night. He was drenched in sweat. Sure it was hot, but not enough to explain that amount of perspiration. It was starting to spread out across the carpet like ink on blotting paper. And I was almost starting to feel sorry for him. Almost.

“Tell you what, Maloney: I’m not taking your case, but I’m damned if I can let a string-bean like you go in there without some kind of cover story. I’d feel like an accessory. So listen and listen good. This may be your only chance. Walk in all hot and bothered like you are now. That way, it’ll look like you at least tried to be there on time. Make all the right apologetic noises but don’t labour it. Nobody likes a milquetoast.

Turn on the charm. Start with a slow smile. And let ‘em know you’re onto ‘em. That you’ve got a make on their racket. Hell, even show a little knowing admiration for the kind of cunning needed to get a stranglehold on the teaching caper in this town. Do that, and they’ll be grinning at you through their shark-teeth like you’re one of them, a co-conspirator.

Once they’re hooked, you can take ‘em through the reading process from their point of view and then hit ‘em with an insightful history of your writing. Why it reads the way it does. How your main character, ALP drone Murray Whelan, came into the world and how he makes his way down its mean streets. Then give ‘em the inside dope on the crime-writing schtick: how you gotta play the game the way other crime writers have, but with your own angle, not following a recipe.

Throw in a few celebrity name-drops whenever you can too. Everybody loves insider gossip. That kind of stuff’s been filling seats since before Vesuvius gave Pompeii a makeover. And don’t back off on the zingers, either. They’ll get restless if the wisecracks slow down to Monash Freeway speed.”

He was nodding like one of those toy dogs all the Sunday drivers used to have in their back windows.
“Have you got all that?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
“Just one more thing Maloney: if you had anything to do with that failed cheapskate Olympic bid all those years ago, don’t mention it. There’s a lot of people still sore about that.”
“Thanks. You’ve probably saved my life.”
“Think so? You’re wife’s a registered teacher. They don’t let go easily…“

Epilogue:
Maybe you had to be there. But I've read a couple of Shane Maloney's books and they stack up pretty well. During his talk, he explained how he'd worked out who his protagonist was going to be. He thought Peter Corris' private investigator Cliff Hardy was a good fit for Sydney, and Bondi in particular, but he couldn't see a shamus quite suiting Melbourne. So his protagonist Murray Whelan is an ALP staffer whose chief domain is Melbourne's northern suburbs. Two of his novels have been adapted into a couple of pretty good films, Stiff and The Brush Off starring David Wenham as Murray Whelan.

So, did you work out which bit rendered it unsuitable?

10 comments:

Tony.T said...

I read all the Chandler books one after the other in 1993. Apart from the first, say, 10 Patrick O'Brian books, I don't think I've enjoyed any books as much since then. Oddly enough, the one that sticks in my mind most is not Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye, it's The Lady in the Lake. For the record: the two Chandler fillums I like best are The Long Goodbye (Elliott Gould as Marlowe) and Double Indemnity. "His name was Jackson. Probably still is."

Kath Lockett said...

No, but I *loved* reading it!

Lorna Lilo said...

I feel like taking up smoking and drinking whiskey after reading that.

Lad Litter said...

Fucking Blogger: I've been tryng to get the font for this post sorted for abot two days now!

Tony T:
Yes, and if I'm any expert you'll re-read all of Chandler's novels as I have done many times. I'm very keen on all of those ones you've identified as favourites - particularly Double Indemnity - the film he scripted from thr James M Cain novel. The Long Goodbye is the novel for me and Murder My Sweet the movie.

Lorna:
Why, thank you. There's a cynical nobility (if that's not a contradicion in terms!) about the Marlowe character.

Lad Litter said...

Kath:
I'm flattered and glad you enjoyed it. Now for Dostoevsky...

eleanor bloom said...

That was awesome. Glad you could put it here so it didn't go to waste.

Ann ODyne said...

God I love Chandler.
Maloney's OK too.
Elliot Gould's Marlowe nailed it.
LadLitter's a showoff, and nobody mention Poodle Springs.

I reckon the line was 'guaranteed $70k pa' - always follow the money when figuring out sex and death.

Lad Litter said...

EB:
Thanks for that, very kind. I do love Chandler and re-read his stuff every couple of years. It will never date.

AOD:
I was so glad Marlowe found love with Linda Loring in Playback, the last complete novel. With Hollywood cranking out so many remakes in recent years, why not Chandler?

JahTeh said...

Bingo, I've just finished watching David Wenham in 'Stiff'. He suited Murray to the ground and Mick Molloy as the 'politician' in both movies was great.
I agree with Tony T, my favourite was Lady in the Lake.

Lad Litter said...

Jahteh:
I love the two films based on Maloney's work and hope to see them again. Today would have been a good day to take off work and stay home and watch it.