This definitive omnibus of Chandler’s short fiction, prefaced by John Bayley’s suavely general, very English introduction, makes previous collections look downright niggardly. In addition to the eight stories of Killer in the Rain (1964), which Chandler “cannibalized” (his term) for The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake, and the 13 non-cannibalized stories in the Library of America Stories and Early Novels (1995), it includes “The Pencil”—Chandler’s last story, and practically the only one that stars Philip Marlowe and not some earlier version of the peerless shamus like Mallory, Ted Carmady, or John Dalmas—and three never-before-reprinted tales. It’s easy to see why “The Bronze Door” (1939), “Professor Bingo’s Snuff” (1951), and “English Summer” (1974) have sunk into obscurity, since all three are atypical—the first a supernaturally-tinged fable of alternative lives, the second an equally paranormal account of a cuckold who takes advantage of an invisibility potion to take control, the third a romantic idyll that ends in murder—though all are full of characteristically male dreamers and female schemers. Fans inadvisedly imbibing the rest of the collection nonstop will see Chandler’s rapid evolution from the violent fumblings of “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” to the pulp formula mastery of “Goldfish” to the matchless urban poetry of “Red Wind” and “I’ll Be Waiting.”
Chandler thought of himself as a novelist who also wrote short fiction, and this collection won’t change that verdict. But having all 25 of the world’s greatest pulp writer’s checkered, indispensable stories available in a single volume is a pleasure long overdue.