Several collections of Chandler’s stories have been published under this title. The first, by Houghton Mifflin (1950), contains twelve stories; it was reprinted by Norton (1968) with a new introduction. The collection I read, which contains four stories, was published originally by Pocket Books (1952) and later by Ballantine (1972). The latest collection, by Vintage/Black Lizard (1989) contains eight stories and is still in print. Other sets of stories taken from the 1950 book were published by Pocket as Trouble Is My Business (1951) and Pick-Up on Noon Street (1952).
The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. Pocket Books (1952), 194 pp.
The Pocket/Ballantine version, like the others, leads off with (and gets its title from) Chandler’s 1944 essay on detective fiction. In it he lambastes the typical mystery story for inept writing and implausible plot twists. He argues that the use of a more realistic tone can lift the genre from simple entertainment to serious literature. The following four stories were first published in magazines during the 1930s. They have different protagonists, none of whom is Philip Marlowe. In “Spanish Blood” (1935) a police detective investigates a murder with political implications. In “I’ll Be Waiting” (1938), the book’s shortest story at twenty pages, a hotel detective tries to help a woman waiting for her gangster boyfriend. In “The King in Yellow” (1938) another hotel detective gets into trouble when he mishandles a musician. All the detectives fit the tough-guy mold. The final story “Pearls Are a Nuisance” (1939) heads in another direction. The protagonist (and first-person narrator) is a jobless rich guy who seems to be channeling William Powell’s portrayal of the Thin Man. His task is to retrieve some stolen pearls, and it’s his assistant who is the tough guy. Chandler fans are likely to enjoy the stories. Readers new to the author, however, might want to start with one of his novels, probably The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely.