This is one of three collections extracted from The Simple Art of Murder, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1950. The collection contains four stories, all about fifty pages long. Each is set in Los Angeles, centered on a tough-guy protagonist, and told by a third-person narrator who describes actions rather than thoughts. All first appeared in detective magazines. Philip Marlowe, hero of Chandler’s novels, is nowhere to be found. In the title story, originally published as “Noon Street Nemesis” in 1936, undercover narc Pete Anglish accidentally becomes involved in a scheme to extort money from a movie star. “Smart-Aleck Kill” (1934), another tale with a Hollywood angle, tells of P. I. Johnny Dalmas’s attempts to unravel a bogus blackmail plot. In “Guns at Cyrano’s” (1936) Ted Carmady, once a detective, now a hotel owner, gets into trouble when he discovers a pretty dancer unconscious in the hallway. Gambler Johnny De Rose hopes to avoid a vengeful gangster in “Nevada Gas” (1935) but is dragged into deadly violence anyway.
Of the three Chandler paperback mini-collections -- the others are The Simple Art of Murder and Trouble Is My Business -- this one seems the most satisfying. The stories have the greatest consistency in length, tone and setting. All show the gritty side of Los Angeles. They take place mostly at night, often in the rain. Much of the action occurs in hotels, both posh and seedy. Corpses show up in hotel rooms with predictable regularity. Handguns are everywhere. Shoot-outs abound. As usual, Chandler’s precise descriptions depict a miasma of corruption. The tales have some unusual features as well. In the title story L. A.’s African American community -- or at least the underside of it -- plays a prominent role. (Noon Street runs parallel to S. Central.) In two other stories the main female character is virtuous enough to provoke romantic thoughts in the protagonist. Chandler is on his game here. Fans of hard-boiled fiction are bound to enjoy the book.