Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

By Jerome H. Delamater; Ruth Prigozy | Go to book overview

2
Shamus-a-um: Having the
Quality of a Classical Detective

Timothy W. Boyd

Carolyn Higbie

This has a familiar ring:

I was standing in the Forum. She was running. She looked overdressed and dangerously
hot, but sunstroke or suffocation had not yet finished her off. She was shining and sticky
as a glazed pastry plait, and when she hurtled up the steps of the Temple of Saturn
straight towards me, I made no attempt to move aside. She missed me, just. Some men
are born lucky; others are called Didius Falco. (Silver Pigs 3)

The Forum and the Temple of Saturn aren't at Hollywood and Vine, but there is something in that flat, self-deprecating tone that is reminiscent of:

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and
a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue
suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks
with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care
who knew it. I was everything a well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling
on four million dollars. (The Big Sleep 1)

The second of these quotations opens Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (1939). The first, however, is a puzzle: the Forum? the Temple of Saturn? No published Chandler novel or short story is set in such locales. Could these be cheap bars in an unfinished manuscript and this another collaboration, like Robert B. Parker's completion of Chandler's Poodle Springs? But what are we to do with that name—Didius Falco? The name is, in fact, the giveaway. The setting is not Chandler's Los Angeles, but Rome. The date is not in Chandler's gray 1930s to 1950s, but 70 A.D., a detail important to the story, and we are reading a recent detective novel by Lindsey Davis called Silver Pigs.

-17-

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