Saturday, July 2, 2016

Seasoned with Similes

I have about a dozen favorite mystery writers. None are modern. Many are British. There is one, however, whose novellas make it into the anthologies with regularity. I probably wouldn't make a collection of all his books, but I do like reading some. His detective is American-- a cross  between Stout's Archie Godwin and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Philip Marlowe is what they call in detective fiction "hard-boiled". He may bounce or crack, but he doesn't break easily.  This summer, while reading a couple of Chandler's books I've been amused by his similes; he sprinkles them like salt, especially when he is introducing a new character. If I were still an English teacher, I think I'd assign a little chunk of his writing and have students find them...just for fun.



Here are a few of my favorites:

From The Big Sleep

"A few locks of dry, white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock."

" The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands."

"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings." 

"He looked a lot more like a dead man than most dead men look."


From: The Lady in the Lake

 "The little blonde at the PBX cocked a shell-like ear and smiled a small fluffy smile.  She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens."

"Grayson put his bony hand out and I shook it. It felt like shaking hands with a towel rack."

"A wizened waiter with evil eyes and a face like a gnawed bone ..."

"She put a firm brown hand out and I shook it. Clamping bobbie pins into fat blondes had given her a grip like a pair of iceman's tongs."

"We shook hands. He had a hand like a wood rasp."