Raymond Chandler Award Speech

Good evening.
Thank you very much for this wonderful award - the Raymond Chandler Award for writing dark and mysterious books with peculiar crimes in them. I am not a crime writer as such - just a writer about human behavior, which includes crimes among all of its other manifestations. Why are we fascinated by such acts? Because we would never do them ourselves, or because we fear we might? In our dreams and nightmares we find ourselves engaged in the most bizarre activities - perhaps that is what crime writing is for us - an exploration of our nightmares. And what lies between us and this nightmare world? Only the thinnest of barriers.
Or so we suspect.
I am very gratified by this award, especially since I grew up in Chandlerland. I was born in 1939, and thus old enough to read his books when they appeared in drugstores during the first wave of the paperback revolution - and also on the bookshelves of our house, because everyone in our family liked reading mystery stories and we had a lot of them.
In Chandlerland, it is often raining, even though they are set in Los Angeles, where rain is an anomaly. It is also often night, in that city of lights. The men wear belted raincoats and fedoras, even though it is hot. In all of this, Chandler’s roots are showing - the rain and fog of Sherlock Holmes, the foul weather that usually plagues Inspector Maigret, the wardrobe of Dashiell Hammett’s hoods. Also the cuisine of Dashiell Hammett, or I should rather say the lack of it. In Chandler as in Hammett, People don’t eat much, if at all, but they drink a great deal, and also they smoke. They smoke various things - pipes, cigars, cigarettes - but what would be a noir book or film without that coil of smoke, that photographed so very well in black and white?
In Chandlerland, women are mysterious and have fur coats, and hats with veils, and elegant gloves, and evening bags with tiny, deadly revolvers in them. And the rich ones have furniture - such furniture! Chandler’s furniture is better than Dashiell Hammett’s furniture, take it from me.
In Chandlerland, however - despite the mayhem and the doublecrossing and the blood on the floor - at least one character holds to of a code of conduct, and will work hard to discover the truth. That character is the detective. A code of conduct, integrity, an interest in the truth - these are not mean values. They are - when you come to think of it - writerly values. The code of conduct is the style, the hard work to discover the truth is the plot. In that way every writer is a detective. We’re all sleuths, flowing the clues, on the track on the story.
So thank you, Raymond Chandler. You held my attention, and you taught me a lot about style, and rain. And night. And furniture.
I am honoured to be receiving this award in your name.
Thank you again.
Margaret Atwood