This must have been music to Chandler’s ears. He resented the fact that for many years he was dismissed by US critics as a mere thriller writer, although he’d had a more admiring reception in Britain. For his part, Chandler is generous in his praise of Fleming’s writerly observation. “That stuff in Harlem was wonderful,” he says. “Was it?” is Fleming’s humble reply.
Thanks to the Crimereads website, we can eavesdrop on the interview and also read some highlights on such subjects as what makes a good thriller, how hard it is to depict villains, or why James Bond has to undergo torture. “He’s got to suffer something in return for his success,” Fleming says. “What do you do, dock him something on his income tax?”
One of the most beguiling and slightly chilling passages is when Chandler explains to Fleming exactly how a syndicate would carry out a killing. It’s all very impersonal and businesslike. A couple of chaps with a respectable business front in another town get a phone call. They are given guns that can’t be traced, they travel to the target’s home and take up residence nearby, study their target for days, pick the right time, shoot him and get out. Each gets paid $10,000 for the job.
“They’re not like us, we wouldn’t do it,” Chandler says. Then he adds: “I’ve known people I’d like to shoot. I just thought they were better off dead.”
They talk about the difference between their heroes. Fleming says he never intended Bond to be a hero: “He’s a blunt instrument wielded by a Government department … who shoots his way out of things.” Chandler says a man in Bond’s position can’t afford tender emotions. “He feels them, but he has to quell them.”
His private eye Philip Marlowe, on the other hand, feels emotions and speaks about them. “He’s always confused,” Chandler says. “He’s like me.”
They are well aware how different their characters are from the reality. Chandler says that kind of private investigator couldn’t exist because he doesn’t make any money. Fleming says he’s met secret service agents (he doesn’t mention he was an intelligence officer himself) and found them quiet, peace-loving people doing a dull job with no thanks.
Fleming doesn’t think Bond will ever marry. (He did, of course, in the 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Chandler says Marlowe will marry in his next book: “It’s going to be a real struggle.” Sadly, that book, Poodle Springs, was never finished by Chandler: he died a year after this interview.