Archive for October 20, 2013

What, no Hammett?

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on October 20, 2013 by telescoper

I just took a break from work to have a look through the Sunday newspapers. In the Independent on Sunday I found an artincle about a new poll by the Crime Writers’ Association, which invites the public to vote on the best crime novel ever written.

I’m not going to quibble with the entire shortlist of ten books as such things are never going to generate a consensus. I will, however, admit being a bit annoyed with it for two reasons.

The first reason is the presence on the list of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Chandler was a fine novelist. This particular book, though, is very far from his best work. It is notable for being the first novel to feature his detective Philip Marlowe, but the plot has too many gaps for it to be considered a great example of the genre. Perhaps the shocking nature of the plot, which revolves around drugs, pornography and sexual exploitation, has drawn attention away from these flaws. Anyway it wouldn’t be in my top ten. Chandler’s other book on the shortlist, The Long Goodbye is another story – it’s completely marvellous and thoroughly deserves its place on the list.

The second reason is the absence from the selection of any of the great novels by Dashiell Hammett. The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, Red Harvest and of course The Maltese Falcon are all contenders, in my opinion.

I just can’t understand why the Crime Writers’ Association picked an inferior Chandler over a brilliant Hammett.

Incidentally I don’t think Raymond Chandler would have disagreed. He was well aware of the failings of The Big Sleep and of Hammett he wrote:

Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare and tropical fish. He took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it in the alley. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

There. I’ve said my piece. At least Hammett is on the list for the best Crime Writer. And by way of protest I’m going to have a glass of wine and watch a DVD of The Glass Key starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, a classic film noir adapted from Hammett’s great novel.


A cute probability problem

Posted in Cute Problems with tags , , on October 20, 2013 by telescoper

I’ve got a lot to do today, so I’ll restrict myself to a very quick post in the series marked Cute Problems. This one is to do with probability.

Two people (A and B) play a game which involves a sequence of tosses of a coin. The coin is “fair” so that the probability of a Head (H) is 0.5, equal to the probability of a Tail (T). Successive tosses of the coin are independent.

The game ends when two successive tosses show either the sequence HT (in which case Player A wins) or the sequence TT (in which case Player B wins). If neither pairing is seen the coin is tossed again and again until either HT or TT is seen.

What is the probability that Player A wins?

Answers (with explanations please) through the comments box..