Early in V I Warshawski’s career, a lot of people objected, loudly, to her drinking. One reader said when she came to a passage where V I got home from a hard day’s detecting and poured herself a whisky, she threw the book across the room hard enough to break its spine. Others weren't quite as violent, but they certainly didn’t think a woman should drink hard liquor. The occasional sip of chardonnay was okay, but not whisky—that’s a man’s drink.
Indeed, the great Fathers of the American hardboiled novel, Chandler and Hammett, were great drinkers, both on and off the page. Marlowe, in fact, kept a bottle of rye in his glove compartment for just those moments when he’d been knocked cold and needed a revivifying drink on gaining consciousness. He and his creator drank often, but Marlowe, at least, never actually got drunk. Chandler, unfortunately, had increasing problems staying sober enough to write at the end of his life.
Hammett, similarly, was a great drinker. Nick and Nora Charles, in The Thin Man, have a little drop of something to start the day, and, in the movie version, gulp down six martinis without flinching—Myrna Loy has five at the same time to catch up with William Powell, all without wrinkling her exquisite costume.
One weekend, when Hammett was drinking with William Faulkner. Faulkner’s editor, Bennet Cerf, stopped by to check on him and mentioned that he was dining that night at the Knopfs, along with Willa Cather. Miffed that they hadn’t been included—Blanche Knopf was Hammett’s editor—the two bullied Cerf into getting them an invitation. When they arrived that night at the mansion, Hammett and Faulkner promptly passed out. The staff were able to revive Faulkner and prop him up at the table, but Hammett they had to carry out to a taxi to take him back to his apartment.
Nowadays, when writers get together, they sip chardonnay. At a recent crime writers dinner, we all boldly ordered martinis—and then most of us, men included, took a sip and retreated to wine or even water.
When I first created V I, I gave her my own Scotch, Johnny Walker Black. As the years have gone by, I find myself able to drink less and less—a glass of wine with dinner is my sorry limit. Without realizing it, I’ve cut back V I’s rations as well. A reader recently wrote to complain that V I Warshawski—wasn’t drinking enough. I’m going to up the girl detective’s intake—she works hard, she’s fitter than I am, tougher in every way—I’m going to give her back her whisky bottle. But she will remain, as she always has been, a careful drinker: she doesn’t drink and drive, and when she’s hit on the head, she always has a hot sweet drink, sans booze. I worry that while this makes her more credible as a person, though, it sadly diminishes her noir credentials.