The Big Sleep, 1939
Farewell, My Lovely, 1940
The High Window, 1942
The Lady in the Lake, 1943
The Little Sister, 1949
The Long Goodbye, 1953
The Raymond Chandler Omnibus: Four Famous Classics, 1967
The Second Chandler Omnibus, 1973
Poodle Springs, 1989 (incomplete manuscript finished by Robert B. Parker)
Later Novels and Other Writings, 1995
Five Murderers, 1944
Five Sinister Characters, 1945
Finger Man, and Other Stories, 1946
Red Wind, 1946
Spanish Blood, 1946
Trouble Is My Business, 1950
The Simple Art of Murder, 1950
Pick-up on Noon Street, 1952
Smart-Aleck Kill, 1953
Pearls Are a Nuisance, 1958
Killer in the Rain, 1964 (Philip Durham, editor)
The Smell of Fear, 1965
The Midnight Raymond Chandler, 1971
The Best of Raymond Chandler, 1977
Stories and Early Novels, 1995
The Blue Dahlia, 1946 (Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor)
Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962 (Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine Sorely Walker, editors)
Chandler Before Marlowe: Raymond Chandler’s Early Prose and Poetry, 1973 (Bruccoli, editor)
The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler and English Summer, 1976 (Frank MacShane, editor)
Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, 1981 (MacShane, editor)
The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Non-fiction, 1909-1959, 2000 (Tom Hiney and MacShane, editors)
Raymond Thornton Chandler was one of the most significant writers of detective fiction in the United States. Like Dashiell Hammett, Chandler took the murder story out of the English drawing room and put it back on the mean streets, where violence and mayhem generally took place. He was the son of Maurice Benjamin Chandler, an engineer from Philadelphia, and Florence Thornton, from Waterford, Ireland. His father, who was an alcoholic, worked for various railroads, and the family lived a peripatetic existence. After his parents divorced, Chandler and his mother moved to London, living with her family. In 1900, he entered Dulwich College, one of the better English public schools. After leaving Dulwich, he sought a literary career and composed poetry and wrote reviews, but he met with only marginal success. In 1913, shortly before World War I, he returned to the United States and settled in Los Angeles.
In 1917, Chandler joined the Canadian army and fought on the western front. After the war, he returned to Southern California, and, although he still wanted to pursue a literary career, he became a businessman. Rootless in the most rootless of places, he married Cissy Pascal, who was eighteen years his senior. During the 1920’s, Chandler was a successful oil executive, but by the early 1930’s his life was in turmoil. He began drinking heavily, and in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, he was fired. He again turned to literature.
At the age of forty-five, literary success seemed unlikely. Yet Chandler began to write, and in December, 1933, he published “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.” During the next six years, he produced approximately twenty short stories, many of which appeared in the pulp magazine Black Mask. Never making much money during those years, Chandler explored the genre of the detective story and found his own voice. He experimented with various creations for his main character and finally settled on Philip Marlowe, a private detective. Chandler also discovered that a first-person narrative worked best for him. Chandler’s stories were in the mainstream of hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930’s. They emphasized blackmail and kidnapping, with money and sex as motives, and violence, actual and potential, was always in the background.
Chandler was more of a literary stylist than many of his pulp-magazine contemporaries. His English education had perhaps inculcated in him a greater awareness of the craft of writing, and his experience as an outsider–first in England and then in the United States–may have given him a sensitivity for language and its uses. Influenced by Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, Chandler attempted to improve the reputation of a lightly regarded field of literature. He used metaphor and simile in dazzling ways, and his stories had an immediately recognizable tone and voice. He has often been imitated but never equaled. Philip Marlowe became Chandler’s knight-errant. In his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” published in 1944, Chandler described his detective as “a man of honor–by instinct . . . without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.” However, Marlowe was no saint, and he evolved over time, though the code he followed remained recognizable, hard-boiled but sentimental.
Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. His decision to write longer works was partially economic, as novels had the potential to be more lucrative. Chandler also believed that his style and approach demanded a wider stage. He based his early novels on the previously produced short stories, cannibalizing their plots and stitching them together to form a whole. Many criticized his plotting abilities (there were often loose ends), but for him the portrayal of a particular milieu was paramount. The evolving environment of Southern California, the power and corruption of wealth, and the lives of those caught up in the labyrinth were the subjects of his novels.
Eventually Hollywood beckoned, and Chandler developed a love-hate relationship with the film industry. The 1946 film version of The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart, became a classic, and Chandler became a screenwriter himself. In his novel The Little Sister, he wrote about the corrupting influence of Hollywood’s greed upon traditional American values. In 1953, as his wife lay dying, Chandler finished The Long Goodbye. Featuring Marlowe, the novel was Chandler’s most ambitious attempt to stretch the possibilities of the detective genre. Longer than his early novels, The Long Goodbye is more the story of personal alienation and the fragility of friendships and family relations than a typical hard-boiled detective story. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler hints of the familial difficulties later portrayed by Ross Macdonald. His last novel, Playback, was a minor coda. By then, with his wife dead, Chandler was drinking heavily and had attempted suicide. He died in 1959.
Chandler chose to write in a field that, like science fiction, has always been suspect within literature. Although W. H. Auden argued that Chandler should be judged simply as a writer, it is as the creator of Philip Marlowe, private detective, that he will be remembered.