"But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."
(Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art Of Murder)
It has been said that Raymond Chandler is a star of the first magnitude.* It has been said that Raymond Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.** It has also been said that his plots were a mess.*** It has further been said that he was a world-class drunk. Big deal-- so was William Faulkner, the man who ruined The Big Sleep for the screen trying to write a script from a novel he didn't understand. Faulkner even had to telegraph Chandler to ask him who killed the Sternwood's chauffer. " I don't know," was Chandler's sarcastic telegraphed reply. Although Chandler was later consulted by director Howard Hawks, only the art of Bogart and Bacall saved the film from disaster.
Chandler was, to my knowledge, the first writer to set up a sort of code of ethics for private detective stories (Dashiell Hammett came close, but never actually put it down on paper). He felt that a private detective must himself be above all of the things he encounters; "The best man in the world and a good enough man for any world."
(to be continued...)
Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago on July 23 1888. He was educated in England, and first came to write detective stories in 1932. Blackmailers Don't Shoot, which took five months to write, was published by Black Mask, the leading crime pulp of its time. Writing proved lucrative, and was something Chandler enjoyed, so he continued. His first novel appeared in 1939 (The Big Sleep), and he turned to screenwriting in 1943. This, unfortunately, was to prove considerably more difficult than fiction. In 1954 Cissy, Chandler's wife of 30 years, passed away, after a lengthy illness. Chandler plunged more deeply than ever into drink, still managing to produce some of the English language's greatest crime fiction. In 1958, on a suggestion from British espionage author Ian Fleming, he traveled to Capri to interview deported mafioso 'Lucky' Luciano for the London Sunday Times. This interview was never published, however, for legal reasons. During the last year of his life Chandler was president of the Mystery Writers of America. He died from pneumonia brought on by a particularly heavy drinking binge on March 23, 1959.
Novels (note: all dates refer to first US publication)
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 (1954)
Poodle Springs (first 4 chapters only; novel later completed and published by Robert Parker. Parker then went on to write a sequel to The Big Sleep, entitled Perchance To Dream.)
Double Indemnity (from the novella by James M Cain)
And Now Tomorrow (with Frank Partos)
The Unseen (with Hager Wilde)
The Blue Dahlia (original, based in part on a famous murder case which remains unsolved)
The Lady in The Lake (completed by Steve Fisher; Chandler received no screen credit)
The Innocent Mrs Duff (from the novel by Elizabeth Sanxay; unfinished)
Playback (original; never filmed. Later novel loosely based on this screenplay)
Strangers On A Train (with Alfred Hitchcock, from the novel by Patricia Highsmith. Hitchcock was unhappy with Chandler's work and brought in Czenzi Ormonde to re-work the screenplay. Though Chandler also receives screen credit, little of his work remains.)
(note: to the best of my knowledge, only Double Indemnity and Playback have been published in book form. I have heard rumours that The Blue Dahlia was once available, but have never seen a copy.)
All of Chandler novels (and most of the stories and essays) are available in paperback. The Library Of America recently published a beautiful two-volume collected edition of his works: all of his novels are included, as well as all of the non-cannibalised (Chandler's own term) stories, many letters and essays, and the screenplay to Double Indemnity. Well worth the price of admission.
If you don't want to kill a tree (several, actually-- the collected edition runs almost 2400 pages), then Byron Preiss Media has released a CD-ROM entitled Trouble Is My Business. This contains all of the novels except, oddly enough, The Little Sister. A large number of stories and essays are also included, as well as a timeline and an interactive map of Chandler's Los Angeles.
By the way, the picture at the top of this page is from the cover of the 12" single She's Got A Gun, by Yello.
*Erle Stanley Gardner
Please e-mail me with any questions or comments.