Monday, February 19, 2018
Books

Raymond Chandler: a brief biography

The biography of Raymond Chandler, progenitor of the hard-boiled detective story, reveals a well-educated and cosmopolitan man. He was born in Chicago in 1888. His parents' marriage soon fractured, and his Anglo-Irish mother, Florence, moved to Ireland and then England with her son. Chandler attended Dulwich College in London and studied languages in Paris and Germany; in his 20s he returned to the United States. He survived trench warfare in World War I as part of a Canadian unit, then returned to California. There he met and married the artistic Cissy Pascal, his great love and 18 years his senior.

Chandler had a successful career as an oil company executive in Los Angeles, but lost his job during the Great Depression. Then in his 40s, he began reading pulp magazines and decided he could write detective fiction. His first story, Blackmailers Don't Shoot, was published in Black Mask in 1933.

Several dozen more stories followed, and in 1939 The Big Sleep, his first novel of seven about L.A. private detective Philip Marlowe, was published to mixed reviews and moderate sales. Chandler continued to write novels and became a screenwriter, working on such films as Double Indemnity and Strangers on a Train. His novels' sales took off when they were issued as paperbacks and as some were made into films. Director Howard Hawks' 1946 adaptation of The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe, is a film noir classic.

Chandler's novels include The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1943), The Lady in the Lake (1944), The Little Sister (1949), The Long Goodbye (1953) and Playback (1958). He died in La Jolla, Calif., in 1959, leaving an unfinished novel, Poodle Springs, that was completed by novelist Robert B. Parker in 1989.

Among the many contemporary novelists who cite Chandler as an influence are Ace Atkins, Megan Abbott, Benjamin Black, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, George Pelecanos and Ian Rankin.

For more on Chandler, see the recent biography A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler (Chicago Review Press) by Tom Williams.

Colette Bancroft, Times book editor

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