Raymond Chandler (1888 – 1959)

 Raymond Chandler photo

Raymond Thornton Chandler (July 23, 1888 - March 26, 1959) was an American author of crime stories and novels.

His influence on modern crime fiction has been immense, particularly in the writing style and attitudes that much of the field has adopted over the last 60 years.

Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1888, but moved to Britain in 1895 when his parents divorced. He entered Dulwich College in 1900, and was naturalised as a British citizen in 1907 in order to take the Civil Service exam. He passed the exam and took a job at the Admiralty, where he worked for just over a year. His first poem was published during this time. After leaving the Civil Service, Chandler worked as a jobbing journalist, and continued to write poetry in the late Romantic style.

Chandler returned to the U.S. in 1912 and trained as a bookkeeper and accountant. In 1917, he enlisted in the Canadian Army and fought in France. After the armistice he moved to Los Angeles and began an affair with an older woman (Cissy Pascal), whom he later married. By 1932 Chandler had attained a vice-presidency at Dabney Oil Syndicate but lost this well-paying job as a result of his alcoholism.

He taught himself to write pulp fiction in an effort to draw an income from his creative talents, and his first story was published in Black Mask in 1933. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939.

Chandler worked as a Hollywood screenwriter following the success of his novels, working with Billy Wilder on James M. Cain's novel Double Indemnity (1944), and writing his only original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia (1946).

Cissy died in 1954 and Chandler, heartbroken and suffering from a painful nervous disease, turned once again to drink. His writing suffered in quality and quantity, and he attempted suicide in 1955.

He died in 1959 of pneumonia.

Chandler's finely wrought prose was widely admired by critics and writers from the high-brow (W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh) to the low-brow (Ian Fleming). Although his swift-moving, hardboiled style was inspired largely by Dashiell Hammett, his use of lyrical similes in this context was quite original. Turns of phrase such as "The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips" (The Lady in the Lake, 1943) , have become characteristic of private-eye fiction, and he has given his name to the critical term Chandleresque. His style is also the subject of innumerable parodies and pastiches.

Chandler was also a perceptive critic of pulp fiction, and his essay "The Simple Art of Murder" is a standard academic reference.

Books by Raymond Chandler