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Classic Crime

Raymond Chandler

Biography:
Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1888. After the divorce of his parents, Florence and Maurice, Chandler moved with his mother in 1895 to England. He grew up there and entered Dulwich College in 1900. He became a British Citizen in 1907 in order to complete his examinations. Chandler took a job as a civil servant and, after that, as a journalist.

Chandler returned to the U.S. in 1912 to train as a bookkeeper and accountant. During the First World War, he fought alongside the Canadian Army. After the Armistice, Chandler returned to the states, moving to Los Angeles.


There he met and married the woman who was to be the great love of his life. Pearl Cecily Hurlburt was twice married and divorced. She was also eighteen years older than Chandler. Cissy was youthful looking and, although she was fifty-three, she listed her age as ten years younger. Chandler was thirty-six when they married.

Chandler worked for the Dabney Oil Syndicate from 1922 to 1932. Sadly, he lost his job during the Great Depression, mainly due to the alcoholism that would plague him all his life. He then started writing stories for Black Mask Magazine, his first appearing in 1933. Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, introduced Philip Marlowe. It was published in 1939.

After the success of his novels, Chandler turned his hand to screen writing and is credited with the screenplay for James M. Cain’s novel, Double Indemnity.

Chandler’s wife, Cissy, died in 1954 and he being totally distraught and turned to drink. Also in 1954, Chandler received the Edgar for best crime novel for The Long Good-Bye. This novel is generally considered his best of the Marlowe books. The most famous film of the Marlowe stories was The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

After his wife’s death, Chandler sailed to England and met Jessica Tyndale who he became very close to. He travelled extensively, meeting with other writers like Ian Fleming in Capri.

His last novel, Playback, was published in 1958.

Chandler died on 26th March 1959 having only partly completed his last Philip Malowe novel, Poodle Springs. This book was completed and published thirty years later in 1989 by Robert B. Parker. Parker went on to write another Marlowe novel, a sequel to The Big Sleep called Perchance To Dream.

Review: The Big Sleep

‘…a superb piece of literature.’

This is the book that introduced Marlowe to the world. It was to be a lasting relationship. The book was published in 1939 and is still as fresh today, if slightly nostalgic for a world that no longer exists.

The Sternwood Patriarch summons Marlowe as he is being blackmailed about one of his two daughters. He has already been touched for money a few months back. He wants to know if it is that same person again and if the situation calls for the money to be paid or not. Marlowe is taken by the old man, especially when he tells Marlowe about his fondness for his missing son-in-law who disappeared some months back without trace or explanation.

As Marlowe begins his investigation, he doesn’t realise how convoluted things are going to become. He certainly didn’t reckon on there being so many interlinked relationships between all the suspects, nor did he think there would be quite so many bodies by the end of the case. Marlowe, with his smooth style, wraps the case up in his own cool way.

Chandler has been described as a novelist who embraced the crime genre. His writing does not come across as dated and there are some beautiful descriptive passages, which make you realise that Chandler really was an observer of human life. Some of the characters in the book engage your sympathy, while some don’t. The two daughters, for example, are a menace to themselves and to society. I believe that was how Chandler wanted us to feel towards these spoilt women.

If you haven’t read Chandler then I strongly suggest you do. It demonstrates that his writing was head and shoulders above many writers who were concerned only with plot, rather than character development. As with life, this case is not straightforward and there are many loose ends. By all accounts, it is alleged that even Chandler didn’t know who had done one of the murders that takes place in the book. So don’t expect everyone to be in the living room in the last chapter getting a blow-by-blow account of exactly what happened. You won’t get it. This is, by any standards, a superb piece of literature. I am sure anyone, crime fan or otherwise, will enjoy reading it.

Penguin have brought out a set of the Marlowe books from The Big Sleep to The Long Good-Bye with great new covers.

Reviewed by: C. S.

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