Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler (July 23, 1888-1959) was an an oil executive who lost his job for drinking and carrying on with a secretary, then cleaned up to become one of the most enduring writers of detective fiction. When he published his first book he was 50. He had been writing pulp stories for detetective magazines when he got a book deal with Knopf. His first four novels were not bestsellers, but then a cheaper paperback printing of The Big Sleep was allowed, which sold a whopping 300,000 copies.

The hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe and Chandler's take on Los Angeles have influenced generations of writers. His fans enjoy the complicated plots, but for the most part it's that first-person voice that hooks them. The witty, tough but tender voice of Chandler, disguised as Marlowe, is cadenced, surprisingly musical, and sets up a tension between a literary sensibility and the novel’s general air of depravity. Each page is riddled with quotable bits, lines you want to memorize and repeat to your friends.

From The Big Sleep - "What did it matter where you lay once you were dead?...You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that".

From Farewell My Lovely - "I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun."

From The Long Goodbye, when a beautiful woman walks into a bar and all the men stop to look at her: "It was like just after the conductor taps on his music stand and raises his arms and holds them poised."

From Red Wind - "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."

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