Raymond Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe, one of the best-known detectives to ever make his way down a dark alley, was born in 1888. His novels were made into movies and he wrote screenplays for acclaimed motion pictures including “Double Indemnity”–likely the best film of the noir period–and “Strangers on a Train.”
He moved to England with his mother at an early age, attended school there and later studied in Germany and France. He became a naturalized British citizen and served in World War I. After the war he was a journalist in London for a time then he moved back to the US, eventually living in southern California where he went to work as a bookkeeper for an oil company. When he lost his job in 1932 he returned to writing and published his first crime story in 1933 in “The Black Mask,” a pulp journal that also published Cornell Woolrich and other up-and-coming detective writers.
For all his influence and prominence, his output was relatively modest compared to many other crime novelists, this owing to the fact he was in his 50s when he wrote his first novel, “The Big Sleep,” in 1939. He wrote seven novels–almost all household names to mystery readers–and about two dozen short stories and novellas.
James Bond author Ian Fleming said that Chandler offered, “some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today.”
Recently I read one collection of his long short stories, “Trouble Is My Business.” Here’s a sample of his distinctive prose from that book:
From a description of an over-weight corpse: “…his neck had as many folds as a concertina.”
A bright yellow convertible stood out from a row of other cars. It was, “about as inconspicuous as a privy on the front lawn.”
Describing a suspicious character: “His voice had the quiet careful murmur of the cell block and the exercise yard.”
A brunette speaks to Marlowe in, “a voice as silky as a burnt crust of toast.”
Later he says, “She was looking at me now as if I had come to wash the windows, but at an inconvenient time.”
One of my favorite Chandler character sketches: “She just stood and looked at me, a long, lean, hungry brunette, with rouged cheekbones, thick black hair parted in the middle, a mouth made for triple-decker sandwiches….”
And finally this observation from Marlowe, “Clammy hands and the people who own them make me sick.”