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Review: The novels of Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler started writing after being sacked from his position as a top executive in an oil company for drunkenness and failing to turn up for work. His first stories were published in the 1930s in the pulp magazine Black Mask. In his own words, ‘I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.’ We have five of his novels in the library.

I have been re-reading, and not for the first time, the novels of Raymond Chandler. Philip Marlowe is a hero of mine, although I must admit having Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe in the films of his novels may have played a small part in this. The character is so wonderfully drawn, warts and all. All human traits, for good or ill, are there. The plot lines are interesting in all their twists and turns.

However, it is none of these things that brings me back to read then again. It is the sheer inventiveness of the language. It’s the words he conjures up that create pictures in your mind and take you on a journey with Marlowe. At some of the sentences, phrases, I find myself smiling, thinking, how did he think of that!

His three best-known novels are The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953). In the opening paragraph of The Big Sleep Chandler introduces us to Marlowe: ‘I was neat, clean, shaved and sober and I didn’t care who knew it. I was what every well dressed private detective ought to be . . . I was calling on four million dollars.’ And this is a description of his first meeting with Vivian Sternwood: ‘the calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim and with enough melodic line for a tone poem’. In his first encounter with the gangster Eddie Mars, the conversation runs ‘How come you had a key?’

‘Is that any of your business?’

‘I could make it my business’ . . .

‘And I could make your business my business.’

Marlowe, ‘You wouldn’t like it, the pay’s too small.’

There are many more and I could probably have found better ones if I had made notes as I was reading. Getting to know these novels is a delight and – even better – they are on the library shelves.

Review by Library Member