Among the most influential of crime fiction writers is Raymond Chandler. In just seven novels he established his protagonist Philip Marlowe as American fiction’s quintessential private detective. He was also behind some of the finest screenwriting Hollywood has seen. Screen adaptations like Double Indemnity bear testament to his innate ability to write for cinema.
Since the 1940s, so many crime and screenwriters have tried to mimic Chandler’s style that, outside his original stories, his characters have become rather clichéd. Within them, however, they have lost almost nothing.
Chandler’s prose is punctuated by a brilliantly clipped style, his ability to convey a time and place – namely 30s and 40s Los Angeles – and of course his sparkling witticisms:
‘Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.’ – Farewell, My Lovely, 1940.
Although an American citizen by birth, Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College in London, a grounding that shaped him profoundly and made him a confirmed Anglophile for the rest of his days.
Here is Chandler, in 1957, aboard the Queen Elizabeth, on his way back to America following a stay in London:
He had suffered the death of his wife of 30 years – a blow from which he never fully recovered – 10 months previously, and was battling alcoholism. In a letter to Roger Machell, the Director of his English publishers, he wrote of the journey:
‘The voyage was hell. Still practicing to be a non-drinker (and it’s going to take a damn sight more practice than I have time for). I sat alone in the corner and refused to talk or to have anything to do with other passengers, which did not seem to cause them any grief.’
Upon his death in 1959, but only after a fierce legal battle with a former secretary of Chandler’s, his erstwhile fiancée, Helga Greene, inherited his entire estate.
Here she is aboard the Statendam in 1957:
Greene also appears within the Passenger Lists for 1938, as a 21-year-old student, bound for New York: