Raymond Chandler

American novelist and screenwriter (1888–1959)

Raymond Thornton Chandler (23 July 188826 March 1959) was an American-British novelist and screenwriter who specialized in the crime fiction genre.

Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality: there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings.


The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective.
  • There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art, science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science, art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.
    • "Great Thought" (19 February 1938), published in The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler (1976)
  • 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.
    • "Red Wind" (short story, 1938), published in Trouble Is My Business (1939)
  • To the memory of Mr. Stan Phillips. (...) Just another four-flusher.
    • "Red Wind" (short story, 1938), published in Trouble Is My Business (1939)
  • He snorted and hit me in the solar plexus.
    I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor.
    • "Pearls Are a Nuisance" (short story, 1939)
  • The solution, once revealed, must seem to have been inevitable. At least half of all the mystery novels published violate this law.
    • "Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel" (essay, 1949), first published in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962)
  • Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery because it introduces a type of suspense that is antagonistic to the detective's struggle to solve the problem. It stacks the cards, and in nine cases out of ten, it eliminates at least two useful suspects. The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective - but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode. A really good detective never gets married.
    • "Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel" (essay, 1949), first published in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962)
  • There is something about the literary life that repels me, all this desperate building of castles on cobwebs, the long-drawn acrimonious struggle to make something important which we all know will be gone forever in a few years, the miasma of failure which is to me almost as offensive as the cheap gaudiness of popular success.
    • letter, 22 April 1949, published in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962)
  • When you read a story, you accept its implausibilities and extravagances, because they are no more fantastic than the conventions of the medium itself. But when you look at real people, moving against a real background, and hear them speaking real words, your imagination is anaesthetized. You accept what you see and hear, but you do not complement it from the resources of your own imagination. The motion picture is like a picture of a lady in a half-piece bathing suit. If she wore a few more clothes, you might be intrigued. If she wore no clothes at all, you might be shocked. But the way it is, you are occupied with noticing that her knees are too bony and that her toenails are too large. The modern film tries too hard to be real. Its techniques of illusion are so perfect that it requires no contribution from the audience but a mouthful of popcorn.
    • "About the screenplay for Strangers on a Train" (notes, 1950), first published in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962), section "Chandler on the Film World and Television", p. 134
  • The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective.
    • letter, 19 April 1951, published in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962)
  • The perfect detective story cannot be written. The type of mind which can evolve the perfect problem is not the type of mind that can produce the artistic job of writing.
    • "Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story", published in The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler(1976)
  • [As a screenwriter] I have a sense of exile from thought, a nostalgia of the quiet room and balanced mind. I am a writer, and there comes a time when that which I write has to belong to me, has to be written alone and in silence, with no one looking over my shoulder, no one telling me a better way to write it. It doesn't have to be great writing, it doesn't even have to be terribly good. It just has to be mine.
    • "A Qualified Farewell" (essay, early 1950's), published in The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler (1976)
  • The dilemma of the critic has always been that if he knows enough to speak with authority, he knows too much to speak with detachment.
    • "A Qualified Farewell" (essay, early 1950's), published in The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler (1976)
  • By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.
    • In a letter to the editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Hiney, Tom; Frank MacShane (2000). The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction, 1909-1959. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. p. 77. ISBN 0871137860. 
  • Hollywood is wonderful. Anyone who doesn't like it is either crazy or sober.
    • As quoted in Hollywood Remembered : An Oral History of Its Golden Age (2002) by Paul Zollo
  • The girl slept on, motionless, in that curled-up looseness achieved by some women and all cats.
    • "'I'll Be Waiting' (short story), published in the Saturday Evening Post, October 14, 1939
  • It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
    • opening paragraph, chapter 1
  • The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying.
    • Chapter 1
  • "Tall, aren't you?" she said. "I didn't mean to be."
    • chapter one
  • The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men.
    • chapter 2
  • A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.
    • chapter 2
  • "A nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy."
    • chapter 2
  • The old man nodded, as if his neck was afraid of the weight of his head.
    • chapter 2
  • Her hot black eyes looked mad. "I don't see what there is to be cagey about," she snapped. "And I don't like your manners."
    "I'm not crazy about yours," I said. "I didn't ask to see you. You sent for me. I don't mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle. I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings. But don't waste your time trying to cross-examine me."
    • chapter 3
  • Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.
    • chapter 6
  • The registration read: Carmen Sternwood, 3765 Alta Brea Crescent, West Hollywood. I went back to my car again and sat and sat. The top dripped on my knees and my stomach burned from the whiskey. No more cars came up the hill. No lights went on in the house before which I was parked. It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.
    • Chapter 6
  • "You're broke, eh?"
    • "I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.”
  • "Tsk, tsk," I said, not moving at all. "Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You're the second guy I've met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail."
    • chapter 14
  • You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women. Women made me sick.
    • Chapter 25
  • "You know what Canino will do---beat my teeth out and then kick me in the stomach for mumbling."
    • Chapter 28
  • She bent over me again. Blood began to move around in me, like a prospective tenant looking over a house.
    • Chapter 28, Phillip Marlowe watching Mona "Silver-Wig" Mars
  • I looked down at the chessboard. The move with the knight was wrong. I put it back where I had moved it from.Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights.
    • Chapter 28
  • What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep.
    • Chapter 32, Phillip Marlowe
  • On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double Scotches. They didn't do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again.
    • Chapter 32, Phillip Marlowe
  • 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.
    • chapter 1
  • He had a battered face that looked as if it had been hit by everything but the bucket of a dragline. It was scarred, flattened, thickened, checkered, and welted. It was a face that had nothing to fear. Everything had been done to it that anybody could think of.
    • chapter 2
  • A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.
    • chapter 13
  • We sneered at each other across the desk for a moment. He sneered better than I did.
    • chapter 20
  • “Who is this Hemingway person at all?”
    “A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good.”
    “That must take a hell of a long time,” the big man said.
    • chapter 24
  • "They say money don't stink," he said. "I sometimes wonder."
    • chapter 34
  • 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. I put them on and went out of the room.
    • chapter 34
  • She had a lot of face and chin. She had pewter-colored hair set in a ruthless permanent, a hard beak, and large moist eyes with the sympathetic expression of wet stones.
    • chapter 2
  • He didn't curl his lip because it had been curled when he came in.
    • chapter 3
  • A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pajamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins.
    • chapter 17
  • 'Okay, thees Hench no good, but poor guy, drunk, no job. Pay no rent, but I got lotsa money. So I say, Look, Hench, you make the confess. You sick man. Two three weeks sick. You go into court. I have a lawyer for you. You say to hell with the confess. I was drunk. The damn coppers are stuck. The judge he turn you loose and you come back to me and I take care of you. Okay? So Hench say okay, make the confess. That's all.'
    I said: 'And after two or three weeks the bad brother is a long way from here and the trail is cold and the cops will likely just write the Phillips killing off as unsolved. Is that it?'
    'Si.' He smiled again. A brilliant warm smile, like the kiss of death.
    • chapter 24
  • When I left, Merle was wearing a bungalow apron and rolling pie-crust. She came to the door wiping her hands on the apron and kissed me on the mouth and began to cry and ran back into the house, leaving the doorway empty until her mother came into the space with a broad homely smile on her face to watch me drive away.
    I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.
    • chapter 36
  • The little blonde at the PBX cocked a shell-like ear and smiled a small fluffy smile. She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens.
    • chapter 1
  • 'The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips.'
  • I hung up.
    It was a step in the right direction, but it didn't go far enough. I ought to have locked the door and hid under the desk.
    • chapter 1
  • 'He used to wear a little blond moustache but Mother made him cut it off. She said -'
    'Don't tell me. The minister needed it to stuff a cushion.'
    • chapter 2
Short story collection, including the essay of the same name
  • Undoubtedly the stories about them [hard-boiled detectives] had a fantastic element. Such things happened, but not so rapidly, nor to so close-knit a group of people, nor within so narrow a frame of logic. This was inevitable because the demand was for constant action; if you stopped to think you were lost. When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.
    • Introduction
  • The mystery story is a kind of writing that need not dwell in the shadow of the past and owes little if any allegiance to the cult of the classics. It is a good deal more than unlikely that any writer now living will produce a better historical novel than Henry Esmond, a better tale of children than The Golden Age, a sharper social vignette than Madame Bovary, a more graceful and elegant evocation than The Spoils of Poynton, a wider and richer canvas than War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. But to devise a more plausible mystery than The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Purloined Letter should not be too difficult. Nowadays it would be rather more difficult not to.
    • Introduction
  • There are no 'classics' of crime and detection. Not one. Within its frame of reference, which is the only way it should be judged, a classic is a piece of writing which exhausts the possibilities of its form and can never be surpassed. No story or novel of mystery has done that yet. Few have come close. Which is one of the principal reasons why otherwise reasonable people continue to assault the citadel.
    • Introduction
  • Nor is it any part of my thesis to maintain that it [the detective story] is a vital and significant form of art. There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that.
    • essay, first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (November, 1945)
  • Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality: there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings.
    • essay, first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (November, 1945)
  • Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
    • essay, first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (November, 1945)
  • The boys with their feet on the desks know that the easiest murder case in the world to break is the one somebody tried to get very cute with.
    • essay, first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (November, 1945)
See also The Long Goodbye (film)
  • She opened her mouth like a firebucket and laughed. That terminated my interest in her. I couldn't hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed.
  • “You had to play the big scene,” he said coldly. “Stand on your rights, talk about the law. How ingenuous can a man get, Marlowe? A man like you who is supposed to know his way around. The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.”
    • chapter 8
  • When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn't have one. I didn't care. I finished the drink and went to bed.
  • "Alcohol is like love," he said. "The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off."
  • I never saw any of them again — except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.
  • You can always tell a detective on TV. He never takes his hat off.
    • chapter 14
  • (Henry Clarendon IV:) "Is God happy with the poisoned cat dying alone in convulsions behind the billboard? Is God happy that life is cruel and that only the fittest survive? The fittest for what? Oh no, far from it. If God were omnipotent and omniscient in any literal sense, he wouldn’t have bothered to make the universe at all. There is no success where there is no possibility of failure, no art without the resistance of the medium. Is it blasphemy to suggest that God has his bad days when nothing goes right, and that God’s days are very, very long?"
    • chapter 17

Quotes about Chandler

  • Though I don't really understand her
    I love my sister, her name's Miranda
    The boys from uptown they can't stand her
    The more she denies them the more they demand her
    But she just wants to lay in bed all night
    Reading Raymond Chandler
    • Jim Carroll, "Three Sister" from the album Catholic Boy by the Jim Carroll Band
  • The only exception to his careful planning was plot; the best way to stop the reader guessing the end of a story, he decided, was not to know how it ended yourself.
    • Tom Hiney on Chandler's writing method, in Raymond Chandler, Chatto & Windus, London, 1997, p. 73.