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Raymond Chandler: A Biography

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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Raymond Chandler is an uncensored look at the tortured man who wrote the classic mystery novels The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Using recently uncovered archival materials including personal papers and correspondence, biographer Thomas Hiney vividly evokes Chandler's early years in Nebraska, his education in England and on the A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Raymond Chandler is an uncensored look at the tortured man who wrote the classic mystery novels The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Using recently uncovered archival materials including personal papers and correspondence, biographer Thomas Hiney vividly evokes Chandler's early years in Nebraska, his education in England and on the corrupt streets of Los Angeles, and his later years as a novelist and screenwriter in the heyday of the Hollywood studio system. Along the way, he provides illuminating insights into the writer's inspirations and work - as well as accounts of Chandler's battles with alcohol addiction and his friendships with Howard Hawks, "Lucky" Luciano, S. J. Perelman, and Alfred Hitchcock. This book is also the first to fully detail the significance and complexities of his thirty-year marriage to Cissy, a woman seventeen years his senior. Raymond Chandler is personal portrait of an author as extraordinary as the fiction he created - a body of work that has sold more than five million copies, been translated into twenty-five languages, and inspired countless imitators. "A discerning portrait of the creator of Philip Marlowe, the archetypal American private eye." - Newsweek


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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Raymond Chandler is an uncensored look at the tortured man who wrote the classic mystery novels The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Using recently uncovered archival materials including personal papers and correspondence, biographer Thomas Hiney vividly evokes Chandler's early years in Nebraska, his education in England and on the A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Raymond Chandler is an uncensored look at the tortured man who wrote the classic mystery novels The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Using recently uncovered archival materials including personal papers and correspondence, biographer Thomas Hiney vividly evokes Chandler's early years in Nebraska, his education in England and on the corrupt streets of Los Angeles, and his later years as a novelist and screenwriter in the heyday of the Hollywood studio system. Along the way, he provides illuminating insights into the writer's inspirations and work - as well as accounts of Chandler's battles with alcohol addiction and his friendships with Howard Hawks, "Lucky" Luciano, S. J. Perelman, and Alfred Hitchcock. This book is also the first to fully detail the significance and complexities of his thirty-year marriage to Cissy, a woman seventeen years his senior. Raymond Chandler is personal portrait of an author as extraordinary as the fiction he created - a body of work that has sold more than five million copies, been translated into twenty-five languages, and inspired countless imitators. "A discerning portrait of the creator of Philip Marlowe, the archetypal American private eye." - Newsweek

30 review for Raymond Chandler: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    James Thane

    Tom Hiney has thoroughly catalogued the somewhat bizarre and troubled life of Raymond Chandler, who would become perhaps the most celebrated crime novelist of the Twentieth Century. Chandler was born in the U.S. in 1888, and educated in England. Returning to the U.S., he found his way to Los Angeles where he became an oil company executive. Chandler's father abandoned his family when Raymond was a boy, and Raymond was raised thereafter by his mother with the help of relatives. At an early age, he Tom Hiney has thoroughly catalogued the somewhat bizarre and troubled life of Raymond Chandler, who would become perhaps the most celebrated crime novelist of the Twentieth Century. Chandler was born in the U.S. in 1888, and educated in England. Returning to the U.S., he found his way to Los Angeles where he became an oil company executive. Chandler's father abandoned his family when Raymond was a boy, and Raymond was raised thereafter by his mother with the help of relatives. At an early age, he developed a serious problem with alcohol and throughout his life, he also had some very odd relationships with women, most especially, his wife of thirty-one years, Cissy, who was seventeen years his senior. He was often ill at ease in the company of others and spent long periods of time in seclusion, accompanied only by his beloved wife. His best books were composed during these self-imposed retreats. Chandler was ultimately fired from his job with the oil company when his drinking became too much of a problem, and he decided to become a full-time writer. He approached the problem systematically, studying the process of writing. He wrote several short stories, principally for the pulp magazine, Black Mask, and then produced his first novel at the age of fifty. He would ultimately produce several of the great crime novels of his or any other era, including The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and The Long Goodbye. He also became a very successful screenwriter and is doubtless best remembered for his work on "Double Indemnity," which remains probably the most classic of American noir films. It took some time for the books to find a wide audience and for Chandler to earn the plaudits he was certainly due, and by the end of his life his behavior had become even more erratic as his drinking problem became even more pronounced. He once told his doctor, one would hope in jest, that his daily consumption was moderate: a bottle of Scotch, several cocktails (doubles of course) and various wines with his meals. In the end, it would be his undoing, and Chandler died in 1959 at the age of seventy. Hiney describes all of this thoroughly and competently; he also provides synopses of Chandler's novels, but the book falls a bit short in Hiney's analysis of all of this. There's very little explanation of why Chandler might have behaved as he did and very little actual analysis of his work. Those looking for a thorough record of Chandler's life will be well-served with this book; those expecting a bit more will likely be somewhat disappointed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    F.R.

    Reading this biography, I found myself coming to like Raymond Chandler more than I thought I would. Through various articles I’d read, I had come to the impression that Chandler the man was cantankerous, rude and nothing like Philip Marlowe. (The very public recollections of Billy Wilder probably helped form that opinion, as the two did really fall into a hate/hate relationship with each other.) But the man I found in these pages seemed a kind and intelligent soul, devoted to his wife, who noneth Reading this biography, I found myself coming to like Raymond Chandler more than I thought I would. Through various articles I’d read, I had come to the impression that Chandler the man was cantankerous, rude and nothing like Philip Marlowe. (The very public recollections of Billy Wilder probably helped form that opinion, as the two did really fall into a hate/hate relationship with each other.) But the man I found in these pages seemed a kind and intelligent soul, devoted to his wife, who nonetheless struggled with terrible alcoholism. An addiction he couldn’t quite bring himself to admit. What’s more there was a lot of Marlowe to him, there was the nobility, the jaundice eye and even the loneliness. Chandler may have been a married man and not a perpetual bachelor, but he was still someone who cut himself off from the outside world, even as he craved it. This is a fine nuts and bolts biography which takes us through his life on both sides of the Atlantic, and the creation of his books and his legacy. It made me want to curl up and read The BIG SLEEP to THE LONG GOODBYE all over again. No, more than that! The write up that Hiney gives it actually makes me want to read PLAYBACK again. The wonderful Megan Abbott penned an article the other week about Chandler’s problems with women in his novels. Reading with a Twenty-First Century eye, there may be issues relating to both gender and race, but – even if that’s the case – I’d never be able to divorce myself from loving these books. His writing is brutal poetry and is still wedded to my soul after three dozen rereads.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ray Smith

    Decent but not great bio on the great mystery writer. One strength of the book is its detailed chapters on Chandler's writing process--his first attempts at writing stories for pulp magazines, his early novels, and his work in Hollywood. Not as interesting were the chapters on Chandler's depressing, alcohol-drenched last decade of life, which Hines inexplicably devotes seemingly 1/3 of his book to. Decent but not great bio on the great mystery writer. One strength of the book is its detailed chapters on Chandler's writing process--his first attempts at writing stories for pulp magazines, his early novels, and his work in Hollywood. Not as interesting were the chapters on Chandler's depressing, alcohol-drenched last decade of life, which Hines inexplicably devotes seemingly 1/3 of his book to.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    Hiney's biography leans heavily on Frank MacShane's 1976 biography, a superior book in most respects. The one advantage that Hiney has over MacShane is his mildly more skeptical response to some of the episodes MacShane seems to have taken as literal truth. Hiney is unconvinced, and rightly so, of Chandler's claims of sexual infidelity during his marriage, and promiscuity afterward. The problem is that Hiney still lends some credence to them-- perhaps they weren't all true, but surely some must Hiney's biography leans heavily on Frank MacShane's 1976 biography, a superior book in most respects. The one advantage that Hiney has over MacShane is his mildly more skeptical response to some of the episodes MacShane seems to have taken as literal truth. Hiney is unconvinced, and rightly so, of Chandler's claims of sexual infidelity during his marriage, and promiscuity afterward. The problem is that Hiney still lends some credence to them-- perhaps they weren't all true, but surely some must be, simply because Chandler alluded to so many?-- when he shouldn't. The problem with both Hiney and MacShane is that they rely too heavily on Chandler's letters (and in Hiney's case, this is almost entirely one-sided-- at least in MacShane we occasionally get glimpses of the responses) and his published work, so that the picture of Chandler that is presented is the picture that Chandler would have presented had he been able, in his autobiography. As such, these books suffer all of the consistency problems of the autobiography with none of the privileged materials at the autobiographer's disposal. More a monument than a biography.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Here's a good, solid biography of mystery writer Raymond Chandler. After working my way through the books, this was a good read to understand the man behind the mysteries. There are some connections between Phillip Marlowe and Chandler, a life-long alcoholic. What I didn't know were Chandler's early literary aspirations, which got shelved for about two decades while he worked as an accountant for an oil company. Starting in his 50th year, he began writing the books after an apprenticeship in the Here's a good, solid biography of mystery writer Raymond Chandler. After working my way through the books, this was a good read to understand the man behind the mysteries. There are some connections between Phillip Marlowe and Chandler, a life-long alcoholic. What I didn't know were Chandler's early literary aspirations, which got shelved for about two decades while he worked as an accountant for an oil company. Starting in his 50th year, he began writing the books after an apprenticeship in the pulps. In the end, Chandler is his own worst enemy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    Read this book starting with the last section as it describes Chandler's declining health and spiral into depression and alcohol. Then I leap frogged about the book reading people or events mentioned in that section - his relationship with the love of his life his wife, Cissy, working with Billy Wilder on Double Indemnity. I delved into the section on his work of The Lady of the Lake, a favorite film noir. Very readable. Hiney used Chandler's own words to describe events and people rather than u Read this book starting with the last section as it describes Chandler's declining health and spiral into depression and alcohol. Then I leap frogged about the book reading people or events mentioned in that section - his relationship with the love of his life his wife, Cissy, working with Billy Wilder on Double Indemnity. I delved into the section on his work of The Lady of the Lake, a favorite film noir. Very readable. Hiney used Chandler's own words to describe events and people rather than using quotes to evidence Hiney's conclusions. This technique made the book read like a novel. I particulary respected Hiney's section at the end proving Chandler was not a racist or misogynist. Hiney's implication being that characters set in a certain time period will talk a certain way. The character talks that way while the author may not believe the same. Good book about a great writer.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wyckliffe Howland

    Having read most of the Phillip Marlowe series I am a big fan. This is a well resourced and written factual bio about a complex genius. Born in 1888, Chandler went to school in England, moved to the U.S. and tried being a poet at which he was extremely mediocre. He was gifted at math and became (in 3-4 months) an accountant. This was in the depression and he became wealthy working for a large oil company, rising to an executive position. He fell in love with and married Cissy, who was twenty yea Having read most of the Phillip Marlowe series I am a big fan. This is a well resourced and written factual bio about a complex genius. Born in 1888, Chandler went to school in England, moved to the U.S. and tried being a poet at which he was extremely mediocre. He was gifted at math and became (in 3-4 months) an accountant. This was in the depression and he became wealthy working for a large oil company, rising to an executive position. He fell in love with and married Cissy, who was twenty years his senior. He got bored with his job and in a few years of hard drinking , missed work, affairs at work, he was fired. He becomes enchanted with the hard boiled mystery genre which is new at the time. He is writing his first novel, at fifty years of age. A lot of insight into Chandler's iconoclastic world view, his love of the genre and for the evolution of common speech in American English.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hanknooney

    some pretty avoidable errors in here that only someone who didn't go to the prom in high school would notice--phillip marlowe is 33, not 30 at the start of the big sleep; danny glover starred in a showtime television adaptation of one of the marlowe stories, not a radio adaptation. minor stuff but damn dude it's not that hard. some pretty avoidable errors in here that only someone who didn't go to the prom in high school would notice--phillip marlowe is 33, not 30 at the start of the big sleep; danny glover starred in a showtime television adaptation of one of the marlowe stories, not a radio adaptation. minor stuff but damn dude it's not that hard.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fray Arsenio

    I can't believe the author missed the fact that the writer for the screenplay of Robert Altman's film The Long Goodbye was Leigh Brackett, the same who wrote The Big Sleep starring Bogart thirty years before. I can't believe the author missed the fact that the writer for the screenplay of Robert Altman's film The Long Goodbye was Leigh Brackett, the same who wrote The Big Sleep starring Bogart thirty years before.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    The blurb says something like "this biography is a good thriller". Lamely put, and I wouldn't quite say it's true, but I did think it was as absorbing as Chandler's own stuff, even maybe more so. The blurb says something like "this biography is a good thriller". Lamely put, and I wouldn't quite say it's true, but I did think it was as absorbing as Chandler's own stuff, even maybe more so.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ed Teja

    Well enough done to tell me what I wanted to know about his life. Not particularly insightful.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Seth Lynch

    This book starts off a little slow. The first chapter is a mini family history before his birth. Then there is a lot of detail about his alcoholic father abandoning the family. Chandler and Mother stay with family in the mid-west, then Ireland, then London. Chandler is educated at an English public school before joining the Civil Service. He then works on a newspaper for a few years. Finally he borrows money from his uncle to get back to the USA – his uncle charges him interest on this debt. Aft This book starts off a little slow. The first chapter is a mini family history before his birth. Then there is a lot of detail about his alcoholic father abandoning the family. Chandler and Mother stay with family in the mid-west, then Ireland, then London. Chandler is educated at an English public school before joining the Civil Service. He then works on a newspaper for a few years. Finally he borrows money from his uncle to get back to the USA – his uncle charges him interest on this debt. After a stint in New York and then back with the family in the Mid West he winds up in California – San Francisco. He takes menial jobs whilst doing a bookkeeping course. After bringing his mother back to the USA he starts hanging out with a rich set (he’d met on the boat to America) and drinking. Then does a stint in the Canadian Army during WW! Before ending up in an Oil Company – owned by the father of the rich family he’d met on that boat trip. After another ten years or so of well paid work and a marriage to Cissy – about 20 years his senior – his drinking gets the better of him and he finds himself out of work. This also happens to be 1930 and the beginning of the depression. Everyone and their family were making their way to California to find work. Chandler went on the wagon and started writing pulp fiction. The rest is history. The book has some nice quotes from Chandlers work and letters. The demise after his wife’s death makes for painful reading. It reminded me of Satori in Paris or Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. You want to shake them and tell them to quit the booze. Of course a lot of people tried but addictions have a powerful grip.

  13. 4 out of 5

    D.F. Monk

    I'm not a big biography reader, but I'm a big fan of Chandler and found this to be very interesting. I was never bored and found the details of his life and writing process equally well done. It's good to have more information about what influences and circumstances shaped the man who made Marlowe. Thanks to Hiney for his research and insights. I'm not a big biography reader, but I'm a big fan of Chandler and found this to be very interesting. I was never bored and found the details of his life and writing process equally well done. It's good to have more information about what influences and circumstances shaped the man who made Marlowe. Thanks to Hiney for his research and insights.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eva D.

    Dug this. Pretty extensive biography that should please any Chandler fanatics. There's extensive quotation from his letters and reviews about him. It definitely gives you a great jumping off point if you desire to dig up more information about him. Dug this. Pretty extensive biography that should please any Chandler fanatics. There's extensive quotation from his letters and reviews about him. It definitely gives you a great jumping off point if you desire to dig up more information about him.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Excellent and informative biography. I didn't previously know anything about Chandler's life, which turned out to be completely unlike anything I might have imagined. Excellent and informative biography. I didn't previously know anything about Chandler's life, which turned out to be completely unlike anything I might have imagined.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Extensive and incredibly interesting.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jon Holt

    One wonders if Haney was more interested in Chandler for his epic alcoholism than his crime writing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rabb_eye

    Really good at tying Chandler the man to Marlowe the fictional character. Wonder what was happening in Raymond Chandler's life when he wrote The Long Goodbye, for instance? Really good at tying Chandler the man to Marlowe the fictional character. Wonder what was happening in Raymond Chandler's life when he wrote The Long Goodbye, for instance?

  19. 5 out of 5

    Takipsilim

    Well-written bio on the one of a kind and troubled author.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

    A detailed and moving portrait of a troubled yet highly gifted writer.

  21. 5 out of 5

    James

    This biography is filled with glaring errors, avoid it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe Noir

    Decent "just the facts, ma'am" biography of Chandler. Not flashy, but probably everything you need to know. Decent "just the facts, ma'am" biography of Chandler. Not flashy, but probably everything you need to know.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jim Aker

  24. 5 out of 5

    Connie Haag

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris Gath

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gareth Quinn

  27. 5 out of 5

    U.S. iNDiE BOOKS

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Brenzel

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