Happy Birthday, Raymond Chandler

An outstanding craftsman who wrote killer plots and unforgettable characters, Chandler almost didn't become a writer at all.

I’m a big fan of mystery fiction. Police procedurals, detective stories, amateur sleuths, psychological thrillers—I love them all. Therefore, when my book group was searching for our next selection (always a long process), I suggested Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Surprisingly, although my book group pals are very well read, none had ever read Chandler. Not surprisingly, they were blown away.

We traded our favorite lines, things like “A white night for me is as rare as a fat postman,” and “I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.” Perhaps our favorite was “She opened a 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.” And that was only the tip of the iceberg.

But Chandler is more than just witty quotes and clever Chandlerisms. He’s an outstanding craftsman who wrote killer plots with unforgettable characters, most notably private eye Philip Marlowe, considered by many to be the quintessential detective in crime fiction. Remarkably, Chandler did not start writing until he was 44 years old. After losing his job as an oil company executive in 1932, Chandler’s financial circumstances were dire. It so happened that at the time he liked reading pulp fiction magazines “because they were cheap enough to throw away and because I never had at any time any taste for the kind of thing which is known as women’s magazines.” He noticed that a lot of the writing was forceful and memorable, if sometimes crude. Jobless, with time on his hands, Chandler decided to try writing a few crime fiction stories himself. The rest, as they say, is history.

So happy birthday, Raymond Chandler, and thank you for losing that oil executive job.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Amy Reilly
Amy Reilly is executive editor of Reader’s Digest Select Editions.