Posts Tagged ‘Tom Hiney’

Tony Bulmer takes a look at the ultimate biography on Raymond Chandler

Everyone loves Raymond. Raymond Chandler that is. And nowhere is that love stronger than in the Crimezine community. Chandler epitomizes so many things for crime fans and the crime writing community at large. Trumpet blowing critics the world over have micro-analyzed the reasons for Chandler’s often controversial popularity, and much hooting and sobbing has ensued, because when it comes to Chandler—everyone has an opinion.

Why should this be so? Chandler is more than a writer. It is not just who he is and what he has written that is so important, it is what he represents. There is the glamorous ideal of the iconoclast crime writer, there is his reputation as a booze-addled bad boy and pipe smoking pain in the ass. There is his involvement in the writing of such films as Double-Indemnity, the Blue Dahlia, and the Hitchcockian masterpiece, Strangers on a Train. There is also his fraught and unconventional personal life, and his unassailable position as one of greatest pulp-fiction innovators of all time.

The Tom Hiney book is a classic of its genre. There have been a number of other Chandler bios, but the Hiney book, first released in 1970, is the standard by which all other Chandler tell-alls are measured. Sure there is still a lot we don’t know—can never know—but Hiney does a Marlowesqe detective job filling in the blanks.

Raymond Chandler, A Biography, carries us through the author’s earliest days raised in Chicago, and Nebraska, followed by stints in Ireland and England, where he lived throughout his formative years, before moving back to the United States in his twenties. Many revelations are well documented. The fact he was fifty before he wrote his first book [The Big Sleep] The fact his wife Cissy was twenty years older than him. The fact he was financially responsible for his mother throughout most of his adult life.

Then there is the alcoholism. The full tragedy of which is laid out in some detail. The surprise is Chandler was not always the inveterate boozehound he is painted to be. His problems with drink manifested after he was injured in a frontline explosion during the first world war. Chandler served in a unit of 1200 men. 14,000 men had passed through the unit by the time he got there. A level of service and danger few modern readers will be able to comprehend.

After his service in the first world war, Chandler returned to the States, eventually landing himself a lucrative gig as an Oil company accountant. The job paid $3,500 per month which was a lot of money in the depression era twenties and thirties. Post-traumatic stress, the need to support his wife and mother in two separate households, and the misery of a job to which he was ill-suited to finally caused a booze-addled Chandler to get the sack.

So he quit the booze and started writing. But success didn’t come easy. In the early years he wrote between two and five stories for Black Mask Magazine and later Dime Detective, stories for which he only received a few hundred dollars each. Quite a come down compared to his oil company salary. This lack of success carried over into his novel writing. By 1950 Chandler had sold 3.5 million novels, 68, 000 of them in hard back and earned a mere $56, 000 dollars. Hollywood is what saved him. The acclaimed script he wrote with Billy Wilder for Double Indemnity almost won an Oscar, would have, it hadn’t been for moralistic censure by the catholic church. Instead, Chandler’s work on the script led to a steady gig at Paramount and lucrative work for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock. Chandler received $40,000 for eight weeks work adapting Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train—a sum that almost equaled that of his entire writing career to date.

Hollywood was the catalyst that got Chandler boozing again, and from there the descent was slow and tragic. Hiney lays it all out. For any true fan of Chandler it makes gruesome if essential reading. It’s all here, Crimeziners: An A-Z of the books, a reasoned examination of the man’s life and the various criticisms that stand against him on matters of race, gender etc. Like Hemingway it is popular in post-modern circles to hate on Chandler, but holding a writer born in the 1880s to modern standards—it’s the kind of thing that would make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window, isn’t it Crimeziners?

Raymond Chandler A Biography by Tom Hiney. Buy it today.