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Raymond Chandler
American writer of detective fiction

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Novels and Short Stories

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)

Some days I feel like playing it smooth. Some days I feel like playing it like a waffle iron.
-- Trouble is My Business (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.
-- The Big Sleep (1939), ch. 1, opening paragraph

The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.
-- The Big Sleep (1939), ch. 2

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.
-- The Big Sleep (1939), ch. 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.
-- The Big Sleep (1939), ch. 32, Phillip Marlowe

Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.
-- The Big Sleep (1939)

I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.
-- The Big Sleep (1939)

It got dark and the rain-clouded lights of the stores were soaked up by the black street.
-- The Big Sleep (1939)

If I had a razor, I'd cut your throat - just to see what ran out of it.
-- The Big Sleep (1939)

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.
-- Of Moose Malloy, in: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), ch. 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.
-- Farewell, My Lovely (1940), ch. 2

It was blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.
-- Farewell, My Lovely (1940), ch. 13

She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.
-- Farewell, My Lovely (1940), ch. 18

We sneered at each other across the desk for a moment. He sneered better than I did.
-- Farewell, My Lovely (1940), ch. 20

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.
-- Farewell, My Lovely (1940), ch. 34

From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.
-- The High Window (1942)

She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.
-- The High Window (1942)

I was in the deep water. It was dark and unclear and the taste of the salt was in my mouth.
-- The High Window (1942)

I decided I could lose nothing by the soft approach. If that didn't produce for me—and I didn't think it would—nature could take its course and we could bust up the furniture.
-- The Lady in the Lake (1943)

I smelled of gin. Not just casually, as if I had taken four or five drinks of a winter morning to get out of bed on, but as if the Pacific Ocean was pure gin and I had nosedived off the boat deck. The gin was in my hair and eyebrows, on my chin and under my chin. It was on my shirt. I smelled like dead toads.
-- The Lady in the Lake (1943)

California, the department-store state. The most of everything and the best of nothing.
-- The Little Sister (1949), ch. 13

A big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup.
-- Of Los Angeles, in: The Little Sister (1949), ch. 26

I let go of her wrists, closed the door with my elbow and slid past her. It was like the first time. 'You ought carry insurance on those," I said.
-- The Little Sister (1949), ch. 34

It could have been a beautiful friendship,” Beifus said with a sigh. “Except for the ice pick, of course.”
The Little Sister (1949)

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.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953)

The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953)

I knew one thing: as soon as anyone said you didn’t need a gun, you’d better take one along that worked.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953)

There ain't no clean way to make a hundred million bucks.... Somewhere along the line guys got pushed to the wall, nice little businesses got the ground cut out from under them... Decent people lost their jobs.... Big money is big power and big power gets used wrong. It's the system.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953)

Pasadena, where stuffy millionaires holed up after Beverly Hills was spoiled for them by he movie crowd.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953)

Alcohol is like love... The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953), ch. 4

A dead man is the best fall guy in the world. He never talks back.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953), ch. 10

Crime isn't a disease, it's a symptom. Cops are like a doctor that gives you aspirin for a brain tumor.
-- The Long Good-Bye (1953), ch. 47


Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective 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. (... ) He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.
-- "The Simple Art Of Murder" (1950)

The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.
-- "The Simple Art Of Murder" (1950)

[Dashiell] Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley.
-- On moving detective and murder mysteries out of English country houses (e.g. Lord Peter Wimsey novels) into more realistic settings (e.g. cities and towns of 20th century America).
-- "The Simple Art Of Murder" (1950)

[Hammett] wrote at first (and almost to the end) for people with a sharp, aggressive attitude to life. They were not afraid of the seamy side of things; they lived there. Violence did not dismay them; it was right down their street.
-- "The Simple Art Of Murder" (1950)

Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn’t know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements.
-- "The Simple Art Of Murder" (1950)

Read the full text of "The Simple Art of Murder":


If my books had been any worse, I should not have been invited to Hollywood and if they had been any better, I should not have come.
-- Letter to Charles W. Morton, 12 December 1945, in: Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine S. Walker, Raymond Chandler Speaking (1962)

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 when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split.
-- Letter to Edward Weeks at Atlantic Monthly, 18 January 1947; quoted in: Frank MacShane, Life of Raymond Chandler (1976), ch. 7

High prices and heavy taxation willl destroy a society just as effectively as war.
-- Letter to Carl Brandt. Quoted in: Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, Frank MacShane, ed. (1981)


I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.
-- Philip Marlowe’s Guide To Life

An elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.
-- On chess. Quoted in The Guiness Book of Records (1990).

A preoccupation with words for their own sake is fatal to good film-makiing. It is not what films are for.
-- Raymond Chandler to Dale Warren. 7 November 1951.

The streets were dark with something more than night.
-- Quoted in the Smithsonian, May 1994.

When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.
-- Attributed

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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.

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