On Raymond Chandler


The Big Sleep

The story   -   Commentary   -   Composition   -   Publication & Reception 


Cracking the Cassidy Case (By Robert F. Moss)


Selected quotations from Raymond Chandler's writing

The Big Sleep (1939)  -  Farewell, My Lovely (1940)  -  The High Window (1942)  -   The Lady in the Lake (1943)  -  The Little Sister (1949)  -  The Long Goodbye (1953)  -  Playback (1958)  -  Trouble Is My Business (1939)  -  The Simple Art of Murder (1934-39) 



A collection of similes, one-liners, and turns of phrase that could be written only by Raymond Chandler.


Life and works: A Raymond Chandler Chronology



The Big Sleep

Of Raymond Chandler's seven detective novels, his first, The Big Sleep (1939), is arguably his best. The story is structurally and thematically unified, the characters fully developed, and the style distinctive and sharp. When the novel was published, Chandler was fifty years old. He had already spent five years as a full-time writer of short stories and novellas for the pulp fiction magazine market, and during this apprenticeship had mastered his technique. Although it would be years before the novel received the critical recognition it deserved, the publication of The Big Sleep was a landmark in the history of the American hard-boiled detective novel. In the years that followed, Chandler's style and technique would be widely admired and imitated; his work would help establish the conventions of the genre that persist (in both detective novels and movies) to this day.

The Story 

The Big Sleep begins with Philip Marlowe's taking an assignment to quash a blackmail attempt against Carmen Sternwood, the wild daughter of oil millionaire General Guy Sternwood. While they are talking, Marlowe learns that Rusty Regan--the ex-bootlegger husband of Sternwood's other daughter, Vivian--has been missing for a month, but the General stops short of asking Marlowe to find him. Marlowe begins investigating the blackmailer, Arthur Gwynn Geiger, and discovers that he is running a pornography racket on Hollywood Boulevard. He tails Geiger to his house, breaks inside, and finds Geiger shot dead and Carmen Sternwood naked and drugged. He takes Carmen home to the Sternwood mansion, then returns to the scene of the crime and discovers that Geiger's body has vanished.

The next morning Marlowe learns three things: the Sternwoods' chauffeur (who once tried to elope with Carmen) was murdered during the night; crates of pornographic books are being removed from Geiger's store and taken to the apartment of a man named Joe Brody; and, Carmen Sternwood has received a third blackmail threat, this time involving nude photographs taken at Geiger's house the night before. Marlowe goes back to Geiger's house and finds Carmen there, looking for the negatives of the nude photos. They are about to leave when Eddie Mars, a gangster and gambling-club operator whose wife is suspected to have run away with Rusty Regan, arrives and questions them at gunpoint about Geiger's murder. Marlowe manages to talk himself out of the situation, then goes to confront Brody, who admits trying to move in on the pornography business but denies murdering Geiger. They are interrupted when Carmen Sternwood arrives with a gun and tries to get her photos back. Marlowe disarms her and sends her away, but another intruder barges in: Carol Lundgren, Geiger's gay lover, who kills Brody to revenge Geiger's death. Marlowe captures Lundgren and turns him over to the police. They lean on Marlowe for not reporting Geiger's murder sooner, and he agrees to a cover-up in which none of the murders are connected to the Sternwood family.

Marlowe's job--quashing the blackmail--is technically over, but he decides to continue investigating on his own to learn more about Rusty Regan's disappearance. He goes to talk to Eddie Mars at the Cypress Club and finds Vivian Regan gambling at one of the roulette wheels. She wins big and leaves the club. Marlowe follows and saves her from a stick-up attempt. She makes a pass at him on the drive home, but he turns her down. When he gets back to his apartment, he finds Carmen Sternwood waiting naked in his bed. He rejects her as well.

The next day Marlowe is tipped off to the whereabouts of Mona Mars, the woman who supposedly ran away with Regan. He follows the lead to a hot car drop in Rialto and is ambushed by Lash Canino, Eddie Mars's hired gun. Mona helps Marlowe escape, and he kills Canino in a gunfight. After again settling with the police and district attorney, Marlowe is summoned to the Sternwood mansion, where the General officially asks him to find Rusty Regan. As Marlowe is leaving, Carmen encourages him to take her to an abandoned oil field and teach her how to fire a pistol. He does so. Carmen has an epileptic fit and tries to shoot him, failing only because Marlowe had the foresight to load the gun with blanks. He returns to the Sternwood mansion and confronts Vivian, who admits that Carmen killed Regan because he, like Marlowe, refused her advances. Vivian and Eddie Mars covered up the killing by hiding Regan's body in an old oil sump and faking his disappearance.


Despite the complicated and sometimes confusing plot, the heart of The Big Sleep is not the solution of the murders--the whodunit--but rather the world the story depicts and the movement of Marlowe within that world. Chandler's characters repeatedly comment on the corruption of Los Angeles and the modern world in general. The novel depicts a city in which pornographers and gamblers operate under the protection crooked policemen, young women use their sexuality to ruin men, and wealth can buy immunity from prosecution and damaging publicity. It is a fallen world where glamorous appearances mask sordid deeds and everyone is a grifter. 

This world view is further advanced through Chandler's skillful description of setting. He is particularly vivid with sordid locations, from Marlowe's shabby office--with "venerable magazines" and "net curtains that needed laundering"--to the Fulwider building's vacant offices, "one gilt elevator", and "tarnished and well-missed spitoon on a gnawed rubber mat." In sharp contrast to these low places is the elegant Sternwood mansion in the Hollywood foothills, where the family "could no longer smell the stale sump water or the oil, but they could still look out their front windows and see what had made them rich. If they wanted to." Consistent throughout the novel's setting is the sense of a once-grand place now gone to seed, as in Eddie Mars's Cypress Club, a "rambling frame mansion" that was once a rich man's home, became a hotel, then ended up an illegal casino. The club has about it "a general air of nostalgic decay"; the ballroom is "still a beautiful room," but there is "roulette in it instead of measured, old fashioned dancing." 

It is within this corrupt, fallen world that Marlowe must operate. After six years gestation in pulp fiction, he is Chandler's detective hero fully developed. As the story unfolds, Marlowe's code of conduct is articulated and tested. Key to this code is professional pride: honestly performing the job for which he has been hired. After he saves Vivian Regan from the robbery attempt outside the Cypress Club, she offers herself to him. Marlowe kisses her but refuses to go further. "Kissing you is nice," he tells her, "but your father didn't hire me to sleep with you. . . . The first time we met I told you I was a detective. Get it through your lovely head. I work at it, lady, I don't play at it." He offers a similar explanation to Carmen Sternwood when he rejects her advances: "It's a question of professional pride. . . . I'm working for your father. He's a sick man, very frail, very helpless. He sort of trusts me not to pull any stunts." This professional ethic causes Marlowe to pursue his employer's interests even against that employer's instructions--in this case, investigating the disappearance of Rusty Regan. 

The basis of Marlowe's professional pride has less to do with a commercial or work ethic than it does with an older, chivalric code. The connection between Marlowe and a knight is made on the first page of the novel, when he stands in the Sternwood hallway and looks up at a stained glass picture of a knight's attempting to rescue an imprisoned lady. The knight is not getting anywhere, and Marlowe speculates than if he lived in the Sternwood house, "I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him." Throughout the novel Marlowe plays the role of knight errant to General Sternwood, questing for justice in loyal service to his lord despite sexual and financial temptation and threats of physical harm. 

Ultimately, this chivalric code fails. In a corrupt, fallen world, old standards of honor and loyalty no longer function. Marlowe himself recognizes this failure when he ejects Carmen from his apartment. He looks down at the game-board where he has been working on a chess problem and realizes that his last move--with a knight--is wrong: "Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights." Despite this recognition, he continues trying to act according to his code. He has already compromised his standards by participating in the cover up of three murders, but he goes on working for the General and begins looking for Rusty Regan. 

In the end, Marlowe realizes that in trying to follow his code he has only helped further deception: "I do all this," he tells Vivian Regan, "for twenty-five bucks a day--and maybe just a little to protect what little pride a broken and sick old man has left in his blood, in the thought that his blood is not poison, and that although his two little girls are a trifle wild, as many girls are these days, they are not perverts or killers." Marlowe covers up Regan's murder, rationalizing that death cannot bother Regan now: "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."

In a way, The Big Sleep functions as a bildungsroman: Marlowe learns about the moral illness of the modern world and his own inability to function within it. He begins the story with his knightly code; it is tested and it fails. His final statements are bitter and desperate--the struggles of a man who has lost his sense of moral order and is reaching out for a source of support.


Chandler began working on The Big Sleep in the spring of 1938. The writing progressed quickly, taking only three months--a pace he would never again be able to match. The plot is drawn from two of his short stories, "Killer in the Rain" and "The Curtain" and incorporates small pieces of "Finger Man." Although he called the process "cannibalization," Chandler did not cut and paste passages but rather rewrote entire scenes, in the process tightening his prose and enriching his descriptions. 

The improvement can be seen comparing the opening paragraphs of the novel's Chapter 3 with the original version in "The Curtain", both of which describe Vivian Regan/O'Mara's bedroom:

from "The Curtain" 

The room had a white carpet from wall to wall. Ivory drapes of immense height lay tumbled casually on the white carpet inside many windows. The windows stared toward the dark foothills, and the air beyond the glass was dark too. It hadn't started to rain yet, but there was a feeling of pressure in the atmosphere. 

from The Big Sleep

The room was too big, the ceiling was too high, the doors were too tall, and the white carpet that went from wall to wall looked like a fresh fall of snow at Lake Arrowhead. There were full-length mirrors and crystal doodads all over the place. The ivory furniture had chromium on it, and the enormous ivory drapes lay tumbled on the white carpet a yard from the window. The white made the ivory look dirty and the ivory made the white look bled out. The windows stared toward the darkening foothills. It was going to rain soon. There was pressure in the air already. 

The second version pays closer attention to specific details, and it illustrates how Chandler's style had developed. The paragraph from "The Curtain" is objective, giving the facts of how the room looked and the air felt--a style that shows Chandler's debt to Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway. In The Big Sleep version of the paragraph, though, this obective viewpoint has softened somewhat, allowing the narrator's judgements to color the description. Note, for example, the repetition in "too big . . . too high . . . too tall" and loaded words such as "doodads." Marlowe views Vivian Regan's room as overly lavish and decorated to the point of seeming decadent and stripped of life. This viewpoint is expressed not didactically but through carefully-controlled description. It shows Chandler's style at its maturity.

Publication & Reception 

The Big Sleep was published in the United States on February 6, 1939 by Alfred A. Knopf, with a first printing of 5000 copies. Knopf promoted the book with a series of advertisements and review copies that linked Chandler with Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, two successful hard-boiled novelists also published by Knopf. The same connection was made on the dust jacket flaps:

Not since Dashiell Hammett appeared has there been a murder mystery story with the power, pace, and terrifying atmosphere of this one. And like Hammett's this is more than a "murder mystery": it is a novel of crime and character, written with uncommon skill in a tight, tense style which is irresistible.

Knopf purchased an advertisement for the novel on the front cover of Publisher's Weekly, an unusual sign of confidence for a detective author's first novel. Chandler sold the British rights to The Big Sleep to Hamish Hamilton, and the first English edition appeared in March 1939. 

Reviewers in both England and the United States picked up on the hardboiled connections and reviewed Chandler as the latest member of a familiar group of detective writers. As would be the case for Chandler's next three books, The Big Sleep was grouped with other mystery novels in brief specialty review columns. The anonymous Time reviewer, for instance, discussed the book and four others under the heading "February Mysteries" and gave Chandler a single sentence: "Detective Marlowe is plunged into a mess of murderers, thugs, and psychopaths who make the characters of Dashiell Hammett and James Cain look like something out of Godey's Lady's Book." Isaac Anderson, the regular mystery critic for the New York Times Book Review, also focused on the hard-edged, sordid tone of Chandler's novel:

Most of the characters in this story are tough, many are nasty and some of them are both. Philip Marlowe, the private detective who is both the narrator and the chief character, is hard; he has to be to cope with the slimy racketeers who are preying on the Sternwood family.

Perhaps the most extreme case of generic reviewing was that of the Saturday Review of Literature, which printed a grid-format called "The Criminal Record." Each book was given three boxes in the grid: "Crime, Place, Sleuth," a one sentence plot summary; "Summing Up," a vague impression of the overall story; and "Verdict," a one-word judgment. The "Verdict" for The Big Sleep was simply, "Hammettic." 

In England The Big Sleep was also lumped into columns with other mystery novels and reviewed as a piece of category fiction. These brief English notices emphasize the toughness of Chandler's stories and clearly connected it with the American hard-boiled style. Nicolas Blake of The Spectator reviewed the novel and eleven other mysteries in a column entitled "The Big Shots": 

The Big Sleep, as its title suggests, is American and very tough after the Thin Man fashion. Almost everyone in the book, except for the detective, is either a crook or wonderfully decadent, and the author spares us no blushes to point out just how decadent they are. "We're all grifters," says one of them. The action is tightly knit and fast-moving, however, and there is some charming dialogue.

Blake's comments on the novel give a distorted view of the hard-boiled detective story. Hammett's The Thin Man, though written in the hard-boiled style, is hardly a "tough" story, particularly when compared to his earlier novels Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon or to Carroll John Daly's Race Williams stories. Chandler's novel does feature crooks and morally-corrupt characters, but they are balanced by Marlowe, Bernie Ohls, and General Sternwood--all of whom possess a strong sense of justice and propriety. Blake's comments reveal the extent to which the plot and subject matter of Chandler's first novel determined its initial reception. Chandler's literary reputation would first develop in England, but the British reviews of his first novel treated him as no more of a writer of serious fiction than did the American reviews. 

Although Chandler did not achieve immediate recognition as a literary author, The Big Sleep was a success. The first American printing of 5,000 copies sold out quickly, and a second printing was required before the official publication date. Sales were good in England as well, with Hamish Hamilton releasing a second printing of the book within a month of its first publication. These figures hardly made him a best-seller, but in the mystery market of the 1930s and 1940s only a hand full of books sold more than 5,000 copies. Alfred A. Knopf was very pleased with the performance of the The Big Sleep and offered Chandler a contract for his next novel at a 20 per cent royalty for the first 5000 copies and 25 per cent afterwards. (The standard contract of the day began with a ten percent royalty, with an escalator to fifteen percent). 

The Big Sleep was first published in paperback by Avon Books in 1943. 


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Cracking the Cassidy Case

By Robert F. Moss

"Don't forget this is a murder case, Marlowe." 

"I'm not. But don't you forget I've been around this town a long time, more than fifteen years. I've seen a lot of murder cases come and go. Some have been solved, some couldn't be solved, and some could have been solved that were not solved. And one or two or three of them have been solved wrong. Somebody was paid to take a rap, and the chances are it was known or strongly suspected. And winked at. But skip that. It happens, but not often. Consider a case like the Cassidy case. I guess you remember it, don't you?"

Breeze looked at his watch. "I'm tired," he said. "Let's forget the Cassidy case. Let's stick to the Phillips case."

I shook my head. "I'm going to make a point, and it's an important point. Just look at the Cassidy case. Cassidy was a very rich man, a multimillionaire. He had a grown up son. One night the cops were called to his home and young Cassidy was on his back on the floor with blood all over his face and a bullet hole in the side of his head. His secretary was lying on his back in an adjoining bathroom, with his head against the second bathroom door, leading to a hall, and a cigarette burned out between the fingers of his left hand, just a short burned out stub that had scorched the skin between his fingers. A gun was lying by his right hand. He was shot in the head, not a contact wound. A lot of drinking had been done. Four hours had elapsed since the deaths and the family doctor had been there for three of them. Now, what did you do with the Cassidy case?"

Breeze sighed. "Murder and suicide during a drinking spree. The secretary went haywire and shot young Cassidy. I read it in the papers or something. Is that what you want me to say?"

"You read it in the papers," I said, "but it wasn't so. What's more you knew it wasn't so and the D.A. knew it wasn't so and the D.A.'s investigators were pulled off the case within a matter of hours. There was no inquest. But every crime reporter in town and every cop on every homicide detail knew it was Cassidy that did the shooting, that it was Cassidy that was crazy drunk, that it was the secretary who tried to handle him and couldn't and at last tried to get away from him, but wasn't quick enough."

The narrator is Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled private eye. The scene is from The High Window, Chandler's third novel. The cops--Breeze and Spangler--are leaning on Marlowe, trying to get him to tell who he's working for, but Marlowe won't play ball. He goes on talking, giving more and more detail about the Cassidy case, until Breeze cuts him off:

"Make your point."

I said: "Until you guys own your own souls you don't own mine. Until you guys can be trusted every time and always, in all times and conditions, to seek the truth out and find it and let the chips fall where they may--until that time comes, I have a right to listen to my conscience, and protect my client the best way I can."

The scene is stock detective story stuff: crooked cops, civic corruption, rich men buying off the law, and the honest private detective who'll ensure justice is served. Lt. Breeze isn't too impressed by Marlowe's story, but his younger partner Spangler is. Later he tells Marlowe, "Say, I'd like to read up on that Cassidy case. . . . Sounds interesting. Must have been before my time."
"It was a long time ago," Marlowe says. "And it never happened. I was just kidding."

But neither Marlowe nor Chandler were kidding.

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, February 17th, 1929, the Beverly Hills Police Department and the Los Angeles District Attorney were called to Greystone, a thirty-five-room mansion on twelve and a half acres of land. They found two me dead. One was Edward L. Doheny, Jr., the thirty-six-year-old son of a multimillionaire oilman. The other was Hugh Plunkett, the son's confidential secretary. Both had been shot through the head by bullets from a single .45 calibre pistol.

Doheny, dressed only in underwear and a silk bathrobe, lay on his back on the carpet of a luxurious first-floor bedroom. A bullet had penetrated his skull from ear to ear. Blood criss-crossed his face in a grid-like pattern and pooled around his head on the carpet. Plunkett's corpse was twelve feet away, sprawled spread-eagle on his stomach, in the hallway just beyond the bedroom door. 

Dr. E. C. Fishbaugh, a prominent Beverly Hills society doctor and personal physician to the Doheny family, was the primary witness to the events that evening. Hugh Plunkett, he said, had been suffering from "a nervous disease." On the afternoon of Saturday, February 16th, Plunkett had come to Greystone for a conference with Dr. Fishbaugh and Edward L. Doheny, Jr., who were trying to persuade the secretary to admit himself to a sanitarium. Plunkett refused. That night Dr. Fishbaugh went to a Hollywood theater to watch a comedy show. Around 10:30 P.M. he received a telephone message that he was urgently needed at the Doheny mansion to try to relieve Plunkett, who was suffering from a throat pain and hysteria. When he arrived at Greystone, Fishbaugh was met at the front door by Mrs. Doheny, whom he described as calm and in good spirits. "She greeted me," Fishbaugh said in his statement to the District Attorney,

and when I asked where her husband was she said he was in a guest room to the left of the hall leading from the front entrance.

Mrs. Doheny and I started down the hall side by side. Suddenly, through the half- opened door which partitions the hallway, I saw Plunkett walking toward us. 'You stay out of here!' he shouted. Then he slammed the door shut. A moment later we heard a shot.

I sent Mrs. Doheny back to the living room. Then I pushed the door open and saw Plunkett lying on his face opposite the door to the bedroom.

Fishbaugh went past Plunkett's body and into the guest room, where he found Doheny dead, a chair overturned beside him. In his statement, he said he heard only one shot, the one right after Plunkett slammed the hallway door. Mrs. Doheny reported that earlier she had heard a noise that might have been a gunshot, but at the time thought that it was "someone turning over some furniture or something." She had heard no quarrelling between her husband and his secretary.

After she and Dr. Fishbaugh discovered the corpses, Mrs. Doheny called her two brothers, Warren and Clark Smith, and her brother-in-law, Anson Lisk. Lisk lived in a house on the estate and arrived at the Doheny home after only a few minutes. The Smith brothers followed not long after, and they phoned the Beverly Hills police and District Attorney Buron Fitts, who showed up around midnight. A little after two A.M. Fitts's investigators were on the scene.

The crime occurred too late to make the Sunday morning papers, but it was reported in Monday editions across the country, including the front page of the New York Times. The murder of a wealthy man is always newsworthy. But, Edward L. Doheny, Jr. was more than just a wealthy man.

His father, Edward, Sr., could have been a character out of a Horatio Alger story. He was born in Wisconsin in 1856, the son of Irish-Catholic immigrants. At fifteen, Doheny graduated from high school (as class valedictorian), then took a job as a mule driver for a U.S. government surveying party in Arizona and New Mexico. He learned the basics of surveying, but soon turned to prospecting for gold and silver in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest.

Fourteen years later, in 1892, Doheny was in Los Angeles, California. He had made a good bit of money prospecting, but a series of failed ventures left him broke. He was still looking for his big chance, and when it came he seized it with both hands. Doheny was walking down a Los Angeles street when he saw a wagon filled with oozing, dark black earth. He asked the driver what the load was and learned that it was brea, Spanish for tar, and that it had come from the Westlake Park area. Doheny knew that where there was tar there was oil. He and a partner leased some land in Westlake, hired a driller, and struck oil at 225 feet. The Doheny strike sparked the Los Angeles petroleum boom. Over the next decade 1,500 wells were drilled in and around the city. By 1912 the region was producing 4.4. million barrels a year. Doheny himself owned eighty-one oil wells in the city, and he quickly expanded his operation throughout the state of California. The rush for oil was the first step in the transformation of Los Angeles from a small Western city to a major American metropolis. Edward L. Doheny was, in a sense, one of the city's founding fathers.

Sometime during the 1880s, Doheny had married his first wife, a woman named Carrie about whom little is known. His only son, Edward, Jr., was born in 1894. Doheny apparently separated from Carrie around the turn of the century, and on August 22, 1900 he married his second wife, Estelle. In 1901 they bought a mansion at Number Eight Chester Place, the city's most prestigious street. Doheny and his wife completely redecorated the house, buying a glass dome from Tiffany, marble columns from Italy, and a gold-lacquer Steinway piano. Estelle Doheny became an avid collector of jewels, orchids, paper weights, and books. The family owned a 400-acre ranch in Beverly Hills--where they would later build their son's mansion--as well as a yacht and a park containing domesticated deer, monkeys, and parrots. It was in this world that Edward L. Doheny, Jr. ("Ned" to his friends) was raised.

Ned Doheny entered Stanford in 1912 and a year later transferred to the University of Southern California to study law. In June 1913 he married Lucy Smith, the daughter of a vice president of the Santa Fe Railroad Company. When he graduated from USC in 1916, Ned became a vice-president in his father's company. He served as a lieutenant in the Navy during World War I, then returned to Los Angeles to continue in the oil business.

Ned found a valuable assistant in Hugh Plunkett, a man who--like the elder Doheny-- had made a success of himself through hard work and a little luck. Plunkett was born in Kansas and moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1912. He found work as a tire changer at a service station owned by W.H. Smith, the father of Ned Doheny's fianc‚e. Plunkett regularly worked on vehicles belonging to the Doheny family, and when Ned and Lucy were married in 1913, he was hired as a family chauffeur. He gradually rose in the family's confidence, and by the 1920s was overseeing the operations of Ned Doheny's household. Plunkett had a hand in many of the details of the construction of Greystone, including signing checks on Doheny's account to pay contractors' bills--bills running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It was at this time that Ned Doheny, his father, and Hugh Plunkett became embroiled in one of the most notorious political scandals in American history: Teapot Dome.

The roots of the scandal lay in the efforts of private companies to have access to Naval Oil Reserves, federal lands set aside to ensure the military an adequate supply of fuel during wartime. Woodrow Wilson's administration opposed such private leases, but the climate changed when Warren Harding was elected President in 1920. In 1922, Albert B. Fall, Harding's Secretary of the Interior and an old friend of Edward Doheny, secretly leased the Teapot Dome Reserve to Harry F. Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Company and the Elk Hills Reserve to Doheny's Pan-American Petroleum Company. There was no competitive bidding for the contracts, and the day after Doheny signed the initial papers he received a telephone call from Fall, telling him to go ahead and send the "loan" they had previously discussed. Ned Doheny and Hugh Plunkett withdrew $100,000 in cash from Ned's account at the Blair and Company brokerage house, put it in a little black bag, and delivered it to Albert Fall at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington. Harry Sinclair had worked out a similar arrangement with Fall, giving him some $260,000 in Liberty bonds.

The deals remained secret until after Warren Harding's death in August 1923, when Calvin Coolidge began an investigation into Fall's activities. The Senate Committee on Public Lands and Surveys called for hearings on the Naval Reserve leases, and the scandal was soon made public. Fall, Sinclair, and Doheny were called to testify before the committee, and they were eventually indicted on charges of bribery and conspiracy to defraud the government. The court proceedings lasted almost a decade, and the investigations sparked by the Teapot Dome scandal soon uncovered widespread corruption in Harding's administration, making it a contender with Ulysses S. Grant's for the most graft-ridden in U.S. history.

Two civil cases resulted in the cancellation of the Naval Reserve leases, but in a criminal trial Doheny was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud the government. There was still one more charge to face: criminal bribery. Albert Fall was scheduled to be tried on October 7, 1929. If Fall were acquitted, Doheny, Sr. would effectively be acquitted as well. If not, Doheny would have to stand trial on his own in March 1930. Ned Doheny and Hugh Plunkett were both slated to be witnesses in Fall's trial. Neither lived to testify.

On the Monday after the murder/suicide, the Los Angeles Times devoted three pages to the investigation, complete with a detailed summary of Dr. Fishbaugh's statement to the district attorney, accounts of Ned Doheny's and Hugh Plunkett's lives, and a half-page diagram of the crime scene and Plunkett's apparent movements. District Attorney Buron Fitts announced that he was launching "a sweeping investigation of the events surrounding the slaying of Edward L. Doheny, Jr." The case seemed poised to join the Snyder-Grey and Leopold-Loeb murders as one of the most sensational crimes of the 1920s.

It never did. The next day, Tuesday, February 19th, the Times gave only a single column to the story. Less than twenty-four hours after announcing a "sweeping investigation," Fitts declared that "since the person responsible for the tragedy was dead," no inquest would be held. The death certificates were signed, and the case was closed as a homicide and a suicide. The remainder of the article discussed the plans for Ned Doheny's funeral and the emotional state of the family.

The last paragraph revealed one new fact not known the day before: Ned Doheny had not died immediately when shot by Plunkett but rather lived "until a moment after Dr. Fishbaugh rushed into the room at the sound of the shot with which the secretary ended his own life." The detail seemed trivial and irrelevant. Wednesday's paper contained a modest account of Ned Doheny's funeral, and then nothing more was said about the case. The curtain had been rung down.

Not everyone was satisfied with the official accounts of the deaths. One such skeptic was Leslie T. White, a newly-hired investigator for the District Attorney's office. The Doheny murder offered White his first taste of really "big stuff," and he dove into the case with zeal. White's account of the investigation is recorded in his 1936 autobiography, Me, Detective, a book that was published with little fanfare and almost immediately faded into obscurity. His memoir, though, gives a unique, unauthorized version of the events at Greystone on the night of February 17th, 1929, and the details don't quite match up with the official story. White recalled being summoned to the Doheny mansion at 2:00 a.m. There he found D.A. Fitts, the Beverly Hills police, and a scene much like that described in the newspapers: Ned Doheny dead on his back in the guest room and Plunkett face-down in the hallway outside. White went to work gathering physical evidence and interviewing witnesses. Dr. Fishbaugh, Mrs. Doheny, and the household staff had had a sizeable amount of time to recover their composure between the firing of the shots and the arrival of the police. Their testimony, White later wrote, "dovetailed with remarkable accuracy." They had heard a disturbance, gone to investigate, and had been met at the hallway door by Plunkett, who slammed the door and, a moment later, ended his own life. But, according to White, one witness

. . . reported that the shots, all of them, had been fired in quick succession--within a full second . . .

"One--two--three!" she described it.

This story did not quite fit the physical facts as I found them, and with a shock, I began to suspect that something was wrong.

When he examined Plunkett's body on the floor, furthermore, White found that the left hand held a cigarette "in such a way that it would have been impossible for him to have opened the door and threatened witnesses as they so testified. He had the gun in his right, by their story."

White uncovered more suspicious evidence after he took the bodies to the morgue for examination. "I found powder burns," he wrote, "around the bullet-hole in Doheny's head, proving the gun was held less than three inches away at the moment it was fired. I found no such markings on Plunkett's head." At the crime scene, White had discovered the murder weapon under Plunkett's body. Though Plunkett had been dead for several hours, the gun was still warm. White test-fired the weapon many times, but found that "it did not heat up to any noticeable extent." There were no fingerprints on the gun, and White was at a loss to explain how it could have stayed so warm for so long. White's initial hypothesis was that Plunkett had not killed Doheny at all and that there was something "warped" about the case.

White continued his investigation through the night, and in the morning reported to District Attorney Fitts. He confessed his suspicions about the witnesses' stories, but admitted he was reluctant to tamper with a family as powerful as the Dohenys. White recalled that Fitts reddened and snapped, "There isn't a man in the United States that's big enough to stop me from conducting a criminal investigation." Fitts seemed determined to push the inquiry further and summoned several of the witnesses--including Dr. Fishbaugh--to the Hall of Justice for questioning.

At this session, Fitts did most of the talking, with White interrupting only once to ask a few questions, which brought an odd response:

"Doctor, you were in the house at the time the shooting took place and you rushed into the bedroom within a matter of seconds thereafter. Is that correct?"

He nodded affirmatively.

"Doheny was dead when you arrived?"

He again nodded.

"And the body was not disturbed in any way?"

"It was not disturbed."

"Then, Doctor, as an experienced physician, will you kindly explain how blood could run up from the ears and cross back and forth over the face of a man who never moved off his back?"

The physician hesitated. He was trapped and he knew it. In a low voice he admitted that young Doheny had lived for approximately twenty minutes after the shooting and during that time they had picked him up, then replaced him on the floor.

White does not make much of Dr. Fishbaugh's changing his story, merely adding it to the list of suspicious details. But, the revelation that Doheny did not die until well after he was shot was reported in newspapers on Tuesday, February 19th. Its appearance in the press lends credence to Leslie White's story. At the very least, it seems that there was certainly something "warped" about the Doheny case.

One of the most curious elements of the crime is that it occurred only a short time before Ned Doheny and Hugh Plunkett were scheduled to testify in the Albert Fall bribery case. The Dohenys, by their own admission, had been trying for several weeks to convince Plunkett to enter a sanitarium. In an official statement released the day after the shooting, the Doheny family lawyer claimed, "a few weeks ago Plunkett showed signs of a nervous breakdown." This explanation of madness was faithfully reported in the press, though no one outside the Doheny family and their employees provided any evidence of this instability. Plunkett's ex-wife told reporters that she never saw signs of insanity in her former husband, though he was occasionally subject to fits of anger.

Plunkett was not the only witness unable to testify in the bribery trial. Ned McLean, who had been a witness in the earlier Senate Committee hearings, apparently went insane as well. At the time of Fall's trial, McLean was confined to an asylum.

Had nothing further come of the murder/suicide, it would have remained a curious historical anecdote. But something further did come of it: it was picked up by Raymond Chandler.

In February 1929, Chandler had yet to write a single word of detective fiction. He was forty years old and an executive in the California oil business. It was an unlikely career for a man of his background. He was born in Chicago in 1888. After his parents divorced in 1895, he and his mother moved to England. Chandler was raised in the English public school environment and received a classical education at Dulwich College. Following graduation, he worked briefly as a clerk in the Admiralty before deciding to make a career as a man of letters. He published highly-romantic poetry and rather effete book reviews in several small London literary magazines, but after a few years realized that he could never make a living at it.

In 1912, Chandler borrowed money from his uncle and moved back to the United States to try his hand at business. He settled ultimately in Los Angeles, arriving, as he put it, "with a beautiful wardrobe, a public school accent, no practical gifts for earning a living, and a contempt for the natives." He worked a series of odd jobs, put himself through nightschool, and eventually landed a job as a bookkeeper for the Dabney Oil Syndicate. By 1929, he had worked his way up to the position of vice-president and was an officer or director in half a dozen oil corporations under the Dabney umbrella.

It is unclear exactly how much Chandler knew about the Doheny family. None of his letters from before 1938 survive. What little is known about Chandler's years in the oil business has been reconstructed from his comments in letters written later in his life and from interviews with several of his business colleagues (conducted in the 1970s by Frank MacShane, Chandler's biographer). Doheny's name is absent from these sources, but Chandler--as an executive in the California oil industry--certainly knew who Doheny was and, more than likely, had met him at one time or another.

So how, then, did Chandler get his information about the Doheny/Plunkett case, information that he incorporated into The High Window? There are several possibilities.

The first is that he learned much of it from his colleagues in the oil business. The crime, after all, not only received front-page coverage in the Los Angeles papers, but it involved major players in the California oil industry. Even if Chandler himself did not have close ties to the Doheny family, he certainly knew people who did.

A more likely source is Leslie White's memoir Me, Detective. After Chandler lost his job in the oil industry in 1932--fired because of drinking problems, absenteeism, and a series of affairs with office secretaries--he listed himself in the Los Angeles Directory as a writer and began teaching himself the craft of fiction. Unlike Dashiell Hammett, who had been a Pinkerton detective before turning to writing, Chandler had no first-hand experience in crime investigation. He learned, instead, by reading mystery stories and books on firearms, police methodology, cross-examination, and toxology. A book such as Me, Detective, which was published in the middle of Chandler's apprentice period, would have been an ideal addition to his library.

Chandler could have gotten some of his facts--such as the positions of the bodies and the presence of the family doctor at the scene--from newspaper accounts, but many of the Cassidy case details appear only in White's book. Doheny's head, for instance, showed a contact wound and Plunkett's did not--a seeming contradiction of the official story that Plunkett was the one who did the shooting. Chandler incorporates as well the detail of the cigarette that was found in the secretary's left hand, burned down to the point of scorching the skin. In Chandler's version, Marlowe says that four hours elapsed between the shootings and the time the police were called. Newspaper accounts of the crime, though, repeatedly state that the shooting took place between ten and eleven P.M. and that the Beverly Hills Police were on the scene by midnight--a one- or two-hour gap. The most likely explanation for this discrepancy is that Chandler was working primarily from the account in Me, Detective. White reports that he was called to Greystone at 2:00 A.M, but he makes no mention of when the regular police were called. The four-hour figure seems an easy assumption for Chandler to have made.

There remains one further possibility for Chandler's source: he could have heard the story from Leslie White in person. In 1932, the same year Chandler was fired from the oil business, White resigned as a D.A.'s investigator. Like Chandler, he decided to pursue a career in fiction writing. White got his start writing for the pulp magazines, and he published some five hundred stories and articles and twenty books over the next thirty years. He also wrote screenplays for Hollywood, a profession Chandler would share in the 1940s.Los Angeles pulp writers maintained a fairly close network during the Depression, and White and Chandler were both friends with Erle Stanley Gardner (the creator of Perry Mason). There is no record that the two ever met, but considering the circumstances of their careers it seems likely that they would have known each other. If so, Chandler could have gotten first-hand dope on the Dohney murder from the man who had actually been there.

The connections among the Doheny family, Leslie White, and Raymond Chandler are compelling, but they do not provide a concrete explanation of what happened that night in 1929 at the Doheny mansion. Marlowe's question to Detectives Breeze and Spangler is a good one: what do you do with the Cassidy case?

The full story will never be told. Leslie White seemed content to let the case slide, to chalk it up as merely another example of the power of wealth buying exemption from legal and public scrutiny. Dan La Botz, the biographer of Edward L. Doheny, Sr., connects the murder/suicide with the prospect of Hugh Plunkett's testifying against the Dohenys in the upcoming Albert Fall bribery trial, but he shies away from laying any definite blame for the crime. Both writers seem content to portray the murder/suicide as "fishy" and let it go at that.

What really matters about the Cassidy/Doheny case is not who shot whom or even whether there was a connection with the ongoing Teapot Dome scandal. The fact remains that there was more than enough evidence of funny business for the D.A. to launch an in- depth investigation and for the newspapers to make a scandal out of the shootings. That never happened. Instead, because of the power of the Doheny oil money, the case was brought to a hasty close and a blanket of silence fell over the press.

The murder/suicide, nevertheless, has a lasting legacy in American culture. The Doheny case lies not only beneath the novels of Raymond Chandler but, because of Chandler's position as one of the founding fathers of the hardboiled detective story, beneath the mystery genre as well. The patterns established by Chandler in his Marlowe novels were picked up by the writers who followed him and have worked their way into movies and television. They have become stereotypes.

Chandler insisted in his letters and essays that he took the existing form of the murder mystery and made it realistic, taking it out of English rose gardens and vicarages and putting it down in the mean streets where crimes really happened. "The realist in murder," Chandler wrote,

writes of a world in which gangsters can rules nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which the screen star can be the finger man for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of money making, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practicing.

Chandler was a disillusioned romantic, an English public schoolboy who grew up to learn that the world is not governed by a gentlemen's code--and was outraged by that lesson. And, certainly, it would be foolish to claim that Los Angeles was nothing more than a teeming underworld of sin and corruption. But, there were real, concrete reasons for Chandler to have made these conclusions. At the time that he was exploring and learning about the city, Los Angeles truly was controlled by an untouchable circle of rich men. The police and the press were under the thumbs of wealth and criminal syndicates, and law could be bought for the right price.

Buron Fitts, the District Attorney who led the abortive investigation into the Doheny slayings, had been elected as a reformer. In 1928, Fitts had been appointed by the state attorney general as a special prosecutor against Asa Keyes, the incumbent Los Angeles D.A., who was indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to give and receive bribes. Fitts's prosecution was successful, and he used the publicity to get himself elected as Keyes's successor.

Whatever reformist zeal the new D.A. had at the beginning of his tenure--and Leslie White claimed that Fitts made a "valiant attempt to get at the truth" in the Doheny murder--he soon learned that the powers controlling Los Angeles were too strong to be bucked. Fitts quickly became a part of the machine. During his decade in office he earned a reputation as a man who would protect his friends--and anyone else with enough money--from the threat of prosecution.

In 1934, Fitts was indicted on twenty-one charges, including perjury and bribe-taking, though a jury acquitted him in 1936. Fitts's connections in Hollywood were strong as well. He received lavish gifts from producers and stars and could be depended on to allow celebrities to avoid scandalous trials. Budd Schulberg, the son of a studio mogul and a screenwriter during Fitts's era, remembers that, "Buron Fitts was completely in the pocket of the producers. You could literally have somebody killed, and it wouldn't be in the papers."

The Doheny case was one of the first of Fitts's many concessions to the political influence of money. And he wasn't alone. His career followed the standard pattern for public officials in Los Angeles. Between 1915 and 1940, every mayor, district attorney, and county sheriff elected ran on a reform platform; each was either run out of office within two years or became just as corrupt as the man who preceded him. These-office holders walked a tight rope between, on the one hand, the interests of conservative businessmen (supported by Harry Chandler, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times) and, on the other, the entrenched network of organized crime.

The police force served more often to protect major racketeers from upstart competitors than to eradicate crime. Cops routinely trampled on constitutional rights--arresting without warrants, framing reform leaders, brutalizing prisoners, and protecting vice interests. An observer--like Chandler--who had lived in the city for several decades would have witnessed a continual parade of anti-vice campaigns and reform tickets, each of which made a lot of noise and each of which accomplished next to nothing. Little wonder then that both Chandler and White concluded that it was the system as a whole that was corrupt and that there was little an individual--no matter how honest--could do to change it.

These conclusions can be seen in the way Chandler portrays the police in his novels. Commentators have often remarked that Chandler filled his stories with cops who are brutal and dishonest, but that is not exactly the case. Very few of Chandler's policemen are seriously corrupt. Most are tough, hard-working family men trying their best to do an honest job despite the corruption of the system.

And that, ultimately, is what Chandler's novels are about: not crime, not sex, not murder, but rather the struggles of a lone individual with a sense of honor and propriety trying to function in a world hostile to honesty. Chandler was not a reformer. He was, by nature, quite conservative. He never advocated a program for social change. If his letters are any indication, Chandler had little interest in politics and did not heavily research real-life corruption. His crime stories, rather, functioned more as a metaphor for his bitter view of modern life as a whole.

Chandler in many ways seems to have viewed himself as a Marlowe-like figure. His experiences with the Dabney Syndicate convinced him that the oil business was little more than a racket, yet he took pride in his own performance as an executive and office manager. Chandler once bragged in a letter, "I always somehow seemed to have a fight on my hands." He recalled an incident where a car collided with one of the company's trucks and the passengers sued for damages. The insurance company wanted to settle, but Chandler insisted on taking the case to court. He won. In another incident, in which the firm pressed charges against an embezzler, Chandler claimed that at the trial he "had to sit beside the Assistant D.A. and tell him what questions to ask. The damn fool didn't know his own case."

Chandler approached the writing business with the same attitude. He chose to write for the detective pulps because it offered the possibility of writing honest fiction. On the other hand, the slick magazines (such as The Saturday Evening Post) showed a "fundamental dishonesty in the matter of character and motivation." Chandler characterized rental libraries as a "racket" and fulminated about having to split paperback and film royalties fifty- fifty with his publisher. Literary agents were corrupt leeches who, as he entitled a scathing essay, took "Ten Percent of Your Life."

Chandler closed one of his letters about his struggles in the oil industry by saying, "Perhaps this sounds a little hard-boiled. But I wasn't like that really at all. I was just doing what I thought was my job. It's always been a fight, hasn't it?" The words could very well be Philip Marlowe's.

Chandler's detective is not an heir to the lone cowboy of the western. Marlowe is an honest man fighting to salvage a few scraps of justice out of a corrupt world, but he cannot succeed. Ultimately, the honest individual is powerless in the face of the corrupt system. Marlowe tries to keep his integrity untarnished, but his cases take him repeatedly into situations where his code of conduct can no longer function. As he says at the end of The Big Sleep, "I was a part of the nastiness now."

The Cassidy Case is only a very small part of one of Chandler's seven novels, a mere three-page digression in the middle of the story. But, he returns to it at the end of the book. Breeze gives Marlowe some leeway to operate on the murder of Anson Phillips, and after Marlowe solves the mystery, he and Breeze get together to wrap things up:

"Remember that Cassidy case you were howling about to Spangler and me that night in your apartment?"


"You told Spangler there wasn't any Cassidy case. There was--under another name. I worked on it."

He took his hand off my shoulder and opened the door for me and grinned straight into my eyes.

"On account of the Cassidy case," he said, "and the way it made me feel, I sometimes give a guy a break he could perhaps not really deserve. A little something paid back out of the dirty millions to a working stiff--like me--or you. Be good."

It's not much of a moral victory, but in a city like pre-War Los Angeles, Chandler seems to be saying, it's about as good as an honest man can do.


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Selected quotations from Raymond Chandler's writing

from The Big Sleep (1939):

I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it.

She was twenty or so, small and delicately put together, but she looked durable.

I could see, even on that short acquaintence, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her.

A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.

I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at Mrs. Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble. She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-lounge with her slippers off, so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stockings. They seemed to be arranged to stare at. They were visible to the knee and one of them well beyond. The knees were dimpled, not bony and sharp. The calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim and with enough melodic line for a tone poem.

"My God you big dark brute! I ought to throw a Buick at you."

There was a lot of Oriental junk in the windows. I didn't know whether it was any good, not being a collector of antiques, except unpaid bills.

She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a businessmen's lunch.

She was as sore as an alderman with the mumps.

She knew as much about rare books as I did about handling a flea circus.

"You'd make a good cop," I said.
She put the reference book back on an open shelf at the end of her desk, and opened the law book in front of her again. "I hope not," she said.

A pool of water formed on the floorboards for me to keep my feet in.

Another army of sluggish minutes dragged by.

I got back on the runway and took all of it and some of the hedge and gave the front door the heavy shoulder. This was foolish. About the only part of a California house you can't put your foot through is the door. All it did was hurt my shoulder and make me mad.

Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.

His glass eye shone up brightly at me and was by far the most lifelike thing about him. At a glance none of the three shots I heard had missed. He was very dead.

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

I woke up with a motorman's glove in my mouth...

He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn't owe too much money.

It was a crisp morning, with just enough snap in the air to make life seem simple and sweet, if you didn't have too much on your mind. I had.

There was an overtone of strain in her smile. It wasn't a smile at all. It was a grimace. She just thought it was a smile.

I took my dark glasses off and tapped them delicately on the inside of my left wrist. If you can weigh a hundred and ninety pounds and look like a fairy, I was doing my best.

She laughed suddenly and sharply and went halfway through the door, then turned her head to say cooly: "You're as cold-blooded a beast as I ever met, Marlowe. Or can I call you Phil?"
"You can call me Vivian."
"Thanks, Mrs. Regan."
"Oh go to hell Marlowe." She went on out and didn't look back.

"Yes, how come you had a key?"
"Is that any of your business, soldier?"
"I could make it my business."
He smiled tightly and pushed his hat back on his gray hair. "And I could make your business my business."
"You wouldn't like it. The pay's too small."

"People who spend their money for second-hand sex jags are as nervous as dowagers who can't find the restroom."

He looked me over as if he was looking at a photograph.

...you have to hold your teeth clamped around Hollywood to keep from chewing on stray blondes.

The smart thing for me to do was to take another drink and forget the whole mess. That being the obviously smart thing to do, I called Eddie Mars and told him I was coming down to Las Olindas that evening to talk to him. That was how smart I was.

"If I had a razor I'd cut your throat--just to see what ran out of it."

The door banged shut and I was sitting there looking at it.

I was as empty of life as a scarecrow's pockets.

He was a very small man, not more than five feet three and would hardly weigh as much as a butcher's thumb.

"Shake your business up and pour it. I haven't got all day."

He reached for another of my cigarettes, placed it between his lips and lit it with a match the way I do myself, missing twice on his thumbnail and then using his foot.

She was tall rather than short, but no bean-pole. She was slim but not a dried crust.

Her hand was small and had shape, not the usual bony garden tool you see on women nowadays.


from Farewell, My Lovely (1940):

He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

I walked along to the double doors and stood in front of them. They were motionless now. It wasn't any of my business. So I pushed them open and looked in.

She had weedy hair of that vague color which is neither brown nor blond, that hasn't enough life in it to be ginger, and isn't clean enough to be gray.

"She's a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she has washed her hair since Coolidge's second term, I'll eat my spare tire, rim and all."

"Dames lie about anything--just for practice," Nulty said grimly.

It was the kind of room where people sit with their feet in their laps and sip absinthe through lumps of sugar and talk with high affected voices and sometimes just squeak.

I looked at the dimple in his broad, fleshy chin. You could have lost a marble in it.

"I'm afraid I don't like your manner," he said, using the edge of his voice.
"I've had complaints about it," I said. "But nothing seems to do any good."

The big foreign car drove itself, but I held the wheel for the sake of appearances.

I felt the back of my head. My hat was still on. I took it off, not without discomfort and felt the head underneath. Good old head, I'd had it a long time. It was a little soft now, a little pulpy, and more than a little tender. But a pretty light sapping at that. The hat had helped. I could still use the head. I could use it another year anyway.

Twenty minutes' sleep. Just a nice doze. In that time I had muffed a job and lost eight thousand dollars. Well, why not? In twenty minutes you can sink a battleship, down three or four planes, hold a double execution. You can die, get married, get fired and find a new job, have a tooth pulled, have your tonsils out. In twenty minutes you can even get up in the morning. You can get a glass of water at a night club--maybe.

She had a nice smile. She looked as if she had slept well. It was a nice face, a face you get to like. Pretty, but not so pretty that you would have to wear brass knuckles every time you took it out.

I filled a pipe and reached for the packet of paper matches. I lit the pipe carefully. She watched that with approval. Pipe smokers were solid men. She was going to be disappointed in me.

"Cops are just people," she said irrelevantly.
"They start out that way, I've heard."

"You're not going to be one of those drunken detectives, are you?" she asked anxiously.
"Why not? They always solve their cases and they never even sweat."

The coffee shop smell was strong enough to build a garage on.

You could get to like that face a lot. Glamoured up blondes were a dime a dozen, but that was a face that would wear.

So they were evidence. Evidence of what? That a man occasionally smoked a stick of tea, a man who looked as if any touch of the exotic would appeal to him. On the other hand lots of tough guys smoked marihuana, also lots of band musicians and high school kids and nice girls who had given up trying. American hasheesh. A weed that would grow anywhere. Unlawful to cultivate now. That meant a lot in a country as big as the U.S.A.

I slit one [an exotic cigarette] down the middle. The mouthpiece part was pretty tough to slit. Okey, I was a tough guy, I slit it anyway. See if you can stop me.

I lit a cigarette. It tasted like a plumber's handkerchief.

Mr. Grayle stood up and said he was very glad to have met me and that he would go and lie down for a while. He didn't feel very well. He hoped I would excuse him. He was so polite I wanted to carry him out of the room just to show my appreciation.

Anne Riordan took her lower lip between her teeth and held it there for a moment as if making up her mind whether to bite it off and spit it out or leave it on a while longer.

His hat was at least two sizes to small and had been perspired in freely by somebody it fitted better than it fitted him. He wore it about where a house wears a wind vane.

We sneered at each other across the desk for a moment. He sneered better than I did.

The driver looked as if he was half asleep but he passed the fast boys in the convertible sedans as though they were being towed. They turned on all the green lights for him. Some drivers are like that. He never missed one.

He was a windblown blossom of some two hundred pounds with freckled teeth and the mellow voice of a circus barker. He was tough, fast and he ate red meat. Nobody could push him around. He was the kind of cop who spits on his blackjack every night instead of saying his prayers.

The whiskey had a funny taste. While I was realizing that it had a funny taste I saw a washbowl jammed into the corner of the wall. I made it. I just made it. I vomited. Dizzy Dean never threw anything harder.

I used my knee on his face. It hurt my knee. He didn't tell me whether it hurt his face.

I was sitting on the side of my bed in my pajamas, thinking about getting up, but not yet committed. I didn't feel very well, but I didn't feel as sick as I ought to, not as sick as I would feel if I had a salaried job. My head hurt and felt large and hot and my tongue was dry and had gravel on it and my throat was stiff and my jaw was not untender. But I had had worse mornings.

I got up on my feet and went over to the bowl in the corner and threw cold water on my face. After a little while I felt a little better, but very little. 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.

A male cutie with henna'd hair drooped at a bungalow grand piano and tickled the keys lasciviously and sang Stairway to the Stars in a voice with half the steps missing.

The eighty-five cent dinner tasted like a discarded mail bag and was served to me by a waiter who looked as if he would slug me for a quarter, cut my throat for six bits, and bury me at sea in a barrel of concrete for a dollar and a half, plus sales tax.

"Them rich dames are easier to make than paper dolls."

The wet air was as cold as the ashes of love.

He had a cat smile. But I like cats.

His dinner clothes were midnight blue, I judged, because they looked so black. I thought his pearl was a little too large, but that might have been jealousy.

All she did was take her hand out of her bag, with a gun in it. All she did was point it at me and smile. All I did was nothing.


from The High Window (1942):

"She's a tall handsome blond. Very--very appealing."
"You mean sexy?"
"Well--" she blushed furiously, "in a nice well-bred sort of way, if you know what I mean."
"I know what you mean," I said, "but I never got anywhere with it."

My face was stiff with thought, or with something that made my face stiff.

From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.

Her hair was as artificial as a night club lobby.

Fuzz grew out of his ears, far enough to catch a moth.

I pushed out of the booth and lit a cigarette with thick awkward fingers. I went back along the store. The druggist was alone now. He was sharpening a pencil with a small knife, very intent, frowning.
"That's a nice sharp pencil you have there," I told him.
He looked up, surprised, The girls at the pinball machine looked at me, surprised. I went over and looked at myself in the mirror behind the counter. I looked surprised.

"You always have a gun lying around on your desk?"
"Except when it's under my pillow," I said. "Or under my arm. Or in the drawer of the desk. Or somewhere I can't just remember where I happened to put it. That help you any?"
"We didn't come here to get tough, Marlowe."
"That's fine," I said. "So you prowl my apartment and handle my property without asking my permission. What do you do when you get tough--knock me down and kick me in the face?"
"Aw hell," he said and grinned. I grinned back. We all grinned.

He spat again. "I wouldn't live here if they paid me fifty thousand a year and let me sleep in chiffon pajamas with a string of matched pink pearls around my neck."
"I'd hate to make you the offer," I said.

He had the sort of face that can turn from a polite simper to cold-blooded fury almost without moving a muscle.

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.
A cigarette girl came down the gangway. She wore an egret plume in her hair, enough clothes to hide behind a toothpick, one of her long beautiful naked legs was silver, and one was gold. She had the utterly disdainful expression of a dame who makes her dates by long distance.

"A dry martini will do."
"A martini. Dry. Veddy, veddy dry."
"Will you eat it with a spoon or a knife and fork?"
"Just cut it in strips," I said. "I'll just nibble it."
"On your way to school," he said. "Should I put the olive in a bag for you?"
"Sock me on the nose with it," I said. "If it will make you feel any better."

I looked at the ornaments on the desk. Everything standard and all copper. A copper lamp, pen set and pencil tray, a glass and copper ashtray with a copper elephant on the rim, a copper letter opener, a copper thermos bottle on a copper tray, copper corners on the blotter holder. There was a spray of almost copper-colored sweet peas in a copper vase.
It seemed like a lot of copper.

But even the Pinkertons have to sleep, and Marlowe needed far, far more sleep than the Pinkertons. I went to bed.

The room had that remote, heartless, not quite dirty, not quite clean, not quite human smell that such rooms always have. Give a police department a brand new building and in three months all its rooms will smell like that. There must be something symbolic in it.

"You boys are as cute as a couple of lost golf balls," I said. "How in the world do you do it?"

"You know something?"
"What?" Breeze asked.
"I just thought of what is the matter with policemen's dialogue."
"They think every line is a punch line."

"Class is a thing that has a way of dissolving rapidly in alcohol."

"Son, I could use a five dollar bill so rough Abe Lincoln's whiskers would be all lathered up with sweat."

The heartrending dialog of some love serial came out of the room behind her and hit me in the face like a wet dishtowel.

I filled my pipe and sat there smoking. Nobody came in, nobody called, nothing happened, nobody cared whether I died or went to El Paso.

A car tore down the street much too fast and skidded around the next corner. The thin shreds of a girl's laughter came back along the dark street as if the car had spilled them out in its rush.

"I'm going the way I always go," I said. "With an airy smile and a quick flip of the wrist. And with a deep and hearfelt hope that I won't be seeing you in the fish bowl."

"Oh hell and fireflies," I said and went out to the kitchen and gobbled a quick drink, before we started. It didn't do me any good. It just made me want to climb up the wall and gnaw my way across the ceiling.


from The Lady in the Lake (1943):

She had a smooth ivory skin and rather severe eyebrows and large dark eyes that looked like they might warm up at the right time and in the right place.

"I don't like your manner," Kingsley said in a voice you could have cracked a Brazil nut on.
"That's all right," I said, "I'm not selling it."
He reared back as if I had hung a week-old mackerel under his nose.

He had large ears and friendly eyes and his jaws munched slowly and he looked as dangerous as a squirrel and much less nervous.

Her upper lip curled a little. It was a long upper lip. I like long upper lips.

His nose was sharp and bent a little to one side, as if somebody had given it the elbow one time when it was into something

The self-operating elevator was carpeted in red plush. It had an elderly perfume in it, like three widows drinking tea.

There was a desk and a night clerk with one of those mustaches that get stuck under your fingernail.
Degarmo lunged past the desk towards an open elevator beside which a tired old man sat on a stool waiting for a customer. The clerk snapped at Degarmo's back like a terrier.
"One moment please. Whom did you wish to see?"
Degarmo spun on his heel and looked at me wonderingly. "Did he say 'whom'?"
"Yeah, but don't hit him," I said. "There is such a word."
Degarmo licked his lips. "I knew there was," he said. " I often wondered where they kept it."


from The Little Sister (1949):

It is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization.

"I don't think I'd care to employ a detective that uses liquor in any form. I don't even approve of tobacco."
"Would it be all right if I peeled an orange?"

She swung around and marched to the door and put her hand on the knob and then she swung around again and marched back and suddenly began to cry. I reacted to that just the way a stuffed fish reacts to cut bait.

There are days like that. Everybody you meet is a dope. You begin to look at yourself in the glass and wonder.

I dialed a man named Peoria Smith, who was so-called because he stuttered--another little mystery I hadn't had time to work out.

She laughed. I guess it was a silvery tinkle where she was. It sounded like somebody putting away saucepans where I was.

She slapped me delicately across the tip of my nose. The next thing I knew I had her in my lap and she was trying to bite off a piece of my tongue.

"...I don't go whoring around after every pair of legs I see." I looked down at hers. I could see them all right and the flag that marked the goal line was no larger than it had to be.

She picked a cigarette out of a box, tossed it in the air, caught it between her lips effortlessly and lit it with a match that came from nowhere.

A big black gorilla with a big black paw had his big black paw over my face and was trying to push it through the back of my neck. I pushed back. Taking the weak side of an argument is my speciality. Then I realized that he was trying to keep me from opening my eyes.
I decided to open my eyes just the same. Others have done it, why not me? I gathered my strength and very slowly, keeping the back straight, flexing the thighs and knees, using the arms as ropes, I lifted the enormous weight of my eyelids.

I got up on my feet. I was as dizzy as a dervish, as weak as a worn-out washer, as low as a badger's belly, as timid as a titmouse, and as unlikely to succeed as a ballet dancer with a wooden leg.

To say she had a face that would have stopped a clock would have been to insult her. It would have stopped a runaway horse.

"What makes you Bay City cops so tough?" he asked. "You pickle your nuts in salt water or something?"

A shave and a second breakfast made me feel a little less like the box of shavings the cat had had kittens in.


from The Long Goodbye (1953):

They had watching and waiting eyes, patient and careful eyes, cool disdainful eyes, cops' eyes. They get them at the passing-out parade at the police school.

"From now on I wouldn't tell you the time by the clock on your own wall."

"That's all you are, shamus, just a little old cop-hater."
"There are places where cops are not hated, Captain. But in those places you wouldn't be a cop."

"See you around," the bodyguard told me coolly. "The name's Chick Agostino. I guess you'll know me."
"Like a dirty newspaper," I said. "Remind me not to step on your face."

A girl in a white sharkskin suit and a luscuious figure was climbing the ladder to the high board. I watched the band of white that showed between the tan of her thighs and the suit. I watched it carnally. Then she was out of sight, cut off but the deep overhang of the roof. A moment later I saw her flash down in a one and a half. Spray came high enough to catch the sun and make rainbows that were almost as pretty as the girl. Then she came up the ladder and unstrapped her white helmet and shook her bleach job loose. She wobbled her bottom over to a small white table and sat down beside a lumberjack in white drill pants and dark glasses and a tan so evenly dark that he couldn't have been anything but the hired man around the pool. He reached over and patted her thigh. 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.

There are blondes and there are blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo's rapier or Lucrezia's poison vial.
There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn't care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very sharowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to, and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studing Provencal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.
And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.

"I'm a licensed private investigator and have been for quite a while. I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged and not rich. I've been in jail more than once and I don't do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers or sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, and to plenty of people in any business or no business at all these days, nobody will feel that the bottom has dropped out of his or her life.

I turned to reach back for my cigarettes and something bumped into me hard from behind. It was just what I needed. I swung around and I was looking at the profile of a broad-beamed crowd-pleaser in an overdraped oxford flannel. He had the outstreched arm of the popular character and the two-by-six grin of the guy who never loses a sale.
I took hold of the outstreched arm and spun him around. "What's the matter, Jack? Don't they make the aisles wide enough for your personality?"
He shook his arm loose and got tough. "Don't get fancy, buster. I might loosen your jaw for you."
"Ha, ha," I said. "You might play center field for the Yankees and hit a home run with a breadstick."
He doubled a meaty fist.
"Darling, think of your manicure," I told him.
He controlled his emotions. "Nuts to you, wise guy," he sneered. "Some other time, when I have less on my mind."
"Could there be less?"
"G'wan, beat it," he snarled. "One more crack and you'll need new bridgework."
I grinned at him. "Call me up, Jack. But with better dialogue."
His expression changed. He laughed. "You in pictures, chum?"
"Only the kind they pin up in the post office."
"See you in the mug book," he said, and walked away, still grinning.

I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.

"He has as much charm as a steel puddler's underpants."

I drove back to Hollywood feeling like a short length of chewed string.

Next morning I got up late on account of the big fee I had earned the night before. I drank an extra cup of coffee, smoked an extra cigarette, ate an extra slice of Canadian bacon, and for the three hundredth time I swore I would never again use an electric razor. That made the day normal.

It was so quiet in Victor's that you almost heard the temperature drop as you came in the door.

She had that fine-drawn intense look that is sometimes neurotic, sometimes sex-hungry, and sometimes just the result of drastic dieting.

"No guns, Mr. Agostino? How reckless of you. It's almost dark. What if you should run into a tough midget?"
"Scram!" he said savagely.
"Aw, you stole that line from the New Yorker."

It was the same old cocktail party, everybody talking too loud, nobody listening, everybody hanging on for dear life to a mug of the juice, eyes very bright, cheeks flushed or pale and sweaty according to the amount of alcohol consumed and the capacity of the individual to handle it.

A small girl with mud-colored hair and a band around her forehead popped up beside me and put a glass on the bar and bleated. Candy nodded and made her another drink.
The small girl turned to me. "Are you interested in Communism?" she asked me. She was glassy-eyed and she was running a small red tongue along her lips as if looking for a crumb of chocolate. "I think everyone ought to be," she went on. "But when you ask any of the men here they just want to paw you."
I nodded and looked over my class at her snub nose and sun-coarsened skin.
"Not that I mind too much if it's done nicely," she told me, reaching for the fresh drink. She showed me her molars while she inhaled half of it.
"Don't rely on me," I said.

I was erotic as a stallion.

I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars.

I went over to a corn-beef joint on Flower. It suited my mood. A rude sign over the entrance said: "Men Only. Dogs and Women Not Admitted." The service inside was equally polished.

I felt like a half-digested meal eaten in a greasy spoon joint. My eyes were stuck together and my mouth was full of sand.

I went to the drugstore and ate a chicken salad sandwich and drank some coffee. The coffee was overtrained and the sandwich was as full of rich flavor as a piece torn off an old shirt. Americans will eat anything if it is toasted and held together with a couple of toothpicks and has lettuce sticking out of the sides, preferably a little wilted.

"Perhaps you don't ever make passes at women in bars."
"Not often. The light's too dim."


from Playback (1958):

She had a pair of legs--so far as I could determine--that were not painful to look at.

I widened my eyes. Maybe they glistened a little. Nobody ever tried harder to make them glisten.

"Just relax," he said. "I know it sounds corny, but I could drill you and get away with it. I really could.
"Okay," I said thickly. "For fifty bucks a day I don't get shot. That costs seventy-five."

The first sensation was that if anybody spoke harshly to me I should burst out crying. The second, that the room was too small for my head. The front of my head was a long way from the back, the sides were an enormous distance apart, in spite of which a dull throbbing beat from temple to temple. Distance means nothing nowadays.

"Don't get funny with me buster, I get annoyed rather easy."
"Fine. Let's watch you get annoyed. What do you do--bite your mustache?"
"I ain't got no mustache, stupid."
"You could grow one. I can wait."

After a while my club sandwich came. It was nothing to brag about, but eatable. I ate it.

When I entered, Miss Vermilyea was just fixing herself for a hard day's work by touching up her platinum blond coiffure. I thought she looked a little worse for wear. She put away her hand mirror and fed herself a cigarette.
"Well, well. Mr. Hard Guy in person. To what may we attribute this honor?"
"Umney's expecting me."
"Mister Umney to you, buster."
"Boydie-boy to you, sister."
She got raging in an instant. "Don't call me 'sister,' you cheap gumshoe!"
"Don't call me buster, you very expensive secretary. What are you doing tonight? And don't tell me you're going out with four sailors again."
The skin around her eyes turned whiter. Her hand crisped into a claw around a paperweight. She just didn't heave it at me. "You son of a bitch!" she said somewhat pointedly. Then she flipped a switch on her talk box and said to the voice, "Mr. Marlowe is here, Mr. Umney."
Then she leaned back and gave me the look. "I've got friends who could cut you down so small you'd need a stepladder to put your shoes on."
"Somebody did a lot of hard work on that one," I said. "But hard work's no subsitute for talent."
Suddenly we both burst out laughing.

"I'm sorry I was rude to you," I said. "I didn't get enough sleep last night."
"Forget it. It was a stand-off. With a little practice I might get to like you. You're kind of cute in a low down sort of way."
"Thanks," I said and moved to the door. I wouldn't say she looked exactly wistful, but neither did she look as hard to get as a controlling interest in General Motors.

She drove beautifully. When a woman is a really good driver she is just about perfect.

"Me and you could get along," Goble said indifferently, "if you had any brains.
"And if you had any manners and were six inches taller and had a different face and another name and didn't act as if you thought you could lick your own weight in frog spawn."


Short stories from the book Trouble Is My Business

Trouble Is My Business (1939):

I called him up from a phone booth. The voice that answered was fat. It wheezed softly, like the voice of a man who had just won a pie-eating contest.

The jarring of the telephone bell woke me. I had dozed off in the chair, which was a bad mistake, because I woke up with two flannel blankets in my mouth, a splitting headache, a bruise on the back of my head and another on my jaw, neither of them larger than a Yakima apple, but sore for all that. I felt terrible. I felt like an amputated leg.

We went over to the little man and looked down at him. He wasn't anything to see. He was just a little man who was dead, with a big slug in his face and blood on him.

"Let's get back home and have a drink," I said. "I never really got to like killing people."

I was in bad with the police, I had spent ten dollars of my twenty expense money, and I didn't have enough leverage anywhere to lift a dime off a cigar counter.

I was wearing my Luger in my right hand now, a little late in the season, as usual.

Finger Man (1934):

He leaned a little down and said: "I think you are a dick. A smart dick."
"Just a shamus," I said. "And not so smart. Don't let my long upper lip fool you. It runs in the family."

Canales said: "I would like to get my money back, and I would like to get clear of this rap--but most of all I would like you to say something--so I can shoot you with your mouth open and see blood come out of it."

Goldfish (1936):

Madder opened a flat tin of cigarettes and pushed one past his lips with a sound like somebody gutting a fish.

Red Wind (1938):

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.

The kid said: "I don't like drunks in the first place and in the second place I don't like them getting drunk in here, and in the third place I don't like them in the first place."
"Warner Brothers could use that," I said.
"They did."

The dark guy took a week to fall down. He stumbled, caught himself, waved one arm, stumbled again. His hat fell off, and then he hit the floor with his face. After he hit it he might have been poured concrete for all the fuss he made.

His chin came down and I hit it. I hit it as if I was driving the last spike on the first transcontinental railroad. I can still feel it when I flex my knuckles.

He came over and held out his hand. I shook it. It was as clammy as a dead fish. Clammy hands and the people who own them make me sick.

He came close to me and breathed in my face. "No mistakes pal--about that story of ours."
His breath was bad. It would be.

Across the street somebody had delirium tremens in the front yard and a mixed quartet tore what was left of the night into small strips and did what they could to make the strips misterable.

She wasn't beautiful, she wasn't even pretty, but she looked as if things would happen where she was.

"You have said what?" she got out, at last, in a voice as silky as a burnt crust of toast.

She was looking at me now as if I had come to wash the windows, but at an inconvenient time.

"Are you always this tough?" I asked. "Or only when you have your pajamas on?"

"You were curious about her yourself," Copernik sneered on. "But you were smart, pal. You fooled me."
"That wouldn't make me smart," I said.

Short stories from the book The Simple Art of Murder

Spanish Blood (1935):

"By God," he said rigidly in the silence, "you may be a damn-smooth Spaniard. You may be as smooth as plate glass -- but you're a hell of a lot easier to poke a hole through!"

Newton Street, between Third and Fourth, was a block of cheap clothing stores, pawnshops, arcades of slot machines, mean hotels in front of which furtive-eyed men slid words delicately along their cigarettes, without moving their lips.

The King in Yellow (1938):

Her voice was a throaty screech, without melody, as false as her eyebrows and as sharp as her nails.

"I never did like house peepers [hotel detectives]," he sneered. "They smell like public toilets."

"If you want trouble," he said, "I come from where they make it."

Pearls Are a Nuisance (1939):

Maybe you don't like tall girls with honey-colored hair and skin like the first strawberry peach the grocer sneaks out of the box for himself. If you don't, I'm sorry for you.

Ellen lowered her long silky eyelashes at me--and when she does that I go limp as a scrubwoman's back hair.

"A wise guy," the fat man sneered again. "Down the hall, bud. Two-eighteen." He waved a thumb the color and almost the size of a burnt baked potato.

He was a fair-sized man, about six feet tall, but too full of the memories of beer. I looked up and down the dark hall. The place seemed utterly deserted.
I hit the fat man in the stomach.
He sat down on the floor and belched and his right kneecap came into sharp contact with his jaw. He coughed and tears welled up in his eyes.

I led sharply with my right and it landed flush on his chin. It seemed to me a good solid punch, but it scarcely moved him. I then put two hard left jabs into his neck and landed a second hard right at the side of his rather wide nose. 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. This made me lose my balance temporarily and while I was thinking about how to regain it a wet towel began to slap at my face and I opened my eyes.

The waiter took hold of Henry's shoulder. Henry reached up carelessly and took hold of the waiter's hand and twisted it. The waiter's face in that bluish light turned some color I could not describe, but which was not at all healthy.

Smart-Aleck Kill (1934):

The brown sedan went through the intersection like a cat chased by a police dog.

Guns at Cyrano's (1936):

Gus Neishacker was a two-hundred-pound fashion plate with very red cheeks and thin, exquisitely penciled eyebrows--eyebrows from a Chinese vase.

A hard-boiled redhead sang a hard-boiled song in a voice that could have been used to split firewood.

The blond dick snarled: "You still got that private-dick license, Carmady?"
"It's lying around somewhere, I guess," Carmady said.
"Maybe we could take it away from you," the blond dick snarled.
"Maybe you could do a fan dance, copper. You might be all kinds of smart guy for all I'd know.

Nevada Gas (1935):

"You're such a handsome pup, Johnny. Gawd, but you're handsome. It's too bad you're soft."
De Ruse said gently, without moving: "Not soft, baby--just a bit sentimental. I like to clock the ponies and play seven-card stud and mess around with little red cubes with white spots on them. I like games of chance, including women. But when I lose I don't get sore and I don't chisel. I just move on to the next table. Be seein' you."

He tried to whistle the "Skaters Waltz," couldn't get within a block of the tune, whistled "Low Down Lady" instead. That didn't have any tune.

For further reading on the subject, visit Twists, Slugs & Roscoes, a glossary of hard-boiled slang.
You could also head to your neighborhood bookstore and purchase some of Chandler's books and read them for yourself. Look in the "Mystery" section. His entire body of work (9 books worth) is published by the Vintage Crime division of Random House.
Another point of interest is the book Straight from the Fridge, Dad, a "dictionary of hipster slang," by Max Decharne.


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A collection of similes, one-liners, and turns of phrase that could be written only by Raymond Chandler.

Recent Readers' Favorites

These quotations were recently submitted by vistors to the Raymond Chandler Web Site


"Then her hands dropped and jerked at something and the robe she was wearing came open and underneath it she was as naked as September Morn but a darn sight less coy."--The Long Good-bye (Chapter 29)


"Across the street somebody had delirium tremens in the front yard and a mixed quartet tore what was left of the night into small strips and did what they could to make the strips miserable. While this was going on the exotic brunette didn't move more that one eyelash."--"Red Wind" (Section 5)


"To say she had a face that would have stopped a clock would have been to insult her. It would have stopped a runaway horse."--The Little Sister


"I felt like an amputated leg." -- "Trouble Is My Business" (Section 4)


"The corridor which led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives"--The Little Sister (Chapter 9)


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


"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. 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."--"The Simple Art of Murder" (essay)


"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." Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 34)


"I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it." -- The Big Sleep (Chapter 1)


"San Diego? One of the most beautiful harbors in the world and nothing in it but navy and a few fishing boats. At night it is fairyland. The swell is as gentle as an old lady singing hymns. But Marlowe has to get home and count the spoons." -- The Long Goodbye (Chapter 6)


"She's a charming middle age lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she's washed her hair since Coolidge's second term, I'll eat my spare tire, rim and all." -- Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 6)


"A white night for me is as rare as a fat postman." -- The Long Goodbye (Chapter 12)


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


"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 sking 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" (opening paragraph)


""His smile was as stiff as a frozen fish." -- "The Man Who Liked Dogs"


"I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split."--The Long Good-bye (Chapter 13)


"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."--Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 1)


"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."--The Big Sleep (Chapter 32)


"Her smile was as faint as a fat lady at a fireman's ball."--High Window (Chapter 3)


"At three A.M. I was walking the floor listening to Khachaturyan working in a tractor factory.  He called it a violin concerto.  I called it a loose fan belt and the hell with it."--The Long Good-bye (Chapter 12)


"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."--The Long Good-bye (Chapter 13)


"I walked back through the arch and started up the steps.  It was a nice walk if you liked grunting.  There were two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street.  They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail was as cold and wet as a toad's belly."--Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 8)


"The walls here are as thin as a hoofer's wallet."--Playback (Chapter 5)


"The voice got as cool as a cafeteria dinner."--Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 15)


"The kid's face had as much expression as a cut of round steak and was about the same color."--"Red Wind"


"If you don't leave, I'll get somebody who will." -- Chandler's notebooks


"One time in Leavenworth, just one time in all those years, Wally Sype wrapped himself around a can of white shellac and got as tight as a fat lady's girdle."-- "Goldfish"


"Tasteless as a roadhouse blonde."-- "Spanish Blood"


"From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class.  From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away."--The High Window (Chapter 5)


"You boys are as cute as a couple of lost golf balls . . . how in the world do you do it?"--The High Window (Chapter 23)

"She was as cute as a washtub." -- Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 5)

"The house itself was not so much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace, rather gray for California, and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building. I sneaked over to the side entrance and pressed a bell and somewhere a set of chimes made a deep mellow sound like church bells. A man in a striped vest and gilt buttons opened the door, bowed, took my hat and was through for the day."-- Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 18)


"I sat beside her on the yellow leather chesterfield. 'Aren't you a pretty fast worker?' she asked quietly. I didn't answer her.
'Do you do much of this sort of thing?' she asked with a sidelong look.
'Practically none. I'm a Tibetan monk, in my spare time.'
'Only you don't have any spare time."--Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 18)


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


"I called him from a phone booth. The voice that answered was fat. It wheezed softly, like the voice of a man who had just won a pie-eating contest."-- "Trouble Is My Business" (Section 2)


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Life and Works: A Raymond Chandler Chronology


July 23--Raymond Thornton Chandler born in Chicago  
Parents divorce; Chandler moves to London with his mother 
Fall--Enters Dulwich College  
April--Leaves Dulwich Travels to Paris to study French  
Moves to Germany to continue language studies 
Spring--Returns to England, becomes a naturalized British subject 
Summer--Passes Civil Service Exam, takes job in the Admiralty 
Dec. 19--First poem, "The Unknown Love," published in Chambers's Journal 
Leaves the Admiralty  
Works briefly as a reporter for the London Daily Express   
Contributes poems, sketches, essays, and translations to the Westminster Gazette and The Academy  
Returns to America, lives briefly in St. Louis and Omaha, then moves to California  
Works odd jobs in and around Los Angeles 
Enrolls in nightschool bookkeeping course Works as bookkeeper and accountant at Los Angeles Creamery  
Chandler's mother comes from England to live with him 
Living at 311 Loma Drive, downtown Los Angeles 
August--Enlists in Canadian army  
Dec. 7--Arrives in Liverpool, England  
March--Assigned to 7th Batallion of Canadian Expeditionary Force, sent to France  
June--Chandler's transferred to Royal Air Force, attends aviation training school  
November-- Armistice declared  
Feb. 20--Chandler receives discharge from army 
Returns to United States, travels along Pacific coast 
Moves to San Francisco, takes job at an English bank 
Returns to Los Angeles, works for Los Angeles Creamery 
Begins affair with Cissy Pascal 
July 10--Cissy Pascal files for divorce from husband 
Oct. 24--Cissy's divorce final 
Chandler takes bookkeeping job with Dabney oil syndicate, soon rises to position of vice-president
January--Florence Chandler (Raymond's mother) dies   
Feb. 6--Chandler marries Cissy Pascal  
The Chandlers move to 1024 South Highland Avenue  
Chandlers move from South Higland Avenue  
Chandler fired from Dabney Oil Syndicate for drinking and absenteeism
Chandler goes to Seattle without Cissy 
Cissy becomes ill, Chandler returns to L.A. 
Move to 4616 Greenwood Place 
December--"Blackmailers Don't Shoot" published in Black Mask 
July--"Smart-Aleck Kill" published in Black Mask 
October--"Finger Man" published in Black Mask
January--"Killer in the Rain" published in Black Mask 
June--"Nevada Gas" published in Black Mask 
October--Writes "Improvisation for Cissy" (poem) 
November--"Spanish Blood" published in Black Mask 
January--"Guns at Cyrano's" published in Black Mask 
Jan. 11--Chandler attends Black Mask dinner, meets Dashiell Hammett 
March--"The Man Who Liked Dogs" published in Black Mask 
30 May--"Noon Street Nemesis" published in Detective Fiction Weekly 
June--"Goldfish" published in Black Mask 
September--"The Curtain" published in Black Mask 
Earns $1,500 from five stories
January--"Try the Girl" published in Black Mask 
15 June--Date of first known Chandler letter (to editor of Fortnightly Intruder) 
November--"Mandarin's Jade" published in Dime Detective
January--"Red Wind" published in Dime Detective  
March--"The King in Yellow" published in Dime Detective  
Spring--Chandler begins writing The Big Sleep  
June--"Bay City Blues" published in Dime Detective 
Earns $1,275 for 3 Dime Detective stories
January--"The Lady in the Lake" published in Dime Detective 
Feb. 6--Publication of The Big Sleep by Alfred A. Knopf 
Mar. 13--Begins work on The Lady in the Lake 
Mar. 16--Chandler writes plan for future work (three detective novels then a non-mystery project) 
April--Puts aside The Lady in the Lake, begins Farewell, My Lovely 
May--The Chandlers rent a cabin near Big Bear Lake 
Works briefly on The Lady in the Lake 
June--Returns to Farewell, My Lovely 
Sept. 15--Finishes first draft of Farewell, My Lovely 
Sept. 29--Offers to volunteer for Candian Army; is rejected 
December--Moves to La Jolla, California, for the winter 
Leaves La Jolla, settles in Arcadia, California 
Apr. 30--Finishes revisions of Farewell, My Lovely 
Begins writing The High Window 
Summer--Moves to Big Bear Lake 
Oct. 1--Publication of Farewell, My Lovely by Knopf 
February--Moves to 857 Iliff St. in Pacific Palisades 
July--Sells film rights to Farewell, My Lovely to RKO for $2,000 
September--Finishes draft of The High Window 
Moves to 12216 Shetland Ln. in Brentwood Heights
Mar. 3--Sends off revisions of The High Window 
May--Sells The High Window to 20th Century Fox for $3,500 
Publication of Avon edition of The Big Sleep, Chandler's first appearance in paperback 
Summer--The Chandlers move to Idyllwild, California (near Palm Springs) 
Aug. 17--The High Window published by Knopf 
Chandlers Move to Cathedral City 
April--Chandler finishes The Lady in the Lake  
Mid-year--Chandler signs contract to collaborate with Billy Wilder on screen adaptation of James M. Cain's Double Indemnity  
Rents home at 6520 Drexel Avenue   
Chandler has affair with Paramount secretary
Nov. 1--The Lady in the Lake published by Knopf 
April--Double Indemnity released by Paramount
Warner Brothers buys screen rights to The Big Sleep 
September--Chandler's Paramount contract expires; he spends rest of year writing at home 
January--Chandler returns to work at Paramount 
Writes The Blue Dahlia 
July--Begins working on screenplay for The Lady in the Lake for MGM, abandons the project after 13 weeks 
November--"Writers in Hollywood" published in the Atlantic 
Chandler nominated for Academy award for The Blue Dahlia 
The Chandlers move from Los Angeles to La Jolla 
Buy house at 6005 Camino de la Costa 
Chandler Begins extensive correspondence with publishers, agents, and other professional friends 
November--Breaks with agent Sydney Sanders
spring--Signs contract with Universal to write Playback screenplay  
summer--NBC airs "Philip Marlowe" radio program as summer replacement for the Bob Hope show 
May--Signs with Brandt & Brandt literary agency   
June--"Oscar Night in Hollywood" published in The Atlantic   
September--Completes The Little Sister  
CBS buys rights to "The Adventures of Philip Marlowe" radio show 
June 24--Publication of The Little Sister by Hamish Hamilton (UK) 
July--Featured in Newsweek article 
Sept. 24--Publication of The Little Sister by Houghton Mifflin, Chandler's new U.S. publisher 
Ill with bronchitis, allegies, and shingles 
Cancels planned trip to England
Publication of The Simple Art of Murder 
Engages Juanita Messick as private secretary 
July--Begins work with Alfred Hitchcock on film version of Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train
February--J. B. Priestly visits Chandler in La Jolla 
Summer--S. J. Perelman visits 
Chandler works on new novel 
Autumn--Vacations in Santa Barbara, one of many trips to desert climates for health reasons
February--"Ten Percent of Your Life" (article on literary agents) published in the Atlantic 
May--Completes draft of The Long Good-Bye, sends it to Brandt & Brandt agency 
Brandt & Brandt returns manuscript, suggests revisions 
Aug. 20--The Chandlers sail for England 
October--Return to La Jolla 
November--Chandler terminates his account with Brandt & Brandt 
Cissy Chandler's health worsens 
Chandler works on revising The Long Good-Bye 
Nov. 27--The Long Good-Bye published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton
Cissy Chandler hospitalized repeatedly
Mar. 1--The Long Goodbye published in U.S. by Houghton Mifflin   
Dec. 12--Cissy Chandler dies  
Chandler begins drinking heavily
February--Attempts suicide, confined to county hospital then private sanitarium   
March--Sells house in La Jolla, visits friends in Chicago and New York 
April--Travels to England alone 
Becomes friends with London artists and literary figures, including Stephen and Natasha Spender, Ian Fleming, and Helga Greene (who later acts as his literary agent) 
September--Chandler's residential permit expires 
Returns to United States 
November--Flies back to London 
December--Travels to Madrid and Tangier 
Lives in London until May, when forced to return to the U.S. for tax reasons 
May--Hospitalized in New York City for alcoholism and exhaustion 
June--Returns to La Jolla, takes apartment at 6925 Neptune Place 
July--Hospitalized at Chula Vista clinic 
December--Travels to Palm Springs and Arizona
Works on novel version of Playback  
Becomes involved in tax dispute with British authorities, decides not to return to England as planned  
autumn--Helga Greene visits Chandler in La Jolla  
December--Chandler completes Playback 
February--Returns to London 
April--Travels to Capri and Naples, where he interviews Lucky Luciano for an article that is never published 
May--Becomes ill, recuperates in London nursing home 
July---Publication of Playback 
August--Returns to Las Jolla 
Resumes heavy drinking and is often hospitalized 
Involved in disputes over will arrangements, domestic and secretarial help 
February--Proposes marriage to Helga Greene 
March--Travels to New York to accept presidency of Mystery Writers of America 
Falls ill with pneumonia 
26 March--Dies in the Scripps Clinic, La Jolla, California
from http://www.geocities.com/athens/parthenon/3224/rcchrono.htm 


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