Created by Raymond Chandler
“If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive.
If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.”
“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”
— the opening to The Big Sleep
What more can I say about PHILIP MARLOWE?
Daly’s Three Gun Terryk may have been the first, Race Williams may have introduced the P.I. to the world and Hammett’s The Continental Op and Sam Spade may have staked out the ambiguous moral code that would fuel the genre for years, but it was Raymond Chandler’s creation that would define for all time who, what, where and why a private eye is.
Traces of Marlowe run from Paul Pine to Jim Rockford to Ms. Tree to Lew Archer to Spenser. It’s all here: the loneliness and infinite sadness to the quick, sarcastic cynical jibes and wisecracks that mask a battered and bruised romantic, the love/hate relationship with the cops, the corruption that exists in all levels of society. Even the office bottle, and the dingy office. It’s all here. Philip Marlowe, for better or worse, is the archetypical private eye. By the time he wrote his famous essay, “The Simple Art of Murder” in 1944, and certainly by the time he wrote Playback (1958), even Chandler realized it.
Philip Marlowe was born in Santa Rosa, California, in “that time out of time that allowed him to be 33 in 1933, 42 in 1953, and 43 1/2 in 1958”, according to Bill Henkin. He runs a single-man operation out of the Cahuenga Building in Los Angeles. Tall, and big enough to take care of himself, he likes liquor, women, reading, chess and working alone, and is educated enough that he boasts he can speak English “if he’s required to.” He used to work for the district attorney, but was fired for insubordination, thus starting another trope that still hasn’t run out of steam. How many ex-cops are there out there that seem to have become private eyes?
Chandler first worked out the character of Marlowe in several short stories in Black Mask, featuring a variety of private eyes under different names. Among these pre-heroes were John Dalmas, Carmady, Ted Carmady and Mallory.
Marlowe has been adapted for film, television, radio, comics and various forms of audio by all kinds of writers, sometimes quite successfully, particularly in film and radio, and sometimes rather disappointingly (television).
As the centennial of his birth approached, there was renewed interest in Chandler and a demand for new product, so Marlowe started to appear in new novels and short stories written by other writers, also with mixed results. In 1987, Uruguayan writer, playwright Hiber Conteris wrote an original Marlowe novel, Ten Percent of Life, where Marlowe returns to hunt the killer of Chandler’s literary agent. Unique, to say the least. The following year, Knopf published Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe-A Centennial Celebration, a collection of Marlowe short stories by most of the top names in detective fiction at the time. Stories ranged from merely good to astounding, as various contemporary writers brought their own strengths to bear on ol’ Phil.
The glaring, inexplicable exemption from the list of author’s was Robert B. Parker, then the most successful by far of private detective fiction writers, whose Spenser was at times so closely modelled on Marlowe as to be a parody. The reason was soon forthcoming, however—Parker had been at work completing Chandler’s abandoned Marlowe novel, Poodle Springs, wherein Marlowe and Linda get married (Chandler had often mentioned how difficult he had found it to write about Marlowe in a relationship). Given Spenser’s relationship with Susan, the choice of Parker seemed not only right, but natural. The response to the book was decidedly mixed, however. Purists and other writer’s in the genre screamed. Parker’s own success with Spenser (including a truly mediocre, pretentious television show), and his perceived smugness probably contributed to the negative reaction. There was a lot of talk about audacity, and “how dare he?” But the truth is that many of these same fedora fetishists would have screamed just as loudly had Chandler himself completed it.
Still, someone besides me must have liked it. It was soon announced that Parker would write a second Marlowe novel, an all-original one that acted as a sequel to The Big Sleep. When Perchance to Dream appearred in 1991, the grunts of protest rose to howls of anguish from certain quarters. It’s interesting to note all of this was directed at Parker and none at two dozen or so other writers in A Centennial Celebration from 1988, who had attempted exactly the same thing Parker had, albeit in short story form.
And then radio silence. Or at least until 2014, when the Chandler estate unleashed The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black upon us. Black tried to channel Chandler, but the book mooed like a cash cow. Far better and far more imaginative was Only to Sleep (2018) by Lawrence Osborne, who actually turned in arguably the best non-Chandler Marlowe ever, positing him as a cranky but entirely credible ex-pat living in Mexico, retired but still not ready to go into that good night. Unfortunately, it was followed by the dreadful The Goodbye Coast (2022) by Joe Ide, who reimagined a Marlowe for the 21st century and a generation that’s apparently never heard of Chandler or Marlowe—and doesn’t care. I’m not sure who the protagonist is in this one is, but it sure ain’t Marlowe. The most recent assault on the citadel (notice the space between books is getting shorter and shorter?) is The Second Murderer (2023) by Denise Mina, who surprised and impressed with both her research and her soul-deep take on Marlowe, which felt positively—dare I say it?–Chandleresque.
- “I see (Marlowe) always in a lonely street, in lonely rooms, puzzled but never quite defeated.”
— from a letter from Chandler to Maurice Guinness, dated February 21, 1959
- “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.”
― Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely
- “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. I don’t like ’em myself. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings.”
— Marlowe in The Big Sleep
- “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts ”
— Marlowe in The Big Sleep
- “I’m a romantic, Bernie. I hear voices crying in the night and I go to see what’s the matter. You don’t make a dime that way. . . No percentage in it at all.”
— Marlowe gives the game away, to a cop buddy
- “Leave us to do the thinking sweetheart. It takes equipment.”
— Marlowe in The Little Sister
- “To say goodbye is to die a little.”
— Marlowe in The Long Goodbye
- “When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn’t have one. I didn’t care. I finished the drink and went to bed.”
— The Long Goodbye
- “The Treloar Building was, and is, on Olive Street, near Sixth, on the west side. The sidewalk in front of it had been built of black and white rubber blocks. They were taking them up now to give to the government, and a hatless pale man with a face like a building superintendent was watching the work and looking as if it was breaking his heart.”
— The Lady in the Lake
- “[Chandler] wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered.”
—The New Yorker
- “Chandler seems to have created the culminating American hero: wised up, hopeful, thoughtful, adventurous, sentimental, cynical and rebellious.”
—Robert B. Parker in The New York Times Book Review
- “Few pleasures in life are as seductive as reading Chandler. When I open one of his books for a quick fact-check, I might not surface until ten chapters later… When the great Bruce Taylor ran San Francisco Mystery Books, he always kept a stack of The Long Goodbye next to a sign, ‘This is the best book in the store.’ Maybe not, but damn close.”
— Vince Emery, The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time (2012)
- The Big Sleep (1939) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Farewell, My Lovely (1940) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The High Window (1942) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Lady in the Lake (1943) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Little Sister (1949) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Long Goodbye (1953) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Playback (1958) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
MARLOWE BY OTHER AUTHORS
- Triste, Solitario y Final (1973, by Osvaldo Soriano) | Buy this book
A surreal, post-modernist pop culture melange that has the author hooking up with Marlowe, who’s been hired by comedian Stan Laurel to find out why his career has stalled. John Wayne, Charlie Caplin amd Richard Nixon also pop up. “A real beauty,” according to Oscar Grillo.
- Ten Percent of Life (1987, by Hiber Conteris) | Buy this book
Marlowe is hired by a Los Angeles Times reporter to help him investigate the suspicious deat of a Holly wood agent. The book is partially narrated by Marlowe; Chandler himself shows up, and Marlowe and he offer plenty of thoughts on politics, screenwriting, detective fiction and Dashiell Hammett. Contreris was a Uruguayan writer who was imprisoned for his political beliefs in the 1970s, when the seeds for this novel were planted.
- Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration (1988, edited by Byron Preiss) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Unwieldy title aside, this kicked off a terrific one-two punch to mark what would have been Chandler’s 100th birthday. Anyone doubting Chandler’s on-going influence–or the reverence and esteem in which he’s still held has only to check out this classy package, featuring some of the most popular and accomplished of his disciples paying heart-felt tribute to the master. For most of them, it was a true labour of love–Dick Lochte’s “Sad-Eyed Blonde,” was a sequel to “Goldfish,” which he’s long considered Chandler’s best Marlowe short story, and Jonathan Valin, Sara Paretsky, Loren D. Estleman, Robert Campbell, Benjamin M. Schultz, Max Allan Collins, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Robert Crais and all the rest (see below) chip in with stories that do Chandler, Marlowe and themselves justice. And to cap it all off, “The Pencil,” the last Marlowe story Chandler ever wrote, is included as well. Heartily recommended.
- Poodle Springs (1959/1989; completed by Robert B. Parker) | Buy this book
The original incomplete draft, which was finally published in Raymond Chandler Speaking (1984), and completed by Parker in 1989. As thankless a literary task as could be conceived, but Parker conjured up a fair and logical conclusion. As J. Kingston Pierce put it, “We’ll never know whether Chandler could have built any better on his opening.”
- Perchance to Dream (1991, by Robert B. Parker) | Buy this book | Buy the audio
The not-so-eagerly-awaited sequel to Chandler’s The Big Sleep, this was a major misstep for Parker, amplified by the decision to quote large pieces of text from the original. Parker’s prose could only suffer by comparison.
- The Black-Eyed Blonde (2014; by Benjamin Black) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
Booker Prize-winning novelist used his crimewriting alter ego to dig up Marlowe and play with the bones. Whereas Parker, Estleman, Collins, Paretsky, Crais, Kaminsky, Healy, Randisi, Schutz and a slew of others did this way back in 1988-89 as a sort of tribute to mark what would have been Chandler’s 100th birthday, this one smells mostly of ka-ching. As Sarah Weinman wrote in The Nation, “…it’s hard to tell whether this is ersatz Chandler or ersatz Black… (it) exists mainly as a marketing tool for the two business entities jointly listed as holding the book’s copyright: John Banville Inc. and Raymond Chandler Ltd.”
- Only to Sleep (2018; by Lawrence Osborne) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Raymond Chandler, Ltd. struck again, perhaps with an eye to the copyright expiry date, but the big question was: “Who the fuck is Lawrence Osborne?” It turned out he was a very good writer most of us had never heard of who actually turned in arguably the best non-Chandler Marlowe ever, positing him as a cranky but entirely credible old man living in Mexico, still not ready to go into that good night.
- The Goodbye Coast (2022; by Joe Ide) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
Bestseller Ide, creator of brilliant and streetwise young LA gumshoe Isaiah “I.Q.” Quintabe, puts on his grown-up shoes, and reboots Marlowe for the 22nd century and a generation that’s apparently never heard of him. A decent read, but Marlowe is almost unrecognizable in this dumpster fire of re-imagining.
- The Second Murderer (2023, by Denise Mina) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
Most of Chandler’s short stories featured earlier prototypes for Marlowe, who went by such monickers as Mallory, Ted Carmady, or John Dalmas , when they had any name at all. When they were later collected in volumes and reprinted, the names were mostly changed to Marlowe, however. So, here’s what are generally available as Marlowe short stories these days, although only the last, “Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate” (aka “Wrong Pidgeon” or “The Pencil”), was actually written as a Marlowe story..
- “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (December 1933, Black Mask; Mallory)
- “Smart-Aleck Kill” (July 1934, Black Mask; Mallory)
- “Finger Man” (October 1934, Black Mask; Carmady)
- “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935, Black Mask; Carmady)
- “Nevada Gas” (June 1935, Black Mask)
- “Spanish Blood” (November 1935, Black Mask)
- “Guns at Cyrano’s” (January 1936, Black Mask; Ted Malvern)
- “The Man Who Liked Dogs” (March 1936, Black Mask; Carmady)
- “Noon Street Nemesis” (May 30, 1936, Detective Fiction Weekly; aka “Pick-up on Noon Stree”)
- “Goldfish” (June 1936, Black Mask)
- “The Curtain” (September 1936, Black Mask; Carmady)
- “Try the Girl” (January 1937, Black Mask; Carmady)
- “Mandarin’s Jade” (November 1937, Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
- “Red Wind” (January 1938, Dime Detective: John Dalmas)
- “The King in Yellow” (March 1938, Dime Detective)
- “Bay City Blues” (June 1938; Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
- “The Lady in the Lake” (January 1939, Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
- “Pearls Are a Nuisance” (April 1939, Dime Detective)
- “Trouble Is My Business” (August 1939, Dime Detective; John Dalmas)
- “I’ll Be Waiting” (October 14, 1939, Saturday Evening Post
- “No Crime in the Mountains” (September 1941, Detective Story, John Evans)
- “Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate” (April 6-10, 1959, London Daily Mail; as “Philip Marlowe’s Last Case” in January 1962, EQMM; as “The Pencil” in September 1965, Argosy; as “Wrong Pidgeon” in February 1969, Manhunt)
- BY OTHER AUTHORS
Included in the Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration (1988, edited by Byron Preiss)
- “The Perfect Crime” (by Max Allan Collins)
- “The Black-Eyed Blonde” (by Benjamin M. Schutz)
- “Gun Music” (by Loren D. Estleman)
- “Saving Grace” (by Joyce Harrington)
- “Malibu Tag Team” (by Jonathan Valin)
- “Sad-Eyed Blonde” (by Dick Lochte)
- “The Empty Sleeve” (by W.R. Philbrick)
- “Dealer’s Choice” (by Sara Paretsky)
- “Red Rock” (by Julie Smith)
- “The Deepest South” (by Paco Ignacio Taibo II)
- “Consultation In The Dark” (by Francis M. Nevins)
- “In the Jungle of Cities” (by Roger L. Simon)
- “Star Bright” (by John Lutz)
- “Stardust Kill” (by Simon Brett)
- “Locker 246” (by Robert J. Randisi)
- “Bitter Lemons” (by Stuart Kaminsky)
- “The Man Who Knew Dick Bong” (by Robert Crais)
- “Essence D’Orient” (by Edward D. Hoch)
- “In the Line of Duty” (by Jeremiah Healy)
- “The Alibi” (by Ed Gorman)
- “The Devil’s Playground” (by James Grady)
- “Asia” by Eric Lustbader)
- “Mice” (by Robert Campbell)
- Included in the 1999 second edition
- “Sixty-Four Squares” (by J. Madison Davis)
- “Summer in Idle Valley” (by Roger L. Simon)
COLLECTIONS & OMNIBUS EDITIONS
- The Simple Art of Murder (1950) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Killer in the Rain (1964)
- Trouble is My Business (1972) | Buy this book
- Pickup on Noon Street (1972)
- Collected Stories (2002) | Buy this book
1344 pages – all of his known short fiction at the time
- The Big Sleep/Farewell, My Lovely/The High Window | Buy this book
Everyman’s Library omnibus edition with introduction by Diane Johnson.
- The Lady in the Lake/The Little Sister/The Long Goodbye/Playback | Buy this book
Everyman’s Library omnibus edition with introduction by Tom Hiney.
- MARLOWE ON FILM
- MARLOWE ON TELEVISION
- MARLOWE IN GRAPHIC NOVELS and OTHER MEDIA
- MARLOWE ON THE WEB
- MARLOWE ON THE STAGE
- Denise Mina Takes On Philip Marlowe And Chandler’s Los Angeles
An interview with the author of The Second Murder. (August 2023, CrimeReads)
- Atmospheric Pressure: The Big Sleep At Eighty
Shamus Dust author Janet Roger talks about how Chandler reinvented crime fiction with a novel that valued atmosphere—and style—above all else. (November 2019, CrimeReads)
- The Many Faces of Philip Marlowe (July 2016, Crimereads)
Our pal J. Kingston Pierce takes a peek at all the Philip Marlowe books and stories Chandler didn’t write.
- “Looking for the Connections”
Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” remembered by Thomas Pluck.
- Shamus: A Tribute to Philip Marlowe
A great-looking site, unfortunately overloaded with graphics, scripts, and sound files. Almost worth visiting, if you’ve got a lot of patience. Check out “Who is Philip Marlowe?” by Bill Henkin.
- Raymond Chandler’s Hamlet by Jonathan Vos Post.
More a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. And winner, apparently, of an Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
- Raymond Chandler (1988-1959)
Gary Nordell’s Chandler page has a brief bio and a list of books, audiobooks, films and posters for sale.
- Raymond Chandler Was an Asshole
Stephen Blackmoore’s tribute to the master.
- Al Kaff’s Raymond Chandler Collection
A fascinating romp (with photos) through one man’s Chandler obsession, featuring first American and first British editions, vintage paperbacks, foreign editions, magazine appearances, various reprints, limited editions, movie related items, reference works, bibliographies, student editions and some ephemera. Sadly, Al will not tell me when he plans to be out of town for a few days, or where he hides his spare key.
- Raymond Chandler’s Hamlet by Jonathan Van Post
A short, short story; more a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. Winner of Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
- 45 Calibrations of Raymond Chandler by Peter Straub
A tribute to Chandler from the celebrated horror/fantasy writer, of all people. Excellent!
- Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)
- The Raymond Chandler Online Library (Byron Preiss Multimedia)
- Lighten Up, Ray! Quotations from Chairman Chandler
- Raymond Chandler’s Ten Commandments For the Detective Novel
- I Hear Voices: Chandlerisms