Chandler spends his early years in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, living with his mother and father near his cousins and his aunt and uncle. His father, an alcoholic civil engineer who works for the railway, abandons the family. To obtain the best possible education for Ray, his mother, originally from Ireland, moves them to the area of Upper Norwood in the London Borough of Croydon, England in 1900. In 1912, he borrows money from his Waterford uncle, who expects it to be repaid with interest, and returns to America, visiting his aunt and uncle before settling in San Francisco. The following year he moves to Los Angeles.
In 1932, at the age of forty-four, Chandler becomes a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Great Depression. His first short story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” is published in 1933 in Black Mask, a popular pulp magazine. His first novel, The Big Sleep, is published in 1939. In addition to his short stories, Chandler publishes seven novels during his lifetime. An eighth novel is in progress at the time of his death and is completed by Robert B. Parker. All but Playback have been made into motion pictures, some more than once.
Chandler has an immense stylistic influence on American popular literature. He is considered to be a founder of the hardboiled school of detective fiction, along with Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and other Black Mask writers. The protagonist of his novels, Philip Marlowe, like Hammett’s Sam Spade, is considered by some to be synonymous with “private detective.” Both are played in films by Humphrey Bogart, whom many consider to be the quintessential Marlowe.
Some of Chandler’s novels are important literary works, and three have been regarded as masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949), and The Long Goodbye (1953). The Long Goodbye is praised in an anthology of American crime stories as “arguably the first book since Hammett’s The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery.”
In the year before his death, he is elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. He dies on March 26, 1959, in La Jolla, California. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego, California.