Los Angeles was Raymond Chandler’s muse, mistress, and his making. For his famous anti-hero, private eye Philip Marlowe, it is a torturous, nasty place filled with “tough-looking palm trees” and crooked cops. “I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it,” he says in The Little Sister. “It smelled stale and old like a living-room that had been closed too long. But the colored light fooled you.”
Chandler saw Los Angeles through a dark glass, but he was undoubtedly seduced and enthralled with the City of Angels. From his first short story Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, published in 1933, LA is the centerpiece of Chandler’s—and his characters’—world. In it he writes:
“The lights of the city were an endlessly glittering sheet. Neon signs glowed and flashed. The languid ray of a searchlight prodded about among high faint clouds…. The car went past the oil well that stands in the middle of La Cienega Boulevard, then turned off onto a quiet street fringed with palm trees…”
As Tom Williams, author of the masterful Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler explains, Chandler was never quite settled in the city he defined, living in more than 30 Southern California locations from 1913 until his death in 1959. Perhaps he was always searching for the mythical LA that once was, before the darkness overtook the light.
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