Raymond Chandler began his literary career with a false start in England in his early twenties, publishing an assortment of journalistic sketches, essays, poems, and a single story; most of these pieces are collected in Chandler Before Marlowe: Raymond Chandler’s Early Prose and Poetry (1973), edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. His real career as a writer was launched more than twenty years later, when he began publishing short stories in crime magazines. Chandler published twenty-three stories during his lifetime, most of which appeared in pulp magazines such as Black Mask and Dime Detective Magazine. Although the stories rarely approach the literary merit of his novels, they are representative of a popular type of American writing. They also show a versatility within the mystery formula that Chandler would later develop in his novels.
Chandler forbade the reissue during his lifetime of eight of his stories, but three of these were published, apparently without the author’s consent. Chandler insisted that these stories be withheld because of a curious professional scruple. The materials had been incorporated in subsequent novels—in Chandler’s word, “cannibalized”—and he felt that their republication would be unfair to readers of the novels. Some of the best of Chandler’s stories are in this group and have, since his death, been published in the collection Killer in the Rain (1964).
Like William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chandler was invited to Hollywood to write film scripts. He collaborated on several important screenplays and, with Billy Wilder, was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1944 screen adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel Double Indemnity (1936). His original screenplay The Blue Dahlia also received an Oscar nomination, despite the fact that Chandler remained dissatisfied with that 1946 film. In 1948 he wrote, under contract with Universal Pictures, an original screenplay, Playback, that was not filmed; Chandler rewrote this work, with new characters, as a novel during his final years.