Noir fiction master Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago on July 23, 1888 and spent much of his childhood living in his divorced mother’s native England. He moved to Los Angeles in 1913 — and remained forever identified with the city, thanks to his short stories and novels where Los Angeles plays a central role.

Chandler was 51 years old when his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. He had spent many years as an executive in the oil business and, when he lost his job in the early 1930s (during the Depression, no less), decided to reinvent himself as a crime fiction writer.

After figuring out  the formula to the pulp detective stories, Chandler submitted his twist on the genre to the popular magazines of the day — most notably Black Mask, where his first published work appeared in 1933. Of this experience, he later wrote: “I spent five months on an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.”

During the 1940s, Chandler worked for a brief period as a Hollywood screenwriter — his most notable contribution as cowriter with Billy Wilder on the film noir masterwork Double Indemnity (1944), which earned the two men Academy Award nominations.

He spent his final years in La Jolla, California, just north of San Diego, and passed away in 1959.

BOTTOM LINE: Chandler turned something commonplace (pulp fiction) into something extraordinary — bringing style, originality, and unforgettable prose to crime sagas and turning them into high art.

Illustration by Scott Laumann, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (Used by permission). Visit Scott’s website here. I love Scott’s illustration because it sets Chandler in his free-ranging Southern California milieu, yet the formally attired writer remains detached, distanced — as if tilting his head to get a perspective on the bleached out, gritty place he called home for most of his life.