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The recent death of Robert Mitchum reminds us not only of his appearance in one of the best film noirs. Out of the Past, but of his impersonation of the detective Philip Marlowe in the remake of Farewell, My Lovely and The Big Sleep. Mitchum once claimed that, in his early days, he tended bar for Raymond Chandler himself.

At times, that must have been a big job. Tom Hiney has recounted in this, the newest biography of the man, how Raymond Chandler destroyed himself with alcohol. His literary peers (and juniors), such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner, knew something about that themselves. But self-destruction and obsessive abuse did not make Chandler famous, even if he is known for them now. It is not Tom Hiney's fault that Chandler's follies darken and dominate his pages—that really was Chandler's doing. Indeed, this biographer knows well that a successful writer is one who can put the best part of himself into words—and that Chandler memorably did.

Consider the ironic proof. As Hiney has noted, a volume entitled In Search of Literary Los Angeles (1991), disposing of Chandler in two paragraphs, dismisses him as "a misanthrope and a bigot," which seems a remarkable way to treat the author who virtually created literary Los Angeles. In a similar spirit, Joyce Carol Gates has remarked upon Chandler's racism and misogyny, which some may find as comforting...

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