Books: The Private Eye as Man off Letters

SELECTED LETTERS OF RAYMOND CHANDLER Edited by Frank MacShane Columbia University; 501 pages; $19.95

It is almost always a mistake for readers to confuse the first person singular with the novelist. Almost. Conan Doyle was not John H. Watson, M.D. Samuel Clemens was not Huckleberry Finn. And Raymond Chandler was not Philip Marlowe. But, as his letters reveal, no author ever verged closer to his creation.

In The Life of Raymond Chandler (1976), Frank MacShane, a Columbia University professor, revealed his subject as a reconciliation of opposites. Chandler's fictive cast talked out of the sides of their mouths; the author was raised in...

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