Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1888, but moved to Britain in 1895 when his parents divorced. He entered Dulwich College in 1900, and was naturalised as a British citizen in 1907 in order to take the Civil Service exam. He passed the exam, and took a job at the Admiralty, where he worked for just over a year. His first poem was published during this time.
After leaving the Civil Service, Chandler worked as a jobbing journalist, and continued to write poetry in the late Romantic style.
Chandler returned to the US in 1912 and trained as a bookkeeper and accountant. In 1917, he enlisted in the Canadian Army and fought in France.
On his return to the US after the armistice, he moved to Los Angeles and commenced an affair with an older woman (Cissy Pascal) who he later married. By 1932, Chandler had attained a Vice-Presidency at Dabney Oil Syndicate, but lost this prestigious post as a result of his alcoholism.
Chandler worked as a Hollywood screenwriter following the success of his novels, working with Billy Wilder on James M. Cain's novel Double Indemnity (1944), and writing his only original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia (1946).
Cissy died in 1954 and Chandler, heartbroken and suffering from a painful nervous disease, turned once again to drink. His writing suffered in quality and quantity, and he attempted suicide in 1955. He died in 1959 of pneumonia.
Chandler's finely-wrought prose was widely admired by critics and writers from the high-brow (W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh) to the low-brow (Ian Fleming). Although his style was inspired largely by that of Dashiell Hammett, his use of lyrical similes in this context was quite original. Turns of phrase such as "The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips" (The Lady in the Lake, 1943) , have become characteristic of private-eye fiction, and he has given his name to the critical term Chandleresque. His style is also the subject of innumerable parodies and pastiches.
Chandler was also a perceptive critic of pulp fiction, and his essay "The Simple Art of Murder" is a standard academic reference.
Novels: The Big Sleep (1939), his first; Farewell, My Lovely (1940); The High Window (1942); The Lady in the Lake (1943); The Little Sister (1949); The Long Goodbye (1954); and Playback (1958). All concern the cases of a Los Angeles investigator named Philip Marlowe, "a nice clean private detective who wouldn't drop cigar ashes on the floor and never carried more than one gun," as Marlowe describes himself on the first page of The High Window. Farewell, My Lovely, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye are arguably his masterpieces.