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Raymond Chandler: A Mysterious Something in the Light: A Life Paperback – 1 Feb 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd (1 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178131215X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781312155
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 2.6 x 20.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 648,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Outstanding... Williams writes sensitively about the Cissy relationship, and delves illuminatingly into the composition of Chandler's masterpieces... But he also commands a broader sweep, detailing the real-life criminal conspiracies and financial scams that lay behind Chandler's depiction of 1920s oil-boom Los Angeles as a pit of corruption... thanks to this biography Chandler himself is a less mysterious something than he was'

(John Carey The Sunday Times)

‘Absorbing... Chandler was a man in need of a friend - and in his biographer he finds one... There's so much here that's interesting and poignant... The end of his story is sad beyond words'

(Sam Leith Spectator)

'A lovely biography written by an enthusiast for the fiction with sympathy for the life, without being misty-eyed’

(Sunday Herald)

'Smashing... Certainly, by the end, its subject was completely smashed'


'Chandler's life was tattered and unwieldy, filled with rage and frustration: his only consolation lay in filtering it all through his typewriter, so that it was transformed into his wry and magical prose... This new biography ... is a good starting point for those who can't resist a peek past the glittering stage-set of an author's work to the tawdry mess that so often lies beyond'

(Craig Brown Mail on Sunday - Book of the Week)

'Strongly researched and highly readable'

(Andrew Klavan Wall Street Journal)

'Despite the belligerence and arrogance detailed in this book, Williams writes with a cool, detached hand, allowing many previously unseen letters to speak for themselves... a lucid and taut examination of the first "hard boiled" writer to turn populist pulp writing into a more erudite art form'

(Sunday Express)

'Tom William is the third and best biographer of Chandler... his packed, insightful, entertaining biography will, I feel, be the last on Chandler ... a difficult and lonely man who led a dissatisfied and disappointed life'

(Marcel Berlins The Times)


(Ron Capshaw American Book Review)

'Williams' book paints an intriguing portrait of a man in fragments'

(Xan Brooks Guardian)

'The most comprehensive biography of Chandler written to date'

(Western Morning News)

'Precise, kindly and necessary'

(Scotland on Sunday)

'A thorough exploration of the writer who defined modern crime fiction'

(The List)

'A thoroughly enjoyable read which blends Chandler's life with history, keeping it lively and entertaining'


'Succeeds in making a serious case for Chandler as an important, or at least an aspirant, modern... Williams is absolutely on the money'

(Brian Morton The Herald)

'We are used nowadays to fictional detectives who can rarely win, because the crimes they investigate are only a small part of an evil system they can't completely fathom. This is Marlow's recurring plight. He was a pioneer sufferer from the paranoia about power and corruption that we all now live with. Thanks to this biography we know much more than we did before about the talented but unhappy man who created him'

(John Hinton Catholic Herald)

'Tom Williams creates a portrait of an author as mysterious and troubled as any fictional character, and provides a fascinating new insight into a rare and exacting genius, in this impressive piece of literary detective work'

(Good Book Guide)

'Williams's biography reminds us that as a man Chandler was a psychological mess, but as a writer he remains an enchanter'

(Michael Dirda Times Literary Supplement)

'Tom William's biography helps us to understand a complicated and dislikeable man'

(The Oldie)

'The most comprehensive biography of Chandler written to date'

(Western Morning News)

'Williams does not flinch from describing his subject's faults but he lets his enthusiasm for the books shine through ... he knows the value of letting Chandler speak for himself'

(Jake Kerridge Daily Telegraph)

'This biography is the best all-round portrayal of the troubled California writer'

(The Rap Sheet)

About the Author

TOM WILLIAMS was born in Newcastle in 1981 and was educated at University College London. He now lives in Kentish Town and works in publishing. A Mysterious Something in the Light is his first book. 

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Raymond Chandler is most famous for his "hard-boiled" crime novels set in Los Angeles in the mid-20th Century. Whether he was comfortable with this legacy is a frequent topic covered in Tom Williams' new biography.
Williams paints a vivid and human portrait of an incredibly skilled artist who comes across at times as a painfully flawed individual. Linking Chandler's life and works to his familial upbringing, Williams shows how witnessing domestic violence led Chandler down the path to creating the detective Philip Marlowe, a knight-like figure in a corrupt world. He makes a bold claim, which he backs up with convincing evidence, that Chandler's writings were directly influenced by his alcoholic father.
It is clear that Williams is a fan of Chandler and the analysis of Chandler's use of language is a joy to read. He may share Chandler's regret that he was restricted to crime fiction writing, but it is obvious that Williams regards Chandler's output as much more than mere crime fiction and places it amongst the best literature of the 20th Century. Williams is succesful in showing why this should be the case, and his enthusiasm aids this approach.
However, Williams always remains objective in his description of Chandler as a man and never shys from pointing out Chandler's at times rude behaviour, nor the destructive alcoholism that affected Raymond Chandler's own life and marriage.
The writing is sharp and to the point and, by quoting from Chandler's own letters, Williams brings to life this complex and intriguing man.
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Format: Paperback
Potential buyers of this book should be aware they have a choice when it comes to biographies of Raymond Chandler, and it is my view that they would be well-advised to steer clear of this third telling of the life of the creator of Philip Marlowe.

The first biography of Chandler was published in 1976 by the Columbia University academic Frank MacShane, and a second by Tom Hiney came out in 1997. MacShane's book is a highly commendable combination of biography and intelligent, readable, and sensible criticism. Hiney offers a slightly different perspective, makes some additions and corrections, and fills in some gaps -- notably the rather sad episode of Jean Fracasse at the end of Chandler's life. On balance, MacShane's book is better on Chandler's writing, Hiney's slightly better on his life, but both are excellent accounts of the man and his work. MacShane also edited the Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, which -- besides being one of the main sources for all three biographies -- give a good deal of insight into Chandler's life, character, and thought. Chandler's letters are also, like pretty much everything else he wrote, great fun to read. Only after those three have been read, in my view, should the reader even consider this latest biography.

Williams does deserve credit for, appropriately enough, some old-fashioned detective work. Where the previous two efforts were sketchy on the first half of Chandler's life, from his birth in Chicago in 1888 until the publication of his first novel, The Big Sleep, in 1939, Williams has gone back to records and letters and put together a very creditable -- if sometimes overly-speculative -- account of Chandler's life up to his debut as a novelist.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tom Williams has written an engaging well constructed biography of one of the leading lights of the genre of “American hardboiled crime fiction.” This book is equally as interesting as any novels or short stories by Raymond Chandler, Tom Williams’s subject matter for biography. The book is well written keenly illustrating how the art of Raymond Chandler was shaped, in his diverse life as an author, and how the myriad of experiences forged his character Marlowe – which of course is an amalgam of the life lived by Raymond Chandler both in Great Britain (of the early twentieth century) and The United States of America in particular California which is another presence in the novels of Raymond Chandler. Tom Williams is able to illustrate how as a Hollywood Screen Writer he was in fact strangled by the studio system which tried to make him just a common day labourer instead of an artist creating original thoughts.Tom Williams also shows in his biography Chandler’s struggle with the demon of drinking. This book cleverly illustrates how a brilliant writer struggles to evolve and give birth to his art. If like me you are interested in classic “American hardboiled crime fiction,” then this is the book for you. It shows cogently how Raymond Chandler became such a superb writer, and the influences upon his life which ultimately shaped his art. Buy this book and learn more about your favourite crime fiction writer. I thoroughly recommend this book as showing the struggles to achieve art which transcends human reality.
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Format: Hardcover
This biography covers ground already ploughed by others. The first goal of the book must be to make the case for another biography. This Williams achieves with ease and with much to spare. Chandler of course is a facinating figure and a writer of real importance. Existing known material is presented with a fresh eye, keen insight and balanced evaluation. And there has been additional rigorous research, which learning the author wears very lightly. The book is beautifully written and presented. It is a compelling read and as such is worthy of its distinguished subject. This must surely become the definitive Raymond Chandler biography for many years to come. My only cavil was in the illustrations. A number of the pictures are very familiar from earlier works. There are few new finds here and very few photgraphs altogether. Surely there must be more material on Chandler and his circle? However this is a very small reservation. The book is a triumph. It will delight Chandler fans and inspire others to become better acquainted with the classic detective stories and crisp screenplays of this influential writer.
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