Chandler Agonistes

“Officer Jake Stirling parked his patrol car near the sharp curve on Camino de la Costa, glanced at the house across the street and wondered if the man inside had killed himself yet.”

The Esmeralda Goodbye

So goes the sentence that kicks off my next novel, The Esmeralda Goodbye. It’s a historical mystery set in La Jolla, CA, in the 1950s. As the reader, and Officer Jake, will soon learn the man inside the house is none other than the celebrated crime fiction author Raymond Chandler. The chapter is based on a very real suicide attempt Chandler made in February 1955.

Article from the Daily Independent Journal February 24, 1955

Raymond Chandler and his wife Cissy moved from Los Angeles to La Jolla, CA in 1946. They purchased a house Chandler described as “beside the sounding sea” and “A far better home than any out-of-work pulp writer has any right to expect.”

Raymond and Cissy Chandler’s house in La Jolla
View across the street ‘beside the sounding sea”

One of the chief reasons for the Chandlers’ move from Los Angeles was Cissy’s declining health. Eight years after the move she succumbed to fibrosis. Chandler was deeply affected by her death and began drinking more heavily. Three months after her death he sat in his tub with a pistol and called the police. By the time officers arrived Chandler had fired two bullets into the ceiling. He was detained and then committed to the psychopathic ward of Scripps Memorial Hospital for several weeks.

I’d been toying with the idea of writing a historical novel using Chandler as a character. Reading about this incident gave me the idea for where to start my book. In his biography of Chandler, Frank McShane wrote, “A very tender rookie cop entered the house and with considerable trepidation opened the bathroom door.1

And so fictional police Officer Jake Stirling was born. I took a few artistic liberties with the chapter but it’s basically a true story.

Chandler fans and readers will recognize my title, The Esmeralda Goodbye, as an homage to Chandler’s last two novels, both of which were written in La Jolla. The Long Goodbye was published in 1953. Playback was published in 1958, shortly before Chandler’s death. Playback is set in the town of Esmeralda, Chandler’s fictional stand-in for La Jolla.

“In Esmeralda what was old was also clean and sometimes quaint. In other small towns what is old is just shabby.”

Playback by Raymond Chandler

“Esmeralda had one Main Street…but unlike most California towns it had no false fronts or cheesy billboards, no drive-in hamburger joints.”

Playback by Raymond Chandler

The title for The Esmeralda Goodbye came to me rather late in the process, but when it arrived, I knew it was perfect. In the next few months, I’ll be posting further information about the history, people and places that inspired the book (publication date March 1, 2024).

  1. Frank McShane. The Life of Raymond Chandler. 1976. Page 128 ↩︎