Raymond Chandler is best known for his hard-boiled detective novels, but a newly discovered story by the iconic author contains no steely private eye, no tantalizing mystery. As Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, Chandler uses it to take a scathing jab at the United States' healthcare system.
Andrew Gulli, managing editor of the Strand magazine, found the story amidst the Chandler archives at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Wryly titled It’s All Right – He Only Died, the story opens with a “filthy figure on a stretcher” arriving at a hospital. He has been hit by a truck, but the doctor on duty assumes that the patient won’t be able to pay for his treatment and is reluctant to help him.
“In the medical profession there are many like him — and thousands quite unlike him,” Chandler wrote in a note attached to the story, according to Hillel Italie of the Associated Press. “The practice of medicine at times demands too much of a man. But he knew long ago that it would, that it would inevitably have to on occasion. In essence, therefore, he accepted a trust, and betrayed it. Why should a doctor in such circumstances be better than other men? The answer is simply, that if he isn’t, he is not a doctor.”
The Strand’s feature will include the note, and a short essay by Chandler expert Sarah Trott. The publication is also asking for readers’ help deciphering several illegible comments that the author scrawled on the manuscript.
Gulli tells the Guardian that It’s All Right – He Only Died was likely penned between 1956 and 1958, not long before Chandler’s death in 1959. “He’d been in and out of hospital, he’d tried committing suicide once, and he’d had a fall down the stairs,” says Gulli. “The story mirrors some of his experiences of that time.” As Italie notes, Chandler had lived for some time in England, and likely found the country’s healthcare system “more humane” than the American one.
In her essay, Trott contends that the newly discovered story stands apart from the rest of Chandler’s oeuvre. Although the author’s most famous protagonist, the detective Phillip Marlowe, is defined by his gruff cynicism, the new story is particularly acerbic, its tone “bordering on sinister,” Trott writes.
But It’s All Right – He Only Died does reflect some of Chandler’s signature preoccupations—his disdain for capitalism being chief among them. And as Gulli tells the Guardian, the story comes with a very Chandler-esque “twist at the end.”