As It Happens

Raymond Chandler takes aim at U.S. health care system in newly-discovered story

Raymond Chandler is known for his hard-boiled noir mystery novels but in a recently unearthed story the late author takes on the American health care system.
Raymond Chandler is known for his hard-boiled noir mystery novels but in a newly discovered story the late author takes on the American health care system. (Associated Press)

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Raymond Chandler was a master crime writer — a pioneer of the genre who combined sleek prose with hard-boiled action. "When in doubt," he once said, "have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand." 

But in addition to his knack for penning gripping whodunits, a newly-discovered story shows Chandler's voice was just as sharp when it came to writing biting social commentary. 

The forgotten manuscript was recently found in the archives at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It's called It's All Right - He Only Died — a short story about the flawed U.S. healthcare system and a homeless man brought to a hospital emergency room in the 1950s.

Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine, found the manuscript and spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about why Chandler's story is still relevant today. Here is part of their conversation. 

Andrew, how did you find this Raymond Chandler manuscript?

I was searching for a Raymond Chandler work that was not published before. Over the years, I've grown accustomed to being very pessimistic because the chances of finding something like this are like striking oil. Just when I was close to giving up I found some handwriting, which read, "It's All Right." I contacted the head librarian and I said, "Hey, we've crossed everything off but there's this one final piece over here and I'd like you to send me whatever this is — "It's All Right." So he was rather pessimistic but he ended up sending me this manuscript titled It's All Right and the complete title is It's All Right - He Only Died.

Wow, so this was the "striking oil" in the library. People who know Raymond Chandler know him not only from his writing but from films that were made from his writing. He sort of made the mould with Philip Marlowe. Does this story follow that tradition?

The story is a mature Chandler. It's not the Chandler who first started out. It's a very punchy story. It's to the point. You're not going to get the old writing style of having a writer describe a sunset for three pages or how somebody's eyes look. The story is streamlined. It' s a quick read. It's about four or five pages.

The story is about a homeless man, or a man who appears to be homeless. He's in an emergency room with a very, very severe head injury and he finds himself in a hospital where the staff are not interested in treating someone who cannot afford to pay their bill. The backdrop of that is that the wealthy benefactor of the hospital is always lecturing the staff that they cannot run this organization on a charity basis. The hospital needs to make a profit. And that's another favourite theme of Raymond Chandler about how big money corrupts people, corrupts organizations. 
Andrew Gulli thinks judging by his newly-discovered story, Raymond Chandler would likely be distressed at the current state of the U.S. healthcare system. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

And so he writes this story about a man in hospital who can't get treatment, this is It's All Right - He Only Died, is that a clue as to how this story ends?

Hmm … I can't give you my secrets. But I will say that there is a great twist at the tail of the story. One of the reasons that I published this was, obviously I'm Raymond Chandler fanatic, but what really, really, really struck a chord with me was that this was Raymond Chandler the activist. If I published a Philip Marlowe story a lot of people would come up to me and say, "Hey Andrew, I think Raymond Chandler said all he needed to say with all his Philip Marlowe stories." But this was something different. This was Raymond Chandler with a very, very strong social message that's relevant today.

This is at the very end of his life. This is one of the last few things that he wrote that you've discovered. But what would have lead him to write about this particular subject? What was going on in hospitals?

Raymond Chandler was in and out of the hospital for the last few years of his life. At one point, he tried committing suicide after his wife had passed away. He found himself in a county hospital. Another time he fell off a flight of stairs in New York City and also found himself in the hospital. So, he probably wrote this story based on some of his experiences.

There is also a statement he made that you're publishing as well that goes along with the story, an author's note. Can you tell us what that is?

This was something that was very, very uncommon from Chandler. He wrote a rather scathing note about how there are many physicians who will look at a patient's bottom line before they would consider treating them. He also called upon physicians to realize that being a physician meant that you would treat people without being compensated at times — that was just part of it. Physicians that had lost that they could not count themselves as ethical physicians and that was lost upon the character in the story.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Andrew Gulli .


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