It's curious to think how vulnerable and self-destructive were the three great writers who epitomized the tradition of indurated, tough masculinity: Hemingway, Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. They were all spooked by an inner fear and dread--or, as Chandler said, ""I have lived my life on the edge of nothing."" McShane's full-length biography is divided equally and with fidelity between the man and his works, which are analyzed at some length. Chandler never got around to writing until after many years of incidental jobs. Following his initial Black Mask stories, he was determined to prove that the underestimated detective story could be a real novel of people and places. Reared by two women, his mother and grandmother, he married a woman 53 to his 35 years, the ""fluffy"" Cissy who was the single supportive influence in his life until she began to die by ""half-inches."" Chandler was a diffident man, an intellectual if insular romantic, prejudiced and uneasy; the novels were all an extension of himself--hard come by. In spite of their overconstructed plots, they were marvelously suggestive in the ""shady poetry""--the description of English critic Dilys Powell--which Chandler found in the California world he knew so well fight up on through Hollywood, that ""golden graveyard for talent."" He drank off and on and had incidental girls; but in the last years after Cissy's death and his envoi, The Long Goodbye, he drank nonstop from England, where he was celebrated, back to the US where he died and was buried, virtually friendless. In McShane's authoritative biography, it's all sadly, increasingly, inescapably there--the constants of failure which the real writer faces: ""Jesus, we're the most useless people in the world. . . all lonely, all empty, all poor, all gritted with small, mean worries"" as well as that large creative commitment to be paid off.