Recently, it seems that nearly every review I read about Raymond Chandler contains a crypto-apologia for Chandler's continuing appeal. What is the reason, they don't exactly ask: it couldn't be the plots, not even the prose, as unique as it is; he was a hack, is the implication, he's a mystery they can't stop talking about.
But all true art is mystery, won't let you put your finger on it, take its pulse, declare it dead, send it to the morgue. The critics would love to do that with Chandler, escape the low-life, hard-boiled paradox and return to the hard-wired academic safety of Faulkner, James, Melville, Hawthorne et al., the 'legitimate' American canon (wherever he is, Chandler chortles up his sleeve).
I have read many times practically every story Chandler ever wrote; for decades I have been Marlowe's silent sidekick as we traveled those dim noir corridors, those scented forests, those starlit lakesides and sunburned streets, those twisting mountain roads and empty cabins among the evergreens, and I still want to go there again.
Chandler's books are spells that spin gold from the mundane and pour it into your lap: the lobby of the perfume corporation, the foyer of the magnate's mansion, the stairway to the gin joint above the street, the kitchen of the empty cabin out by the lake, before the screen door on the booze-loving woman's front porch, the long stairway from the beach to the house of the seeker of the jade necklace, the darkness of night roads, the carpeted stairs leading down to silence in the deathly empty house up in the hills, the boat from the pier to the floating casino-- each of these image-moments is etched into the reader's mind because he has been there, back then, times past, with Marlowe.
This is the magic of Chandler, plain and unprecedented, with quirks in his words and tricks in his moods that can't and won’t be found in any other American writer: not Hammet, not MacDonald, not Spillane, not Leonard, not Ellroy, not even Burke. The only other writer who can claim anything like this mystery-magic is Conan Doyle, for whom the mystery is the key, with the special ambience of Victorian London.