I got up on my feet and went over to the bowl in the corner and threw cold water on my face. After a little while I felt a little better, but very little. I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.
How can you not like Raymond Chandler? He was a serious, literary writer who chose the detective story as his milieu and even wrote one of the greatest essays ever on the art of writing (“The Simple Art of Murder”). His prose was sparse and forceful like Hammett’s, but with a constant undercurrent of wry, self-deprecating humor. And his influence has been enormous.
I think the critical consensus has The Big Sleep as his best novel, but for my money Farewell, My Lovely surpasses it, with a more involved plot, much more insight into the character of the detective, Philip Marlowe, and more dry humor. Marlowe stumbles on a giant man, Moose Malloy, who storms a black nightclub that was previously whites-only, and is more or less dragged upstairs where he sees Malloy slug the bartender and hears him shoot the owner. Shortly afterward, Marlowe gets a cold call from a potential client who wants him to provide protection for a brief job that night, and despite his own suspicion, goes along … and that’s where the fun really starts.
Chandler weaves the two cases in and out of each other as Marlowe chases one while the other might be chasing him, and while there’s a natural suspicion that the two tracks are related, the answer to that isn’t clear until the very end of the story. I thought we got more insight into Marlowe’s character in this book, from the way he uses the weakness of Jesse Florian to get more information from her to the way he manipulates her nosy neighbor to his handling of the liberated young Anne Riordan. There’s a con-man psychic, marijuana cigarettes, a kidnapping, lots of booze, and the usual spot-on prose from the master of the genre.
Next review: Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.