The Lady in the Lake, Chandler’s fourth Philip Marlowe novel, gets the private eye out of 1940s Los Angeles and into the California countryside. You would think the hard-boiled detective is just looking for a little TLC after all the murders and blackjacks to the skull, but that’s not his style. Just look at the title! Trouble seems to follow Marlowe like a hangover fart.
This is a different kind of Marlowe novel, in my opinion. The previous books featured a more sardonic, cosmopolitan, up-for-anything detective. The books were lighter on plot and denser with zingers. Lady has a plot that makes more sense (kind of rare in this subgenre) and a muted, weary protagonist. What happened to this guy?
While Marlowe doesn’t lay the zippy dialogue on the perps and dames as usual, the setting of the book did provide a fresh change of scenery. Moving the detective from the city into the country allows Chandler to play with some new kinds of characters, like Patton the country lawman. He reminded me a lot of Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson in the movie Fargo. Don’t underestimate Patton. The change in scenery also takes Marlowe out of his element. There’s a special kind of tension and dread in the country because people are few and far between, and small-town connections are inscrutable to an outsider. Chandler captures the contrast between the scenic beauty and that dark underbelly well. It’s kind of a paranoid book.
While I’d give this one 3.5/5 stars, I do want to say that I’d take a middling Chandler novel over just about anything in print.