Last year I read all of Raymond Chandler’s short stories, which was something of a task because he published about 25 or so 50+ page stories. What I learned from those is that some or many of them became the seeds and set pieces of the coming novels. I had previously read The Big Sleep in college and so from there, I am moving onto some of the novels.
Farewell My Lovely – 1940
This is the second of the novels, all of which I think involve Philip Marlowe. In this one, we meet Marlowe as he stumbles upon a man bent on finding a missing and maybe dead wife. Hired to both investigate this mystery as well as work in a kind of capacity as a bodyguard, we see Marlowe uncovering a gambling ring around Los Angeles.
Like a lot of novels (and films) that take place in or around the 1940s, I am often confronted by the multitude of different versions of the time period and the place. Sometimes Los Angeles feels like a complete hole of a city, sometimes it feels like a backwater burg, and sometimes it feels like a big city. In this novel it feels like a sprawling mess.
The story itself has some interesting parallels with The Big Lebowski, which is normally considered to be a kind of modern Western ala The Searchers or so, but this novel reminded me the ways in which it’s also a noir of a kind. This novel was a little fraught with ridiculous plotting and probably too many characters that didn’t expressly stand out from each other, but the writing in this one was great. His ability to point too fine a point on things in an over the top but compelling way stands out here.
The Lady in the Lake
I found this next novel to be a more clearly written and purposely structure novel, and liked it better than Farewell, My Lovely as a consequence. It takes us out of Los Angeles (for large portions of the novel) to relatively nearby but underdeveloped lake town that is being developed for real estate (and probably is now for certain). Marlowe has been asked to find the missing wife of businessman. He’s not particularly worried about her safety or worried for her well-being in part because she sort of does this — disappear from time to time, and because they’re on the outs. But he wants to find her to settle the matter. She’s sent a telegram saying that she’s gone to get a Mexican divorce to marry her boyfriend. Marlowe soon finds out that this boyfriend is a noted Lothario character and that this disappearance is much more complicated. Notably complicating matters is that when Marlowe shows up in the lake town and is talking to the caretaker of the property, the body of a woman washes up, and the mystery begins to unfold.
The tighter focus of this novel is well-appreciated, and there’s some great scenes of Marlowe constantly being the one to find a body, while local, bumbling police do not know how to take this fact or Marlowe himself.
Also the title is beautifully sardonic.