Farewell, My Lovely
Farewell, My Lovely is supposed to have been Raymond Chandler’s own favorite novel, and although it didn’t quite manage to elbow The Big Sleep out of the top spot of my personal affections for Chandler’s writing, it came darned close, and It Is also, along with the Christopher Lee / Robert Louis Stevenson “co-production” (of sorts) on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, easily the stand-out experience of this particular batch of bingo books. It certainly helped to have it read to me by Elliott Gould, whose dark, slightly husky voice and laconic intonation is a perfect match for Chandler’s language — and for Marlowe’s character –, but even narration aside, this book has everything you can possibly ask for in a Raymond Chandler novel: razor sharp language and observation, perfect pitch, a 1940s Los Angeles leaping off the pages in every conceivable shade of gray, dodgy characters (both male and female) aplenty, and a Philip Marlowe in deep trouble after successive run-ins with representatives of both sides of the law (with both sides of the law sometimes being represented by the very same persons, of course).
Structurally, the book follows a similar pattern as The Big Sleep and virtually every other Marlowe novel: After having made an acquaintance with every potential to land him in the deepest of muck — and not before the first specks of said muck have indeed begun to materialize — Marlowe is hired by a(nother) client, as a result of which his attention is temporarily deflected from the muck already accumulating elsewhere, until it dawns on him that the two piles of manure are actually — or at least very likely — products of the same stable. He digs deeper (or is dragged deeper in), whereupon the manure acquires Augean proportions. Further complications ensue, until at the end Marlowe emerges from it all: yet a bit more cynical and disillusioned by his recent experience, minus a client or two, and feeling that, once again, in a city where not even the police can be trusted to do their job, he has done their job for them very much at his own cost.
In this instance, the trouble begins with a variation of the “two men enter a bar” joke, except when a private dick (Marlowe) and a black six-foot heavyweight boxer-material ex-con appropriately named Moose Malloy enter this particular bar, the punch line is, in quick succession, a dead body in a back room, Marlowe’s first of several run-ins with the cops, and a phone call from an equally rich and shady character seeking to hire him, at the very last minute, as a bodyguard for a nightly rare-jade-necklace-for-a-suitcase-of-ransom-money-exchange in the hills above the city.
Plot serpentines the size of Mulholland Drive aside, however, the true feast in any Raymond Chandler novel is the language and imagery. Oh, it’s cynical beyond belief (this is a noir novel, remember), and female sensibilities in particular aren’t catered for; much less so than even in the writings of Chandler’s contemporary Dashiell Hammett. But there’s a rapid-fire gut-punch quality to it that just hasn’t got any equals anywhere — just take these few examples, all within just a few pages of each other (if that) fairly early on:
“I said: ‘Mrs. Florian? Mrs. Jessie Florian?’
‘Uh-huh,’ the voice dragged itself out of her throat like a sick man getting out of bed.”
“A couple of frayed lamps with once gaudy shades that were now as gay as superannuated streetwalkers.”
“The woman’s eyes became fixed in an incredulous stare. Then suspicion climbed all over her face like a kitten, but not so playfully.”
“[T]heir faces were as threadbare as a bookkeeper’s office coat.”
“I wouldn’t say the face was lovely and unspoiled, I’m not that good at faces. But it was pretty. People had been nice to that face, or nice enough for their circle. Yet it was a very ordinary face and its prettiness was strictly assembly line.”
“‘Huh? Oh yeah, funny. Remind me to laugh on my day off.'”
“They had Rembrandt on the calendar that year, a rather smeary self-portrait due to imperfectly registered color plates. It showed him holding a smeared palette with a dirty thumb and wearing a tam-o’-shanter which wasn’t any too clean either. His other hand held a brush poised in the air, as if he might be going to do a little work after a while, if somebody made a down payment. His face was aging, saggy, full of the disgust of life and the thickening effects of liquor. But it had a hard cheerfulness that I liked, and the eyes were as bright as drops of dew.”
“Montemar Vista was a few dozen houses of various sizes and shapes hanging by their teeth and eyebrows to a spur of mountain and looking as if a good sneeze would drip them down among the box lunches on the beach.”
“I walked back through the arch and started up the steps. It was a nice walk if you liked grunting. There were two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street. They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail was as cold and wet as a toad’s belly.”
Let me tell you, after you’ve been through a whole novel’s length of that sort of stuff, you feel like you’re fresh out of the wringer, too; right down there with Marlowe!
The High Window & The Long Goodbye
Compared to an unabridged reading of Chandler’s own words, any radio adaptation of his novels must necessarily fall a bit short, even if it’s got the BBc’s stellar production quality and the cast — lead by a very credible Toby Stephens as Marlowe; accent, cynicism and all — do their level best to convey the essence of Chandler’s works. Still, I wasn’t disappointed, and quite frankly, another two servings on the same level ast he Elliot Gould reading of Farewell, My Lovely would have been more than I’d have been able to stomach in this rapid succession.
The High Window, Chandler’s third Marlowe novel, sees the detective hired by a rich bully of a widow (magnificently portrayed by Judy Parfitt) to recover a “Brasher Doubloon”, a valuable antique coin (see left) that she has inherited from her late husband. Like The Big Sleep, this story has an extremely jaded “it’s all in the family” subtext, and while its storyline is not quite as tangled and knotted as that of Chandler’s most famous novel (where reportedly not even the author himself was ultimately able to unravel all of the plot strings), there are noir joys aplenty along the way … and Marlowe even gets to go on a cross country trip to rescue a Mid-Western damsel in distress from her toxic big city environment and restore her to her parents’ porch.
The Long Goodbye, finally, was Chandler’s penultimate Marlowe novel complete and published during his lifetime. It begins when Marlowe makes the acquaintance of a drunk ex-soldier in a sort of on-again-off-again-marriage/relationship with a rich tycoon’s daughter, who after several months on-again-off-again friendship with Marlowe asks the detective to help him to make it to Tijuana airport … only to be reported to have died in Mexico a short while later; not however before dispatching two farewell notes to his late pal — a short letter accompanied by a larger banknote than Marlowe has ever seen.
Los Angeles in the 1940s:
A map of Raymond Chandler’s / Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles:
Source: Huffington Post
… and finally, a couple of my own photos (from the 1990s and early 2000s): View from Mulholland Drive: Hollywood Bowl, 405 Freeway, Westwood;
on the horizon, downtown Los Angeles
Left: Westwood, Beverly Hills and Century City;
Right: Bel Air and Hollywood Hills
Hollywood Hills and Hollywood Sign
Beverly Hills: Sunset Blvd. and Rodeo Drive
Rancho Palos Verdes
Blogging Series: LitScapes