“The Long Goodbye” is among my favorite Raymond Chandler books. The 9-volume Philip Marlowe series begins in 1939 with “The Big Sleep,” and ends with 1958’s “Playback.” I’ve been reading the books in order, which means I have only “Playback” to go. Then I’m done, because Chandler died in 1959.
The book begins with Marlowe’s accidental friendship with Terry Lennox. When Lennox’s rich wife is killed, and everything points to Lennox as the killer, Marlowe helps Lennox flee to Mexico. There, Lennox apparently commits suicide. And the book moves on.
Marlowe gets involved with a self-destructive, alcoholic writer and his wife. This relationship consumes most of the book. Eventually, their story intersects with that of Terry Lennox. Then several varieties of nastiness commence.
The book moves along rather slowly, but not in a bad way. Chandler masterfully creates the smoky pulp noir mood; you can see steam arising from the LA streets at night. I found myself basking in the atmospherics, which is unusual for me.
And yet, this was a different Marlowe. The Marlowe of the previous books–snarky, smart-mouth–is gone. In his place is a more caustic, rude, humorless fellow who bears little resemblance to Bogart.
And gone are the Chandlerisms that make his books so delightful–the sentences, metaphors, and descriptives that stop you in your tracks every few pages. You must, MUST stop to re-read and admire the wordsmithing.
The only real flash of that Chandler came on page 82 with this line: “He was a guy who talked in commas, like a heavy novel.” His earlier books are filled with such things. From “The High Window,” for instance:
From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.
He looked as if he had been sitting there since the Civil War and had come out of that badly.
Out of the apartment houses come women who should be young but have faces like stale beer….people who look like nothing in particular and know it.
We looked at each other with the clear innocent eyes of a couple of used car salesmen.
She had eyes like strange sins.
A rather heavy perfume struggled with the smell of death, and lost.
There are websites devoted to Chandlerisms (like this one). But “The Long Goodbye” contributes next to nothing. It’s just way too serious.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s an elegantly-written book, with everything you could ask of a novel. But the renowned Marlowe wit is missing, and I don’t know why.