Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 Classics #11

The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler, 1953

This mystery includes all the characters required by a noir detective thriller of the Fifties. Trigger-happy bullies. Gambling kingpins. Dope doctors. Hot-blooded Mexicans. Elegant and sensual women. The idle rich. The hard-pressed poor. The squeezed middle class. Corrupt police and honest cops who use dodgy methods on the good and the bad alike. Drunken artists, tortured writers. In their midst, Philip Marlowe, a tough cynical forceful PI that refuses to be pushed around by anybody.

The murder of the daughter of a California mega-millionaire is pinned on Terry Lennox, with whom Marlowe used to share gimlets (half gin, half lime juice) in the Victor Bar. Marlowe is warned by thugs in all stations of life not to meddle in the incident. Philip Marlowe reminds me of a hunting dog in that while there is a trail to explore, he will follow it until he finds the answer, not caring about who he runs past or over.

Though in his other books Chandler’s incident and plots took a backseat to tone, setting and atmosphere, in this one, the twists and obstacles make sense. Like life and like work, one issue seems resolved only to have another, hydra-like, leap up to take its place. The complexity of the plot drew me in to the point where I could not keep from reading it. The plot turns come to an unexpected and sad end that may leave a bitter taste in the mouth, though it makes me eager to read another novel with Marlowe.

So, the complex plot, believable characters, sordid secrets and the vision of LA and southern California that has influenced us all combine to stretch the hard-boiled detective novel into a serious work of fiction that examines character and relationships such as friendship between American males. For those interested in the use and misuse of alcohol, the novel is also about drinking as the basis of relationships and when heavy drinking shades into alcoholism (debate topic: “A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all ... he will be someone you never met before”). 

Chandler’s longest, most ambitious novel is still being read after more than half a century. Mysteries like this, I hope, will never get old.

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