Down-and-out drunk Terry Lennox has a problem- his millionaire wife is dead and he needs to get out of LA fast. So he turns to his only friend in the world- Philip Marlowe, Private Investigator. He's willing to help a man down on his luck, but later, Lennox commits suicide in Mexico and things start to turn nasty. Marlowe finds himself drawn into a sordid crowd of adulterers and alcoholics in LA's Idle Valley, where the rich are suffering one big suntanned hangover. Marlowe is sure Lennox didn't kill his wife, but how many more stiffs will turn up before he gets to the truth?
Philip Marlowe is a private eye in 1940s Hollywood, California. The Long Goodbye opens with Marlowe encountering a couple outside a bar. The man is quite drunk; the woman drives off in their car, leaving the man in a pretty sad state. Marlowe takes him home, gets him sober, and is drawn into friendship with this mysterious man, Terry Lennox. They meet for drinks several times. Then one night, Lennox visits Marlowe and asks to be taken to Tijuana. His wife has just been killed and although Terry didn't commit the murder, he knows he will be implicated. Marlowe helps him get away, but Terry's story is far from over. Meanwhile, Marlowe takes up another case involving an alcoholic writer. The two cases turn out to have a connection, which is gradually revealed.
But I didn't really care, and that was my problem with this book. If there's one thing I've learned about my reading, it's that I enjoy character-driven novels. In The Long Goodbye, every single character was a stereotype. The central characters were fabulously wealthy (except for Marlowe, who still managed to move within their society with relative ease). There were a few seedy characters who acted suspiciously, just to keep the reader interested. The local police were violent, ineffetive, or both. Most characters had some level of dependency on alcohol or drugs, and associated behavioral issues. There were few women in this book, but all of them were blonde bombshells with only one real function in life.
It's a shame -- Raymond Chandler is quite famous for this type of novel, and some of the film adaptations make for interesting viewing. But I think I'll take a pass on his other books.
Here are some noteworthy gems -
“I caught the rest of it in one of those snob columns in the society section of the paper. I don’t read them often, only when I run out of things to dislike.” p 11
“Very methodical guy, Marlowe. Nothing must interfere with his coffee technique. Not even a gun in the hand of a desperate stranger.” p 19
“I puffed the cigarette. It was one of those things with filters in them. It tasted like high fog strained through cotton wool.” p 39
“And the next time I saw a polite character drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, I would depart rapidly in several directions. There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.” p 64
And of course, the second paragraph -
“There was a girl beside him. Her hair was a lovely shade of dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.” p 1
It’s the longest of the Marlowe novels and the pace is less break-neck, but it still cranks along making the reader wonder how the Terry Lennox/Roger Wade situations will connect. You know they will. Readers of this type of fiction or other thrillers made after Chandler broke ground will connect the dots before he explains it, but watching Marlowe get there is half the fun. The reader doesn’t get everywhere ahead of Marlowe and his detective work, observational skills and sheer guts are spot on as usual.
Though it's extremely well-constructed, I didn't like the plot that much until the twist at the very end. I guess I just wasn't connecting the pieces most of the way through, but I didn't really appreciate what was going on until the very end.
My biggest problem was probably how aggressive the characters were, though. Phillip Marlowe picked fights with everyone he ran across, and most everyone obliged him by fighting back, either verbally or physically. I just didn't understand why this was an acceptable way of getting information, or why it was necessary to fight with absolutely everyone, including a man he brushed past in a bar.
I don't know. That kind of soured it for me, I guess.
Terry Lennox's very rich, very nymphomaniac wife is found dead, her head bashed in. Lennox takes it on the lam to Mexico, and then is found dead with a bullet in his brain and a confession in front of him. But did he really do it? A lot of people want Marlowe to think so, and not to look into the case. But then he gets dragged into trying to save an alcoholic, best-selling novelist, and, as with any good noir novel, there's a connection.
Also as in any good noir novel, nobody is what they seem or means what they say. Mysteries are "solved", but there are no tidy endings, no real heroes or villains. The atmosphere is all. And there is plenty of that here.
I was snagged with the first few paragraphs. “ …because Terry Lenox’s left foot was still dangling outside, as if he had forgotten he had one. “ “…and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.”
The writing is eloquent and concise. Descriptions that take you into the location without tearing you away from the story. Writing that makes the story better. And what a story. There is a lot of twisting and turning squeezed in this book. And the ending is perfect. Yes, you may get an inkling where it will wind up, but still a nice little jolt.
My first sentence says it all
I love a lot of things about this novel--and make no mistake, this is a real novel, not just a pulp thriller. The heat and technicolor seediness of southern California, circa 1953, is vividly rendered. The book doesn't shy away from the ugly, which includes the easy racial slurs flung about by the hero, but neither does it make the mistake, so common to this type of fiction, of denying the existence of the beautiful. If the world looks cheap and worn through Marlowe's eyes, it's because of the part of it he makes his way through. The dialogue, of course, is a joy and endlessly quotable, as is much of the description. "I drove back to Hollywood feeling like a short length of chewed string." "There is nothing tougher than a tough Mexican, just as there is nothing gentler than a gentle Mexican, nothing more honest than an honest Mexican, and above all nothing sadder than a sad Mexican. This guy was one of the hard boys..."
I wouldn't mind reading this again, knowing more about it going in, and I'd be happy to revise my opinion. But as it stands, I prefer Chandler's books to be as compact and tightly structured as his prose. And I like Philip Marlowe a little better when he's more in charge of his own direction. This is, probably by design, a sad book at it center, lacking the exhilaration found earlier in the series.
Of course, there's the dialogue, especially Marlowe with these ice cool blondes. I could only imagine Bogart in the role (Elliot Gould? God help us). And I'm not sure that in a blind reading test I could pick Hammett from Chandler. But maybe: despite the ping pong dialogue, Chandler does have a habit of throwing in superfluous adverbs. How else can someone read a newspaper alone in a restaurant booth but "quietly." And these women speaking "gravely" and so on.
My biggest reservation, though, concerns the initial meeting with Lennox and why Marlowe carted the guy home. I mean, why? It may well work in the movie, but Lennox isn't particularly charming. Well, Lennox must remind Marlowe of something or someone from his past. I kept thinking we were going to get a few more hints of that, but it never came.
The 1950s. Or 1950s LA noir: so much drinking! And the discreet sex scene.
"The homicide skipper this year was a Captain Gregorious, a type of copper that is getting rarer but by no means extinct, that kind that solves crimes with the bright light, the soft sap, the kick to the kidneys, the knee to the groin, the fist to the solar plexus, the night stick to the base of the spine. Six months later he was indicted for perjury before a grand jury, booted without trial, and later stamped to death by a big stallion on his ranch in Wyoming." (p. 44)
This is my favorite of Chandler's stories, because it contains a heartfelt core that isn't necessarily present in all of the Philip Marlowe stories, as well as a good mystery and alluring writing.
For young adults, this could serve as a wonderful introduction to noir fiction and mystery as a whole.
Note: some adult content - drunkenness and seduction and the like.
There was dialogue I truly enjoyed, the plot was interesting, and there are many good things to be said of the book. I guess I have to read more Chandler; but I won't right away.
The paperback I read was published by Pocket Books in 1964. The cover artwork is better than any of the covers shown here, in my opinion, but no credit is given in the book to the artist.
The quality of language is very high. Points of entertainment and social commentary are vivid and perfectly placed, ordered, and quantified. This book is not without healthy doses of humor, social criticism, metaphor, or action. Read it!