Her name is Orfamay Quest and she's come all the way from Manhattan, Kansas, to find her missing brother Orrin. Or leastways that's what she tells PI Philip Marlowe, offering him a measly 20 bucks for the privilege.
But Marlowe's feeling charitable - though it's not long before he wishes he wasn't so sweet. You see, Orrin's trail leads Marlowe to luscious movie starlets, uppity gangsters, suspicious cops, and corpses with ice picks jammed in their necks. When trouble comes calling, sometimes it's best to pretend to be out...
Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888 and moved to England with his family when he was 12. He attended Dulwich College, Alma Mater to some of the 20h century's most renowned writers. Returning to America in 1912, he settled in California, worked in a number of jobs, and later married.
It was during the Depression era that he seriously turned his hand to writing and his first published story appeared in the pulp magazine "Black Mask" in 1933, followed six years later by his first novel. The Big Sleep introduced the world to Philip Marlowe, the often imitated but never-bettered hard-boiled private investigator. It is in Marlowe's long shadow that every fictional detective must stand - and under the influence of Raymond Chandler's addictive prose that every crime author must write.
©1949 Raymond Chandler (P)2014 Audible, Ltd.
"Anything Chandler writes about grips the mind from the first sentence" (Daily Telegraph)
"One of the greatest crime writers, who set standards others still try to attain" (Sunday Times)
"Chandler is an original stylist, creator of a character as immortal as Sherlock Holmes" (Anthony Burgess)
In the middle of the twentieth century, a middle aged oil executive called Raymond Chandler wrote a series detective novels of which this is one. They were based on the experiences of a principled and generally law abiding Private Investigator called Philip Marlowe, who worked in the Los Angeles area of California. The novels evoked a vivid picture of the city and of Southern California at that time. And some of his works were immortalised on screen to become archetypal examples of film noir.
In some ways, Chandler’s books could be portrayed as pulp fiction crime novels, with above average complexity of plot, but relatively shallow characterisation. However, they embody a style of prose that can be so lyrical and consistent that it raises them to a special level of entertainment and has given rise to the term Chandleresque. His creation of simile’s and evocative turns of phrase are unique and striking.
PI Marlowe is bold and brave with an appreciation of well dressed , good looking women that sometimes leads him into situations he knows he should have avoided. He is streetwise and unfazed by either the cops or underworld thugs. This story is fairly typical of a Chandler novel, but not, in my opinion his best. However, even Chandler’s average pulp is far superior to most others of the genre, so I would definitely recommend this book.
The narrator does a good gob to bring the story to life, although there are a couple of instances where he sounded a little stilted, but nevertheless it was a good portrayal. A narrator who may do an even better job at bringing Marlowe alive, whilst covering a dramatized and abridged version of this story, is Ed Bishop and I would recommend that version as a good introduction to Chandler’s work.
As you may have guessed, I am a fan of Raymond Chandler’s work, so you may wish to read all the reviews here to get a balanced picture
"The Little Simile"
This novel used similes that were long and round and thin, like a rattailed file that has been ground smooth.
This novel is a sort of sad whisper, like a mortitian asking for a down payment.
This novel had a low lingering voice with a sort of moist caress in it like a damp bath towl.
This novel felt like a nice leg.
This novel was brought up straight, like the wicked foreman of the Lazy Q.
This novel sounded like somebody putting aways saucepans where I was.
This novel flashed like lightening.
This novel burned like dry ice.
This novel bounced me downstairs like a basketball.
This novel made my brain feel like a bucket of wet sand.
This novel spoke to me like a six-hundred dollar funeral.
This novel made a sort of high keening noise, like a couple of pansies fighting for a piece of silk.
This novel grew on me like scum on a water tank.
This novel burned like a hot iron.
This novel gave me the creeps. Like petting snakes.
This novel felt like four years on a road gang.
This novel had a jaw like a park bench.
This novel had eyes cloudy and gret like freezing water.
This novel was sad, like a fallen cake.
This novel's similies poured like water through the floodgagtes of a dam.
This novel fell on silence like a tired head on a swansdown pillow.
This novel made me laugh like a child trying to be supercilious at a playroom tea party.
"One twist too far"
Going back and listening to these classics has been really fun. This is the weakest of the Chandler books so far. There is so much misdirection that by the end I am not sure I really cared "who done it".
One note about audio versions of Chandler. Ray Porter, this narrator, is great. Someone had the idea of getting Elliot Gould to record these books as well. Gould is painful. Sounds like he is just learning to read out loud and we are the sixth grade class made to listen.
This one might be my favorite. The writing is loose and inspired. It's like a poem.
"Marlowe and the Department Store State"
Possibly there was still something quaint and regional in pre-WWII L.A. Some aspect of its original essence was still there to preserve. But after the war, the city boomed and the southland was quickly built over with housing tracts, shopping centers, and amusement parks. Southern California changed from a geographic region to a commercial enterprise. Phillip Marlowe was there to witness the transition, and it leaves him at his most dour and cynical. "The department store state," he calls it, with "the most of everything and the best of nothing."
There is a nifty detective story here, of course. But it is almost incidental to the novel, serving merely as a backdrop to Marlowe's cynical ruminations on the way southern California has been ruined. "I used to like this town, along time ago." he says at one point. "There were trees along Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Los Angeles was just a big, dry, sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but good hearted and peaceful..... Little groups who thought they were intellectuals used to call it 'the Athens of America'. It wasn't that, but it wasn't a neon lighted slum, either."
Chandler's novel is as much about the despoilation of southern California as about drug dealers, blackmailers and murderers. As usual, his detective Marlowe figures out who the culprits are, but never really brings them to justice. That's not his job.
"I feel like a traitor..."
I couldn't do it. Oh, I tried. I read rave reviews by my favorite reviewers. I grew up on B&W movie versions of these noir novels with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum playing damaged, cynical, cigarette smoking, wise-ass detectives, with females being relegated to playing sexy, duplicitous dames--even as late as Polanski's Chinatown tribute--and watched them more than once or twice. I love damaged, cynical, wise-ass detectives...
Male OR female...and therein lies the rub, I think.
Somehow, reading these for the first time at this time in my life, they just didn't work. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's too many years lately, of seeing so much of the progress women have made, get undermined by the newest iteration of the politics of partisanship and social wedge issues. Instead of letting myself get joyfully sucked into the book as I once did with the same genre of movies, I was irritated and impatient with the sexist handling of the women, the callous shallowness of the relationships, and the stereotyping of ethnic minorities.
And it's not just Raymond Chandler. Since I've been trying to read older books that I missed when growing up, I gave a try to a half dozen or so John D. MacDonald novels and, while they are much lighter fare, I had to give them up for the same reason--they drove me crazy with the way women are presented, and handled.
Maybe I'm just no fun anymore, take things too seriously, but with some exceptions, I'm not finding my time-traveling experiment with period detective novels very fulfilling. However I'm not quite done yet. I still have to check out Jim Thompson...who knows, right?
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