Friday, April 9, 2010

337. The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler

History: This book was published in 1953, centered on Chandler’s famous detective Philip Marlowe.
Plot: The novel opens outside a club called The Dancers. We are in late October or early November 1949. Marlowe, whom we presumably know from previous novels, meets a drunk named Terry Lennox, a man with scars on one side of his face. They forge an uneasy friendship over the next few months. Everything changes when Lennox shows up late one night (in June 1950) at Marlowe's place, asking for a ride to the Tijuana airport. Marlowe agrees as long as Lennox doesn't tell him any details of why he's running.
On his return to LA, Marlowe is arrested on suspicion of murder, after having annoyed the police investigating the case with his refusal to cooperate, as an attempt to force him to reveal that he helped Lennox. It is revealed that Lennox's wife was found dead in her pool house, and that she had died before Lennox fled. After three days of antagonizing his interrogators, Marlowe is released when Lennox is (allegedly) found dead of a suicide in Otatoclán with a full written confession by his side. Marlowe gets home to find a cryptic note from Lennox containing a "portrait of Madison" (a $5000 bill).
Marlowe gets a call from a New York publisher named Howard Spencer, asking him to investigate a case. One of his best writers, Roger Wade, has a drinking problem and has been missing for three days. Initially Marlowe refuses, but after Wade's wife, Eileen, also asks for Marlowe's help, he consents. Marlowe ends up finding Wade in a makeshift detox facility in a soon-to-be-abandoned ranch out in the desert. He takes his fee, but the Wades' stories don't match.
The Wades each try to convince Marlowe to stay at their house to keep Roger writing instead of drinking, and though he refuses, he ends up making further trips to the Wades' house at their behest. On one such trip, he finds Wade passed out in the grass with a cut on his head. Later, Roger tries half-heartedly to kill himself, but lets his wife take the gun from him. Mrs. Wade ends up in a sort of trance and attempts to seduce Marlowe, thinking he's a former lover of hers who died ten years earlier in World War II.
As all of this occurs, Marlowe is repeatedly threatened to lay off the Lennox case, first by a Spanish friend of Lennox's named Mendy Menendez, then by Lennox's father-in-law, the police, the Wades' servant (a Chileno named Candy), and Wade's wife. Marlowe also learns that Terry Lennox had previously lived as Paul Marston who was married previously and was probably from England.
Wade calls Marlowe again, asking him to come by to have lunch with him. Wade ends up drinking himself into a stupor, and this time succeeds in killing himself. Mrs. Wade arrives at the house shortly thereafter and accuses Marlowe of killing her husband. Candy initially tries to frame Marlowe, but his claims are undermined in an interrogation.
Marlowe gets a call from Spencer regarding Wade's death and he bullies Spencer into taking him to see Mrs. Wade. Once there, Marlowe grills her on the death of Terry Lennox's wife. Eileen first tries to blame it all on Roger, but Marlowe doesn't buy her story and argues that she killed both Mrs. Lennox and Roger Wade and that Paul Marston (Lennox) was actually her first husband, presumed killed in action with the Special Air Service off the coast of Norway or by the Gestapo. The next morning, Marlowe gets a call that Eileen Wade killed herself, leaving a confession in a note.
Marlowe still refuses to let the story lie. He's assaulted by Menendez, who ends up arrested in a setup arranged by a fellow hood (and erstwhile cop) named Randy Starr, who served with Menendez and Lennox/Marston during the war. Finally, Marlowe gets a visit from a Mexican man who claims to have been there when Lennox was killed in his hotel room. Marlowe listens to his story, and then says that he didn't buy it, because the Mexican man is none other than a post-cosmetic-surgery Terry Lennox.
Review: The Long Goodbye is significant not only as the last book Raymond Chandler wrote but as a personal consummation of craft that brought his detective novels into the realm of distinguished fiction. This isn't a mystery novel, it is a great piece of literature. It is about friendship, love and betrayal. And the plot is complex and satisfying. Marlowe is defeated and in pain, and very, very alone.
Opening Line: “The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls Royce outside the terrace of The Dancers.”
Closing Line: “Except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.”
Quotes: “She opened her mouth like a firebucket and laughed. That terminated my interest in her. I couldn't hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed.”
Rating: Good.

No comments:

Post a Comment