Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily
Please do not adjust your computer screens, you are not seeing double. Or perhaps you are. Usually we post two reviews of the same book together, on the same day. This time we have split them into two posts. You may wish to cast your mind back a week to Beth’s review before reading on.
Farewell, My Lovely was written in 1940 and is the second of Raymond Chandler’s novels featuring the private investigator, Philip Marlowe. The story starts, as Beth notes, with Marlowe working a dead-end case when he inadvertently becomes embroiled with ex-convict Moose Malloy’s search for his old girlfriend Velma Valento. Murder, drugs, jewellery gangs, gambling and varying other mysteries of the underworld all follow on from this initial encounter.
This was my first time reading an American noir novel. And I loved it. Perhaps that’s in part due to an age-old love affair I have going with Humphrey Bogart and having the film version of The Big Sleep under my belt. The wit and snappy dialogue that Marlowe spits out at nearly every opportunity is worth the read alone. He’s the sort of character that speaks his mind, rubs people up the wrong way and doesn’t give a darn.
Hired to help recover a stolen necklace, he ends up talking with the beautiful owner, and this passage of banter is a great example of Chandler’s writing style and Marlowe’s speech.
Her eyes flashed at that. I liked them that way. ‘There’s such a thing as being just a little too frank,’ she said.
‘Not in my business. Describe the evening. Or have me thrown out on my ear. One or the other. Make your lovely mind up.’
‘You’d better sit over here beside me.’
‘I’ve been thinking that a long time,’ I said. ‘Ever since you crossed your legs, to be exact.’
She pulled her dress down. ‘These damn things are always up around your neck.’
I sat beside her on the yellow leather chesterfield. ‘Aren’t you a pretty fast worker?’ she asked quietly.
I didn’t answer her.
‘Do you do much of this sort of thing?’ she asked with a sidelong look.
‘Practically none. I’m a Tibetan monk, in my spare time.’
And that’s just how he chats to the clients. Try his style with the police. Speaking with Randall, the police detective working on the case, he isn’t any less snappy despite an horrific couple of days locked in a hospital prior to this conversation.
‘Was that a gag, about your being sick, in a hospital?’
‘No gag. I ran into a little trouble – down in Bay City. They took me in. Not the cooler, a private dope and liquor cure.’
His eyes got distant. ‘Bay City, eh? You like it the hard way, don’t you, Marlowe?’
‘It’s not that I like it the hard way. It’s that I get it that way. But nothing like this before. I’ve been sapped twice, the second time by a police officer or a man who looked like one and claimed to be one. I’ve been beaten with my own gun and choked by a tough Indian. I’ve been thrown unconscious into this dope hospital and kept there locked up and part of the time probably strapped down. And I couldn’t prove any of it, except that I actually do have quite a nice collection of bruises and my left arm has been needled plenty.’
He’s one tough cookie. Indeed one of the archetypal hard-boiled detectives. He deserves his place on the 1001 list and I hope that some time soon you take up a copy and meet Mr Marlowe.
One note though, is that the time period in American history also brings with it some unpleasant language to a modern ear. The dice emporium, Florian’s, mentioned in the opening quote of Beth’s review is an African-American establishment and the first section of the novel involves the use of the “n-word”, although not excessively so. I also learned a couple of new (to me) derogatory terms that were clearly commonplace at the time – dinge being one and shines being another – which were used more frequently. While I, in no way, countenance the use of offensive terms, I am also of the school of thought that does not like the expunging of the language of eras past. For me, cleaning up the language from original works seems to be a way of denying those attitudes and conditions existed. If you are not comfortable seeing life represented in linguistic terms as it was in the mid-20th century then you may not find the first portion of this novel to be comfortable reading. But do stick with it, the story and Marlowe’s character are worth the effort.