(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Farewell, My Lovely, Chandler’s second novel, is filled with murder and corruption, yet it is essentially a love story. It begins on a warm day near the end of March in south central Los Angeles. Moose Malloy, a huge, dim-witted ex-convict, enters a bar called Florian’s searching for Velma Valento, the girlfriend he left behind eight years before, when he entered prison. Marlowe happens to be there to see Malloy kill the manager of the bar and maim the bouncer. Malloy escapes, and Marlowe makes a report to the police.

Curiosity drives Marlowe to look for Velma. He follows the leads to the home of Jessie Florian, the alcoholic widow of the former bar owner. She acknowledges that Velma used to sing at the bar, and she gives Marlowe a photograph of the missing woman. Marlowe receives a call from Mr. Lindsay Marriott. Marriott hires the detective to accompany him to a remote canyon in Malibu, where he will deliver ransom for a stolen jade necklace. When they arrive, Marriott is killed, and Marlowe is knocked unconscious.

When Marlowe comes to, he is met by Anne Riordan, a spunky, intelligent woman who happens by to check out the unusual lights in the canyon. She is the daughter of the former police chief of Bay City, and she decides to help Marlowe solve the case, although he balks at the idea. She discovers that the jade necklace belongs to Helen Grayle, the wife of a very rich man.

Marlowe discovers that Lindsay Marriott holds a mortgage on Jessie Florian’s house; this is the indirect connection between Helen Grayle and Moose Malloy. Grayle invites Marlowe to her house. She is a beautiful blond, and Marlowe finds her very attractive. She is married, however, and so, according to Marlowe s chivalrous code of honor, she must remain unattainable as the Holy Grail. It is probably no accident that her name is homophonous with the elusive goal of the medieval knights. She throws herself into Marlowe’s lap, and he succumbs to the temptation and kisses...

(The entire section is 816 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As the novel begins, private investigator Philip Marlowe is standing outside a barbershop in Los Angeles, at a dead end on a case concerning a missing husband. His attention is caught by the sight of a huge, outrageously dressed man a few feet down the street. As Marlowe watches, the man swaggers into a building identified by its sign as Florian’s, a dining and gambling club. Before the double swinging doors can come to a stop, the body of a man hurtles out onto the street. Even as he concedes to himself that the incident is none of his business, Marlowe, his curiosity piqued, moves to the doors and attempts to enter. Before he can do so, however, a huge hand grabs his shoulder and drags him inside.

In short order, Marlowe learns that the big man is Moose Malloy, just out of prison, where, he insists, he was sent on a trumped-up bank-robbery charge. Malloy is now searching for his girlfriend, Velma Valento, who used to sing in Florian’s eight years earlier. After telling Marlowe this, Malloy forces his way into the office of the club’s manager. Seconds later, sounds that turn out to be those of the novel’s first murder reverberate throughout the club. Malloy holds everyone at bay with a gun as he makes his escape, leaving Marlowe to deal with the dead body and the indifferent police inquiry that follows.

The opening scenes of the novel are perfect harbingers of what occurs throughout the rest of the story. Marlowe’s curiosity, his desire to know, and Malloy’s brute strength have combined irresistibly to involve the detective in a search for Malloy and the woman he loves.

At the heart of the novel is Malloy’s search for Velma and the ramifications it engenders. As Marlowe conducts his own investigation, it seems to him as if all the ramifications are aimed directly...

(The entire section is 742 words.)