Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 684
Chandler’s third book, The High Window, tells a story of personal tyranny and the misuse of money and power. The novel begins in front of an old, redbrick home in Pasadena, California. It is summer and much warmer there, in the San Gabriel Valley, than it is over the hill in Hollywood, where Philip Marlowe lives.
Marlowe is in Pasadena at the request of the wealthy widow Elizabeth Bright Murdock, a drunken, domineering matron. She wants Marlowe to find a valuable coin, the Brasher Doubloon, that has disappeared from her safe. She asserts that her flamboyant daughter-in-law, the former Linda Conquest, a nightclub singer, stole the coin. Linda’s marriage to Elizabeth’s son, Leslie Murdock, has been faltering, and Linda has moved out of the Pasadena house and gone into hiding.
Elizabeth Murdock has a secretary, Merle Davis, who intrigues Marlowe. She is blond and could be beautiful, but she wears no makeup. Merle is afraid of men because she suffered sexual harassment at the hands of Horace Bright, her former employer and Elizabeth’s first husband. Marlowe feels attracted to Merle and protective of her. She gives him the names of Lois Magic, who was Linda’s former roommate, and Louis Vannier, Lois’s escort.
Leslie Murdock follows Marlowe to his office to find out why his mother hired a detective. His father was Horace Bright, who supposedly committed suicide when he lost all of his money in the stock market crash of 1929. Leslie is tied to his mother’s purse strings, and he has rebelled by marrying a nightclub singer and running up twelve thousand dollars worth of gambling debts at Alex Morny’s Idle Valley Club, a gambling house in the San Fernando Valley.
Marlowe discovers that Lois Magic, Linda’s former roommate, has married Alex Morny. He confronts a man who has been tailing him, who turns out to be another detective, George Anson Phillips, who claims he has been hired to tail Leslie. Phillips asks for Marlowe’s help on the case, but when Marlowe shows up at his apartment, he finds Phillips shot dead.
Marlowe goes downtown to interview a coin dealer, Elisha Morningstar, who, curiously, offers to sell him the Brasher Doubloon for a thousand dollars. When Marlowe returns to his office, however, he finds that the Brasher Doubloon has been delivered to him through the mail. He puts it in hock at a pawn shop for safekeeping. He telephones Elizabeth Murdock, who tells him that the doubloon has been returned to her. Returning to Morningstar’s office, Marlowe finds him murdered.
The police are now suspicious of Marlowe, because he has discovered two dead men in as many days. After they interrogate him in his apartment, he receives a call inviting him out to the Idle Valley Club to talk to Alex Morny. He meets with Morny and with Linda Conquest-Murdock, who explains that she hates her husband’s mother because she mistreats Merle, her secretary.
Marlowe is summoned to his apartment, where he finds Merle, who is hysterical. She believes that she murdered Horace Bright in 1929 by giving him a fatal push out a window. Elizabeth has encouraged that idea in Merle and has let her believe that Elizabeth was protecting her by making the blackmail payments to Louis Vannier to keep that truth hidden. Now Merle has discovered Vannier dead in his house, and she believes that she killed him, too.
Marlowe calms Merle and goes to Vannier’s place. There he discovers some photographs proving that Elizabeth pushed her husband out the window and that Leslie killed Vannier, who had previously killed Phillips and Morningstar. Leslie stole the doubloon from his mother to copy it with Vannier. They hired Phillips to sell the coin to Morningstar. Phillips got nervous and sent it to Marlowe. The other Brasher Doubloons were fakes. Marlowe returns the coin to Elizabeth, but he refuses to return her secretary. He personally drives Merle back to her family in Kansas, where she recovers from her big-city neuroses within a week. The “shop-soiled Galahad” had done his duty again.
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