Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye is his penultimate novel and the penultimate novel about his main character, private investigator Philip Marlowe. Although Chandler’s early short stories feature a variety of detectives (many of them prototypes for Marlowe), Marlowe is the hero and narrator of each of his seven published novels. In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe is forty-two years old and feeling a bit worn down by his life as a lonely, bachelor private eye. He is a laconic and jaded yet honorable observer of the varied and corrupt Los Angeles of his day. The central mysteries of The Long Goodbye strike closer to home for Marlowe than those of previous novels. It is fitting that The Long Goodbye, one of the most beloved and critically respected detective novels ever written, should have an idiosyncratic beginning, rather than starting conventionally with a client hiring Marlowe or his randomly discovering a body or stumbling into a crime.
In his famous essay “The Simple Art of Murder” (1944), Chandler seeks to rebut the notion that no mystery novel can have literary merit, arguing that “Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds.” Indeed, Chandler’s reputation in the mystery establishment has little to do with the reasons for which mystery writers are usually treasured by fans. His plots are often baroque and convoluted; solving the mystery is usually less intrinsic to the story than coming to understand the motivations and lives of the characters interacting with Philip Marlowe.
Chandler is appreciated first as a stylist, a writer with the necessary vitality to transcend the mystery genre. The voice of Marlowe is laconic and sarcastic, often noting details in a kind of humorous whimsy and drawing comparisons through similes that are original and incisive, such as his famous two-page description of blondes in The Long Goodbye. He says, “There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice blue glare,” as well as the “small perky blonde who is a little pay and wants to pay her own way . . . and knows...
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