Friday, May 29, 2009

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler's death, Penguin Books have republished five of his novels in hard backed editions, with original covers; “The Big Sleep", "The Lady In The Lake", "The Little Sister", "The Long Goodbye” and "Farewell, My Lovely".

“Farewell, My Lovely” is set in Los Angeles in the late 1930’s .Philip Marlowe PI is working on a case in Central Avenue when he comes across a rather large well-dressed man standing outside a dine and dice emporium. The man, whom we later learn is named Moose Molloy, has spent the last eight years in prison. He is only just released and has returned to the emporium looking for his girlfriend who was employed as a singer there. Marlowe is literally dragged into the case and after Molloy’s initial enquiries which leave one man dead decides to investigate further.

Philip Marlowe though rises above all the grubbiness he sees about him. He is a former employee of the Los Angeles DA who was sacked for questioning his employers. He operates under his own moral code. He is an alcoholic, a loner who is bitter at the direction the good and the great have taken Los Angeles. When dealing with the police Marlowe treats them to a procession of contemptible wisecracks.

With ease he can see right through society’s facades. He has little time for falsehood and ineptitude and for Marlowe virtue itself should be its own reward. Marlowe is in no way a starry eyed idealist. He knows the manner in which the rancid system works.

However Marlowe is not some hard as nails superman. Twice toward the end of the novel he describes himself as being frightened and in one instance starts babbling. Finally piece by piece through a series of ingenious detective work and pure grit the case is solved, though for the philosophical Philip Marlowe the result is far from satisfactory.

Throughout the case Marlowe encounters a whole range of police officers. The inept that don't really care, those who want to change the system from within and other naturally good but who find themselves constantly written out of the picture.

By the standards of today parts of the novel can in now way said to be pc. For instance a black man is murdered and the official police response is noncommittal to say the least. Also several derogatory names, which would be unacceptable now are used when describing racial minorities, though this should in no way detract from the readers overall enjoyment and appreciation of the novel.

Chandler's writing will constantly amaze and beguile the reader. For instance here Marlowe describes one character in the case "He looked as nervous as a brick wall". Or his commentary on justice and its relationship to money in Los Angeles "Law is where you buy it in this town". Or finally when travelling by night through the mountains "Far off the sea flickered. Darkness prowled slowly on the hills".

Marlowe’s character and his force of personality drives the novel. His quest for justice and the travails he endures make us sympatric to his cause and the reader is left willing him toward a rewarding conclusion to the case. Detective Philip Marlowe is unique in the literary world and in him Chandler has created a template which others have imitated time and time again. With a fictional character as memorable as Philip Marlowe, combined with writing as sharp as the LA night, "Farewell, My Lovely" is guaranteed to retain it enduring popularity.

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