Given Chandler’s enormity I’m feeling (as I did with Austen) more like I’ll be reviewed than him – and this is complicated by the fact that I’ve been too busy lately to get to the review soon after reading the book. Anyway, with these disclaimers I’ll push on.
Great stuff – Chandler really has his own voice, mood and characters. Indeed, he’s quite self-conscious in this book, having Anne Riordan remonstrate with Marlowe about how he should have run and concluded his investigation in a more traditional and elegant fashion:
You ought to have given a dinner party … and you at the head of the long table telling all about it, little by little, with your charming light smile and a phony English accent..
Marlowe responds for Chandler,
It’s not that kind of story. It’s not lithe and clever. It’s just dark and full of blood.
Interesting that Chandler felt he had to justify his deliberate departure from the classic mannered English detective story – or was he just enjoying highlighting the contrast?
And it’s not just dark and full of blood: there’s flirting, camaraderie, humour, honour, and even a romantic ending. Still, along the way Marlowe takes a hell of a beating given his somewhat inexplicable method – which involves identifying particularly dangerous individuals and locations and just walking in without preparation, protection or backup. If you somehow manage to still be breathing after they’ve pounded you for a while, you’ve got some more clues to your case. And you even get the (nice) girl on your own terms:
‘You’re so marvellous,’ she said, ‘So brave, so determined, and you work for so little money. Everybody beats you over the head and chokes you and smacks your jaw and fills you with morphine, but you just keep right on hitting between tackle and end until they’re all worn out. What makes you so wonderful?
‘Go on,’ I growled, ‘Spill it.’
Anne Riordan said thoughtfully: ‘I’d like to be kissed, damn you!’
So who’s reviewing this book – me or Chandler?
Marlowe is a pretty cool pro, but anything but a schemer. He throws himself in the ring and improvises. He blurs the lines, liking some of the bad guys a bit much, being rough and coarse – but then bugging the good guys by showing he’s read a bit and can show more chivalry than they do. And just what was going on with ‘Mrs Grayle’ and the midnight assignation which could have ended very differently:
‘I bet it’s fun to be played by handsome blondes,’ Anne Riordan said. ‘Even if there is a little risk. As, I suppose, there usually is.’
I didn’t say anything.
He’s quite a contrast with the cold, aloof (but still troubled) Sherlock Holmes. If getting involved might cloud his judgement a bit, hey, what the hell…
Chandler has a knack for making his characters shine – Marlowe is actually a bit of a soft touch, he can empathise, and from his perspective we find things to draw us to them the way he is. An odd thing in his in other ways very bleak, rough world.