Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Farewell, My Lovely

Raymond Chandler is synonymous with the hardboiled detective genre.  His protagonist, Phillip Marlowe, is dry, sarcastic, self-effacing and a damn fine private eye.  He's a compelling character, and far more complex and interesting than a first glance may indicate.  The novels are filled with sex, drugs, beautiful women, con men, murder, extortion... and they were written 70+ years ago.

Farewell, My Lovely was Chandler's second novel, coming on the heels of the more highly-regarded The Big Sleep.  The book opens with Marlowe being inadvertently drawn (or, more precisely, dragged) up the stairs into a black nightclub by the enormous ex-con Moose Malloy.  Moose starts some trouble here, ending in the accidental murder of one of the club's managers, when he finds his old flame Velma is gone.  Though the case gets handed over to the cops (on account of the murder), Marlowe finds himself tracking down the owners of the club that had been in the location prior - a white nightclub where Velma's singing was a prime attraction.

After poking around for a day or two, Marlowe gets a seemingly unrelated call from a potential client.  Lindsay Marriott is looking for a wingman - a bodyguard - for a tryst with some jewel thieves.  Despite his suspicions as to the merits of this case, Marlowe takes in anyway. Which, incidentally, is par for the course for him.  He tries to unravel one case, while the other pulls him back in.  Whether or how they are related isn't revealed until the last pages of the book, but the adventure gets Marlowe tangled up with organized crime, the drug trade, a couple of beautiful (potentially shady) women, more murders and more run-ins with Moose Malloy.  It's a fun and fast read, and if you haven't read anything by Chandler it's a great place to start.

Up next: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  It's long - over 800 pages - but I get the feeling it's a good one;10 pages in and I am transfixed!

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