Review – The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Every now and then it's good to revisit the classics, and my recent read-through of the Philip Marlowe stories has been a lovely walk indeed.
The Long Goodbye is the 6th Philip Marlowe story; it consists of several meetings between Philip Marlowe and Terry Lennox. After a chance first meeting, Terry and Marlowe have a few more encounters over the next few months and build a tentative friendship.
When Terry's wife is murdered, Terry turns to Marlowe for help. Terry believes his chequered past blind the police to the true murderer, and he plans to leave the country. Marlowe, not believing that Terry killed his wife, decides to help.
The next Marlowe hears of the man, he committed suicide in Mexico. Marlowe begins to investigate what he thinks is a suspicious death. Before he can get far, he is contracted to find a writer called Roger Wade, who has been missing for three days.
Marlowe finds Wade and is embroiled in a scandal that will shed light on Terry's fate, but not before two more people are dead.
The Long Goodbye strikes me as the standout of the Philip Marlowe novels. The characters have an extra element of realism that the other stories don't hit. That's not to say that the other stories are bad. The Long Goodbye was written as Raymond Chandler's wife was dying, and it's clear to me that he poured his pain into the characters he was writing. The alcoholic writer and alcoholic war-scarred layabout would usually be too similar to put into a story – although many characters in Philip Marlowe's world have an unhealthy relationship with liquor – but the layers beneath provide a very different picture.
Lennox is a drunk; he has a scarred face from a grenade explosion during the war, which had been modified with plastic surgery. You get the story of the incident from a man that Lennox saved – showing the man's true character without him blowing his own horn – but now, years after the war, he wears a reminder on his face permanently.
Roger Wade is a writer who made his money writing romantic fiction and berates himself for not being a "good enough" writer to write literary fiction – that age-old gag.
Both of these characters are reflections of Chandler himself. Injured in France in The Great War (although not the face), Chandler clearly carried more than just physical scars. An alcoholic in the truest sense of the word, it’s clear that he had a love-hate relationship with the drink. His contemporary critics often gave terrible reviews which gave him quite a bit of stress. He wrote in Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, "The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time."
Chandler redefined detective stories, to the point that "Chandleresque" is a type of detective story writing. If anything is more Chandleresque than the Long Goodbye, I haven't read it. The story has mystery, action, suspense and the punchy sound that Chandler did so well.
The Long Goodbye is a masterwork written by an artist at the peak of his skill, a must-read for anyone who wants to write mysteries.