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Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

September 5, 2015

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This is classic hard-boiled L.A. noir from one of the writers who invented the genre. In college, I took a class about the film and literature of Los Angeles, and the noir aesthetic informs so much of it. Chandler paved the way for the likes of Elmore Leonard and Walter Mosley, for films like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, shows like True Detective and parodies like The Naked Gun Buchowski’s Pulp. Even The Big Lebowski is a send-up of the hard-boiled detective tradition. So to take this book seriously and enjoy it as it should be enjoyed, you have to place Chandler in that context, as one of the originators of the genre. This book is not a cliché—it’s one of the originals that invented the now-cliché genre.

Here, we find classic private investigator, Phillip Marlowe, on the prowl for a missing husband when he witnesses a murder—a giant of a man named Moose Malloy shoots another man. What follows could be a textbook of the genre. Marlowe is pulled somewhat reluctantly into a convoluted plot with bad guys, good-looking ladies with a bad side, old drunks, dead ends, red herrings, more murder, dirty cops, lazy cops, and lots of one-off punchlines.

“I like smooth, shiny girls, hard-boiled and loaded with sin.”

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”

“‘Quite on the contrary,’ the fat chief said a stiffly as a fat man can say anything.”

“She ceased to be beautiful. She looked merely like a woman who would have been dangerous 100 years ago, and 20 years ago daring, but who today was just grade B Hollywood.”

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

The fun of this book is to revel in this, to appreciate how authentic it is. I was also surprised how much I genuinely liked Marlowe. I expected him to feel a little more stock, but I found myself laughing at him, rooting for him and smiling at his guts. Overall, if you can get past the conventional feel of the genre, this is a fun read.

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