I like my detective novels like I like my eggs: hardboiled. If a crime needs solving, it might as well be at the hands of a suave, comically cynical, functional alcoholic. Raymond Chandler’s creation—Philip Marlowe—is a quintessential protagonist of the hardboiled fiction genre. Chandler spent several novels developing Marlowe’s character and imprinting him in the hard-ass hall of fame. You might recognize him from Chandler’s most well known work, The Big Sleep. This review is on The Long Goodbye* instead. We’ll say it’s because *I take the road less traveled*, but really it’s just because this novel was on sale.
The Long Goodbye is aptly named in that it depicts a drawn out farewell between two unlikely friends. Marlowe meets a troubled but goodhearted man, Terry Lennox. Lennox finds himself in a bind, but Marlowe doesn’t buy the whole story. He’s a skilled private eye who works a case even when his help is unsolicited--making him both a literal and figurative dick. He’s not driven by money; he’s driven by drinking, women, and his own relentless curiosity.
Marlowe is an unrealistic figure, so if that bothers you, you won’t like this novel. He represents very real, raw emotions and characteristics, but to an exaggerated degree. He’s the kind of guy who can drink three double vodka gimlets and then blow a 0 BAC. He’s so self-assured that he says things like, “I don’t make the kind of music you like to hear” to a woman, and she’s predictably wooed (Chandler, 166). Even when he screws up, his stoicism and omniscient attitude makes it look intentional. Marlowe talks back to cops, talks back to gangsters, and spews slick one-liners to any one who gets in his way. So how does this guy not get knifed? Well, he’s Chandler’s baby. Nothing truly bad can happen to the *it* guy, this isn’t Game of Thrones. His indestructibility is partially maddening, partially captivating. Sometimes he does things so obviously in need of consequence that I feel like Chandler takes me for a gump. Alternatively, wielding that kind of power is magnetic. I’d like to be the charming know-it-all, but since I can’t be, I might as well read about someone who is.
Chandler poured his heart and soul into this novel, and it reads as such. He wrote it while his beloved wife was on her deathbed, and his personal struggles with alcoholism, coupled with his insecurities related to his talent, all seep into his characters. Flawed temperaments make for interesting characters, but the plot in The Long Goodbye was less than desirable. I thought that some of the twists and turns were unnecessary—they weren’t intriguing enough to deserve the attention they received. I enjoy Chandler’s choppy writing style; it’s brief and straightforward, but still poetic. He can spin a cliché into noir-gold with deliberate tweaks. But he’s a seminal author of mysteries, so I expected this story to be, I dunno, mysterious? The payoff of the surprises proved disappointingly low.
Additionally, one of the best things about Chandler’s portfolio is how reliable Marlowe is as a main character. We know he’s going to work a case a certain way, and we like that about him. In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe stayed true to form until three-fourths of the way through, when he engaged in a totally nonsensical and pointless fling. I have no idea why Chandler included this; it wasn’t even a well-written sex scene! Throw me a bone(r) why don’t ya. This wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, but I don’t appreciate useless, confusing scenes—especially when they’re enmeshed in a plot that I’m not particularly down with in the first place. Balance that with Chandler’s impressively sharp style, and you get 2 out of 5 camel humps.
*Chandler, Raymond. The Long Goodbye. New York: First Vintage Crime, 1953. Print.