Wednesday, April 16, 2014
arc (my many thanks to the author for my copy)
It's the perfect reading day here -- rainy, gray, overcast. The housecleaner person has been and gone, so it's my one day that rolls around every every two weeks for doing whatever I want to do. My choice was to finish Blood Always Tells, the newest novel by Hilary Davidson. Quite honestly, I'm usually up to my neck in really dark noir or I'm into translated crime, so I've not read anything by this author before and I didn't quite know what to expect. Once I started reading, it was an easy story to get into and an even easier story to stay with.
Sadly, I can't really give more than a brief overview of this book because it would totally wreck things for potential readers, but I'll tell what I can. Dominique Monaghan is a former model who becomes entangled with Gary Cowan, former boxer and serious loser. He's married to a multi-billionaire who was forced to take on a husband by her father or forfeit the family fortune. He's stuck -- he can't divorce her and she can't divorce him without remarrying in thirty days, something she doesn't want to do. Dominique knows all of this and also knows that Gary's marriage is a total sham. What she can't forgive though, is that she's seen him in some photos with a young girl who looks like she's still in high school -- so she plans a little blackmail for revenge. But things go terribly awry, and stranded in a strange house, in the middle of the night she manages to make a call to her brother Desmond for help. Desmond, who's been her protector since she was four years old, rushes to her aid. It isn't long until he unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a strange and twisted plot that makes him a person of interest to the police and worse, a target for people who don't like him getting involved in their affairs.
It's interesting how the author structured this novel. It's written in three parts, each headed by a name of a character whose life is tied to a secret of some sort. These characters also have to weigh whether or not the secrets they keep will put them at an advantage or disadvantage if revealed -- and sometimes the choice is a tough one because of the very human costs involved. The title is also very appropriate -- it's just too bad I can't say why, but whoever reads the book will definitely understand.
This novel is a much lighter sort of book than I usually pick up, so I had to approach it a little differently than normal. Overall, Blood Always Tells was a pretty good read, and considering my usual fare, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It starts right away with a complicated and knotty puzzle that drew me in right away; before long there are a lot more questions than answers to sift through -- my kind of mystery. There's an added bonus at the beginning as well -- the establishment of a creepy atmosphere with an old house out in the middle of the Pennsylvania woods, where there are no nearby neighbors and where Dominique has no clue where she might be. While I have to admit to figuring out part of the answers before the ending, there are a number of twists that kept me guessing as to what was really going on here. That's always a plus -- if I can figure things out easily, I'm very disappointed. I will say that I enjoyed parts one and two much more than part three -- this one seemed a little rushed to me and not as well developed as the others either in terms of the characters or in terms of storyline; the ending was also a bit abrupt. I actually checked to see if there was more after the ending just because I wasn't expecting it to end like it did. I also thought that the NYC detective guy was maybe a little typecast. On the other hand, the author writes without having to resort to padding her book with unnecessary sex scenes, cheesy romantic moments, f-bombs, or the usual chapters on chapters of inner turmoil that many modern authors seem to think must absolutely be part of a crime novel. She stays on task, and is very no nonsense and to the point, something I very much appreciate.
Blood Always Tells has a solid mystery at its core as well as a few twists I never saw coming. I think this book would be perfect for crime readers who like the police on the periphery rather than as the main focus of the story. It's also a good choice for readers who just aren't into the overly-edgy/gritty noirish-type novels and prefer their crime on the lighter side, meaning that it's more of a straight-up mystery novel without a lot of sex and gratuitous violence filling the pages. I think there are probably many more readers in this category, so it should be a great success.
My thanks again to the author -- I enjoyed leaving my usual darkness-reading self behind for a couple of days!
Monday, April 14, 2014
Simon and Schuster, 2011
originally published 2010
On the cover of my book there's a big old white circle that advertises that Nic Pizzolatto was the "creator, writer and executive producer of the HBO crime series True Detective." I'll admit that after watching the series and loving every single second of it, I had to read this book. So -- after a 3-week delay getting it from the publisher, I got my chance. Galveston is one of those books I like more for the writing and the author's vision than for the crime element. Beware: there's nothing happy at all about this book -- absolutely nothing. Definitely one right up my alley.
To start this depress-fest, Roy Cady walks out of a doctor's office with a diagonosis of lung cancer. But that isn't the sum total of all of his problems. His girlfriend is sleeping with his boss Stan, a mobster in New Orleans. Going back to Stan's bar, Stan tells Cady he's got a job. He and another enforcer are to go to the home of "a president or former president or attorney for the dockworkers' local" named Sienkiewicz. The stevedores are the subject of a federal probe, and this could mean trouble for Stan and his partners. Stan doesn't want anyone to get hurt "bad;" the visit is to make Sinkiewicz "play for the team." Cady is told not to take a gun, which strikes him as odd. It all makes sense, though, when Cady and his partner get to their target's home and walks right into an ambush. Sinkiewicz is dead, and the three men in black jumpsuits sporting ski masks turn their gun on Angelo. Luckily, Cady's prepared -- as they go to fire at him, Cady whisks out a stiletto, grabs a gun, and takes care of the three in about five seconds. He walks out of the place with a folder filled with papers and a young prostitute named Raquel (nicknamed Rocky). Cady knows the handwriting is on the wall -- that his boss wants him dead -- so he flees with Rocky to East Texas, his own home. Rocky insists on making a stop and while Cady waits, he hears gunshots and out comes Rocky with her little three year old sister. Cady knows he should dump the pair and take off, but he just can't, and they move on to Galveston, holing up in a third-rate hotel filled with a strange crew of lost and misfit souls. It's a decision that will end up costing him much more than he realizes. This all happens in 1987; Cady relates the story from 2008, still looking over his shoulder, with hurricane Ike on the way.
The crime in this book is downright gritty and there are a number of violent scenes throughout the novel, but for me, all of that is secondary. It's the landscape in the backdrop and the characters around whom the drama in this book takes place that make this less-than-upbeat book so excellent. For the most part, all of the characters are so well imagined that you can't help but want to get into their lives, even for just a minute or two. Take, for example, the lives that play out at the rundown off-beach Emerald Shores motel in Galveston. Among them is the owner, Nancy, who when Cady first meets her, is listening to radio talk shows about the New World Order and the Mark of the Beast. Nancy notes that Texas will be the "ones to shoot back" when the UN invades. Her ex-husband is Lance, who still loves her and makes breakfast each morning on his grill for the guests. In Number 2 there's a man who came for a job on a rig that didn't exist when he got there, bringing with him two kids "and a woman" who "gets fatter every day." He is described as having
"a big face, long and wide, a little skipping stone of a chin, and a fat, smooth neck that erased his jawline. his hair was longish and unkempt, a wifebeater T and stiff, smelly jeans stretched by a cannonball gut that made his back curve inward."Even before the author tells you so, you just know in your gut that this family is going to come to a bad end. There's also Tray, the motorcycle rider with foil on his windows, product of a group home and a kid who thinks he's tough, but has no clue what it really takes to be bad. He is a junkie, though, and Cady knows that he can't be trusted. Then there's Cady himself, who in one of the most impressive scenes of the novel goes to visit his former love Carmen, now living in a security-guarded community and on her way to her Junior League meeting as he arrives. It's through Carmen that Cady comes to understand that a lot of the rosy past he's been holding on to was screened through his own alcohol haze -- his vision of their past in no way matches hers. Another thing about Cady -- with the cancer death sentence hanging over him, he doesn't have much to lose.
If you want to focus solely on crime, there's enough of that in here to satisfy, but if you're looking for genuinely good writing that focuses on inner lives and makes the outer landscape a part of the story, you'll find that here as well. This book is so well done. Even when it lags it's good, as you get an honest feel for the people and the place before the next jarring event happens, sometimes out of nowhere. This is a book that definitely won't be for everyone, but I really liked it and I'd be happy to read anything this author writes in the future.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
originally published as Glacé, 2011
translated by Alison Anderson
There's something to be said about using an isolated asylum for the criminally insane as a locale in a crime fiction novel -- in fact, the setting is one of the reasons I bought this book. I know that sounds really bad, but I can't help it. I think it comes from reading all of those HP Lovecraft stories where the narrator is stuck in an asylum because he has encountered something that made his mind snap, and no one believes him. There's nothing like that here, but in this book, the asylum set in the French Pyrenees does house some pretty bad people. The Frozen Dead is definitely not a cozy read; it's more of a police procedural where the cops are faced with some pretty grisly crimes. Some of the storyline seemed a little out there at times, but more on that later. Overall, though, it definitely held my interest and the nearly 500 pages flew by because I got so caught up in it all.
On their way to a four-week stint at a hydroelectric power station, maintenance workers taking the cable car up the mountain near Saint-Martin de Comminges see what looks like a large bird hanging "above the platform, just below the cables and pulleys, as if suspended in the air." As it turns out though, this is no bird, but rather a horse. Commandant Martin Servaz from Toulouse is summoned to the scene, not knowing that the murder victim is a horse. He realizes that he's there because the animal is a prize thoroughbred owned by Éric Lombard, a wealthy man from "a financial dynasty, captains of industry, entrepreneurs who had reigned over this patch of the Pyrenees, over the département, and even over the region, for six decades or more." Servaz is none too happy -- at home he's busy working on the case of a homeless man who was beaten to death by three teens. The scene of the crime is not far from the Wargnier Institute, an asylum for the criminally insane whose residents are there because no other institution will house them, and the crime scene unit finds DNA belonging to a legendary murderer who is now a resident there. But according to the powers that be at Wargnier, there is no possible way the man could have escaped and returned -- the Institute is well secured. It isn't long, however, until a man is found hanging from a bridge. The investigation into who is behind it all turns into a race to both find the killer and prevent yet another murder. While the author delves into the mystery, he also adds in another storyline in which a psychologist named Diane Berg arrives to start her work at the Institute -- and finds out that there is indeed something very odd going on behind the walls and the closed doors.
There are really three mysteries at the heart of this story. First, of course, is the mystery of who is behind all of the murders; second (related to the first) is the connection that links all of these deaths together, and third is the puzzler behind what's going on at the Institute. As a whole, the book is well crafted and suspenseful enough to keep the reader turning pages, with an added bonus of a number of plausible suspects to keep the reader guessing. I thought I had it figured out twice and was way off the mark both times. For me, that's the sign of a good crime writer -- if I can't guess the who or the why, well, I'm happy that the author didn't make things so easy, appealing to the armchair detective in me. This is also a very atmospheric book -- and not just because of the inclusion of an asylum for the criminally insane. The author is very good at ratcheting tension, always maintaining an aura of suspense throughout. Plus, the story goes back in time to revisit the sins of the past and how they've come to haunt the present. Another appealing and well-crafted aspect of this novel is the author's evocation of place -- not only the physical locale (which made me want to bundle up and visit there in the winter) but also in terms of the social ills of the times: senseless violence as an outlet for the younger generation, the state of mental health treatment, corporate greed, power and influence, and much more. Turning to the niggles: the biggest one is that while I was okay (and surprised) with who the culprit turned out to be, the ending was off somehow -- it was like the author put in so much time and detail into the overall investigation and then well, there's the end of the book. Very quick, very short, and not enough explanation to make it completely satisfying. There's also the time spent in this book on Servaz's relationship with his daughter and his past -- this is a personal preference, and I realize that authors want their main characters to come off as real as possible, but there are ways to accomplish this without clogging the main flow of the crime story. Other people don't mind this aspect of crime novels so much -- but to me, it just gets in the way of what's going on in the investigation. It also adds a lot of a) distraction and b) unnecessary page count.
I have to say that even with the niggles I really liked The Frozen Dead, and I'll be eagerly awaiting the release of other books from this author. This isn't a book for the fainthearted cozy reader, and it's much better than many police procedurals I've read in the past. It's a clever mix of mystery and suspense that will keep the reader guessing right up until the very end. Definitely recommended for fans of translated crime fiction and those readers who want something with much more edge than the average police procedural.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Harvill Secker, 2013
my copy via Independent Publisher's Group (thank you!)
"...it was never supposed to be that kind of game."
Because I'm such a voracious reader, sometimes I feel like I've read every possible mystery/thriller/suspense plot line that ever existed. Not only did this one bring something different, it also made me think of a way the author could follow up this novel with another one. [Dear Mr. Yates: if you want to hear my idea, send me an email. I promise I won't sue if you choose to use it.] Overall, Black Chalk was a good enough read -- one with its flaws, for sure, but I'll talk about that later. For a now -- a little peek.
Jolyon Johnson is a first year student at Pitt College, Oxford. The first person to befriend him is Chad Mason, an American student at Oxford, also a newcomer and enrolled in a one-year program there. Soon they meet Jack "no P in Thomson", a history student, and it isn't long until the three find themselves at the Freshers' Fair, an "event to showcase for the new students the diverse multitude of thrilling societies they could join ..." where "the nomenclature of each society invariably concluded with the word 'Soc.' When Jolyon and Jack are ready to leave and go off to a pub, Chad takes them to the "Game Soc" stall. There Chad makes a strange "proposition" for "an entirely original and inventive game," one which quickly grabs the attention of the three people manning the stall:
"Six people, a number of rounds, one each separated by a week. A game of consequences, consequences which must be performed to prevent elimination. These consequences take the form of psychological dares, challenges designed to test how much embarrassment and humiliation the players can stand. Throughout the rounds players who fail to perform their consequences are eliminated until only one is left standing."The game would be played in total secrecy, the consequences starting out as "humourous dares," and as the rounds progressed, the "consequences would become tougher." Nothing illegal or dangerous is involved. The winner would win money, which Chad hopes the Game Soc will help them with. The Game Soc. is in -- albeit with a few conditions. Chad, Jack and Jolyon go about recruiting the other three members: Dee, who writes poetry; Emilia, a psychology student, and Mark, "the cleverest person at Pitt," according to Jolyon. The group hangs out in Jolyon's room to drink and the play the game -- and everything goes along swimmingly, at least at first. Flashing forward to the present, fourteen years later -- Jolyon is now in New York City, a veritable shut-in living in his apartment with all of the windows covered, having to rely on his own mnemonics system to remember what to do each day -- and for him, the final stages of the game that started so long ago are about to begin.
The novel is related via journal format, moving back and forth in time. It is in part Jolyon's "confession," and just 76 pages into the book he posits a question that will set the stage for the entire story:
"... I must place in front of you a question. Because there are two opposites to consider and before my story is told you must judge me.
What am I? Murderer? Or innocent?"This one question, of course, whetted my appetite for more.
Frankly speaking, I found the novel to be an okay read, one which, if I had to summarize it in one sentence, I'd call a story of psychological/head game warfare among a group of people who were once friends, with the author focusing on how the consequences of the game had lasting effects that spilled over into the present -- a premise that I found very cool. The modern-day scenes relating to Jolyon as a recluse were also good and got me interested in how he came to be that way; my attention was also grabbed by the element of the last days of the game being at hand. At that point I had no idea a) what the game entailed, b) what Jolyon may have done that prompted his "confession," and c) why the end of the game might be cause for Jolyon to be so concerned. Frankly it was the getting there, the events of the past linked to the game that held the bulk of my interest.
I'm of two minds here. First, in some areas, this book proves that old axiom that less is more. As just one example, I think that the author spent way too much time on extraneous things like what the students were drinking on a particular night or what drugs they were taking, the philosophical discussions they had -- almost as if he had to convince his readers that these people were indeed college students and doing what college students normally do. Throwing in the poetry one of the students wrote also seemed a little too much. There are just too many details that detract from the a) main thrust and b) the initial dark and mysterious atmosphere of the novel. On the other hand, the opposite is also true -- in some areas, I was left hanging with a lot of unanswered questions, most especially re the Game Soc. It's this weird, shadowy group without which the game would have never come to pass, but there's only a small bit of explanation as to who they are, not enough to really explain their presence, or why they do this sort of thing (as in what's in it for them), let alone their sustained interest some fourteen years later. And then, after so much time invested in getting to the circumstances behind the initial enigmas presented in the first chapters, when the final "showdown" came along, I found it to be on the anti-climactic side and the ending somewhat abrupt. Plus, when all is explained, the final reveal is sprinkled with a few cliché thriller elements on the side that I'd already figured out very early on.
What I see overall is a good, fresh premise, some intriguing questions central to the plot that are asked and answered, and what could have been a very dark and satisfying novel had the author been maybe a little more experienced in terms of writing. I also have to say that while maybe it fell short of my own personal expectations, this is his first book and yes, he made some mistakes here, but I think if he tries again, he'll be much more aware of the pitfalls. I'd certainly give him another try.
and yes, Mr. Yates, I really meant it about the next idea for the book --
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Henry Holt, 2014
also available as an audiobook from Macmillan -- if you'd like to hear an excerpt, just click the blue Streampad bar below.
"I said it before, and I know I'll have to say it again: women are nothing but trouble."
Benjamin Black, aka John Banville, is the author of the excellent series of crime novels set in 1950s Dublin -- in The Black-Eyed Blonde, he stays in the 1950s but moves to Raymond Chandler's mean streets of Los Angeles. He also brings back PI Philip Marlowe for another knightly adventure. After just last week or so having finished and fallen in love with all seven of the original Marlowe novels, I was frankly skeptical that anyone could pull off a new Marlowe story, but as it turns out, I didn't have to worry.
One Tuesday afternoon, Marlowe is in his office at Hollywood and Cahuenga when in walks Mrs. Clare Cavendish, the "black-eyed blonde" of the title, and heiress to the Langrishe perfume fortune. Marlowe notes the eyes right away: "A blonde with black eyes -- that's not a combination you get very often." As she lights her Sobranie Black Russian ("what else?") in its ebony holder, she gets down to business. It seems that two months earlier, her ex-lover Nico Peterson disappeared and now she wants him found. She hasn't gone to the cops since Nico was "rather shy of the police," leaving Marlowe to ask her if he had things to hide. Her answer "Haven't we all, Mr. Marlowe," turns out to be a major understatement -- as Marlowe soon realizes, there's definitely much more going on than the blonde with the black eyes is willing to tell. It also isn't long until he's in it up to his neck, from a dead man who's now walking the streets of San Francisco and couple of psychopathic hit men from south of the border to the uber wealthy who hide their secrets in their grand mansions and gated clubs. And all the while he wonders if maybe it isn't some kind of set up.
The author definitely has a firm hold on the essence of what it is that constitutes Marlowe. The description of our PI hero as a "shop-soiled Galahad" in The High Window remains the same here -- Black's Marlowe continues to protect his clients and keep their secrets at all costs, which in this book turn out to be more personal than he'll realize. He's still the same outwardly tough, hard-drinking Marlowe, with no illusions about human nature, especially when it comes to the rich and powerful. He's still the ultimate loner going back to an empty house with nothing but a chess board for company. There's no question but that in building his own brand of Philip Marlowe Benjamin Black has been very successful. The same is true for the rest of the book, with Black's own version of the famous Chandler similes and metaphors, well done, but not overdone. I must say that I missed the depth of Chandler's Los Angeles in this novel -- Chandler was so in tune with the city that his descriptions of LA were one big reason I loved these books. While I think that Black has got the city's late-1950s feel down, no way does his Los Angeles come close to the one in Chandler's originals. On the other hand, perhaps that isn't a fair comment -- Black hasn't set out to become Raymond Chandler, and I think he made a good decision there -- it seems to me that by keeping true to the main character while not trying to pastichize (is that a word?) Chandler in general, it allows the author to make it more his own work. If you've read Benjamin Black's work, you'll definitely recognize little bits of his own style in this novel. I marked one line that made me laugh, thinking "this is so Benjamin Black," where Marlowe's gone off to a joint called The Bull and Bear, and he notes “I can’t decide which are worse, bars that pretend to be Irish, with their plastic shamrocks and shillelaghs, or Cockneyfied joints like the Bull. I could describe it, but I haven’t the heart.”
Overall, I totally enjoyed losing myself in this novel. You don't have to have already read Chandler to enjoy the twisty plot, the characters (especially Marlowe), and the late 50s feel, but it would be helpful. Definitely a book I'd recommend to Chandler fans, to fans of older crime fiction, and especially to readers of Benjamin Black's work. I'm in awe of how good this author is every time I finish one of his books.
And now, just a little note which might, for readers who are familiar with Chandler's novels, constitute a major SPOILER ALERT (if you don't want the spoiler, quit reading right now):
The back-cover blurb by Stephen King really pissed me off because it totally gave me the direction that the book was going before I even opened it. I seriously don't know how he could do that or how the PsTB at Henry Holt could have let this happen -- by the time the big reveal came along, I already knew how things were going to play out -- I mean some of us have already read all of the Chandler novels. That's just wrong.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1988
originally published 1958
Raymond Chandler's death in 1959 marked the end of one of the best PI series ever written. Playback is the last of the fully-original Marlowe novels, although later Robert Parker used Chandler's notes to finish his unwritten Poodle Springs. After now having finished the original seven, I'm going to skip Poodle Springs for the time being; truth is I'm sort of ambivalent about picking it up because the originals are so good.
In Playback, the action begins when Marlowe is roused from a deep sleep by a phone call. On the other end of the line is an attorney, who is calling on behalf of an unnamed client. He wants Marlowe to find a woman named Eleanor King. All he has to do is to be there when the 8:00 Super Chief pulls into Union Station, identify the woman, follow her until she checks in somewhere and then report back. He'll make a hefty sum of money for what should be an easy-as-pie job. Marlowe, who always likes to know the score, has no idea who he's actually working for but takes the job anyway. After tootling around in Union Station for awhile watching the woman, he follows her to the coastal town of Esmeralda, a very wealthy town near San Diego. Like any good PI, he rents a room next to hers, and listens via stethoscope to his quarry and a man who's with her who seems to be talking blackmail. He's technically done his job, but he can't pry himself away from the case because he's not sure if this woman is bad news or if she's being set up somehow and needs his protection.
Playback is a novel that is one long conundrum -- every time Marlowe figures something out, it leads to another mystery, and getting down to the basic truth of matters takes the reader right up to the end. Of course, this wouldn't be Chandler if he didn't remark on society, and setting his novel in the town of Esmeralda (read La Jolla) makes it easy. As he untangles his way through the knotty enigmas of the case, he becomes aware of the social and economic discrepancies of this community. The rich and powerful are respected in this town, and there's very little room among their set for the the tasteless, the classless and the poor. Marlowe also spends time with an elderly gentleman who clues him in on aging and how this segment of society is often ignored just because they're old.
This book might not be Chandler's finest work, but the fact that there's a mystery that keeps you guessing may be a big draw for those interested only in the crime aspect. But really, what makes this and all of the other Marlowe novels work is his humanity, his ongoing compassion and his determination to get to the truth despite the costs to himself, all while protecting his clients. In Playback, these very traits are juxtaposed against another PI, who is rough around the edges, shows no class or discernment, and is there to make his money despite what his client is asking him to do.
I can most highly recommend the entire set of Marlowe novels -- as an oeuvre, they constitute some of the best writing in the history of crime fiction while remaining intelligent, sophisticated, and consistent. The plots are convoluted and tangled, there is definitely a formula attached to the works as a whole, and sometimes it's like you need to keep scorecards on who's involved with whom, etc, etc. However, if you read these books simply for their plots, you're really missing the best part -- and that is most certainly Philip Marlowe, created by the genius who was Raymond Chandler.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992
originally published 1953
The Long Goodbye just might be my favorite Marlowe book yet. Loved The Big Sleep and The Little Sister, but this one trumps both of them. When I started reading this series, it was because I wanted to read Benjamin Black's new book The Black-Eyed Blonde (which I got yesterday!), another Marlowe novel, and I wanted to see how his Marlowe stacks up to Chandler's, but I'd never read any Chandler. Since The Big Sleep, however, I've been reading these old books because I genuinely have come to love them. Life is not all about new and contemporary -- especially considering that Chandler has been an influence on many authors on down the crime-writing line. This book is the longest and most intense of all of them so far, and though it continues Chandler's run of overly-complicated and tangled plots, it's in this book where the author seems to have most fully expressed different facets of his real life, from alcoholism to publishing.
Marlowe first meets Terry Lennox outside of a club called The Dancers, when the parking lot attendant can't shut the door of the Silver Wraith because Lennox is totally plastered and his foot is hanging out of the car. The woman with him, who turns out to be his wife, leaves him behind, claiming to be late for an engagement. Marlowe takes pity on him and takes him to his house, gives him a coffee, and takes Lennox back to his own apartment. He makes an impression on Marlowe, and as he notes, "there was something about the guy that got me." It wasn't just Lennox's scarred face, either. He also saw no reason why he'd ever see the guy again, so he didn't ask a lot of questions. Later, he'll come to regret it:
"He would have told me the story of his life if I had asked him. But I never even asked him how he got his face smashed. If I had and he told me, it just possibly might have saved a couple of lives. Just possibly, no more."
As it turns out, however, this random meeting with this man with the scarred face will take Marlowe down some of the darkest paths throughout Los Angeles -- leading him to crooked and corrupt cops, jail time, the world of the rich, famous and most powerful people, doctors who peddle narcotics to their patients, beautiful women, and, of course, murder. While you might say, well, this sounds a lot like every other Chandler novel, trust me -- it's not. But to say more would spoil everything.
After reading and reporting on the five previous Marlowe novels, there's very little left for me to say about my favorite PI except for the fact that here his penchant for doing the right thing will turn into one of the most severe and personal betrayals of his career. However, it's really what Chandler says in and around Marlowe's work that I found most intriguing. He is no stranger to social criticism in these books, but here it's like he's also inserting much more of his personal life into the story. Everyone knows that Chandler was himself an alcoholic, and in this novel, alcoholism plays an extremely large and important role, with two alcoholic characters. One of them, the novelist Roger Wade, who admires F. Scott Fitzgerald, "the best drunken writer since Coleridge, who took dope," writes mass-appeal, popular historical books and is so drunk much of the time that he can't finish his latest one. Once he refers to himself as "a literary pimp." Through Wade, Chandler seems to be evoking his own emotional and other struggles with alcoholism as well as the whole writing biz. There is a most telling scene where Marlowe reads something "really wild" Wade wants him to get rid of before Mrs. Wade sees it (203-206), where Wade describes his ambivalence about drinking and writing. I must say, while I love all of the Marlowe novels, this one probably is Chandler at his ultimate finest.
I'm so loving this series, and I loved this book. The Long Goodbye appeals to my need for edge, for in-depth character study and my constant search for intelligently-written crime fiction. These books are, as I've said a number of times, some of the best literary works in the crime genre. If you have not yet made the acquaintance of Philip Marlowe, it's something you need to do and soon.