Sunday, February 9, 2014
Traveling back through time: The High Window, by Raymond Chandler
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992
originally published 1942
"Phil Marlowe...The shop-soiled Galahad."
At book three in this series it's getting harder to come up with new things to say about Chandler's Marlowe novels. They are, in a word, excellent. Whether you read them for the writing, the often-cumbersome plots or the unforgettable characters, especially that of Philip Marlowe, considering that they were written around 70 years ago, the high quality of these books has remained steady so far.
Two women, one troubled and one simply trouble, are at the heart of Marlowe's adventures this time around. Unlike his other novels, in this case, trouble doesn't come in a gorgeous package, but one with "a lot of face and chin," who sucks down port as a self-remedy for her asthmatic condition. She is Elizabeth Bright Murdock, a "warhorse" mother of a "damn fool of a son," who married a torch singer against mommy's wishes. She wants Marlowe to find a missing rare and valuable coin known as the Brasher Doubloon, and if possible, to pin the theft of the coin on her now-absent daughter-in-law. What should be an easy case becomes complicated by a down-at-heel ex-cop playing at being a PI, a number of dead bodies, Marlowe's insistence on protecting his client (even though he hates her) and a case of blackmail that reveals more than even Marlowe bargained for in this case.
Aside from Chandler's witty metaphors, zippy prose and his take on the sprawl that is Los Angeles (which I am absolutely fascinated by, probably more than anything else in these books) what I am beginning to appreciate more about these novels is in the way Chandler explores people. Getting to the whodunit and most especially the why is really a vehicle for exploring individual psyches, especially Marlowe's. He becomes much more of a damsel-in-distress rescuer in this book, and continues his moral duty of keeping his client shielded from any possible fallout, even though it might mean that he soils his integrity in the bargain. He continues to hold onto his principled self -- his twenty-five dollars a day plus expenses is all he wants -- he can't be bought off, despite the expectations of clients and crooks alike. He works hard to get not only to the truth, but also to the heart of just what it is about people that makes them tick. But it's not just Marlowe -- pretty much anyone who takes any role in Marlowe's investigations gets even the tiniest bit of psychological air time from his or her creator. It's these individual stories when combined that showcase the people who exist in Marlowe's city; his interactions with these people who help to define who Marlowe is. And isn't.
The High Window didn't feel as clunky or convoluted plotwise -- I am having so much fun with these novels and this one did not disappoint.