Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Original Private Eye

L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe is handed a perplexing case in this classic detective novel from the master of the genre, Raymond Chandler. Hired by cosmetic tycoon, Derace Kingsley, to locate his missing wife Crystal, Marlowe learns that the marriage has been dead for years. Kingsley also informs Marlowe that a recent telegram from Crystal indicated that she was crossing to Mexico for a quickie divorce so that she could marry her new love, Chris Lavery. But when Lavery shows up in L.A. claiming to have no knowledge of Crystal’s whereabouts or intentions, Kingsley and Marlowe start backtracking her to her last known location- the Kingsley’s cabin in Little Fawn Lake. From then on, the bodies begin to accumulate. Is Crystal responsible for the killings- or could she be the next victim?

Title: The Lady in the Lake
Author: Raymond Chandler
Series: Philip Marlowe, Book 4
Start & Finished: 9/20/08- 9/22/08
Published: 1943
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 272
Genre: Mystery- Crime

“Hardboiled” detective novels have been around since the 1930’s but it was Raymond Chandler that truly made the genre what it is today with his character Philip Marlowe. Introduced for the first time by name (the actual character appeared under several names such as Carmady in some original short stories but were later republished with the names changed to Marlowe- “a process that Chandler called ‘cannibalizing‘”) in the novel The Big Sleep, it was considered to be Chandler’s greatest work but his next two novels in the series Farewell, My Lovely and The High Window were also well thought of and all three have been adapted to film- many several times. The next Philip Marlowe book was published four years after the first official one and it was called The Lady in the Lake (it too was adapted to film in 1947 starring Robert Montgomery). The novel was based upon three short stories: Bay City Blues, The Lady In The Lake, and No Crime In The Mountains.

Between Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, the iconic figure of the hardboiled detective was created so it was only proper that the first time I read one of these novels was by one of these authors. Now I do wish I had read the Marlowe series in the order they were written but it wasn’t until I had finished the book that I was even aware that it wasn’t the first story. The Lady in the Lake completely stood on its own and I enjoyed the glimpse back into time that the story presents.

In recent years, these types of detective novels have been making a comeback (albeit with a more fantastical edge, a la Jim Butcher) but they aren’t quite the same as the real thing. While some authors can “speak” the lingo of a 1940’s detective fluently, only the authors and their characters from the era seem to live and breathe through their words even today. Sometimes it was a bit hard to understand as many, many phrases have fallen out of fashion through the years but overall it wasn’t that difficult:

“He stopped in front of mine and unlocked the door and gave me the hard stare they think they have to wear on their pans forever and forever and forever. I’m a cop, brother, I’m tough, watch your step, brother, or we’ll fix you up so you’ll crawl on your hands and knees, brother, snap out of it, brother, let’s get a load of truth, brother, let’s go, and let’s not forget we’re tough guys, we’re cops, and we do what we like with punks like you.”
While I was able to figure out the big picture before a body was ever found, I wasn’t always exactly sure what was going on. However, many readers (including myself occasionally) might find it a bit irritating at how easy the ending was to guess. At times I seriously think you would have to be dense to miss the clues Chandler smacks you over the head with. Maybe this is because it is actually three combined (or “cannibalized“) stories in one or maybe that was just how the author meant it to be. Either way, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story and the adventure of Mr. Marlowe in The Lady in the Lake.

Philip Marlowe Series
The Big Sleep (1939)
Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
The High Window (1942)
The Lady in the Lake (1943)
The Little Sister (1949)
The Simple Art of Murder (1950)
The Long Goodbye (1953)
Playback (1958)
Poodle Springs (1989) (with Robert B Parker)

Links: Author Wikipedia, Book Wikipedia, Character Wikipedia, Detective Fiction Wikipedia, American Heritage article, Penguin Reader Fact Sheet (PDF)
Interview: Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler (audio)

Uncovering the Mystery of Chandler's Life:

Picture Explanations
Crestline Mountains: The real mystery actually begins in these mountains at Little Fawn Lake.
Police Car: The type of cars the police drove during this time period.
Hat & Folders: The typical gear of the private eye.


  1. I read The Long Goodbye a while back. Good stuff!

  2. All I've read by Chandler was a short story a very long time ago...I can barely remember it, except that I liked it enough to want to read more!

  3. I love mysteries and really should try one of these old novels that have stood the test of time.

  4. I haven't read this one yet, but I can't help but wonder if the clues were so obvious because we are more seasoned readers of the genre? I read The Big Sleep and some others ages ago and enjoyed them - I'll have to pick up more of these some time.

  5. Lenore: I'm curious about the other Marlowe books.

    Nymeth: I'm a little curious about some of his original short stories.

    Bermudaonion: Just love books written from another time!

    Darla D: I thought that could be the case too until I learned that it was three short stories that Chandler mashed into one novel. I'd like to pick up The Big Sleep eventually.

  6. I love a good mystery but haven't tried any by this author yet. Sounds like I should but I think I'll try the 1st in the series instead.

  7. sounds interesting, great review.
    I hadnt heard of this author before. I like a good mystery.

  8. I keep wanting to read The Big Sleep, but just haven't gotten around to it yet.

  9. Samantha: I sure wish I would have read the first book first but I still enjoyed it.

    Naida: Thank you! I love a good mystery too and I'm beginning to realize I like ones written during this era.

    Carol: It will probably be awhile but I plan to read it too eventually.

  10. sounds like a great series. I've never heard of them. Thanks for introducing me.

  11. Yeah, I should definitely read more of them one of these days.

  12. Oh, what classics! It was *The Long Goodbye* that I read, ages ago. Now I'd like to revisit Chandler's writing, thanks for the reminder of oldies but goodies.

  13. Serena: You're welcome! I hope you enjoy them too :)

    Lenore: I hope to and then I want to watch the movies!

    Dawn: You're very welcome! I hope to read more of his writing again someday too :o)



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