Thursday, September 3, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler (1940) - audiobook

I haven't read all that much Raymond Chandler.  I read The Big Sleep more than a decade ago (specifically when I was trapped in a hotel in Las Vegas the week of 9/11 and I couldn't fly home).  And if I've read more than that, I don't really recall.  I do remember thinking "I'm more of a Dashiell Hammett guy" after reading The Big Sleep, but sooner or later you want to read some of the other stuff.

Of course you can't be into noir film and not stumble across adaptations of his work and work he adapted into screenplays (see Double Indemnity, where he gets a brief cameo).

But I figured I needed to read some more Philip Marlowe, Chandler's go-to Detective where Hammett had Sam Spade and The Continental Op.

Farewell, My Lovely (1940) is a winding mystery that starts on page 1 as Philip Marlowe fails to mind his own business when he sees a giant of a man, a white guy, walk into an African-American club and start a ruckus.  He literally sticks his nose in and gets grabbed by Moose Malloy, a heist-man just paroled and out looking for his ex-girlfriend, Velma.  Moose is stronger than he knows, stupidly violent, and single minded, and winds up killing the bar's manager.

In the aftermath, Marlowe gets wrapped up in the case, but no sooner does he decide to bail than he gets hired by a suave gentleman looking for protection as he bargains for the safe return of a lady-friend's hi-jacked jewels.  Marlowe doesn't protect him and the gentleman winds up dead, and that, in turn gets Marlowe all the more involved with his failed job.  Soon, beautiful dames, crooked cops, mentalists, shady hospitals and honestly illegitimate off-shore gambling operations all play a part.  And a bright young daughter of a former police commissioner.

It's a pretty darn good mystery.  I certainly didn't see the answers coming until exactly when Chandler put his hand down at the end of the book and you have that "oh, of course!" moment that makes for a good detective story.  But that's not where Chandler hung his reputation.

Marlowe's world is as grimy and corrupt as anything in fiction I've read, where a square is a sucker, everyone drinks too much (as did the author), and meeting someone who is on the level is almost a transcendent experience.  Through it all, even when he's a heel, Marlowe is playing toward some greater good, at least towards the truth.  He's just willing to get his hands dirty doing it.  As driven as Parker might be about getting a job done, Marlowe is willing to die, it seems to just get the truth, the paycheck at the end of the mystery be damned.

And, of course, if Hammett is the master of punchy prose and rapid fire description (and Stark, the minimalist), then Chandler is the painterly writer, not just in his fantastic description and imagery, but in his character driven dialogue, everyone with a distinct voice and character, someone real in their way and immediately knowable, somehow.

Voiced by Ray Porter, the audio book was pretty great.  I don't know that he did a marvelous job with the young Ann Riordan, but every other character was given a breadth that went above and beyond the call of duty.  It was sort of a one-man show going on there.  And it looks like Mr. Porter voiced many more Chandler books, so that's good news.

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