After the breezy whimsical human comedy Dashiell Hammett displays in The Thin Man, the adventures of Philip Marlowe have considerably more depth. In Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, his second Marlowe novel, the stakes seem considerably higher. The banter is less, the darkness is a little more latent, and the central character has just a little bit more weight. This is no slam on Hammett’s final novel – but Chandler in this story has created a truly atmospheric story – with a gallery of characters and themes that make it more than just a readable potboiler (though it certainly qualifies on that front).
The story begins with a newly negro-owned bar that Marlowe happens to be near and the entrance of a giant hulking man named Moose Malloy. He has just gotten out of the joint and goes there to locate an old flame. Malloy, who went into the pen before the place changed hands, is not pleased to see how little help he is getting. He summarily kills the bouncer, seriously roughs up the owner and leaves. Marlowe is a witness to all this. When he takes this to the local Lieutenant, as one can imagine in that time, he is not given much serious help. Indeed Nulty (the lieutenant) and his men’s comical false alarms about catching Malloy is one of the fun parts of plot.
At the same time, Marlowe is called for an actual paying job by Lindsey Marriott, who is slated to pick up a jade necklace being held hostage by some gangsters. Marlowe is asked to come along to provide backup, though Marriott does not offer why Marlowe was selected. They go to the pickup location – and when Marlowe looks for the people – he gets roughed up and Marriott is killed. The person who finds this mess is Anne Riordan, a spunky redhead who – well, she exists as the “good girl” here – but Marlowe sure does not seem like that type. ”I like smooth shiny girls, hard-boiled and loaded with sin” (166-167)
The plot gets much murkier – as Marlowe starts digging on the Malloy side and the jewel side. I have only hinted at the complications. What is particularly effective is how Chandler evokes atmosphere and scenery. His descriptions of his characters reveal both great description as well as interesting insights into Marlowe himself. Even early on, when Marlowe meets Malloy for the first time, “looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food” (3). Chandler is not content with banal descriptions.
Marlowe, as he moves through this world is a fascinating protagonist. He does not have time to really love someone like an Anne Riordan, but he sees romanticism clearly. He tries to do the right thing – he pursues the Malloy matter without prompting – but also chasing two-bit jobs. His fleabag office and rather pathetic existence hints at a sleazebag, but Marlowe is more literate and knowing. He is a complex character who understands people – and so when Chandler gets him into action, it has weight. When he gets hit, it hurts – and the reader can tell. Similarly, Malloy is not what he seems – a brutal killer at the beginning, Marlowe begins to sense the entire story there.
Ultimately, the characters and the prose drives Farewell, My Lovely. However, the plot holds together very well – and when we get to the final reveal, the clues do fit together, even if the resolution has a messy real-life credibility. This is a terrific piece of noir – I cannot wait to discover more.