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Throwback Review: Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye

June 17, 2015 | The Crew | 1 Comment

Anthony Vacca takes us back to 1953 and the hard-boiled world of dames and detectives.

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

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When it comes to Raymond Chandler’s novels starring the smart-ass, misanthropic PI Phillip Marlowe, there’s The Long Goodbye and then there’s everything else Chandler ever wrote—and it’s a long, lonely drive in-between. The Big Sleep, Farwell, My Lovely, and The Little Sister are all seminal works of the hard-boiled genre, and on any other day of the week each is its own fuel-injected suicide machine; but in a bare-knuckled brawl, these books are packing wet noodles for arms when they walk into the Thunderdome and go up against the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla that is The Long Goodbye.

I was worried going into this book, on account of one of my most-loved and worshipped novels of all time, James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, is in part based off of this book (Crumley has said more than once in interviews that every good idea he had, he stole from Raymond Chandler). Luckily, these two novels are very separate beasts; while both feature plot-threads involving alcoholic, asshole authors, they go their own separate, heart-stomping ways.

If put on the spot for a fortune-cookie summarization of the two books, I’d say the The Last Good Kiss is about the fleeting temporality of love and the lingering heaviness of its loss set against the backdrop of post-1960’s disillusion, while The Long Goodbye, more than anything, is a slow-burning rumination on the nature of friendship.

In the earlier novels, all the events transpire usually under 48 hours with Marlowe getting assigned a case in the first few pages, followed by the discovery of the first in a long trail of dead bodies by page 20. The Long Goodbye begins with a jarring but lovely change of pacing and tone, with Marlowe forging a chance friendship with a charming loser of a war veteran. Weeks and months pass before the first body surfaces around the fifty page mark. And it isn’t until somewhere around the 100-page mark that the first signs of a case actually appear.

For a certain breed of mystery reader, this will probably sound like a terrible prospect, but then again I am a different kind of mystery reader. I believe the genre is a powerful medium for morality tales that can tackle all sorts of issues that I find important (i.e. the nature of good and evil, mortality, social injustice, the fallible nature of the American Dream), and can be written in prose that is subtle, poetic, and painful. Bottom line: I consider mystery novels—when they are truly well-written and truly about something—as important as any other well-cherished work of literature.

I don’t really have it in me to try and give you a zesty teaser on the plot of this novel, some hokey hook that’ll make you say “Gee Wiz” before sending you scrambling to get your mitts on a copy. This book tired me emotionally, and I mean that in the best possible way. So I’m going to take my curtain call with this last bit: if you are a reader who loves a layered, complex story with characters whose motivations are hidden behind the veil of what is being said at any moment (including—in fact, especially—the narrator, Marlowe), if you enjoy a book that actually requires you to actively read, then this is a book I’d recommend.
Rest assured, there are murders and criminals and femme fatales and tough talk and shady characters and two-timing lovers and dirty cops and mysteries intertwined with mysteries—but all that’s just the icing on top. What’s underneath is where things get good.

1 Comment

  • I loved “The Long Goodbye” and am nodding in agreement about how the mystery genre is well positioned for illustrating important moral questions. But I have to admit that I’ve yet to read Crumley’s “The Last Good Kiss”, if it’s in the same vein as Chandler then it’s one I will have to go find. Thanks for the tip!

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