Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review of The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (1943, Knopf)

Private investigator Philip Marlowe has been hired by a Los Angeles businessman, Derace Kingsley, to find his wayward wife, Crystal, who’s been absent from their cabin in the mountains for a month.  She’s subsequently sent a telegram saying she’s getting a Mexican divorce and is re-marrying.  More recently Kingsley has received a call from a hotel to say her car has been there for two weeks and he's met the supposed suitor, Chris Lavery, a gigolo, who denied all knowledge of eloping with Crystal.  Given his wife has had a few run-ins with the law, though they’ve always been hushed up, and concerned for her safety and the blowback from any scandal, he wants Marlowe to track her down.  He starts by heading to Lavery’s abode, where the gigolo sticks to his story of brushing-off Crystal, and the doctor’s house opposite attracts his attention after the police are called to move him on.  He then heads to the Kingsley cabin at Puma Point in the mountains, where he discovers the body of a woman in the lake, the wife of the caretaker, who disappeared after he’d had a fling with Crystal the day before she supposedly fled to San Bernadino and onward to Mexico.  The caretaker is arrested for the murder of his wife, but Marlowe isn’t convinced at his guilt and sets off to unravel the case.

The Lady in the Lake is the fourth book in the Philip Marlowe series.  Marlowe’s character as a private detective who can handle folk like a feather when needed, but is more likely to use the edge of his tongue and the back of his hand, is firmly established.  The strength of the book is the plot and Chandler’s storytelling.  The story starts as a missing wife case, quickly becoming a two missing wives case, then a murder investigation after one of them is found at the bottom of a lake.  Whilst the police believe they’ve quickly solved the murder, Marlowe isn’t convinced and he still hasn’t found the first missing wife.  It takes all of his guile and abrasiveness to finally locate her and solve the puzzle, and the denouement is very satisfying as Chandler reveals a perfectly logical, but well camouflaged, twist.  The characterisation and their interactions is well done and Chandler nicely portrays and passes comment on the social relations and police corruption of the time.  Overall, a superior PI tale from one of the genre’s masters.


Anonymous said...

Rob - A fine review of an excellent PI novel. Glad you enjoyed this one as much as you did. Of course, I'm biased, but I think this one's a classic.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Have only seen the movie which I am sure did not do it justice.

Barry Ergang said...

The movie version was the pits.