I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.
Have you read any Raymond Chandler? If not, why not? I expect you may say, Oh, I don't like crime novels. And yes, of course, Chandler is a crime novelist -- but I rather think that anyone who reads his books just for the plot may be disappointed. But above all, he is a simply wonderful writer. I'm talking about style here -- "Chandler wrote like a slumming angel", said Ross Macdonald. Oh, the plots are there, alright, but they are sometimes quite confusing, though never lacking in events and excitement. But again and again you are brought up against some of the most wonderful lines in English prose. Take for example "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window". Superb.
Beautiful blondes are quite a feature of Raymond Chandler's novels, and though they are usually extremely untrustworthy, his hero Philip Marlowe finds them hard to resist. "I like smooth, shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin". That description certainly fits Mrs Grayle, the gorgeous young wife of an aging and sick millionaire. She hires Marlowe to look for her priceless, recently stolen jade necklace. A ransom has been demanded, but the necklace has not been returned and someone has died in the process of trying to retrieve it.
There's money forthcoming for this job, which Marlowe badly needs, but he is also caught up in a police investigation, having witnessed a shooting in a bar in town. The killer, one Moose Malloy, fresh out of jail, is looking for his erstwhile girlfriend Velma, who has disappeared off the face of the earth. Between these two assignments, which prove to be oddly linked, Marlowe is kept busy, and gets himself into deep deep trouble. Needless to say he emerges, battered but unbowed -- or only a little bowed -- to face another day.
All the riddles, of which there are many, are solved in the end, though I'd have a job explaining exactly how. But that is really by the by. Published in 1940, this novel portays with brilliant skill the seedy underworld of Los Angeles, where drugs and alcohol and crime are the currency of the day. And, thought this would be enough to make any man lose his faith in the human race, Marlowe somehow manages to keep a shred of optimism.
You can crab over the morning paper and kick the shins of the guy in the next seat at the movies and feel mean and discouraged and sneer at the politicians but there are a lot of nice people in the world just the same.
I read this in an Everyman edition of Chandler's first three novels, and still have The High Window to go. I reviewed the first one.The Big Sleep, a year or so ago -- you can read that review here. Highly recommended.