Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The High Window: Raymond Chandler

This was Raymond Chandler's third novel, and it is the third I have read. There is no particular reason to read them in order. I suppose I have been doing that to follow how his writing style changes over time.

In The High Window, Marlowe is called in by a wealthy widow, Elizabeth Bright Murdock, because a coin in her late husband's coin collection is missing. She thinks that her daughter-in-law took it, and she wants Marlowe to find it. You would think that she could ask her son about it, but apparently no one in this family talks to anyone else. The coin that is missing is a Brasher Doubloon, in mint condition and very valuable.

I did not like this novel as much as the previous two in the series: The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. This is still an excellent book, it just doesn't match up to the first two he wrote. Marlowe is a wonderful character. But in both of the earlier novels I found other characters to like and sympathize with. In this one none of the characters were particularly sympathetic and we don't get to know them very well. There are a lot of characters, and they were hard to keep track of. However, the dialog is terrific, even if I didn't care for the characters.

The plot in The High Window was confusing (at least to me, other reviewers disagree), but that is nothing new for Chandler. By the end, however, what seemed like a mish-mash of really weird characters is explained, and the ending is satisfying. There are some good points made about being able to trust the police (or not), and he interacts with two policemen who are pretty good guys, although it is not immediately obvious. The story portrays the wealthy and elite of Los Angeles and those from the seamy side of the area. Philip Marlowe lives somewhere between.

The Foreward by Lawrence Clark Powell in The Raymond Chandler Omnibus talks about the representation of Los Angeles in literature and particularly the books of Raymond Chandler.
Raymond Chandler wrote with classical dispassion of a romantic and violent society. He was neither for nor against L.A.; his vision was not dazzled by the neons which rainbow the Southern California night. He had the X-ray eye that penetrates blacktop and fog (smog didn't come until the 1940's–Chandler's L.A. is of the two previous decades). He had the gift of tongue; he was a poet. Metaphors flowered for him in language suited to the exotic people and places he was describing with Flaubertian meticulousness. Chandler didn’t moralize, satirize, deplore, or lament; he saw, selected, and said, in language that lives.  The reader is left to his own conclusions about tlie morality of the Southern California milieu.
The inhabitants are all there to the life–garage men, room clerks, carhops, grifters, grafters and house dicks, the idle rich and their butlers, houseboys and chauffeurs–a marvelous menagerie of Southern Californians, differentiated in appearance and speech, pitilessly portrayed yet without malice. Chandler had lived among them most of his life–he was one of them, he and his alter ego, Philip Marlowe–and he memorialized their brutal and violent actions with redeeming compassion.
Where this novel does live up to the earlier promise of the two previous ones is in the beauty of the writing. I am not particularly fond of the metaphors and similes; sometimes they work for me, sometimes they fall flat. Regardless, his writing is superb.

There are two adaptations of this book. First it was made into a Mike Shayne movie with Lloyd Nolan, Time to Kill, in 1942. Later, George Montgomery starred in The Brasher Doubloon, in 1947. I haven't seen either of these, but I would love to.

See Also...

Reviews at A Crime is Afoot and Crime Segments.


Publisher:   Ballantine Books, 1971. Orig. pub. 1942.
Cover art by Tom Adams.
Length:      204 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Philip Marlowe, #3
Setting:      Los Angeles
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies. The omnibus has been on my TBR for eight years.


Neeru said...

Tracy, how lucky of you to have a Raymond Chandler omnibus! I only have one physical book of Chandler's on my shelves, and it is this one. The High Window was my first experience of Chandler and like you, I didn't enjoy it much. Thankfully I soon read his short-story collection, Killer in the Rain, and the beautiful The Long Goodbye and was hooked forever.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Considering I have enjoyed the films, and that I have a daughter who adores his work, I am ashamed to admit I have read none of his books. I am looking at one across the room right now. Maybe I will read it.

Margot Kinberg said...

I know what you mean, Tracy, about interest in the characters. Of course it's important to be interested in the protagonist of a story. But beyond that, it really is important, I think, the other characters be believable, and not just there to move the plot along, if that makes sense.

Rick Robinson said...

This is one of his weakest novels, and in this case I prefer the short story version. That said, any Chandler is better than no Chandler. I have a short story collection near the top if the TBR for a reread.

TracyK said...

Neeru, I once considered donating my omnibus because I prefer to have copies of individual books. Luckily I held on to it, because the introductory text in the Foreward is very good. And it is the only copy I have of The Lady in the Lake. I have considered jumping ahead to The Long Goodbye because I have heard it is very good, and then we could rewatch the film adaptation.

TracyK said...

Patti, under those circumstances, I am surprised you haven't read any of Chandler's books. I think I must have read some when I was in my twenties but can't remember now what I read. When I read The Big Sleep, I was afraid it would not live up to my expectations, but fortunately, it did.

TracyK said...

Rick, based on the books by Chandler that I have read, that is true. Any book by Chandler is worth reading. I hate to admit this but, other than The Simple Art of Murder, I did not realize that there were short story collections. I will be looking for some of those.

TracyK said...

Margot, since I enjoyed the characters so much in both The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, I was surprised to have little interest in the characters in this book. Some of the characters do come more into focus towards the end of the book, but still, not that enjoyable from that point of view. But Chandler's good points outweigh any bad, at least in my reading so far.

Katrina said...

I'm another who has never read anything by Chandler although I've been meaning to for years. I'll get around to it soon.

TracyK said...

Katrina, I think you will enjoy Chandler's writing. I am always amazed that he wrote so few novels but now I am finding that he wrote a good number of short stories. Which I need to try.

Neeru said...

Tracy, leave The Long Goodbye for the last:)

TracyK said...

Neeru, I will take your advice. Thanks.

Barry Ergang said...

"The Brasher Doubloon" is available on YouTube. It's far from a great film.

The movie version of THE LONG GOODBYE is a disaster if you're a diehard Chandler fan. Robert Altman should have been pilloried for what he did to Chandler's greatest work.

TracyK said...

Thanks for that information, Barry. I will look for The Brasher Doubloon on YouTube. I think I would enjoy it, regardless.

My husband and I both liked the movie version of The Long Goodbye. I might change my mind after I read the book.