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The Lady in the Lake and Other Novels

de Raymond Chandler

Sèrie: Philip Marlowe (Omnibus 3,4 & 5)

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An omnibus comprising Raymond Chandler's three Philip Marlowe novels, THE LADY IN THE LAKE, THE HIGH WINDOW and THE LITTLE SISTER.
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"The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities ... where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practicing ...
It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in."

(Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art Of Murder)

I'm not sure quite what I was expecting when I started this omnibus edition of some of Chandler's less well-known work - I'd read something by Chandler several years ago, but my memory of it was so faint I couldn't recall the title, let alone my impression of it. I suppose I was anticipating some mixture of the usual noir tropes: cynical, hard-bitten detectives; violent confrontations with gangsters and blackmailers; corrupt or barely competent police officers; ingénues and femme fatales. And yet, while all those elements certainly are on display in the three books included in this volume, the stories Chandler tells are definitely more than simple routine rehashings of them.

Like Chandler's better known books, the focus of these stories is on Philip Marlowe, a private detective working in (a semi-fictionalised) California. Beneath the expected hardboiled surface, Marlowe is a surprisingly complex character (he relaxes by playing though old tournament chess games, for example). And yet the cases he gets he gets involved in are often ugly and brutal affairs, a far cry from the sort of elaborately constructed murder mystery in a country home that was so common in the work of earlier writers of 'detective fiction'. Indeed, often the cases themselves aren't the focus of the stories at all: rather, these are character studies and mood pieces, seeking as much to depict the environments in which crimes take place as to relate a series of clues and red herrings about any particular invented crime.

That said, I was struck by how cleverly worked out the details of the cases were - while by no means faultless, it's perfectly possible to have a go out working things out for yourself as you follow Marlowe and he gathers evidence. I was struck too by the sense of what I can only call social awareness in the books (as evidenced by the quotation above). There's a certain sense of self-aware cynicism as Marlowe dwells on the plight of the inhabitants of Bay City's slums or sneers at the "rich phonies" and gangsters who inhabit the Idle Valley Social Club, but a genuine sense of outrage lies beneath that.

The Lady In The Lake itself is the strongest part of the collection; The High Window is similar thematically but just slightly less impressive, while The Little Sister is a decidedly weaker effort with a rather unsatisfying conclusion. In that book, at least, the tropes really do threaten to overshadow the story. But I definitely recommend that anybody interested take a look at this collection; I'll certainly be reading any more Chandler I get my hands on.
  Plessiez | Jun 1, 2008 |
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An omnibus comprising Raymond Chandler's three Philip Marlowe novels, THE LADY IN THE LAKE, THE HIGH WINDOW and THE LITTLE SISTER.

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