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Farewell, My Lovely
3.25.2003 by Julian, every Tuesday.

At the start of Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe has just given up on a routine case and is on his way home when he bumps into Moose Malloy, a man who “looks about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” Moose is a huge guy who has just gotten out of jail and is looking for the sweetheart he left behind. The methods he employs in finding her are rather crude—they involve wandering around and killing people who don’t help him—but he seems to genuinely love her. He’s rather a sad character, and Marlowe takes a liking to him.

Meanwhile Marlowe is hired by a rich dandy named Lindsay Marriott to accompany and protect him while he negotiates the return of a priceless jade necklace with a bunch of thieves. The job ends in more murder, and there’s also marijuana involved, which leads Marlowe to a psychic named Amthor. Amthor is a creepy guy:
He was thin, tall and straight as a steel rod. He had the palest finest white hair I ever saw. It could have been strained through silk gauze. His skin was as fresh as a rose petal. He might have been thirty-five or sixty-five. He was ageless. His hair was brushed straight back from as good a profile as Barrymore ever had. His eyebrows were coal black, like the walls and ceiling and floor. His eyes were deep, far too deep. They were the depthless drugged eyes of a somnambulist. They were like a well I read about once. It was nine hundred years old, in an old castle. You could drop a stone into it and wait. You could listen and wait and then you would give up waiting and laugh and then just as you were ready to turn away a faint, minute splash would come back up to you from the bottom of that well, so tiny, so remote that you could hardly believe a well like that possible. His eyes were deep like that. And they were also eyes without expression, without soul, eyes that could watch lions tear a man to pieces and never change, that could watch a man impaled and screaming in the hot sun with his eyelids cut off.
For such a great description, Amthor doesn’t do much. He just has Marlowe beaten up. Marlowe gets beaten up a lot in this book.

Marlowe’s quest eventually leads him to a huge gambling boat, parked in international waters off the coast. It’s there that he will find what he has been looking for. A man named Red sneaks him aboard. The description of Red is also great. Given that Chandler was scared stiff (so to speak) of being thought queer, there are definitely a lot of homoerotic undertones here:
I looked at him again. He had eyes you never see, that you only read about. Violet eyes. Almost purple. Eyes like a girl, a lovely girl. His skin was as soft as silk. Lightly reddened, but it would never tan. It was too delicate.
Chandler is great at writing description. Chandler is quoted as saying:
My theory was that the readers just thought they cared about nothing but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they thing they cared about, and that I cared about, was the creation of emotion through dialogue and description.
This realization, and the books like Farewell, My Lovely that came out of it, helped him to elevate the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction to the status of literature. Of this he says:
What greater prestige can a man like me (not too gifted, but very understanding) have than to have taken a cheap, shoddy and utterly lost kind of writing, and have made of it something that intellectuals claw each other about?

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