Monday, July 23, 2018

“A Grisly Skill”

To help celebrate today’s 130th anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s birth in Chicago, the Literary Hub-associated site Book Marks has posted what it says are the initial reviews of Chandler’s seven novels starring Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe. Here, for instance, is a critique of Farewell, My Lovely, penned for The New York Times by Isaac Anderson, and published on November 17, 1940:
This is a tough one: superlatively tough, alcoholic, and, for all its wisecracks, ugly rather than humorous. Like many ‘swift-moving’ tales, it is sometimes confusing in its rapid succession of incidents which may or may not have an integral connection with the plot. And the actual mystery is not important. It isn’t so difficult to guess what had become of the beautiful cabaret singer Velma. The identity of the unpleasing Lindsay Marriott’s slayer has no pressing interest. The murder casually committed by that elemental giant Moose Malloy is only an episode to start the story going. No, the appeal of Farewell, My Lovely is in its toughness, which is extremely well done.

Jeanne Florian may know something or nothing about Velma, but Philip Marlowe’s questioning of that gin-soaked old woman makes as sordid a bet as you’re likely to be looking for. Beautiful Mrs. Grayle has a real place in the story, but it’s the sense of evil all about her that gives you goose-flesh. And Amthor the ‘psychic consultant’ and Sonderberg the ‘dope doctor’ are lesser figures in a novel in which no detail is left undescribed.

But the story’s ever-present theme is police corruption, seen in a murky variety. And several kinds of dreadfulness are handled with a grisly skill.
You can read all seven of the reviews here.

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