Book Review: The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye (1953) finds Marlowe living in a borrowed house in Los Angeles when he meets a down and out drunk and former war hero named Terry Lennox. Marlowe strikes up a friendship with the man and one morning Marlowe is awakened to find Lennox asking to be driven to Mexico. Marlowe does this and the finds out Lennox’s wealthy wife was murdered with Lennox the prime suspect. Lennox writes out a confession and kills himself in Mexico. The cops, organized crime, and the dead woman’s father want Marlowe to forget the case, yet Marlowe feels an obligation to Lennox.

To begin with, The Long Goodbye is the longest of all Chandler novels. The same publisher did the most recent reprint of the Marlowe books, and the first five novels range from 231-292 pages. This book weighs in at 379 pages.  At this point in his career, Chandler had come to realize what people looked to Marlowe books for: the characters and the dialogue, and Marlowe telling people off. So Chandler gave us this in spades.

He gives ample time to develop the Marlowe-Lennox relationship at the start of the book and there are great Chandler characters spread throughout the book including author Roger Wade, who I can see as a self-insertion character by Chandler particularly after listening to the BBC Radio 4 play about Chandler and Hitchcock attempting to collaborate on Strangers on a Train. The book is full of rich characterization, settings, and dialogue.

The downside of the Long Goodbye is that in the midst of all that, Chandler loses the story several times. It’s hard to remember a detective novel where the detective took so little interest in solving the central mystery of the book. Marlowe literally goes weeks without doing anything and there are moments in the story where I wonder if we’re ever going to get back to the Terry Lennox case. It’s hard to care about the solution to a story when the main character doesn’t seem to.

In addition, this is a much more cynical and jaded Marlowe than prior books with his remarks that organized crime is just a cost of civilization in one of the later chapters. Marlowe seems at times to be almost exaggerated at a few times even explaining he was trying to be mysterious at one point.

I also feel the relationship between Marlowe and Linda Loring or the attempt thereof was weak and far less interesting than the flirting with romance in prior novels.

Overall, this is a still a good read and is better than The Little Sister and The High Window with so many interesting characters and settings, and some great dialogue. Still, it feels less organic and its pacing issues place it below the very best Marlowe novels in the series. For my part, I think the 1970s BBC radio adaptation with Ed Bishop is probably the best way to experience the story as it manages to preserve the heart of the story while leaving a lot of extraneous elements on the cutting room floor.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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  3 comments for “Book Review: The Long Goodbye”

  1. Tim Szeliga
    February 3, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    The first detective movies I saw in the theater were “Chinatown” and “The Long Goodbye”. Robert Altman’s druggy, loopy adaptation starred Elliott Gould as Marlowe, who improbably made the role work.

    Altman had a knack for casting amateurs in major roles: Nina van Pallandt, the knuckleballer Jim Bouton and Laugh-In’s Henry Gibson excelled in their parts.

    Sterling Hayden played the drunken author as a straight-up Hemingway pastiche.
    He was so convincing that I always assumed that’s the way the novel was written. Excellent critical eye, Adam. Roger Wade was clearly a self-portrait of Chandler.

    The director of “Inherent Vice” said in an interview that his hardest task was forgetting that Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” ever existed.

    I haven’t seen it since the days of VHS, but I remember it fondly.

  2. February 4, 2015 at 8:35 am

    I never saw the movie except for the end (ironically.) I was channel surfing and saw it and that actually turned me off to the whole film as it ends with Marlowe committing murder.

    It’s interesting they went with a Hemingway pastiche since reading the book, I felt Wade was based on Chandler himself.

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