Farewell opens in style. Wisecracking PI Philip Marlowe is dragged into a situation that gets out of control very quickly. Ex-con Moose Malloy has returned to LA to find his old girlfriend Velma. Moose is a giant, ‘not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck’, none too bright, and doesn’t know his own strength. He barges in to the club where Velma used to work and winds up shooting the new owner dead. Marlowe makes the mistake of going in with Moose, and is left to pick up the pieces.
The killing of a black club owner is given low priority by the LA police. Nulty, the lazy cop in charge of the case, thinks it will be simple to track down Malloy because of his size and dress sense. He winds up chasing every giant in the city. As work is slow, Marlowe volunteers himself to try to find Moose’s girlfriend Velma instead.
In other news, Marlowe is hired for a night’s work by a guy called Lindsay Marriott:
His blond hair was arranged, by art or nature, in three precise blond ledges which reminded me of steps, so that I didn’t like them. I wouldn’t have liked them anyway. Apart from all this he had the general appearance of a lad who would ear a white flannel suit with a violet scarf round his neck and a cornflower in his lapel.
One of Marriott’s lady friends has been robbed of rare jade necklace, and the thieves are demanding a ransom for its return. Marriott will be handing over the money but has decided he needs some muscle just in case. Marlowe was the first PI in the phone book. The job goes all wrong and ends with Marriott dead in a Bay City canyon.
A nice girl (a rarity for Marlowe) named Annie Riordan, daughter of the former Chief of the Bay City police is on hand to give him a lead to Mrs Lewin Lockridge Grayle (the famous ‘blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window’), the owner of the jade necklace.
Wealthy socialite Mrs Lewin Lockridge Grayle isn’t as nice as Annie, but after a bit of a smooch, she commissions Marlowe to look into Marriott’s death.
This means spending time in Bay City, which is bad news:
Sure it’s a nice town. It’s probably no crookeder than Los Angeles. But you can only buy a piece of a big city. You can buy a town like this all complete, with the original box and tissue paper.
And in the gambling ship moored in international waters just off the coast is the man who has bought it. And of course Marlowe’s job takes him right to the top.
Farewell mixes low-life and high society in equal measures, and Marlowe shows himself equally not at home with either. There is a strong seam of self-disgust running through the book. Marlowe doesn’t especially enjoy his work. His quest to find Moose Malloy’s Velma leads to him questioning the alcoholic wife of her former employer.
A lovely old woman. I liked being with her. I liked getting her drunk for my on sordid purposes. I was a swell guy. I enjoyed being me.
The self-disgust fuels his self-destructive tendencies: drinking, smoking, flirting with clients when he really likes Anne Riordan, and smart-talking policemen who could be on his side. And also getting himself into trouble: in the course of Farewell Marlowe is sapped, beaten up, committing to a bogus rehab clinic and drugged.
I re-read The Big Sleep a while ago, and wound up feeling like Chandler was trying too hard. For my money, Farewell is the better book. The wisecracks are still there, but also Marlowe seems a more rounded character.
By the Firelight: Plenty of people have commented on the logic of his plots so I won’t bother here, and really I don’t care. They are good enough for me. It is the world he creates that interests me. But one thing that will strike anyone is that Marlowe is lucky and that several moments of the book hinge on fortunate accidents, especially when he is in a dark canyon and hit over the head and a young woman comes to his rescue. And the chances he takes, such as sneaking on to the gambling ship anchored off Bay City to confront the a crime boss. Occasionally, it is a little too much and were it not for the writing, perhaps it would be.
Time Enough At Last: Even though it was initially frustrating because of the disjointed way things seemed to be developing, I think this story is the best kind of mystery story: the reader encounters a series of events that seem totally unconnected and don’t make very much (or any) sense, and the author manages to keep his audience off balance for a very long time until things start to be pieced together.
Final destination: A keeper
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.