As the last novel about the immortal PI Philip Marlowe, "The Long Good-bye" has a lot to live up to. It delivers superbly. The story, a complex web of high society scandal and dark secrets which leads to murder and suicide, is confidently handled and plotted to perfection. Marlowe begins by helping a young drunk out of a car but events soon begin to spiral out of control. As the novel progresses, Marlowe tries to act decently in a world that refuses to play fair. However, what raises this, and most of Chandler's work, above the pulp thriller genre, is the concise and relaxed brilliance of the style and the central character.
Reading the novel is a joy: a sardonic smile or bitter laugh a constant companion. Every sentence is steeped in cool and dark humour; every page contains a witty aphorism or observation. The descriptions are economical and precise, but spiced with a spin of disappointed intelligence: more often than not Marlowe describes something as "not" like something else. This clever use of negative simile reflects the tone of the novel: dark and uncompromising about society with a pitch black sense of humour. One interesting fact is that Chandler's observations about society, and particularly American society, are as devastatingly accurate as ever. The message is clear: corruption, whether personal, social or political, is timeless.
The character of Marlowe is similarly timeless: his dry wit and bruised idealism still sympathetic and engaging. He has lost none of his appeal despite being reimagined and reivented so many times by so many writers in the last fifty years. Marlowe remains the most important and impressive protagonist in noir, and in "The Long Good-bye" Chandler confirms that he doesn't just easily attain the accolade of king of noir, he also makes a strong case to be considered among the greats of mid 20th century American literature.