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Marlowe has a heart
on 16 October 2011
The third Marlowe and possibly the least known. A mixture of blackmail and murder in sweaty Pasadena.
It opens with echoes of The Big Sleep. This time it is an aging matriarch, Mrs Murdock, who recruits Marlowe, rather than the patriarch General Sternwood. Chandler plays on the 'inner hostility' between Murdoock and Marlowe including the brilliant line, 'We looked at each other with the clear innocent eyes of a couple of used-car salesmen'.
These one-liners are more sparingly used than in the first two novels.The homophobia and anti-semitism are removed and greater restraint applies to the use of drugs, sex and violence. The higher moral tone also extends to a more sympathetic hearing for the police with an attempt at proper characterisation via the cops Breeze and Spangler. It is tempting to wonder about the impact of WW2 on Chandler's style.
Even Marlowe himself is given a bit of a wash and brush-up; 'I'm not tough. Just virile'. He displays a soft side towards the underprivileged earning the soubriquet, 'a shop-soiled Galahad'.
As in The Big Sleep, this novel sometimes feels like two short stories welded together. ' I haven't bought anything and I haven't paid for anything. Now go away' the sozzled Murdock tells Marlowe, yet still he persists with a seemingly closed investigation.
Chandler portrays Morny, the night-club owner and ex-actor as 'Every action, every gesture .. right out of the catalogue' and my only tiny reservation over this novel is to what extent Chandler felt some of the writing was becoming 'out of the catalogue'.
This novel flew past and is much less convoluted than his earlier work. If you are already a Chandler fan or becoming one, please note that The Lady in the Lake and Other Novels (Penguin Modern Classics) is much better value than buying these novels individually.