The Long Goodbye
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Reissue edition (August 12, 1988)
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The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Review by Robert Mangeot
Marlowe can’t let a death go in Chandler’s most personal novel.
The Long Goodbye opens with a famous first sentence:
“The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers.”
The “I,” of course, is Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Marlowe rescues Lennox from the drunk tank after Lennox’s on-again, off-again wife leaves him stranded at the club. The unexpected kindness starts an unlikely friendship between a ruined socialite and a hard-boiled detective. A one-way friendship. Lennox appears whenever he craves a sympathetic drinking buddy or a shove back on the wagon. Marlowe, ever the knight noir, helps because Lennox needs it. Marlowe sees Lennox as someone who also lives by his own set of rules.
Eventually, the help Lennox needs is a fast drive to Tijuana. His long-cheating wife has been murdered. Lennox declares his innocence, but he knows he’ll take the rap. Marlowe agrees to the drive on one condition: Lennox doesn’t confide a single detail of what actually happened. That puts Homicide onto Marlowe and Marlowe into the papers for riding out the heat. The Mexican police report Lennox as an apparent suicide, and the police close the case fast. Marlowe might’ve dropped it there except Lennox managed to send a goodbye letter that is anything but a confession.
Marlowe’s sudden renown earns him another job. Best-selling author Roger Wade has gone missing after a serious bender. His wife and his publisher are desperate to get the latest saga novel done. Tracking Wade down leads Marlowe into organized crime tangles and family drama and a case surprisingly connected to Terry Lennox, a death still weighing on Marlowe.
Chandler needs little introduction to writers and readers. But we can start in 1933, when Chandler introduced himself to the crime genre, with his debut story “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” in The Black Mask. After fits and starts at poetry, teaching, and corporate jobs, once Chandler latched onto hard-boiled fiction, his punch would transform the genre and American literature beyond. Chandler injected style. He challenged and raised expectations of genre quality with deep prose that captured the semi-nobility critical to the noir PI.
The Long Goodbye (1953) was Chandler’s sixth novel in the Marlowe series. There would be only a seventh, Playback, before Chandler died in 1959. The Long Goodbye snaps like Chandler at his peak powers, although in life Chandler felt those powers fading. He’d lost the productivity that brought The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), and The Lady in The Lake (1943) rapid-fire. By 1953, he’d walked away from screenwriting. His inner demons were circling. His wife was dying. In his 60s himself, mortality was on his mind.
The Long Goodbye is a master class in the Great American Crime Novel’s potential. It’s more than the wisecracks and the justice come what may. The Long Goodbye is about something: what we can’t shake and what we tell ourselves about that. Lost love, addiction, trauma, ambition, the certainty of death. Not one character can let go. Each must suffer the consequences, and this is a feast of consequences.
Even Chandler deals with this unresolved loss on the page. He inserts himself most obviously as Wade, the successful author who struggles with sobriety and literary acceptance, and as Lennox, a war-wounded Anglophile who doesn’t quite fit his place and time. It’s real to Chandler when the dying of the light haunts these characters.
That personal concoction makes this his best work. Sure, The Big Sleep has tight power and rocket pace, and Farewell, My Lovely is quintessential Los Angeles noir. Those novels were stitched-together from earlier short stories, and in places the seams show. I can’t be all wet here. The Long Goodbye won the Edgar in 1955.
I studied Chandler when I first ventured into writing. I deconstructed his paragraphs and turns of phrase. It was an instructive peek into structure and timing, but more than anything, I simply reveled in his use of language. That started me trying a style of my own. I won’t ever write a shadow as well as Chandler, but then, who does? We’re lucky that he left a treasure like The Long Goodbye to hold onto.
Robert Mangeot’s fiction appears here and there, including ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, THE FORGE LITERARY MAGAZINE, LOWESTOFT CHRONICLE, MYSTERY WEEKLY MAGAZINE, MWA’s ICE COLD, THE ODDVILLE PRESS, and the Anthony-winning MURDER UNDER THE OAKS. His work has three times been named a Derringer finalist. When not writing, he serves as a current officer for the Southeast chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime Middle Tennessee. When not doing any of that, he can be found wandering the snack food aisles of America or France.