not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
The following post is from my Goodreads review:
Chandler’s second Marlowe novel doesn’t feel quite as well-constructed as his first, and feels a little nastier–Marlowe has actual moments of fear and doubt in this one, and the shocking big of seemingly arbitrary violence with which it opens presages the nastier tone of the novel as a whole. But once it gets going, it gets going, and the more surreal and violent touches really make this one stand out. The cover makes it look like a romance, or a romance-inflected murder mystery, at the very least, and in doing so is one of the most misleading covers I’ve ever come across. The closest things you get to love in this book are allegiance and lust.
I’m not going to try to make a big essay about each Chandler novel I read, partly because I’ll end up repeating myself a lot, partly because I’m already a week behind on reviewing books I read, and a big part of that is my tendency to turn everything into a damn essay. So I’m going to stick with two observations about Farewell, My Lovely that stuck out.
The first is that Chandler’s use of litotes in Marlowe’s narration reaches new heights in this novel. In the first page, we get his famous description of Moose Malloy: “He was a big man, but not more than six feet five inches tall, and not wider than a beer truck.” These descriptions continue throughout the novel: A mansion is “smaller than Buckingham Palace…and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building,” while a green stone in a tie pin is “not quite as large as an apple.” There were descriptions like this in The Big Sleep, but Chandler really leans into them here, and they’re a good reminder that, even at his grimmest, Chandler’s novels still tend to be pretty funny.
The second is a sort of continuation from the first, but it’s interesting how often the death of people from marginalized groups is the inciting incident that gets Marlowe involved in the case. Farewell, My Lovely starts with the brutal murder of a black man in the middle of the day in a crowded restaurant–and Marlowe, who witnesses the murder, is allowed to follow up on some leads simply because the LA police department doesn’t care enough about the murder to put too many resources behind it. The Big Sleep likewise really kicks into gear when Marlowe comes across the murder of an older gay man, and while the character’s homophobia (and, unfortunately, probably Chandler’s) is palpable, he’s the only one who bothers looking more seriously into the murder of the character he repeatedly refers to as a “queen.” These incidents are always small things within the scope of the book, secondary or tertiary murders that bring Marlowe’s attention to the central mystery, but they stick in the mind as a reminder of the way that justice is too often distributed unequally.