not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
This post was taken from my Goodreads review:
Mystery novels, especially ones in a series, occasionally get a few too many twists in them and get knotted up, usually for one of a few reasons. Possibly the author is trying to outguess a readership that’s started to learn his tricks and “tells” (I’m reminded how J.K. Rowling always had the bad guy appear in the 13th chapter of the Harry Potter books, and then stopped doing it after book 4 because everyone had figured it out by then). Possibly the author has had a good idea for a confusing or mysterious murder, but the process by which the detective figures it out ends up being rote or frustrating.
I think both factors may have played into The High Window a bit, because the story, once Philip Marlowe has unraveled all the strands, is actually suitably tragic and dramatic. The problem is, for a long part of the novel, I didn’t have much sense of where any of this was going. Every conversation seemed to produce a dead end, and while Marlowe seemed to have an idea of what he was doing, Chandler seems to forget to clue us in at various points. There’s also the problem that many of the secondary characters aren’t particularly well-developed: I kept on getting Vannier and Morny confused, and when a character named Morningstar entered the picture, I was not immediately sure that it wasn’t just Morny’s full name.
As Morningstar’s name suggests, the knight metaphors are back, as are the chess metaphors, but this is a rough, sloppy, confusing game Marlowe gets himself into–the sort of thing where you walk into an enemy’s buzzsaw of an attack and are content to walk away with a stalemate. There’s not the wonderfully perfect structure of The Big Sleep, or the trippy surreality of Farewell, My Lovely, and the Macguffin is kind of boring–a rare coin is no Maltese Falcon.
But if we leave off the comparisons to literally some of the greatest detective fiction ever produced, the story ties together well at the end, there’s some excellent tension built up about whether Marlowe will end up having to betray his client to save himself from the police (and a little joke about how he finds bodies with such regularity that it’s beginning to become a little suspicious), and I particularly liked Chandler’s focus on two victims of the various crimes going around: a drunk named Hench who gets framed for a murder, and ends up getting worked over by the police until he confesses, and a young girl, Merle, whose victimhood is overlooked or determinedly ignored by everybody but Marlowe. There’s a painful awareness of these lives that fall between the cracks, the damage that doesn’t show up on the police report, that elevates the proceedings, albeit not as high as Chandler’s first two novels would have you expect.