Book Review for “The Lady in the Lake” by Raymond Chandler.
Summary: “A couple of missing wives—one a rich man’s and one a poor man’s—become the objects of Marlowe’s investigation. One of them may have gotten a Mexican divorce and married a gigolo and the other may be dead. Marlowe’s not sure he cares about either one, but he’s not paid to care.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Thriller, Crime, Murder Mystery, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, USA – California, San Bernardino and surrounds; Other Categories: Novel, Vintage, Literary, Series (Philip Marlow #4).
As you can see, this novel isn’t really in my usual wheelhouse. I mean, yes, I do like a cozy mystery, but this one is more of a crime thriller, where there’s a bit more violence described than I’d usually care for. However, since I saw this book in a free public library and I needed another classic to complete my list of 20 books for the spin, I took it. No, it wasn’t my first choice, but I am not one to renege on a commitment, so as soon as I had finished my other print book, I dug right in.
Now, I know that this was made into a movie, but now that I’ve read the book, I’m almost certain I never saw the film. From the trailer I saw on IMDb, I can already tell you that despite the title, that film looks like almost nothing like the book, even if it was innovative in shooting the film as if it was through the eyes of our protagonist, Philip Marlowe. While that’s cool, I’m sure that avid readers of Chandler’s series were probably very pissed off that the film changed so much. But that’s neither here nor there. I’m here to discuss this classic novel, and that’s just what I’ll do.
I already knew that the character of Marlowe was considered one example in a significant wave of hard-boiled private detectives (or private eyes) that were so popular in the 1920s through the 1940s or so. Chandler writes Marlowe as a very smart person, who can’t be fooled easily. In fact, several times during the narrative we suspect that Marlowe knows the person he’s talking to is lying to him, and yet he lets them do so without contradicting them. Despite this, in this novel, Chandler actually does lead Marlowe down a false path a couple of times, which makes it all the more interesting. This also makes Marlowe more realistic and human, unlike say, a Sherlock Holmes whose intelligence overrides everything. That isn’t to say that Chandler makes Marlowe into a tough guy disguising a marshmallow center, because Chandler makes sure that Marlowe is emotionally detached from the goings on, at least for the most part.
One of my biggest problems with mystery novels is that sometimes I figure out too much too early on in the story, and then I just read on to find out that I’ve been right all along, which is a bit boring, to be honest. With this book, I did have my suspicions regarding the solution, but as the story unfurled, I was also given a few things that felt like red herrings, but ended up being more significant. Chandler deftly put these into the story, while showing us that even though Marlowe wasn’t connecting all these dots, they were still all in the back of his mind. Obviously, a thriller needs some danger, so when Marlowe does finally start to fit all these pieces together, he also puts his own safety on the line, which was predictable. Even so, how Chandler does this shows a level of ingenuity that surprised even me, and I was happy that the violence was kept to a minimum.
I also appreciated the literary style that Chandler used with this story, which wasn’t overly raw, but also just slightly descriptive, but also without much in the way of anything poetic. See, I was expecting straight observations with very little descriptions of how things made Marlowe feel, and some bare-bones depictions of the scenery. Instead, I got some of all of these things, along with a few swear words that I was surprised were allowed back then. While in general, the style was mostly straight-forward, there were a few scenes where Chandler has Marlowe describe things that were far more evocative than I was expecting.
All told, I did enjoy this book, and I’m glad I finally got the chance to read something by the great Raymond Chandler, with his famous private eye, Philip Marlowe. The question is, would I go out of my way to read another Chandler novel? Honestly, I have to say no, but despite that, I can say that if I happen to see another of his books in a free public library, I’ll probably be inclined to pick it up and give it a try, but only if I’m at a loss for, or in a conundrum regarding my next print read. I’d say that this means I can recommend this novel, especially to people who like this genre, and I’ll give it a slightly enigmatic 3.5 stars out of 5 (because my suspicions were right about at least the essence of the solution to the mystery).
This book was first published in 1942 and is still available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: The Classics Club Spin #28