There are a lot of new books out there vying for my attention and some of them are probably good. But most of the time, I prefer to pick up a book from the past that I haven’t read and give it a go. This past week I’ve been in 1950 Los Angeles. I saw the glitz and glamor of the stars, hobnobbed with the wealthy elite, drank a lot, and got worked over by goons – one set belonging to mobsters and the other set belonging to the vice squad. Yeah, I hung out with one Philip Marlowe and what a ride it was.
THE LONG GOODBYE was the sixth novel Raymond Chandler wrote featuring the poster boy of Noir detective stories, Philip Marlowe. The story opens in the driveway of a nightclub on Sunset Strip like the one in the picture above. A coincidence, a drunken patron is half inside the car and half outside. The valet is struggling to help the man into the car when the woman driving the car loses patience and drives off leaving the drunk on the pavement at Marlowe’s feet. There seems to be a lot of coincidences, but in time you discover that most of them are not coincident at all. You may be thinking, whoa! The Floozy is an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, how did she end up reading a detective story set in the 1950s? Well, I was looking for inspiration. One of my favorite games is 5150: New Hope City PI and I was looking for a way to fit a PI story into the new 5150: No Limits format. So I did searches on lists of science fiction detective stories and every list – I mean, every list – had Raymond Chandler on the list. To my knowledge, Raymond Chandler never wrote any science fiction, but whenever it comes to detective stories, everyone pays homage to the master. Come on, face it, Philip K. Dicks’ Deckard of Blade Runner fame is a futuristic Philip Marlowe.
That being said, this book grabbed me. See, I was a kid in the 1950s. The world Chandler describes in The Long Goodbye is one that I actually lived in. When he remarks about driving past a rich person’s house where the gardener is using a “motorized” lawn mower, it strikes a chord with me. In my own neighborhood, all of the lawn tools were manual, edgers, mowers, hedge clippers, etc. There was one family in the entire neighborhood that had a power mower. Of course, by the early 1960s, everyone had a power mower. He talks about opening windows to air out a place and yeah, it was the 1960s before we had air conditioning in our house. He also delves into fashion. Women didn’t wear slacks in public, not even to the grocery store. But they wore them around the house.Marlowe must make a decent living as a PI, he drives an Olds convertible. The Long Goodbye was published in 1953 and I like to imagine Marlowe’s Olds was probably a 1950 model like the one in the picture above. Cars were huge and metal back then – and many of them were female! Thanks to the Dagmar bumper bullets! What? You didn’t know cars in the 1950s had boobs? Look it up!
So here’s the synopsis of the book from the back cover: “Marlowe befriends a down-on-his-luck war veteran with the scars to prove it. Then he finds out Terry Lennox has a very wealthy nymphomaniac wife, who he’s divorced and remarried and who ends up dead. And now Lennox is on the lam and the cops and a crazy gangster are after Marlowe.”
One of the interesting little tidbits in the story is the cocktail known as a “gimlet.” The war veteran got hooked on them during the war while in England and he introduces it to Marlowe and other characters. It’s kind of refreshing to read a story where characters drink more than just scotch, champagne or martinis. In fact, the next time I find myself at a bar, I will probably order one to see if it is as refreshing as Chandler implies.
Chandler’s book has both fictitious and actual locations. One of the actual locations is the restaurant “Romanoffs,” a swanky hangout for celebrities from both coasts. And it is the site of the original “nipplegate”! Forget Janet Jackson and Justin whatever at the Superbowl – they were a cheap imitation. The original was a publicity stunt Jane Mansfield pulled at Sophia Loren’s expense. Jane crashes Sophia’s party and as she bends over to greet Sophia, the “girls” escape Jane’s dress. Here are a few pics of the famous incident:
Well, back to the book. Not only does the prose transport you to 1950s Los Angeles, but it bites with an almost cynical edge. Here’s a quote:
“The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right.
To say goodbye is to die a little.”
If you only read one detective novel in your entire life, this is the one you must read. The prose reads like Hemingway, though set 70 years ago, its commentary is still relevant. It’s not an escape, it’s a tour into our past which exposes our present. Just read it already!