Hardboiled private investigator Philip Marlowe – who ploughs through violence and sexual tension, and who complements his sharp observation skills and intelligence with violence too – is the protagonist of Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye”, and written from his point of view the novel begins with and centres on his friendship with a scarred (physically and emotionally) Terry Lennox. And in his subsequent run-ins with the police, thugs and gangsters, as well as members of the high society, Marlowe is resolved in his convictions and methodical with his investigations, resulting in a fast-moving plot which moves the reader speedily from one action scene or climax to another.
Two interesting and related features of Marlowe’s narrative are how descriptive he is, and how little he gives away in terms of analysis or concluding the acts and motivations of perpetrators. The first manifests in his descriptions of physical violence and hand-to-hand combat – on the movement of limbs and the pain felt or which lingers after a blow connects – and when he first meets a new character or enters a new location, and because readers are consuming this information at the same time, they are left to their own judgements and suspicions, and to make up their own minds. The second feature therefore builds on this tension, because even though the private investigator seems to always be self-assured and one step ahead of everyone else, he provides little indication of what exactly he knows.
Even when Marlowe is on the cusp of revealing an important discovery, he chooses to drag the moments out by detailing the sequence of events which led to that moment, and often leaves it to the other characters to complete the exposition.
In this vein, a likely criticism of “The Long Goodbye” could be the perpetual suspense or the drawn-out conversations or exchanges – which at first glance appear to serve no ostensible purpose – and consequently the relative lack of action. Yet the novel was realistic, in that it focused on developments well within Marlowe’s control while offering some social commentary, instead of having him challenge broader structures or more powerful figures. The novel was also compact, with a small cast of characters who each play an integral role, and with a few recurring locations and routines at each of these locations. In summary, an enjoyable read with perhaps a less-than-surprising ending.