Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (book review)

The hunch I had was as vague as the heat waves that danced above the sidewalk (pg. 19, Penguin Books)

Ah, how I love Raymond Chandler and his hard-boiled private investigator, Philip Marlowe. In my other life, I would be Vivian from The Big Sleep, but that’s another book…


In Farewell, My Lovely, Chandler’s second novel, the action opens with Marlowe investigating a run-of-the-mill missing-person’s case. During his pursuit, Marlowe stumbles upon something far more interesting altogether. He encounters Moose Molloy, a big bruiser just out of jail and on the lookout for his former love, Velma. The scene is Florian’s, a ‘dine and dice emporium’, a place where Velma worked as a singer at the time of Moose’s conviction some eight years ago. Before he knows it, Marlowe is right in the thick of it; Moose, who doesn’t seem to know his own strength, ends up breaking the bar manager’s neck and heads off with a gun leaving Marlowe to get drawn into the investigation.

One of the things I love about Chandler is his brilliant knack for describing scenes in such a way that we, as readers, feel we’re right there with the characters themselves. Here’s Marlowe as he meets the cop in charge of this case:

A man named Nulty got the case, a lean-jawed sourpuss with long yellow hands which he kept folded over his kneecaps most of the time he talked to me. He was a detective-lieutenant attached to the 77th Street Division and we talked in a bare room with two small desks against opposite walls and room to move between them, if two people didn’t try it at once. Dirty brown linoleum covered the floor and the smell of old cigar butts hung in the air. Nulty’s shirt was frayed and his coat sleeves had been turned in at the cuffs. He looked poor enough to be honest, but he didn’t look like a man who could deal with Moose Molloy.

He lit half of a cigar and threw the match on the floor, where a lot of company was waiting for it. (pg. 15)

Marlowe quickly discovers that Florian’s used to be owned by a guy named Mike Florian, now deceased but survived by his widow, Jesse. And when Marlowe pays Mrs Florian a visit, she appears to have something to hide…

‘Well, what do I do – date her up?’ Nulty asked.

‘I did it for you. I took in a pint of bourbon with me. She’s a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she had washed her hair since Coolidge’s second term, I’ll eat my spare tyre, rim and all.’

‘Skip the wisecracks,’ Nulty said.

‘I asked Mrs Florian about Velma. You remember, Mr Nulty, the redhead named Velma that Moose Molloy was looking for? I’m not tiring you, am I, Mr Nulty?’

‘What you sore about?’

‘You wouldn’t understand. Mrs Florian said she didn’t remember Velma. Her home is very shabby except for a new radio worth seventy or eighty dollars.’

‘You ain’t told me why that’s something I should start screaming about.’

‘Mrs Florian – Jesse to me – said her husband left her nothing but his old clothes and a bunch of stills of the gang who worked at his joint from time to time. I plied her with liquor and she is a girl who will take a drink if she had to knock you down to get to the bottle. After the third or fourth she went into her modest bedroom and threw things around and dug the bunch of stills out of the bottom of an old trunk. But I was watching her without her knowing it and she slipped one out of the packet and hid it. So after a while I snuck in there and grabbed it.’

I reached into my pocket and laid the Pierrot girl on his desk. He lifted it and stared at it and his lips quirked at the corners. (pg 37-38)

Having read a few of Chandler’s books, I’m starting to admire this author more for his writing than his storylines. Farewell, My Lovely is all about sharp dialogue, attitude and mood. The plot itself is important of course, and this one has twists and turns aplenty, but the storyline almost seems secondary to those other aspects. The narrative is peppered with Marlowe’s wisecracking quips and one-liners (which just cry out to be quoted) and Chandler’s use of metaphor and simile is quite something:

A bogus heartiness, as weak as a Chinaman’s tea, moved into her face and voice. (pg. 26)

Her eyes stayed on the bottle. Suspicion fought with thirst, and thirst was winning. It always does. (pg.28)

It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window. (pg. 97)

Alongside the search for Moose and Velma, Chandler introduces another stand to narrative as Marlowe picks up a job accompanying a man aiming to buy back a stolen necklace. At first the two cases appear unconnected, but Marlowe sniffs out a link, and our down-at-heel detective gets sucked into a web of corruption and power that has infected the affluent classes. Marlowe works on hunches, gets into all manner of scrapes, but we seem to know he’ll make it through somehow.

Farewell, My Lovely is a great noir – perhaps not quite up there with The Big Sleep, but it’s a downright enjoyable read all the same. Highly recommended.

Farewell, My Lovely is published in the UK by Penguin Books. Source: personal copy.

45 thoughts on “Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (book review)

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      The films are great, and Bogart (in The Big Sleep) is my favourite Marlowe. I grew up with the Chandler novels reading most of them in my teenage years, so they’re rereads now.

      1. realthog

        Bogart (in The Big Sleep) is my favourite Marlowe

        Personally I’d opt for Dick Powell in Murder My Sweet (1944) (based on Farewell My Lovely) closely followed by Robert Mitchum in the 1975 movie of Farewell My Lovely. Bogart, I feel, plays Marlowe as just another generic PI — which is fine if you love Bogart, less so if you love Marlowe! Is wot I think.

        1. jacquiwine Post author

          Haha! I think Bogart’s my favourite because The Big Sleep was the first of the Marlowe film adaptations I saw on screen after falling for the novels. Once I’d seen Bogart as Marlowe, I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing the part. And then there’s my daydream of recasting my life as a version of Lauren Bacall in the part of Vivian…

          Nevertheless, your preference for Dick Powell in Murder My Sweet leaves me feeling that I need to give it another whirl. It’s over five years since I last saw that one, so it’s due a reappraisal!

  1. Brian Joseph

    I am only familiar with Raymond Chandler through film. I have had his books on my radar for some time however. Some of the the cinematic versions of his works are so impressive.

    This one sounds really good but I will likely begin with The Big Sleep.

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      The books are great, Brian, and if you like the films, it’s worth giving the books a shot. I love the characterisation, dialogue and mood in Chandler’s novels. As you say, The Big Sleep is the place to start as it’s the first in the Marlowe series.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I’ve never really got very far with Chandler – perhaps because I like Dashiell Hammett so much! But maybe I should give him another try!

  3. realthog

    Great write-up of a great book. Farewell My Lovely was my own introduction to Chandler, and I’ll never forget the impact that reading its first page had on my young self: here was a new and exhilarating style of prose I hadn’t come across before.

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Thank you! I very nearly didn’t post it as I reread Farewell, My Lovely about three months ago, wrote this piece and then promptly forgot all about it. I only discovered it again while doing a bit of housekeeping at the weekend.

      I know exactly what you mean about the impact of reading your first Chandler as I felt much the same when I picked up The Big Sleep. I loved the dialogue and mood – I’d found a new favourite writer.

  4. Tomcat

    Awesome stuff.

    I know exactly what you mean about admiring Chandler on a stylistic rather than narrative level (indeed, almost every review of his books I read contains, like yours (and my own) enormous quotations… ‘cos he’s just so awesome!).

    Interesting Chandler fact: Did you know that ‘The Big Sleep’ doesn’t make sense? Half way through the book Marlowe suddenly knows something about the case that he can’t possibly have found out. It’s convoluted as anything, and there are some massive holes in it. Apparently when Howard Hawks was filming it (with Bogart and Bacall – it’s AMAZING btw (though I still think their Maltese Falcon is better)), he phoned Raymond Chandler to ask him about how a certain character dies, and Chandler had to say “oh… I have no idea”, because he forgot to resolve that plot in the book :) (I think it’s the death of the chauffeur…).

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Thank you. I very nearly didn’t post this piece, but I’m so glad I did! It’s very tempting to quote whole chunks of Chandler’s dialogue as it’s such a delight. Awesome indeed! It sounds as if you’ve reviewed Chandler so I’ll head over to your blog later.

      I hadn’t heard that Howard Hawks story, but I can imagine it happening. I think you’re right about it being the death of the chauffeur – pretty crucial stuff really if you’re left wondering about the identity of the killer! When I read The Big Sleep for the first time, I got totally swept up by the dialogue and mood; it didn’t seem to matter to me that the story (especially the ending) was so convoluted.

      1. Tomcat

        I have kinda “reviewed” Chandler on my blog. I tried to write about The Big Sleep a couple of years ago, but I just ended up making a list of my favourite lines form the book and letting that stand as my review. :)

  5. Bellezza

    “…sharp dialogue, attitude and mood” are what I love about him, too. And I dreadfully miss Robert B. Parker who wrote the Spencer novels in much the same way. Since his death last year? A few years ago? I haven’t read many mysteries. And picking up with the old guys like Chandler is the best place to go, in my opinion.

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Yes, Chandler’s great – glad to hear you love him too, Bellezza. I haven’t read any of the Robert B. Parker novels so I’ll take a look at those. I don’t know if you’ve read any novels from Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series, but they’re definitely worth a shot.

      1. Bellezza

        No, I don’t know Ross Macdonald’s work, thanks for the suggestion! And Robert Parker writes wonderfully witty dialogue, and develops interesting characters, both of which I remember more clearly than the solving of any mystery.

  6. Scott W.

    I’m sure I would read a lot more noir fiction if writers paid less attention to plot and more to “sharp dialogue, attitude and mood” and those beautifully crafted, dead-on descriptions of the sort Chandler pulls off. I just finished Ariel Winter’s trilogy, The Twenty Year Death, the second volume of which (The Falling Star) is an excellent impersonation of a Chandler novel – for when you run out of the real stuff.

    1. realthog

      I’m sure I would read a lot more noir fiction if writers paid less attention to plot and more to “sharp dialogue, attitude and mood” and those beautifully crafted, dead-on descriptions of the sort Chandler pulls off

      But I think a lot of them did and do just that. To say that some of them don’t manage to do it as well as Chandler is a truism, obviously, rather like saying that all composers aren’t as good as Beethoven, and I assume that’s not what you’re saying — that you’re referring rather to a lack of ambition so far as the writing’s concerned. But if you look at a lot of the old Fawcett Gold Medal pulps (which Stark House is doing such Sterling work in uncovering) you find the same revelry in language, even if not the same mastery. And some of the more recent “noir” writers (I use the quotes because I’m uneasy with the term here) are certainly all about mood and attitude, even if many are more naturalistic with their dialogue. Ian Rankin’s mid-period Rebus novels would seem a good example. but there are plenty of others around.

      1. Scott W.

        Oh no, I hope I didn’t imply that all “noir” writers (I was hoping to find a better term too) aren’t as good as Chandler! I like a lot of other mystery writers – Simenon, of course, and Richard Stark/Donald Westlake, and Eric Ambler, and Earl Derr Biggers (about whom I hope to write a post soon), and even some of the more schlocky, formulaic stuff. Talent abounds, and ambition too. It’s just that I often feel rather deflated at the end of mysteries, an “Is that all there is? Then let’s keep dancing” response. Of the few more popular contemporary mysteries I’ve read, I’ve been struck by how much attention gets paid to plot at the expense of elements that would really buoy the work above the mundane. I love that point Tomcat makes above about Marlowe knowing something he can’t possibly know in The Big Sleep – it conveys Chandler’s prioritizing his literary effects over whatever sense a mere murder plot might have.

        1. jacquiwine Post author

          Looking forward to your Earl Derr Biggers post as he’s a new to me. I haven’t read any Eric Ambler either, and he looks very interesting indeed – any suggestions for a good one to try?

    2. jacquiwine Post author

      I just looked up the Ariel Winter and it sounds terrific, especially the concept of three separate (but interconnected) crime novels in different styles. Thanks for mentioning it, Scott. Will you review it, do you think? I’m also wondering if Guy has read this one as it sounds right up his street…

      1. Scott W.

        Guy has read it – I mentioned it in a comment I left on his blog. I probably won’t review it as I don’t think I have anything to add about what’s been said about it, but I gulped down the whole trilogy in a matter of hours. I haven’t read Jim Thompson, so I can say nothing about Winter’s version, but I thought he got Simenon and Chandler down beautifully. I kept thinking: he should just keep doing this with other writers, of mysteries or not.

        1. jacquiwine Post author

          Oh, wow! You’ve sold it to me. I haven’t read Jim Thompson, either (often wondered about The Killer Inside Me and The Grifters), but if Winter’s got Chandler and Simenon down pat then I’m up for it. Thank you. I’ll take a look at Guy’s blog.

          Thank you for recommending Ambler’s The Light of Day, I’ll add that one to the list. I’ve seen the film, but so many years have passed by since then..

  7. 1streading

    Great review – must read more Chandler. I was going to ask if you’ve ever read Ross MacDonald – but clearly you have! Have you tried the new John Banville (Benjamin Black) one?

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Thank you, Grant. Well, as you’ve probably gathered, I love Chandler and turn to him when I need something good! A form of comfort reading, so to speak. I’ve read a couple by Ross Macdonald: The Galton Case and The Drowning Pool, both very good (although The Galton Case edges it for me). It sounds as if you’ve read him too – which ones have you tried? I haven’t read any of the Benjamin Black novels, but I’ve noticed how they fly off the shelves at the library. Have you read them? Any thoughts or recommendations?

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  9. Max Cairnduff

    “He lit half of a cigar and threw the match on the floor, where a lot of company was waiting for it.” Chandler really can write can’t he? Wonderful prose style. I’ve read them all, but so long ago I should soon be able to read them again afresh.

    Nicely captured. You’re definitely right about it being the writing rather than the stories. The plots are there to give the language something to do.

    Love Bogart too, especially when paired with Bacall. I just bought the MItchum version recently, I’m looking forward to his take (it’s probably fair as Realthog says that Bogart plays Bogart, but then I want Bogart to play Bogart).

    Which Hammett’s have you read? Also, have you read any Ross MacDonald? I’ve reviewed a few at mine, and if you haven’t you might find him interesting.

    Oh, back to films, Tomcat’s right I think that The Maltese Falcon is better than The Big Sleep, which is bloody high praise given how good The Big Sleep is.

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      Cheers, Max, He certainly can write! I read most of Chandler’s novels in my teenage years, and his prose style was a breath of fresh air at the time. I got swept up in the mood, attitude and cracking dialogue of it all. I love the way you’ve captured it in your comments — the plots are there to give the language something to do — that’s so neat.

      On the Marlowe films: exactly, I want Bogart to do Bogart. That’s what I’m signing up for! I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Mitchum’s Marlowe. Could you let me know (whenever you get around to watching it)? I’ve seen the Dick Powell version, but my last viewing was a good five years ago so I really ought to revisit it.

      Books again: It’s been a while since I read any Hammett — we’re reaching back to my twenties here — so I could also return to them afresh. I recall reading The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, but not the others. Any particular recommendations, Max?

      Yes, I have read a couple by Ross MacDonald and he’s a fairly recent discovery. I’m trying to recall if one of your posts prompted me to check him out. Quite possibly! So far, I’ve read The Galton Case and The Drowning Pool. Both very good, Galton especially. I have a copy of The Way Some People Die in an irresistible Vintage Crime/Black Lizard edition (fab cover), and I’ve been eyeing up Blue City. I’ll head over to yours at the weekend to read your Ross Macdonald reviews as I really like Lew Archer’s style.

      Ah, Bogart’s great in The Maltese Falcon – another film I need to revisit. On the Bogart front, have you seen him in Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place? He’s paired with Gloria Grahame there, and I think it’s one of his best performances. Such a great film and a strong contender for a place in my all-time top ten. I’ve yet to read the Dorothy B. Hughes novel, but it’s waiting for me.

      1. Max Cairnduff

        The other Hammett that springs to mind is Red Harvest, though to be honest you’ve already mentioned the best two I think. It’s very influential though. His short story The Tenth Clew I think is interesting too because it’s a sort of manifesto, a blast against the Christies and other cosy crime writers. A return of crime to the streets.

        Those Black Lizard covers are great. Definitely.

        In a Lonely Place is a favourite. I must rewatch it. I saw it in a cinema which was great, incredibly impressive. Not surprised it’s in your top ten.

        1. jacquiwine Post author

          Thanks for the Hammett recommendations, Max. I should read Red Harvest at some point, and that short story sounds very interesting, especially given the context you’ve mentioned.

          I first saw In a Lonely Place in a cinema and was mesmerised by it, too. It must have been fifteen years or so ago as part of the archive strand at the London Film Festival. I’ve loved that film ever since.

  10. gertloveday

    I just love this man. He’s a wonderful stylist, even when he’s just describing parking the car in a hot, quiet street and sitting there.
    Thanks for the follow. I scooted over her to see what you’re up to and as soon as I saw ‘Speedboat’ you had me. Looking forward to reading regularly.

    1. jacquiwine Post author

      He’s fabulous, isn’t he? And yes, a superb stylist! Thank you, and likewise, Gert. I’m glad to have found you via Guy’s blog. Looking forward to following your posts and reading your thoughts on We are not Ourselves.

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  12. Elizabeth

    This prompted me to peruse about half of The Drowning Pool – 133 pages or so – to see how many similes I could count. (I’m using the Vintage Crime Black Lizard edition from May 1996). I counted thirty four and no doubt missed a few. (REVISION, 11/21/14 – It is a much higher number. In my initial reading I was in a super noisy Starbucks on 39th and 8th and apparently this affected my concentration.) I haven’t done the legwork, but I think some of the later books might have a slightly higher ratio. That’s a lot, but in any case I would argue that many of Macdonald’s similes are so strong that they infinitely enrich the work. Not only that – they are so strong that they put many “serious” writers of fiction to shame.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Gosh, that is a lot of similes. I loved the two Macdonald novels I’ve read so far. As you say, the writing is great by any standards (not just crime) and he has a neat line in zingers. I’ll head over to yours to take a look at your post. Thanks for dropping by!

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