The Long Good-bye by Raymond Chandler (book review)

‘…Organized crime is just the dirty side of the sharp dollar.’ (pg. 416) 

First published in 1953, The Long Good-bye is the sixth novel in Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series. I read most of them when I was a teenager, so they’re rereads now (my review of Farewell, My Lovely is here). I’d always considered The Big Sleep my favourite Chandler – after all, it was my first encounter with Marlowe and the hard-boiled crime novel in general.  The Long Good-bye , however, is giving Sleep a serious run for its money, certainly on the evidence of this reread.

As the novel opens, Marlowe stumbles upon and befriends a drunk by the name of Terry Lennox. Lennox has been abandoned by his ex-wife, Sylvia, who dumps him in the parking lot of a club. Over the course of the next few months, Marlowe runs into Lennox again, and the two men share the occasional drink together – gimlets at Victor’s bar. Lennox has remarried Sylvia, but their relationship remains rocky to say the least.

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Late one night, Lennox turns up at Marlowe’s home and asks if his friend will drive him to Tijuana where he plans to hop on a plane to Mexico. Marlowe agrees even though he suspects Lennox is fleeing the country because the cops are after him. Marlowe doesn’t want any details – he can tell it’s something serious, that’s enough.

On his return from Tijuana, Marlowe receives a visit from the cops who haul him in for questioning on suspicion of accessory after the fact. Sylvia has been found dead, apparently beaten to death with a bronze statue, and Lennox is the prime suspect. When Lennox’s body is found in Mexico along with a suicide note and confession to Sylvia’s murder, Marlowe is released without charge. But Marlowe doesn’t buy the confession – Lennox didn’t seem the type to murder his wife, certainly not in such a brutal manner. Marlowe continues to harbour suspicions about the case, a situation only exacerbated when he receives a warning from Harlan Potter’s lawyer, Sewell Endicott. Potter, a powerful media mogul and father to Sylvia Lennox, wants Marlowe to keep away from the case. Why stir up any unpleasant publicity now that the murderer has taken his own life?

As the novel progresses, Marlowe gets drawn into a web of corruption and conspiracy, a network that covers the District Attorney’s office, the coroner, various members of the police force and Harlan Potter’s media empire:

‘Newspapers are owned and published by rich men. Rich men all belong to the same club. Sure, there’s competition – hard, tough competition for circulation, for newsbeats, for exclusive stories. Just so long as it doesn’t damage the prestige and privilege and position of the owners. If it does, down comes the lid. The lid, my friend, is down on the Lennox case…’ (pg.78)

The novel contains a second plot strand, one involving an alcoholic writer, Roger Wade, and his wife, Eileen. Marlowe is approached by Wade’s publisher, Howard Spencer, who asks him if he will keep an eye on Wade until he finishes writing his latest novel. Wade has a habit of getting drunk and disappearing for a few days here and there. Marlowe doesn’t want to take the job but gets involved when Eileen Wade appeals to him personally.

Eileen Wade is a classic Chandler creation, a femme-fatale right up there with the best of them. No one writes a blonde walking into a bar quite like Chandler. Here’s Marlowe as he see Eileen for the first time:

She was slim and quite tall in a white linen tailor-made with a black and white polka-dotted scarf around her throat. Her hair was the pale gold of a fairy princess. There was a small hat on it into which the pale gold hair nestled like a bird in its nest. Her eyes were cornflower blue, a rare colour, and the lashes were long and almost too pale. She reached the table across the way and was pulling off a white gauntleted glove and the old waiter had the table pulled out in a way no waiter will ever pull a table out for me. She sat down and slipped the gloves under the strap of her bag and thanked him with a smile so gentle, so exquisitely pure, that he was damn near paralysed by it. She said something to him in a very low voice. He hurried away, bending forward. There was a guy who really had a mission in life. (pgs. 103-104)

I make no apologies for the length of that quote. I love Chandler’s style – it’s all about attitude and mood. Speaking of which, here’s a scene from the Lennox plotline – the cops are waiting for Marlowe as he arrives home from his trip to Tijuana. (I could have quoted it earlier, but it seems to fit better here):

It was two o’clock when I got back and they were waiting for me in a dark sedan with no police tags, no red light, only the double antenna, and not only police cars have those. I was half-way up the steps before they came out of it and yelled at me, the usual couple in the usual suits, with the usual stony leisure of movement, as if the world was waiting hushed and silent for them to tell it what to do.

‘Your name Marlowe? We want to talk to you.’

He let me see the glint of a badge. For all I caught of it he might have been Pest Control. (pgs. 41-42)

At first, the two plot strands seem separate from one another, but as the story develops it becomes clear that they are connected. Good-bye contains a plenty of twists and turns, but the storyline feels very satisfying.

The Long Good-bye, is reported to be Chandler’s most personal book. I can’t comment on that, but it certainly feels like his most ambitious work. This is a first-class hardboiled novel, but there’s more to it than that. Chandler uses The Long Good-bye as a means of raising questions about the society of the time – the rich and powerful are his key targets.

This novel, like the others, is set in Los Angeles. At times it feels like a lament for the loss of decency and justice in the city (if these things ever existed in the first place). Towards the end of the story we can sense that Marlowe is growing more than a little tired of this town.

I’ll finish with a final quote, one that captures this feeling. Marlowe mixes himself a stiff drink, stands by the open window and looks out over the city:

Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy car tyres. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped and murdered. People were hungry, sick, bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.

It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn’t have one. I didn’t care.

I finished the drink and went to bed. (pg. 322)

Jose at The Game’s Afoot has reviewed this novel. I haven’t reviewed The Big Sleep, but there’s a great selection of quotes from the novel in this post by Tomcat in the red room.

The Long Good-bye is published by Penguin Books. Source: personal copy. Book 16/20 in my #TBR20.

56 thoughts on “The Long Good-bye by Raymond Chandler (book review)

  1. Séamus Duggan

    Loved this book. Read and re-read it many years ago. Might read it again soon. The final quote could have come from Miss Lonelyhearts!
    (ps -as I read the “he might have been Pest Control. (pgs.” I thought “pgs” said “pigs” and thought, surely that’s not Chandler..)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! Oh yes, do reread it, Seamus! Funnily enough, I read Miss Lonelyhearts right off the back of the Chandler, and I wonder if that influenced my reaction to the West. I’ll try again with Lonelyhearts, one day…

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      You’re very welcome, Jose. I must head over to yours to have a proper read of your review. I knew you’d posted on it, but I’d been trying to avoid other posts until now.

      Reply
  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Great review Jacqui. I *love* Hammett so it’s odd that I’ve never read any Chandler!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, you must try Chandler, Karen! He’s such a great prose stylist. I’d recommend starting with The Big Sleep, but if you only want to read one, make it The Long Good-bye. I think it’s his most interesting novel. :)

      Reply
  3. gertloveday

    What wonderful titles he has. I love the sadness of Chandler under all that hardboiled sass. You see the world with quite different eyes when you put the book down, and it lasts. Just to say the name of the book brings the feeling back.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      That’s one of the things I love about Chandler and The Long Good-bye in particular. It feels elegiac, like a lament for the passing of so many things. There’s such a deep sense of longing here…

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I feel the same way! Marlowe is and always will be Bogart (in my mind anyway). There’s a film adaptation of The Long Good-bye (relocated to the 1970s) with Elliot Gould as Marlowe, and I just can’t imagine it! I should give it a watch though as it was directed by Robert Altman, and I’m a fan of his other work.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          It’s funny how these characters can become inextricably linked with one particular actor even when several different players have tried their hand at the role. I would definitely recommend the novels – it’s worth trying one just to see how you get on with Chandler. Either The Long Good-bye or The Big Sleep, perhaps (as it’s the first in the series)?

          Reply
        1. realthog

          He did at least two movies in the role.

          He did exactly two movies in the role. I’d agree (as noted above) that he was excellent in Farewell, My Lovely (1975), but he seemed tired and/or bored and/or just a tad over the hill in The Big Sleep (1978).

          Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Well, you know me, Helen – I need a fix of this stuff every now and again. Seriously though, Chandler does make a refreshing change from other types of fiction. I can thoroughly recommend this one (even as a reread).

      Reply
  4. Maryom

    This is definitely my favourite Raymond Chandler book – probably because it was the first I read as a teenager. Somewhere I still have that old battered ex-library book that opened up a whole new world of crime to me – so very different to the Agatha Christie I’d read before.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      How wonderful. He opened up a whole new kind of crime writing for me too – such dynamic prose, I got totally caught up in Chandler and Marlowe’s world. I’m glad you enjoyed this one.

      Reply
  5. Brian Joseph

    I have been meaning to read some of the Chandler books for a long time but I have not done so yet.

    I guess one can say that these are the template for a certain kind of literature that I really want to explore.

    I agree that the writing style of the passages that you quote is superb.

    Terrific commentary as always Jacqui.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Brian. The prose is terrific, isn’t it? The Big Sleep is full of zingers, those sharp one-liners, but if anything the writing feels more balanced here.

      I guess the Marlowe novels (along with Dashiell Hammett’s work in the 1930s) set the template for this kind of fiction. (I’ve also been reading Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels, and they’re definitely worth a look too.) They do consider the darker side of human behaviour, but there’s a value in exploring this as a means of understanding some of humanity’s failings. This is a subject of interest to you, I think? And there’s some light to balance the darkness…I had a lot of sympathy for Marlowe in this one.

      Reply
  6. Jonathan

    I’ve never been interested in crime novels and whodunnits but I think I should try some Chandler at least. I think I should also read some James Bond & Agatha Christie…I don’t know when though.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh yes, do try some Chandler. He’s such a wonderful prose stylist. Funnily enough, I think the social critique and commentary in The Long Good-bye might be of interest to you. This would be a good one for you to try as it feels like Chandler at his most interesting.

      Reply
  7. realthog

    Great review, Jacqui!

    The Altman/Gould adaptation is very much worth a look. Gould gets a bit irritating at times, as his wont, but the movie has many strengths to compensate. It offers a new and welcome way of looking at the novel, I think.

    Oddly enough, I don’t imagine Bogart when reading of Marlowe, perhaps because I didn’t see any of the movie adaptations until long after I’d first read the books. For me, Bogart wasn’t actually a very good Marlowe; he simply played the part as Bogart, rather than as Marlowe. I’d say the definitive screen Marlowe to date is either Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely (1975) or Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944), which was based on the same novel; they changed the title from Farewell, My Lovely because Powell’s reputation was as a song-and-dance man, and they were worried audiences might think this was a musical or romantic comedy. Most days I opt for Powell as the best Marlowe, sometimes Mitchum. (The latter was arguably just a crucial little bit too old by the time he did his second Marlowe outing a few years later, The Big Sleep [1978].)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, John! I was hoping you might drop by with some thoughts on the Altman/Gould adaptation amongst other things (as always, your comments are most welcome). I’m an Altman fan, and the shift to the ’70s is a fresh way of approaching the novel so I’ll have to chase it down.

      I recall your fondness for Dick Powell as Marlowe. Do you know, it so long since I saw Murder, My Sweet, I’m struggling to recall him in the role! I’ll add it to the re-watch list. (That’s an interesting point about the change of title, I wasn’t aware of that.) My love of Bogart as Marlowe stems from The Big Sleep being the first Chandler adaptation I saw at the cinema. I sort of know it’s Bogart doing Bogart, but once seen never forgotten… :)

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I think you’d really enjoy this one, Guy. There’s a nice chunk of social critique and commentary alongside the Lennox/Wade mystery. I need to play catch-up with so many vintage crime novels, too. Several of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels for starters…

      Reply
  8. Scott W.

    Chandler’s prose is like a drug: one has to have it sometimes. This one is terrific. I see above the recommendation for the Altman film, an adaptation I did not especially like. It is something – and I agree with realthog that it is certainly worth watching – but it is not Chandler. There’s a meanness in it that just doesn’t exist in The Long Good-Bye, and while I’ve seen it at least twice, I still cannot get used to Elliot Gould as Marlowe. I always feel like I’m there on the set when watching that film, annoying aware that there are other things going on beyond where the camera is pointed. I guess that’s very Altman, come to think of it.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Definitely. I need a fix every now and again. That’s interesting about the Altman film. I’ll give it a try (and it’s good to know you think it’s worth watching), but your comments echo my own reservations about the idea of Elliott Gould as Marlowe. I loved the novel; there’s a wistful quality to it, you can see it that final quote…I didn’t see the meanness either.

      The activity-beyond-the-camera thing is very Altman! I feel the same way about Nashville even though it’s one of my favourite Altman films.

      Reply
  9. Caroline

    He’s still one of my favourite authors and this is one of my all time favourite books.
    I’m glad I don’t see Bogart when I read him. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bogart very much but Marlowe is one of a kind. I love that character. I wish I could have a drink with him.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Chandler’s terrific, isn’t he? I’m so glad to hear that this is one of your favorite books. It feels like Chandler at his most interesting, and I loved the wistful melancholy tone in the closing sections.

      It’s funny, isn’t it? Having watched the film adaptation of The Big Sleep, I can’t read these novels without picturing Bogart as Marlowe! I’d love to have a drink with him too. It would have to be bourbon (or a gimlet for The Long Good-bye).

      Reply
  10. litlove

    I love Chandler. I’m particularly fond of the way he keeps Marlowe’s voice so world-weary and cynical and yet shows him behaving really rather tenderly towards anyone who he believes is truly down on his or her luck. It makes him such an appealing character. And the prose is completely delicious. Have you read Benjamin Black’s continuation novel? It’s the only one of the many, many continuation novels out there that actually works.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Exactly! That’s what I love about him too, an irresistible combination of qualities.

      I haven’t read the Benjamin Black, but you’re the second person to recommend it to me! I usually steer clear of these homages, but I’ll take a look at the Black. I’m also interested in Ariel Winter’s trilogy The Twenty-Year Death, the second volume of which is Chandleresque in style (or so I’ve heard). I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it comes highly recommended.

      Reply
  11. Bellezza

    I read The Big Sleep years and years ago, when I read how Raymond Chandler influenced the modern Robert B. Parker. There was a time when I read and reread everything Parker wrote, couldn’t get enough of the wit, the dialogue, and his hero, Spencer. I don’t remember The Big Sleep enough to comment well, but you have inspired me to pick up The Long Good-Bye. I love a good detective, a rugged truth seeker who puts things right.

    (Soho sent me a series of novels by Ted Lewis beginning with Get Carter. Apparently it was made into a film with Michael Caine years ago, do you know of that crime series? I have t begun them yet.)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It’s interesting how one writer can lead to the discovery of another, someone whose work has made a deep impression on a favourite author. Another commenter got in touch with me on twitter to say she has wanted to read Chandler ever she learned that he was one of Murakami’s favourite writers (and I know how much you love Haruki M’s work!).

      I haven’t read Ted Lewis but I love the film Get Carter, so there’s a good chance I’d enjoy the books too. It sounds as if you have a treat in store there. I hope you get around to reading the Long Good-bye at some point, it’s a great novel.

      Reply
      1. Bellezza

        Trust you to know the film Get Carter! After I read the book, I’ll write a review. And yes, I do remember Murakami loves Chandler. Silly to temporarily forget! ;)

        Reply
  12. Annabel (gaskella)

    It’s too long since I’ve read Chandler … I read them all too long ago and must re-read – especially this one. Although that opening paragraph of The Big Sleep finishing with “I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.” has stayed with me.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      This one is definitely worth rereading, Annabel. It’s just so satisfying on more than one level – not just a great hard-boiled novel, but a sharp critique of the corruption at play too.

      Chandler is eminently quotable, isn’t he? I love that opening as well along with the ‘snapshot’ of Marlowe that appears at the front of the books:

      “…I’m a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich. I’ve been in jail more than once and I don’t do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don’t like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. […] …and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, nobody will feel that the bottom has dropped out of his or her life. “

      Reply
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  14. Kevin

    Fantastic review! I’ve wanted to continue my Chandler reading for quite some time but haven’t been able to.

    I read The Big Sleep a couple of years ago and loved every page and every word, and much like you I love Chandler’s style, his prose is evocative and Marlowe is the quintessential hardboiled character.

    And yes, Chandler is very quotable :)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed The Big Sleep, and I hope you get a chance to continue your reading of Chandler’s novels at some stage. Marlowe was my first taste of the hardboiled private eye and he remains a firm favourite. I just love his attitude and the rugged, world-weary aspect of his character. Thanks for dropping by, Kevin. :)

      Reply
  15. Emma

    What a style! It strikes me every time I read posts about Chandler.
    I haven’t read this one but I sure want to.

    Thanks for all the quotes, it really gives a good idea of Chandler’s style. The description of the blond entering the bar is a marvel.

    PS : About LA: have you read John Fante?

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      He is the business when it comes to the hardboiled novel, such a great prose stylist. I love that blonde-walking-into-a-bar quote too. In my other life (or dreams), I would be a film noir femme fatale, the Lauren Bacall type a la Vivian Sternwood from Chandler’s The Big Sleep.

      The Long Good-bye is fantastic. It’s more interesting than some of Chandler’s earlier novels, I think. Less reliant on one-liners, too. It’s as if he’s fully confident in his style and this grounding allows him to use the novel to explore some more ambitious territory. I think you’d really enjoy it, Emma.

      No, I haven’t read John Fante. You’re a fan I take it…do you have a recommendation?

      Reply
  16. Richard

    Who “translated” this book, Jacqui? Chandler wouldn’t have spelled “tires” as “tyres” in that last quote, after all! :D I like all of Chandler, but I have a distant (and perhaps faulty) memory of this being ambitious but not as strong a novel as his first two. Your review and in particular the quotes you highlighted make me eager to reread Chandler in general and this novel in particular to find out how accurate that memory was. Great stuff!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! Clearly I’ve got the English edition (just checked my copy and it’s definitely “tyres”!).

      Oh yes, do reread this one and let me know what you think! I loved it. Even though it’s ambitious, the plot feels less convoluted (less hokey) than some of the earlier novels. I noticed a change in Chandler’s prose too. It feels as if he has well and truly settled into his style here – it’s less reliant on one-liners than The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely. Those zingers are great, but too much of a good thing and all that…

      Reply
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  19. Max Cairnduff

    It’s years since I’ve read Chandler. Such good prose. Is this the third of the Marlowe’s?

    In film to me he’s Bogart, but I have the Mitchum Farewell my Lovely (haven’t watched it yet) and as actors go he does sound like he’d fit.

    I definitely echo the Fante recommendation.

    Lovely review Jacqui. Chandler’s so quotable isn’t he?

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Max – yes, eminently quotable! You should go back to him at some point – I would love to read you on Chandler. I’ve enjoyed revisiting a few of them over the past couple of years. This is actually the sixth in the series, so I skipped ahead simply because The Long Good-bye was fairly close to hand at the time. I guess I ought to go back and fill in the gaps – maybe I’ll reread another later in the year.

      I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the Mitchum version of Farewell, My Lovely – you’ll have to let me know what you think once you’ve watched it. Powell is good in the original version (Murder, My Sweet), but I can’t erase Bogart from my mind, probably because The Big Sleep was the first Chandler adaptation I ever saw. He remains the definitive Marlowe for me as well.

      I ended up buying a Fante off the back of Emma’s recommendation, Ask The Dust, which I suspect you may have read? I’m looking forward to it.

      Reply
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