Certain books come with preconceptions that can help as well as hinder a reader’s appetite and most of the time Hollywood is the cause of establishing the image for a book. That is certainly the case with Raymond Chandler’s private detective Philip Marlowe who before you even get to the end of the first page is hard not to see as Humphrey Bogart.
But focusing on the trilby, Macintosh with the lapels pulled up and pistol toting image of a private detective is relatively one dimensional and one of the biggest surprises in The High Window is the various moods and attitudes that Marlowe takes making it a more rounded personality and the way the plot develops is complex and inventive.
Hired by a rich and grumpy widow to find out if her daughter-in-law stole a famous coin from her deceased husband’s collection Marlowe heads off to find the girl and the coin. But very quickly the scale of his enquiries expand as he discovers that not only is the coin being used as a model for a fraudulent scam but his employer has a few secrets that she has not shared. With the coin dealer, a fellow detective hired to find out about the coin and the man behind the scam all dead Marlowe is left with the police against him and his employer failing to share the information he needs to close the case. What seals it is the evidence that Marlowe finds in a blackmailers room that links his employer with the death of her husband and the persecution of her secretary, who Marlowe finally helps escape into the more peaceful world of Kansas.
That might well sound confused and rambling and the reason for that is that firstly the plot is so crucial to a crime novel it seems a shame to spell it all out; and secondly the plot develops organically and in numerous directions making it difficult to wrap up in a single paragraph.
Is it well written?
It is of its time with the language and cars being of a set period in the late forties and early 1950s. But put that to one side and the human emotions are as valid as today and the tension is gripping in places. What carries the book through is the strong character of Marlowe who is fascinating and sometimes borders on the unliveable with his wisecracks and persistent willingness to rub people up the wrong way. The final addition to strong character is the plot that develops in ways that you cannot predict but it subtle enough to get the reader in on Marlowe’s world.
Should it be read?
The only reason not to is if you can’t stand the crime novel genre. Otherwise if you have mot read any Chandler before then it is a great introduction to a world of liars, rich gangsters and dames looking for fame. The book has a pace that helps it skip along and as has already mentioned the plot is far from predictable making it more enjoyable. There are also some great lines in the book that will make you laugh and want to store away to mimic later on.
Tough talking private detective cracks the case he was never hired for and saves a woman from a life of misery
Version read – Penguin paperback