The High Window
The High Window is the third novel by Raymond Chandler and seems to be a bit overlooked compared to some of his others like The Big Sleep.
In the beginning of The Big Sleep we find Marlow contemplating a stained glass window of a knight in dark armor rescuing a damsel in distress. In The High Window we get an even deeper sense of Marlow as the somewhat dusty knight. About two-thirds through the novel we get the remark from a doctor:
“Phil Marlowe,” he said. “The shop-soiled Galahad. …”
In the opening of The High Window Marlowe is once again calling upon the residence of a wealthy family. The overbearing family matron (a lover of Port) asks Marlowe to find a gold coin that has been stolen from her deceased husband’s collection. She suspects her estranged daughter-in-law of having stolen the coin. Marlowe gets a bad feeling from the nervous female secretary to the family (Merle) and has a run in with the son. The plot quickly loops and twists about as Marlowe explores the case according to his own compass.
Marlowe’s compass requires him to protect his client from the police but to also make sure that the client gets exactly what they paid for–whether the client really wants that or not.
With this book it became clear to me that Chandler is really using the frame of the detective genre to explore topics that would have been really difficult (if not forbidden) to talk about in the mainstream press of the time (this one was published in 1942.) In this book, Chandler explores mental illness, sexual abuse and police corruption. Quite daring for the time.
While exploring these topics, Chandler continues to put out beautiful prose. Here is the description as Marlow enters a nightclub:
The bar entrance was to the left. It was dusky and quiet and a bartender moved mothlike against the faint glitter of piled glassware. A tall handsome blond in a dress that looked like seawater sifted over with gold dust came out of the ladies room, touching up her lips and turned toward the arch, humming.
The sound of rhumba music came through the archway and she nodded her gold head in time to it, smiling. A short fat man with a red face and glittering eyes waited for her with a white wrap over his arm. He dug his thick fingers into her bare arm and leered up at her.
A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pajamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins.
How perfect is that?
I’ve got to say that I’m really enjoying my little trip through Chandler. Feel free to join.