October 31 2011

The Lady in the Lake

The Lady in the Lake is the fourth Philip Marlowe novel by Raymond Chandler. It was published in 1943 and Chandler adds a few touches of how WWII is affecting the country into the story. There are sentries and a shortage of silk and tires. Luckily for Marlowe, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of booze or bodies.
The base plot is that a wealthy man (Derace Kingsley) hires Marlowe to find his wife, Crystal. The last place Crystal was known to be at was their cabin at Little Fawn Lake. Marlowe leaves his usual city haunts to uncover the mystery. Chandler shows he can do scenic descriptions:

Beyond the gate the road wound for a couple of hundred yards through trees and then suddenly below me was a small oval lake deep in trees and rocks and wild grass, like a drop of dew caught in a curled leaf.

But in addition to the scenery, Chandler uses this as a chance to highlight some aspects of police corruption in the contrast between city (most particularly his construct of Bay City) and town. For Bay City, Marlowe thinks:

It was a very nice city hall. Bay City was a very nice place. People lived there and thought so. If I lived there, I would probably think so. I would see the nice blue bay and the cliffs and the yacht harbor and the quiet streets of houses, old houses brooding under old trees and new houses with sharp green lawns and wire fences and staked saplings set into the parkway in front of them. I knew a girl who lived on Twenty-fifth Street. It was a nice street. She was a nice girl. She liked Bay City.
She wouldn’t think about the Mexican and Negro slums stretched out on the dismal flats south of the old interurban tracks. Nor of the waterfront dives along the flat shore south of the cliffs, the sweaty little dance halls on the pike, the marihuana joints, the narrow fox faces watching over the tops of newspapers in far too quiet hotel lobbies, nor the pickpockets and grifters and con men and drunk rollers and pimps and queens on the board walk.

I was struck by the title of the book. In addition to parts of the story being set around a lake, I’m sure that Chandler was well aware of the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. This would continue to connect Marlowe as our knight errant through the tired fields of the day.
Another very good read.

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Posted October 31, 2011 by user in category "Book review


  1. By EEGiorgi on

    You’re always one Marlowe ahead of me! 🙂

    I’m half way through the High Window (I know, I’m slow, too many things and too little time!), and I keep thinking, “Chandler can’t get any better than this,” and yet he does… The prose in High Window is absolutely fantastic, I can’t get over it… “a nose that could get into things,” and “faces like lost battles,” and just the descriptions…

    Anyways, the Lady in the Lake is my next as soon as I finish this one. 🙂

  2. By Ian on

    I think I’ll need to reread The Lady in the Lake at some point, because I was traveling and very jetlagged when I read it, and didn’t absorb it very well. I did enjoy the twisty plot, though, and as always the magnificent prose.

    Elena, I think High Window is the one with my favorite description of Marlowe, the “shop-soiled Galahad.” Which ties into the Arthurian reference, too. I wonder if there are other Arthurian references that I’ve missed? Hmm…


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