If you don’t happen to know who Philip Marlowe is, you’d better just go ahead and forget this review and start reading Raymond Chandler novels right away. Marlowe is the foundation for and embodiment of all of the hard boiled, wise cracking, steely eyed private eyes you’ve seen in movies, on TV, and in parody sketches. He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s willing to take a beating or risk his life for a case, and beautiful women swoon when he glances their way, not that he cares one way or another. Chandler managed to create a character that is impossible not to like, without making him obnoxiously perfect or impervious. He pays for every clue, and he doesn’t always end up with a happy ending, but you always look forward to how he interacts with the corrupt and sordid world.
With that out of the way, let’s focus on Farewell My Lovely itself. The book covers two cases that falls into Marlowe’s lap on seemingly sheer coincidence, one a double homicide carried out by a hulking brute with a straightforward and simple demeanor, the other involves a jewelry/blackmail ring and a few high society types. Things then spiral out a fair bit, with constant beatings, murders, swindler mystics, corrupt cops and organized crime barons aplenty. Compared to the mundane group dealt with in the Big Sleep the characters in Farewell are fairly oddball, or if not oddball, then at least more colorful. Chandler keeps the dialogue witty and sharp, especially for Marlowe, who always manages to know just what to say to push people’s buttons while still endearing himself to the reader and the characters. If I’m being honest, I will admit that some of the slang and turns of phrase were lost on me, either for being too outdated or too convoluted in their plays on word to be recognizable, but what wasn’t apparent in speech was understandable in context and through the reactions it elicited.
However much I liked the people involved, and the basic style of the book though, I found the actual mysteries and their conclusion a bit underwhelming. Everything is wrapped up too neatly and requires far too many coincidences to really feel plausible or compelling. The climax, which should have been incredibly compelling ended up up feeling fairly weak. It actually felt fairly anti-climactic, despite a lot of anxiety voiced by Marlowe and his companions throughout the experience. Really the whole experience started without any true stakes, and it’s difficult to become fully engaged in the story if you don’t understand why Marlowe is putting himself through it. That’s not to say it’s not a fun read; for all the problems in the plot, all of Chandler’s stories are a ton of fun to experience. I just felt that the plot and mystery of this particular tale actually detracted a bit from the fun.