Tuesday, June 24, 2008

THE LADY IN THE LAKE, by Raymond Chandler

I was very impressed with the other Chandler book I've read--THE BIG SLEEP. With this one, not so much. The plot is a little too convoluted, the descriptions a little weak, Marlow's thoughts a little strange at times, and the conclusion more than a little disappointing. It was still a decent read, but I had high hopes for this book, and it didn't measure up.

In all honesty, THE BIG SLEEP didn't have the most airtight plot either. That book felt to me like it wrapped up the story halfway through, fumbled around for a bit, and then worked the preceding events into a continuing story. But it was still a joy to read, and the bulk of that joy comes from Chandler's descriptive style, and his clever use of simile. He manages it at points in LADY IN THE LAKE, with lines like "The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips," but the quality of his simile isn't consistent throughout--a lot of other similes in the book are left reaching, they don't really grab hold.

What is consistent, what really does hold up throughout this book like it did in the other, is the quality of the dialogue. Chandler crafts conversations that are better than anything you'd hear in real life, and it leaves you wishing people were as witty as they are in his books. Here's a favorite example of mine from LADY: "I thought they cleaned this town up," I said. "I thought they had it so that a decent man could walk the streets at night without wearing a bullet proof vest."/"They cleaned it up some," he said. "They wouldn't want it too clean. They might scare away a dirty dollar."

What really works against this book, as I've already mentioned, is the plot and the conclusion. A lot of what I've come to admire about good detective fiction is the power of logic, and the ability to act logically, that so many of these detectives possess. But Marlowe doesn't strike me as completely logical in this book, especially toward the end. A lot of the time I was left guessing about why he was doing things the way he did. The decision that brings the story to the lake for its final scene is a good example. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth after I turned the final page.

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