The High Window by Raymond Chandler
Our key-word for this month’s book choice was ‘Window(s)’. The other choices pitched into the hat were: High Windows by Philip Larkin, House without windows by Nadia Hashimi and Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, but Raymond Chandler won out – a great choice for a busy period of the year.
The High Window is the third Philip Marlowe mystery published in 1942. In it, Marlowe is hired by the matriarch of a family to recover a stolen coin from her late husband’s collection. Of course it gets very complicated as people involved with the coin suddenly tend to end up dead, and people dying around him leaves Marlowe in a difficult place with the police, and at risk himself. It’s no stretch of the imagination to realise that someone fell from a high window along the way. Did they fall? Or were they pushed? The perennial quandary for the private investigator to uncover the truth of.
As always with Chandler, the plot doesn’t matter really at all. It’s all the characters who star with Marlowe himself cracking one-liners about them all the time. Here he describes the girlfriend of a heavy that he hopes can locate the widow Murdock’s missing daughter-in-law – did she steal the coin? …
From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.
Here Marlowe describes a man who is following him badly…
The man in the brown suit posted himself at the end of the bar and drank coca-colas and looked bored and piled pennies in front of him, carefully smoothing the edges. He had his dark glasses on again. That made him invisible.
I just love these quips, and the story is full of them as Marlowe goes from one tricky situation to another. The body count is actually quite high, but somehow, with Marlowe’s dry narration it’s a hindrance rather than a gorefest. Chcaracterisation is everything, and Marlowe is a perceptive reader of peoples’ inner minds. As for the missing, presumed stolen, coin – it’s very much a Hitchcock-style MacGuffin, there to affect the characters and push them into taking action.
I have read several of the Philip Marlowe mysteries, but not this one previously. It has a great cast of characters, from the old matriarch, her weak son, her sassy daughter-in-law to the range of gangsters and policemen. It makes me want to (re)read the rest of the stories. (8.5/10)
Source: Own copy Penguin paperback, 288 pages.