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The Marlowe Stories

June 2024
1min read

Later Novels & Other Writings

Library of America, 1,199 pages .

Library of America, 1,076 pages .

When a critic called his fictional hero Philip Marlowe an amoral “zombie” in 1949, Raymond Chandler wrote him: “Marlowe is a more honorable man than you or I. … I’ve seen dozens like him in all essentials except the few colorful qualities he needed to be in a book. (A few even had those.)” Slightly darker than the deadpan Hollywood dramas they inspired, Chandler’s crime novels and stories cast a leery but romantic eye over Los Angeles’s rich enclaves and the surrounding desert towns.

The early stories are filled with themes and riffs he would sustain longer in the novels. Urban weariness amid Edenic California (“Beautiful hands are as rare as jacaranda trees in bloom, in a city where pretty faces are as common as runs in dollar stockings”); the Eve-like women his heroes always distrust, fall for, and regret; quick, unsentimental talk (“You’re a good stoolie, Joey. I’ll always say that for you”)—they are all there in the early pulp stuff of Volume I. Philip Marlowe takes up the case in The Big Sleep (1939) and soldiers through Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye , and the final Playback (1958). His fictional odyssey has awed American detective writers since. These slangy classics, brought together by the Library of America with the stories, essays, letters, and screenplay for Double Indemnity , create our quintessential picture of Los Angeles: “Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. … A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.”

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