Book Review: The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
Everyone’s favorite hard-boiled private eye Marlowe is back, and this time he’s been hired to track down a respectable entrepreneur’s wild wife. She sent a telegram weeks ago stating she was going to marry her boy toy, Lavery, but Lavery was spotted in Hollywood and claims to have no idea where Mrs. Kingsley is. The last place she was known to be was at the Kingsleys’ lake-side country cottage, so that small town is where Marlowe starts his investigation.
I first encountered Chandler in a film noir class I took in undergrad at Brandeis. Ok, so that class was my first encounter with noir too, but it introduced a whole new genre to me to fall in love with. The cores of the genre just scream my name from the hard-boiled, alcoholic detective with a “work bottle” of whiskey in his office drawer to the ever-present femme fatale. *sighs* Can I live in that world? Can I? Anyway, so whenever I stumble upon a Chandler book in a used bookstore, I absolutely must buy it. There’s simply no question. This will probably continue until I have collected them all.
The entries are always narrated by Marlowe, and The Lady in the Lake does not fail to smoothly represent everything there is to love about him. He’s darkly cynical yet possesses a striking wit even in the face of getting a beat-down from the cops (which happens in pretty much every book. Lots of dirty cops in Marlowe’s world). Without Marlowe’s voice and ever-present intelligence, the books would not be what they are. Thankfully, his presence is just as perfect here as in the other Chandler books.
So what about the story? Well, this time the story is not set entirely in LA. A solid half of it is in the countryside. While I enjoyed those scenes, I must admit I did miss the LA grittiness a bit. Although the scene where the grieving husband drags his wife’s corpse out of the lake on his back was every bit as gritty as any city scene.
The mystery made so much sense in the end that I was kicking myself for not figuring it out. I still can’t believe I didn’t figure it out! How Chandler came up with these twists and turns and managed to write them without giving it away is beyond me. I doubt anyone will be disappointed with the mystery. I literally had no idea what was going on into Marlowe explained everything in the classic film noir wrap-up scene.
The femme fatale was a weak point in this entry, however. I think this is why I really liked it but didn’t love it. She just didn’t seem sexy enough. Violent, yes. Brutal, yes. But sexy? Ehhhh. Personally I always perceive the femme fatale as a gorgeous black widow spider, and well this one just failed a bit on the gorgeous glamor aspect. She was still a femme fatale, but perhaps a bit disappointing.
Overall, I truly enjoyed my time in Marlowe’s world with this entry. Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not. I recommend this to noir fans, highly. Those new to the genre, I recommend start with The Big Sleep.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Harvard Books used book cellar