The Long Goodbye is the sixth of seven novels that Raymond Chandler published featuring his iconic private detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe is right up there with Sherlock Holmes, Sam Space and Miss Marple in the world of literary crime solvers and, like those figures, the mysteries in which he Marlow becomes ensnared has a conceptual construction all its own. What Chandler’s Marlowe books are really about has more to do with character and the corrosively corrupt milieu created by the crossroads where the wealthy meets the underworld. That focus on the character of crime is still very much on Chandler’s mind as the narrative of The Long Goodbye plays out, but this is a novel that is different from the previous five adventures of Philip Marlowe in a variety of ways.
This Marlowe arrives late in the stage of Chandler’s career. The composition occurred while his wife was dying and served to directly impact his longstanding relationship with the Brandt & Brandt literary agency in the most negative of fashion. In fact, the reaction of his agents to what was clearly a work Chandler saw as a major turning point in his career was so negative that The Long Goodbye ultimately became the agency of termination. In Chandler’s view, the agents had overstepped the boundaries of the position in order to assume the role of editor for which the author clearly did not feel they were suited. Chandler was almost assuredly proved correct: The Long Goodbye was honored as Best Novel by the voters of the 1955 Edgar Allen Poe Awards.
Although the title might indicate that Chandler had a view toward making this novel the final appearance of Phillip Marlowe before sending him into the California sunset for good, that is not the case. What is the case is that Chandler had reached a state of mind where he was beginning to fear the possibility of lapsing into the type of writer where character starts to become subordinate to plot. And since character had always been his strong suit and one of the aspects that separated his books from the crowd, he consciously made the decision to write The Long Goodbye in exactly the way he wanted and if his readership wasn’t prepared to follow him, then so be it. The result was the longest Marlowe novel he’d ever written and one in which the detective did something he was infamous for never doing: sleeping with one the dame with which his case brought him into contact.
Another divergence from the Marlowe novels which came before traces back to those crossroads. All his cases allowed him to bounce from the influential rich to the influential lowlifes of the criminal underworld in a way that distinguished the two by setting if nothing else. When The Long Goodbye, the corrosion of conformity seems to finally settle in a way in which the distinction between those two universes is inescapably blurred. The high and the mighty and the influential who live in mansions and the influential who inhabit the shadows wear tailored suits and sip champagne and dine in the finest establishments. What Chandler seems to suggesting in The Long Goodbye for once and for all is that there is no point in separating the high life from the low life. At least not in environs of SoCal through Philip Marlowe moves.