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Written by Timothy Sexton
I left a phony name and a right telephone number. An hour crawled by like a sick cockroach. I was a grain of sand on the desert of oblivion. I was a two-gun cowpoke fresh out of bullets. Three shots, three misses. I hate it when they come in threes.
If you only know “hardboiled narration” from having heard the phrase, but aren’t quite sure what it means, this is a perfect example. Perfect because it really is really quite mundane. Nothing of great importance is conveyed here other than the example is provides as a definition of hardboiled writing: terse diction, short sentences, pithy construction of imagery-laden metaphorical terms of comparison.
“Big money is big power and big power gets used wrong. It's the system. Maybe it's the best we can get, but it still ain't any Ivory Soap deal.”
In addition to being an old-fashioned detective story, The Long Goodbye continues in the tradition of Marlowe’s investigation taking him into the world of economic corruption of the wealthy of Los Angeles. These members of the elite are juxtaposed against the more traditional low-life grifters and gangsters of the detective genre to make the connection that in America the driving force behind most crime is economic and that the criminal character is revealed equally whether one is stealing a few dollars or a few hundred thousand dollars. The line also reveals that hard-boiled expressions make the leap from the narration into the daily manner of speaking among those characters.
Crime isn't a disease, it's a symptom. Cops are like a doctor that gives you aspirin for a brain tumor, except that the cop would rather cure it with a blackjack.”
Marlowe delivers this observation to a cop. A cop that he admits is a damn good one just before offering the caveat that all of them—whether good or bad—always wind up putting the blame for the criminal behavior on the wrong thing. Which leads to this sociological premise and the associational simile. What separates Marlowe from other examples of the hardboiled detective is that he is college educated and so always carries with him into a case a more expansive sociological perspective of criminal behavior.
“There's a peculiar thing about money. In large quantities it tends to have a life of its own, even a conscience of its own. The power of money becomes very difficult to control. Man has always been a venal animal. The growth of populations, the huge costs of wars, the incessant pressure of confiscatory taxation-all these things make him more and more venal. The average man is tired and scared, and a tired, scared man can't afford ideals.”
The novel’s obsession with the economic aspect of crime and how it contributes to defining character through the corrupting influence of wealth is here given voice from another perspective. Harlan Potter’s daughter Sylvia has been murdered and his response is a series of warnings that eventually rise to the level of threats to keep Marlowe from pursuing his investigation into that crime. Harlan is very rich and equally corrupt and eventually proves that one need not be of average economic status to no longer afford ideals.
“The tragedy of life…is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean. It will not happen to me.”
Philosophical observations are not limited by Chandler to his narrator. Marlowe’s acquisition of the suicide note of Eileen Wade also delineates some factual information pertinent to the mystery he is trying to unravel, but it is easy to get the feeling the author wanted Eileen’s philosophical view of life and her defiant rejection to accept it to be what really lingers in the mind.
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