The High Window by Raymond Chandler

The High WindowThe High Window by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Raymond Chandler has a new fan. The High Window is pulp fiction at its finest. Private eye Philip Marlowe lives in a time and place where women are dames, restaurants are joints, lapels are wide as a two-car garage, and you could say that’s mighty white of you. Not a word emerges from his mouth that isn’t laden with witty sarcasm, cynicism, and a fearless moxie.

He’s hired by a rich, tough old biddy to find her missing Brasher Doubloon, a rare gold coin that was supposed to be in her late husband’s collection. Soon he finds a dead body and then another. The cops suspect him, of course. The story is almost bursting with dodgy characters – a coin dealer (he’s one of the bodies), a feckless private eye (the other body), the arrogant spoiled son of the biddy, a golddigging nightclub torcher, the owner of the joint where she sings, the goon who provides the muscle, a slick lothario named Vannier who’s making it with the club owner’s wife, a crusty elevator operator who notices a lot more than he lets on, and many more. You’ll need a chiropractor to straighten you out if you follow all the twists and turns of this plot.

The style takes some getting used to if you haven’t read pulp fiction before. Chandler must have been paid by the word because Marlowe never enters a scene without describing every square inch of the room and the features and clothing of everyone in it. It’s done with such hardboiled wit, though, it never feels like filler. Anson the private eye, for example, “… held a smeared glass in his hand. It looked as if somebody had been keeping goldfish in it. He was a lanky man with carroty short hair growing down to a point on his forehead. He had a long narrow head packed with shabby cunning. Greenish eyes stared under orange eyebrows. His ears were large and might have flapped in a high wind. He had a long nose that would be into things … a face that held the effortless composure of a corpse in a morgue.” Anson lived in a room that “… was painted egg-yolk yellow. All it needed was a few fat black spiders painted on the yellow to be anybody’s bilious attack.”

The book was made into a movie starring George Montgomery in 1947, but retitled as The Brasher Doubloon. Chandler’s first novel The Big Sleep is perhaps his best known movie oeuvre. He didn’t write the screenplay for that one, but he did for such classics as Double Indemnity, Strangers On a Train, and The Blue Dahlia.

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