Sunday, March 11, 2012
The Lady in the Lake
Raymond Chandler can always be counted on for crackling dialogue and extremely convoluted plots, and I should have kept that in mind when I thought I had the mystery in The Lady of the Lake figured out so early in the story. For even though I did correctly intuit a central plot twist, Chandler had so much more in mind that I was nowhere close to figuring out the whole thing.
Originality is pretty rare in the mystery genre. Between the countless novels and the popularity of TV mysteries, it's devilishly hard to find a solution that can truly surprise you, let alone in a book that was written during WWII. But Chandler is not an easy man to imitate. It would be so easy for an imitation to veer unwillingly into absurdity. The way private eye Philip Marlowe and his adversaries bat their words back and forth is finely tuned that it becomes realistic.
The Lady in the Lake has a classic hard-boiled set-up: Marlowe is hired by a businessman to find his cheating wife and keep her from getting into trouble. But when the neighbor's wife is found sunk at the bottom of a lake, and then another man turns up shot in his bathroom, Marlowe is the only one interested in connecting the cases. Despite being pressured by some unscrupulous policemen and stalled by every potential witness, Marlowe keeps searching for the truth, a far nobler goal than whatever pittance his client is paying.