The Long Goodbye Novel Review Essay

The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler, 1953

The Long Goodbye (1953) is a milestone in the genre. This novel demonstrated for the first time that hard-boiled fiction could serve as a vehicle for social comment and critique. While the apparent plot is slower paced and less metaphoric than Chandler's previous novels, the revealed plot shows him using his own life as a material, an autobiographical turn that prepared the way for Ross Macdonald.

Marlowe meets and befriends English expatriate Terry Lennox, a drunk who has been abandoned by his ex-wife Sylvia, at The Dancers Club. Months later he spots Lennox drunk again, runs him home, and sobers him up, giving him traveling money to Las Vegas. Lennox sends repayment and re-marries Sylvia, after which Marlowe shares an occasional drink with him: during one, Lennox accuses Sylvia of infidelity. He next appears at Marlowe's door in flight to Tijuana, apparently because he has killed her. Marlowe drives him there and stonewalls policemen Green and Dayton when he returns, spending time in jail. He refuses to cooperate with a lawyer sent by Sylvia's millionaire father, local magnate Harlan Potter.

Marlowe won't talk even after the D.A. says that Lennox wrote a full confession before shooting himself in Mexico. A reporter suggests to him that there is a cover-up, which is confirmed by calls from the lawyer and warnings from gangster Mendy Menendez, an old friend of Lennox, who explains that Lennox was captured by the Nazis during World War II. Marlowe gets a letter from Lennox, which waffles on his role in the murder and contains a $5,000 bill.

A second apparent plot begins when Howard Spencer, a publisher's representative, hires Marlowe to baby-sit hack novelist Roger Wade (Chandler's self-portrait). The alcoholic writer can't finish his novel and is missing, but his stunning blonde wife Eileen provides a note about "Dr. V" and details of Wade's stays at drunk farms. Marlowe gets information on these places from an old friend in a big agency and narrows his list to three suspects. None pan out except Dr. Verringer, who is about to sell out so that he can support a manic-depressive named Earl. Spying Wade through a window, Marlowe saves him from crazy Earl. For this he collects a kiss from Eileen, and he learns that she knew Sylvia Lennox, which links the two plots.

A lull follows, during which Marlowe meets Sylvia's sister Linda Loring and her insufferable doctor husband. They argue about Sylvia's murder and whether Harlan Potter wants the case closed, but a respectful friendship ensues. Marlowe sees the Lorings again at Roger Wade's cocktail party, where the doctor accuses the novelist of sleeping with his wife. A scene follows, but Wade handles the blow-up well. Marlowe, however, won't accept $1,000 to nanny the author through his novel. He doesn't like the writer's ego or his wife, who tells him her own story of true love lost.

A week later Wade calls for help, and Marlowe arrives to find him collapsed in front of his house, with Eileen sitting nearby smoking. He and the house-boy put Wade to bed, and Marlowe walks away from an opportunity with Eileen. Instead he collects Wade's drunken notes to gain insight into his problems. Then there's a shot. Marlowe finds husband and wife struggling over a gun, the novelist claiming he attempted suicide. Dosed with drugs, he finally sleeps. Eileen invites Marlowe into her bed, but he declines.

Linda Loring introduces Marlowe to Harlan Potter, who wants the Lennox murder closed. Marlowe demurs. Now information develops that Lennox used to call himself Paul Marston, and that Roger Wade had an affair with Sylvia. Marlowe, at the Wades with Eileen, finds the writer dead. His old friend Lt. Ohls treats the case as a suicide, but Eileen accuses Marlowe. More comes out about Lennox's former life: he was married to Eileen and presumed dead in World War I, so she married Wade. But then he reappeared and she panicked.

In the revealed plot, she killed both Sylvia and Roger. Lennox' name is cleared. Linda Loring divorces her obnoxious husband and asks Marlowe to marry her; he refuses to be a kept man, but does spend a night with her, the only woman Marlowe ever beds (aside from Helen Vermilyea in Chandler's better-off-forgotten swan song, Playback. There's a final detail to check and it's supplied by Senor Maioranos ("Mr. Better-years"), who is Terry Lennox in disguise. He and Marlowe talk, but the old affection is gone. As Marlowe said of Linda Loring's departure, "to say goodbye is to die a little."

As he had in the preceding The Little Sister (1949), Chandler engaged in pointed social criticism in The Long Goodbye, stretching the genre. The brunt of his attack is born by the rich: Marlowe sees their enterprises – business, the press, gambling interests, lawyers, and the courts – forming a monolith that disenfranchises the average citizen. "Money tends to have a life of its own, even a conscience of its own," says villain Harlan Potter, who is the ironic spokesman for many of Chandler's views (190-91). The roots of crime lie not with nymphomaniacs (as in The Big Sleep) or in economic climbing (Farewell's Velma Valento), but in big money's exploitation of the lowest-common-denominator effect of mass institutions and democracy. This, Chandler finally decided, rather than some inherently debilitating effect of the setting, robs immigrants to L.A. of the admirable independence that drew them there.

More interesting still is the way Chandler used the novel, which he wrote as his wife lay dying, to analyze and comment on his own life. Like Terry Lennox, Chandler was a soldier scarred by World War I, whose young days at Dabney Oil were full of big cars and illicit affairs. Like Roger Wade, he had become a middle-aged, childless, self-hating, alcoholic, celebrity writer. Like Philip Marlowe, Chandler clung in conscience to early ideals, belief in character, fidelity, and respect for creation. The novel detests the very self-pity that propels it. Can Chandler integrate the parts of his life? Marlowe's last words to Lennox are "So long, Senor Maioranos. Nice to have known you – however briefly" (311). The final answer is no. It is no accident that Terry Lennox and Roger Wade never appear together, but rather a psychological impossibility. That a woman undoes both is Chandler's old saw, but secondary here. "Your husband is a guy who can take a long hard look at himself and see what is there," says Marlowe to Eileen. "Most people go through life using up half their energy trying to protect a dignity they never had" (153). Not until Ross Macdonald would the hard-boiled novel again be exploited for autobiographical insight so sharply.


The Long Goodbye is a novel by Raymond Chandler, published in 1953, his sixth novel featuring the private investigatorPhilip Marlowe. Some critics consider it inferior to The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely, but others rank it as the best of his work.[1] Chandler, in a letter to a friend, called the novel "my best book".[2]

The novel is notable for using hard-boiled detective fiction as a vehicle for social criticism and for including autobiographical elements from Chandler's life. In 1955, the novel received the Edgar Award for Best Novel. It was later adapted as a 1973 film of the same name, updated to 1970s Los Angeles and starring Elliott Gould.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel opens outside a club called the Dancers. It is late October or early November 1949. Philip Marlowe meets a drunk named Terry Lennox, a man with scars on one side of his face. They forge an uneasy friendship over the next few months. In June 1950, Lennox shows up late one night at Marlowe's home in "a great deal of trouble" and needing a ride to the airport across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. Marlowe agrees as long as Lennox does not tell him any details of why he is running.

On his return to Los Angeles, Marlowe learns that Lennox's wife was found dead in her guest house and that she died before Lennox fled. Marlowe is arrested on suspicion of murder after refusing to co-operate with investigators, who want him to confess that he helped Lennox flee.

After three days of antagonizing his interrogators, Marlowe is released, the police explaining that Lennox has been reported to have committed suicide in Otatoclán with a full written confession by his side. Marlowe gets home to find a cryptic note from Lennox containing a "portrait of Madison" (a $5,000 bill).

Marlowe gets a call from Howard Spencer, a New York publisher, who asks him to investigate a case. One of Spencer's best writers, Roger Wade, has a drinking problem and has been missing for three days. Initially Marlowe refuses, but after Wade's wife, Eileen, also asks for Marlowe's help, he consents. Marlowe finds Wade in a makeshift detox facility in an isolated and soon to be abandoned ranch. He takes his fee, but the Wades' stories do not match.

The Wades each try to convince Marlowe to stay at their house to keep Roger writing instead of drinking, and though he refuses, he ends up making further trips to the house at their behest. On one such trip, he finds Wade passed out in the grass with a cut on his head. Mrs. Wade enters a sort of trance and attempts to seduce Marlowe, thinking him to be a former lover of hers who died ten years earlier in World War II.

Meanwhile, Marlowe is repeatedly threatened to cease his investigation of the Lennox case, first by a friend of Lennox's named Mendy Menendez, then by Lennox's father-in-law, the police, the Wades' servant (a Chilean named Candy), and Wade's wife. Marlowe also learns that Terry Lennox had previously lived as Paul Marston, who was previously married and had lived in England.

Wade calls Marlowe again, asking him to come by to have lunch with him. Wade drinks himself into a stupor, so Marlowe takes a walk outside. When he returns, Eileen Wade is ringing the doorbell, saying she forgot her key. Marlowe finds Roger Wade dead on the couch, apparently from suicide, but Eileen accuses Marlowe of killing her husband. Candy fabricates a story to implicate Marlowe, believing him to be guilty, but his claims are undermined in an interrogation.

Marlowe receives a call from Spencer regarding Wade's death and bullies Spencer into taking him to see Mrs. Wade. Once there, Marlowe grills her on the death of Terry Lennox's wife. Eileen first tries to blame it all on Roger, but Marlowe argues that she killed both Mrs. Lennox and Roger Wade and that Lennox was actually her first husband, presumed killed in action with British Special Air Service during the war. Eileen Wade leaves with no response. The next morning, Marlowe learns that she has killed herself, leaving a note confessing that she killed Mrs. Lennox and Roger Wade.

Marlowe refuses to let the story lie. He is assaulted by Menendez, who is arrested in a setup arranged by a police commissioner who served with Menendez and Lennox during the war. Finally, Marlowe is visited by a Mexican man who claims to have been present when Lennox was killed in his hotel room. Marlowe listens to his story but rejects it and offers his own version, ending with the revelation the Mexican man is none other than Lennox, who has had cosmetic surgery.


The Long Goodbye is Chandler's most personal novel. He wrote it as his wife was dying. Her illness and death had a profound effect on him, driving him into fits of melancholy and leading him to talk of and even attempt suicide. Two characters in the novel are based on Chandler himself; both of them highlight Chandler's awareness of his own flaws—his alcoholism and his doubts about the value of his writing.[3]

The character most clearly based on Chandler is the usually drunken writer Roger Wade. Like Chandler, Wade had a string of successful novels behind him, but as he grew older he found it more difficult to write. Also, like Chandler, Wade had written novels (romantic fiction) that were viewed by many as not real literature, whereas Wade wants to be thought of as a serious author. Wade also stands in for Chandler in discussions about literature, as in his praise of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The other Chandler stand-in is Terry Lennox. Like Chandler, Lennox is an alcoholic. Also like Chandler, he had fought in a war, and the war left emotional scars. For Lennox, it was the Second World War; for Chandler, it was the first. Lennox is a Canadian citizen, but he had spent a great deal of time in England and retained the restrained and formal attitude of an English gentleman. This made him somewhat of an anomaly in the fast-paced and more informal world of wealthy Los Angeles, which he inhabited because of his wife's money. Chandler was also raised in England and received a classical education there. Chandler also retained a great love for the English and what he viewed as their more civilised way of life compared to the shallowness and superficiality of Los Angeles. This frequently put him at odds with screenwriting collaborators, such as Billy Wilder, and with most of Los Angeles and Hollywood society.[4][5]

Film, television and radio adaptations[edit]

This novel was dramatised for television in 1954 for the anthology series Climax!, with Dick Powell playing Marlowe, as he had a decade earlier in the film Murder, My Sweet. This live telecast is memorable for an incident in which the actor Tris Coffin, whose character had just died, thinking he was out of camera range, stood up and walked away while in view of the TV audience.

In 1973, Robert Altman filmed an adaptation set in contemporary Los Angeles, with Elliott Gould as Marlowe.

An adaptation of the novel was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 16 January 1978, with Ed Bishop as Marlowe, and again on 1 October 2011, with Toby Stephens as Marlowe as part of its Classic Chandler series. Japanese broadcast NHK aired five episodes of a Japanese adaptation of the novel in 2014.

Appearances in other works[edit]

The Long Goodbye has been referred to in other works of fiction. Greg Iles referred to Chandler and the novel's title in his own novel The Quiet Game, in which one chararacter is named Marston.[6] It has been featured in the Japanese tokusatsu drama Kamen Rider W, in which the main character constantly reads from a Japanese version of the book. His partner's name is Philip.[citation needed]Michael Connelly refers to the novel's title and quotes from it in his own novel The Black Ice. There are flashbacks to the events in this novel in the hommage Marlowe novel The Black-Eyed Blonde.

The novel's title has been alluded to in the titles of other works of fiction with a hardboiled, noir, detective or gangster theme, including the British gangster film The Long Good Friday (1980), an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "The Big Goodbye" (1988), and Frank Miller's graphic novelThe Hard Goodbye (1991–92), the first volume in the Sin City series.

In music, crime novelist Matt Rees's band Poisonville, which is named after the fictitious location of the Dashiell Hammett novel Red Harvest, released a song about The Long Goodbye on its first album. Rees described the novel as "a creepier book than people think."[7]


External links[edit]

  1. ^Review of The Long Goodbye, New York Times, April 25, 1954.
  2. ^Chandler, Raymond (2000). The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction, 1909–1959 (Paperback ed.). Grove Press Books. p. 228. ISBN 0-8021-3946-9. 
  3. ^Spender, Natasha (1978). "Chapter 11: His Own Long Goodbye". In Gross, Miriam. The World of Raymond Chandler. New York: A & W Publishers. pp. (128–150). ISBN 978-0-89479-016-4. 
  4. ^Houseman, John (1978). "Chapter 5: Lost Fortnight". In Gross, Miriam. The World of Raymond Chandler. New York: A & W Publishers. pp. (55). ISBN 978-0-89479-016-4. 
  5. ^Wilder, Billy (1978). "Chapter 4: On the Fourth Floor at Paramount". In Gross, Miriam. The World of Raymond Chandler. New York: A & W Publishers. p. (46). ISBN 978-0-89479-016-4. 
  6. ^The Quiet Game, paperback edition, pp. 34, 102.
  7. ^Matt Rees,

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