Discussion Guide: The Long Goodbye

1. "The weather was hot and sticky and the acid sting of the smog had crept as far west as Beverly Hills" [p. 238]. Los Angeles becomes a virtual character in Chandler's fiction in his trenchant descriptions of its climate, streets, traffic, buildings, bars, and restaurants. What place descriptions are especially evocative, or is locale so skillfully integrated with action that only an overall impression is retained? Did any descriptions strike you as being from another Los Angeles, the one of fifty years ago? Which could apply to your impressions of Los Angeles today? What influence might growing up in England have had on Chandler's perspective of Southern California?

2. Philip Marlowe is a long way from the "infallible sleuth," the English, Sherlock Holmes-style ancestor of the hard-boiled fictional detective. In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe lands in jail on a bum rap and gets conked over the head a few times; as for his desire to solve the case, it's hard to pin down if he's trying or not. What replaces old-fashioned sleuthing and tight plotting in terms of dramatic tension?

3. The "hackie" Marlowe hails to bring Lennox home has "stuck a magazine with a Martian on the cover behind his mirror" [p. 10]. Potent details like these belong to the short but vivid appearances of the many bit players that appear in the story. Minor characters like the Wades' burly houseboy, Candy, of the mysterious nationality that becomes a running joke are often developed beyond what the plot demands. Is this a device to heighten suspense, a distinctive Chandler style? What other minor characters stand out?

4. "There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays" [p. 89] is Marlowe's acerbic observation after spotting the beautiful Eileen Wade enter a hotel bar. Marlowe often classifies people as types, which is a hallmark of genre detective fiction. Does this help or hinder the characterization of Marlowe? What other elements in The Long Goodbye identify it as genre writing? What elements transcend genre?

5. Chandler's literary agent and editor objected to the "sentimental" Marlowe found in The Long Goodbye; see Frank MacShane, editor, Selected Letters. If sentimentality is construed as an aspect of the Marlowe-Lennox relationship, what quality or qualities in Lennox would have affected Marlowe in this way? Chandler ultimately acquiesced to his critics and made a change in the ending. How does he manage to avoid sentimentality in Marlowe's final scene with Lennox?

Comparing Hammett, Chandler, and Thompson:

1. How does the way Chandler uses Los Angeles in The Long Goodbye resemble or differ from the way Hammett uses San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon? To what extent is this the result of their individual writing styles? Does Thompson resemble either writer with his descriptions of the West Texas oil country in The Killer Inside Me? How important is setting in each of these novels?

2. Although they were brilliant innovators and stylists, Hammett and Chandler were writing for a genre that dictated resolution of the plot. Thompson, on the other hand, in The Killer Inside Me creates a plot rife with ambiguity. What element or elements of his predecessors' style does Thompson retain? Could Thompson have written The Killer Inside Me without the models of Hammett and Chandler?

3. Thompson inverts traditional crime fiction by writing from the viewpoint of the criminal instead of the detective. In the novels of Hammett and Chandler, how different is the criminal from the detective? Where do Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe fall in their respective, or mutual, attitudes toward authority and law?

4. How does the characterization of women in The Maltese Falcon compare with those in The Long Goodbye? Is Brigid O'Shaughnessy the equivalent of Eileen Wade? Is Effie Perine the equivalent of Linda Loring? What do the differences in these characters tell you about the hard-boiled style? About the authors?

5. Chandler and Thompson write in the first person, and Hammett uses the third person in The Maltese Falcon. How would each of these novels have been affected--for better or worse--if the voice had been reversed? What are the inherent advantages and/or limitations of writing in the first or third person?