Serendipity: Henry Clarendon IV

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

It was the last of Raymond Chandler’s seven novels. The fact of the matter is that Playback (1958) is not up to the other six. But that’s all right, because I like the character of Private Detective Philip Marlowe so much that even so-so Chandler makes for fine reading—and this was the third time I read it. In this reading, one thing stood out from the rest, sort of like a sudden Buddhist burst of contemplation. It was an old man named Henry Clarendon IV sitting in a hotel lobby as Marlowe tries frantically to find a man named Larry Mitchell whose whereabouts are important for solving a case.

“Don’t bother with that one [Mitchell],” he said. “He’s a pimp. I have spent many many years in lobbies, in lounges and bars, on porches, terraces and ornate gardens in hotels all over the world. I have outlived everyone in my family. I shall go on being useless and inquisitive until the day comes when the stretcher carries me off to some nice airy corner room in a hospital. The starched white dragons will minister to me. The bed will be wound up, wound down. Trays will come with that awful loveless hospital food. My pulse and temperature will be taken at frequent intervals and invariably when I am dropping off to sleep. I shall lie there and hear the rustle of the starched skirts, the slurring sound of the rubber shoe soles on the aseptic floor, and see the silent horror of the doctor’s smile. After a while they will put the oxygen tent over me and draw the screens around the little white bed and I shall, without even knowing it, do the one thing in the world no man ever has to do twice.”

He turned his head slowly and looked at me. “Obviously, I talk too much. Your name, sir?”

“Philip Marlowe.”

“I am Henry Clarendon IV. I belong to what used to be called the upper classes. Groton, Harvard, Heidelberg, the Sorbonne. I even spent a year at Uppsala. I cannot clearly remember why. To fit me for a life of leisure, no doubt. So you are a private detective. I do eventually get around to speaking of something other than myself, you see.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should have come to me for information. But of course you couldn’t know that.”

I shook my head. I lit a cigarette, first offering one to Mr. Henry Clarendon IV. He refused it with a vague nod.

“However, Mr. Marlowe, it is something you should have certainly learned. In every luxury hotel in the world there will be half a dozen elderly idlers of both sexes who sit around and stare like owls. They watch, they listen, they compare notes, they learn everything about everyone. They have nothing else to do, because hotel life is the most deadly of all forms of boredom. And no doubt I’m boring you equally.”

 

L.A. Writers: Raymond Chandler

The Creator of Philip Marlowe

When I started writing this series of posts, I should have started it off with Raymond Chandler. He is, in so many ways, the quintessential L.A. writer. I did not because I mistakenly thought he was British. Look at that picture: Those eyeglasses, that pose—they partake of this prototypical English gentleman. In fact, Chandler was born in Chicago of an American father and an Irish mother. Although he spent many years in Britain, and even at one point became a naturalized British citizen, his writing career was pure Los Angeles.

I have just finished re-reading his fifth novel, The Little Sister (1949), and kept running into passages that screamed L.A. to me. When told he was in love with the beautiful actress Mavis Weld, Chandler replies:

That would be kind of silly. I could sit in the dark with her and hold hands, but for how long? In a little while she will drift off into a haze of glamour and expensive clothes and froth and unreality and muted sex. She won’t be a real person any more. Just a voice from a sound track, a face on a screen. I’d want more than that.

One of Chandler’s LAPD homicide detectives delivers this thoughtful description of the life of a cop in the city:

It’s like this with us, baby. We’re coppers and everybody hates our guts. And as if we didn’t have enough trouble, we have to have you. As if we didn’t get pushed around enough by the guys in the corner offices, the City Hall gang, the day chief, the night chief, the Chamber of Commerce, His Honor the Mayor in his paneled office four times as big as the three lousy rooms the whole homicide staff has to work out of. As if we didn’t have to handle one hundred and fourteen homicides last year out of three rooms that don’t have enough chairs for the whole duty squad to sit down in at once. We spend our lives turning over dirty underwear and sniffing rotten teeth. We go up dark stairways to get a gun punk with a skinful of hop and sometimes we don’t get all the way up, and our wives wait dinner that night and all the other nights. We don’t come home any more. And nights we do come home, we come home so goddam tired we can’t eat or sleep or even read the lies the papers print about us. So we lie awake in the dark in a cheap house on a cheap street and listen to the drunks down the block having fun. And just about the time we drop off the phone rings and we get up and start all over again. Nothing we do is right, not ever. Not once. If we get a confession, we beat it out of the guy, they say, and some shyster calls us Gestapo in court and sneers at us when we muddle our grammar. If we make a mistake they put us back in uniform on Skid Row and we spend the nice cool summer evenings picking drunks out of the gutter and being yelled at by whores and taking knives away from greaseballs in zoot suits. But all that ain’t enough to make us entirely happy. We got to have you.

The “you” of the quote is Philip Marlowe, whom the police accuse of withholding evidence on two icepick murders and waltzing scot-free because of his private investigator’s license.

Chandler’s descriptions of night in L.A. rise almost to the verge of poetry:

I drove east on Sunset but I didn’t go home. At La Brea I turned north and swung over to Highland, out over Cahuenga Pass and down on to Ventura Boulevard, past Studio City and Sherman Oaks and Encino. There was nothing lonely about the trip. There never is on that road. Fast boys in stripped-down Fords shot in and out of the traffic streams, missing fenders by a sixteenth of an inch, but somehow always missing them. Tired men in dusty coupés and sedans winced and tightened their grip on the wheel and ploughed on north and west towards home and dinner, an evening with the sports page, the blatting of the radio, the whining of their spoiled children and the gabble of their silly wives. I drove on past the gaudy neons and the false fronts behind them, the sleazy hamburger joints that look like palaces under the colors, the circular drive-ins as gay as circuses with the chipper hard-eyed carhops, the brilliant counters, and the sweaty greasy kitchens that would have poisoned a toad. Great double trucks rumbled down over Sepulveda from Wilmington and San Pedro and crossed towards the Ridge Route, starting up in low-low from the traffic lights with a growl of lions in the zoo.

Behind Encino an occasional light winked from the hills through thick trees. The homes of screen stars. Screen stars, phooey. The veterans of a thousand beds. Hold it, Marlowe, you’re not human tonight.

Not human? Hardly: No one is more human than Marlowe. He is like the knight in Albrecht Dürer’s “Knight, Death, and Devil,” as shown below:

Knight, Death, and the Devil

Poor Marlowe, he doesn’t even have the friendship of a dog as shown in the engraving above.

The Man With The Shredded Ear

 

Speaking of Raymond Chandler

Speaking of Raymond Chandler

While I was scanning the Futility Closet website (it’s on my link list to the left), I found the following alternative titles that Raymond Chandler had listed for possible future works:

The Man with the Shredded Ear
All Guns Are Loaded
The Man Who Loved the Rain
The Corpse Came in Person
The Porter Rose at Dawn
We All Liked Al
Too Late for Smiling
They Only Murdered Him Once
The Diary of a Loud Check Suit
Stop Screaming — It’s Me
Return from Ruin
Between Two Liars
The Lady with the Truck
They Still Come Honest
My Best to the Bride
Law Is Where You Buy It
Deceased When Last Seen
The Black-Eyed Blonde

In addition, there was this delightful little excerpt:

In a 1954 letter to Hamish Hamilton, he invented a “neglected author” named Aaron Klopstein who “committed suicide at the age of 33 in Greenwich Village by shooting himself with an Amazonian blow gun, having published two novels entitled Once More the Cicatrice and The Sea Gull Has No Friends, two volumes of poetry, The Hydraulic Face Lift and Cat Hairs in the Custard, one book of short stories called Twenty Inches of Monkey, and a book of critical essays entitled Shakespeare in Baby Talk.”

How does one shoot oneself with an Amazonian blow gun? I thought those were fairly long. Maybe he got his own toes, or set up some sort of fancy ricochet.

 

The Long Goodbye

 

The First Time I Read This Edition

The First Time I Read This Edition

The following is based on my review of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye for Goodreads.Com:

I had read The Long Goodbye many years ago, and liked it. In the meantime, I have aged—not exactly like a fine wine, but aged nonetheless—and found myself loving Raymond Chandler’s penultimate work. I might even go so far as to say it is his masterpiece, though back then I liked The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely more.

This time I detected the raggedness. Chandler’s wife, Cissy, was dying and he felt more vulnerable. This is no tight Agatha Christie thriller than runs like a Swiss clockwork. Not by a long shot. It’s about a nasty, persistent evil that, once you poke it with a stick, keeps coming back to snare you and hurt you. Somehow, Chandler’s detective Marlowe walks the straight and narrow path and comes out alive at the end:

I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars. When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of the traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, rape, and murdered. People were hungry, sick, bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.

A French Edition of The Long Goodbye

A French Edition of The Long Goodbye

And mind you, this is just the background in which a series of murders and/or suicides take place that call Marlowe’s actions into question and put him in personal peril, such as the time four toughs waylay him in his own house. They included the following:

A man was sitting across the room with his legs crossed and a gun resting sideways on his thigh. He looked rangy and tough and his skin had that dried-out look of people who live in sun-bleached climates. He was wearing a dark brown gabardine-type windbreaker and the zipper was open almost to his waist. He was looking at me and neither his eyes nor the gun moved. He was as calm as an adobe wall in the moonlight.

That last short sentence inspired writer Walter Mosley to begin writing his own series of detective novels featuring Easy Rawlins.

I feel I have not rendered justice to this great novel—probably because it is still working its way through my bloodstream and opening channels in my body that I did not know existed.