The High Window
Library of America, 1995
Chandler’s The High Window is shorter and less robust than his other novels, but it is one of the few that I have not seen in a movie version (one exists from 1944 but it isn’t considered a particularly good film). In theory that should make for a better reading experience. It has the usual collection of reprobates and self destructive lowlifes. Still, it feels a bit sanitized, as if the real dark side of LA had been overlooked. Sure there are the murders and the mysterious young woman who is kept as a virtual slave in the house of his Marlowe’s client, but there isn’t any tension to them. They just happen 1,2,3 and each time Marlowe goes back to his client, a port drinking shut-in, only to have her refuse to answer his questions. After all that back and forth, Marlowe explains what happened. It is not a particularly interesting way of doing things. Any work of mystery that has to have a lengthy explanation at the end of it to explain what happened is usually a failure. Chandler usually managed to avoid those failures. On the plus side, his depiction of the drunks on Bunker Hill has his typically dark clarity, as do all his depictions of alcoholics. And the young private eye that follows him around only to get killed is funny, if nothing else. As a work of Chandler, though, The High Window is a disappointment. In part because his client, stays in the shadows, both figuratively and literally and does not animate the novel the way Farewell, My Lovely or The Big Sleep. Without that interaction in the plot, something is missing. The High Window is, at best, an intermezzo between his better works, and one any person new to Chandler should not read first.