|29 June 2016|
By now, I think most of the readers of this column know that I am a bona fide fan of the hardboiled genre, and especially of Raymond Chandler. Chandler’s creation, Philip Marlowe is perhaps my favourite non-Holmes fictional detective of all. Everyone has their ways to get over particularly bitter and angsty evenings; my solution is either Chandler’s The Big Sleep, or The Long Goodbye. Today, though, I will talk about the most non-Marlowe-esque Marlowe novel of them all, The Lady in the Lake.
The client this time is one Derace Kingsley, who hires Marlowe to enquire about his estranged wife, Crystal, a wild child if there ever was one. She has run away with her gigolo, Chris Lavery, and has written to Kingsley (from El Paso near the Mexican border) that she is going to marry him in Mexico. Kingsley had then had a chance encounter with Lavery in Los Angeles, and he mentioned to Kingsley that he hadn’t seen her, or wasn’t going to Mexico with her. Kingsley now fears that Crystal is involved in a criminal racket, and wants Marlowe to ensure that in such an eventuality, Kingsley’s name is not involved – he is a corporate executive, and wants to ensure that his reputation is not compromised due to any resulting scandal.
Crystal was last seen in a cabin owned by Kingsley in a country resort town, Little Fawn Lake, and Marlowe goes to investigate it. There, he encounters Bill Chess, the caretaker. A drunken wreck, he confirms that Crystal was indeed there a couple of weeks ago. In fact, Crystal had seduced him while she was there – Chess’ wife, Muriel had come to know of his infidelity with Crystal, and had left him when she came to know, and the caretaker has been in a drunken stupor ever since. As Marlowe and Chess walk around the property, they discover a dead, decomposed body in the lake – perhaps drowned two weeks ago and has floated up now. Chess identifies it to be of his wife Muriel – and is soon arrested for having murdered her.