RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Lady in the Lake.   Alfred A. Knopf, 1943. Armed Services Edition #838, paperback, 1945. Pocket 389, ppbk, 1946. Many other reprint editions, both hardcover and soft.

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Lady in the Lake

   I was really disappointed upon rereading this one for the first time in fifteen years and found it far from the “masterpiece” which Barzun and Taylor dubbed in it their Catalogue of Crime. According to Frank MacShane’s Life of Raymond Chandler, Chandler was in the dumps when he wrote this, his fourth novel, plagued by personal hassles as well as anxiety over the war in Europe.

   It shows. The first half of the book is paced quite nicely and in the first two chapters in particular hero Philip Marlowe is in top wisecracking form. But for the most part the verve and spark of Chandler’s best work are sadly lacking.

   By any standards other than Chandler’s own this could pass as a minor but competent private eye novel. But it is Chandler, and here he’s just going through the paces. All of his stock characters and situations are on hand: the brutal cop, the honest but tired cop, the good girl, the mystery girl (two, in fact), Marlowe at constant odds with the law and his own client, being lied to in his search for a missing wife by everyone, every step of the way.

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Lady in the Lake

   But the writing is peculiarly flat. The plotting, never Chandler’s strong point, is slipshod. The murderer’s identity is glaringly obvious. Marlowe’s solution of the case is unsubstantiated guesswork. The solution itself makes not an iota of sense, raising far more questions than it answers.

   But, most irritating of all, a number of very skillfully drawn characters — some quite integral to the story — appear briefly, speak their lines, are talked about for the rest of the book, but never appear on stage again, giving the whole project an uncomfortable, vaguely lopsided effect.

   Chandler is my favorite Eye writer, the yardstick by which I measure all others who work the genre, and it hurts like hell to say these things. But it’s hard to believe that The Lady in the Lake is by the same man who gave us such milestone works, such true masterpieces, as Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979.