It's been odd reading it this week and recognising street names and districts from our gadding about - places we went to, names I steered by on Googlemaps. I'd noticed the strange, uneasy mix of the very rich and the very poor, living side by side, that Chandler captures so perfectly. We'd gone to gawp at the Egyptian Theater because it's apparently based on Luxor - but the thing that was most like our recent trip to Egypt was the constant, desperate effort by hungry-looking guys to raise a smile or shock us so we'd buy their meagre tat. All this while Broadway hosed itself down in readiness for millionaires to present each other with golden statues.
But Chandler's tale of corruption circling seedy crime, and a newspaper mogul indirectly paying off the police and burying a story, has struck a chord this week.
Chandler's Marlowe is a cynical guy in a cynical world. And yet for all he's sarcastic to cops and hoodlums, millionaires and servants, and the more his story drips with weary resignation at the city-sized mess, Marlowe's revealed - like Rick at the end of Casablanca - to be a strong, moral character, doing the difficult, right thing for no reward and quite a lot of grief. For such a cynical story, it's an oddly uplifting read.
The book's at its best when the dialogue is short and crisp, the wise cracks sharp as a Mexian's throwing knife. It's slightly breaks the spell when characters rant at length about what's wrong with the modern life. And yet this from rich Harlan Potter (do his friends ever call him Harry?) seems especially timely - or depressingly timeless.
"We live in what is called am a democracy, rule by the majority of the people. A fine ideal if it could be made to work. The people elect, but the party machines dominate, and the party machines to be effective must spend a great deal of money. Somebody has to give it to them, and that somebody, whether it be an individual, a financial group, a trade union or what have you, expects some consideration in return. What I and people of my kind expect is to be allowed to live our lives in decent privacy. I own newspapers, but I don't like them. I regard them as a constant meance to whatever privacy we have left. Their constant yelping about a free press means, with a few honorable exceptions, freedom to peddle scandal, crime, sex, sensationalism, hate, innuendo, and the political and financial uses of propaganda. A newspaper is a business out to make money through advertising revenue. That is predicated on its circulation and you know what the circulation depends on."Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, pp. 233-4.