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Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely

Entry from online Literary Encyclopedia ~ Lee Horsley's Raymond Chandler section (which includes biographical and plot summeries of the major novels)

Farewell, My Lovely (1940) - renamed Murder, My Sweetwas created by 'cannibalizing' the plots of 'Mandarin's Jade' (Dime Detective,1937) and two Black Mask stories, 'The Man Who Liked Dogs' and 'Try the Girl' (published, respectively, in 1936 and 1937).  At the centre of the novel there is a quest for absent love.  Chandler's public themes in his second novel are not dissimilar to those of The Big Sleep (1939), but here they remain more in the background, an undercurrent of corruption that is not ultimately of determining importance in a plot driven by the personal motives of love and ambition - and possibly remorse.  The novel opens with Marlowe's encounter with Moose Malloy, 'a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck,' out of prison after an eight-year stretch and searching for the singer he still loves, a little redhead called Velma who is 'cute as lace pants'.  Moose drags Marlowe into Florian's, a 'dine and dice emporium' where Velma used to perform.  Florian's is now, however, an all-black bar, and Malloy begins his ill-starred quest for Velma by breaking the neck of the owner.  Although the police aren't particularly committed to investigating 'another shine killing', Nulty, the detective-lieutenant who gets the case, asks Marlowe to help out by looking for Velma, and Marlowe agrees, even though 'nothing made it my business except curiosity'.
When Marlowe asks around, he finds out that the former owner, Mike Florian, is now dead, but that he is survived by his widow, Jessie.  Marlowe plies her with bond bourbon and in exchange she digs out some newspaper stills for him, though she ineffectually tries to hide one of them, which turns  out to be signed 'Always yours - Velma Valento'.  Jessie Florian says the girl is dead, but, as Marlowe tells Nulty, this doesn't explain why she hid the photo.
Marlowe resists further involvement in the hunt for Moose Malloy, and the next movement of the plot (as is often the case in Chandler novels) begins when the private eye accepts an apparently unrelated  job.  He is hired by a gigolo called Lindsay Marriott, who wants someone to accompany him as a kind of bodyguard in his drive to Purissima Canyon, where he is supposed to be making a pay-off of $8000 to buy back a stolen necklace made of the rare and valuable Fei Tsui jade.  With misgivings, Marlowe goes along, but when he gets out of the car to investigate he is sapped from behind.  When he comes to both the car and the money are gone and Lindsay Marriott has been brutally killed.   In his groggy efforts to piece together what has happened, Marlowe is helped by a girl, Anne Riordan, who happened to have been driving by.  Carefully searching the body, Marlowe finds an extra cigarette case, and Anne, without letting Marlowe see her, pockets the cigarettes it contains.  On the following day, she shows up at his office and tells him that she has found out that the jade necklace was the property of Mrs Lewin Lockridge Grayle, a ravishing blonde who was married five years ago to a rich and elderly husband.  Anne also gives Marlowe the cigarettes, which are marijuana, and when he starts to examine one of them he discovers a card rolled into the mouthpiece that says 'Jules Amthor, Psychic Consultant'.
It is at this point that the two strands of the plot begin to come together.  Marlowe has a sudden hunch that leads him to check on the lot occupied by Jessie Florian, and discovers that there is a trust deed on the house held by Lindsay Marriott.  His investigation of Marriott's murder takes him first to the Grayle mansion, in the hills above Santa Monica:  'The house itself was not so much.  It was smaller than Buckingham PalaceÉand probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building.'  After questioning Mrs Grayle about Marriott and the original hold-up, Marlowe kisses her for a time and then arranges to meet her at a club owned by Laird Brunette.  It is a date Marlowe is unable to keep, but Brunette himself becomes an increasingly strong background presence. The lynchpin of the novel's public themes, he is a man who, it eventually emerges, also owns off-shore gambling boats and who has paid 'big money' to elect a mayor so that his water taxis won't be bothered.  Brunette is a racketeer of a new type, Marlowe is later told, not a 'tough guy' but a businessman.  Although he is in a sense uninvolved in the personal plot of the novel, his public role helps to explain the crime-ridden morass through which Marlowe moves in the 'nice town' of Bay City.  As he tells Anne Riordan, 'you can only buy a piece of a big town.  You can buy a town this size all complete, with the original box and tissue paper.'
Before Marlowe can meet at Brunette's club with Mrs Grayle, a caricatured Indian called Second Planting insists on driving him to meet Jules Amthor.  Marlowe finds out that Amthor has been acquainted with both Marriott and Mrs Grayle, and, although it ultimately seems clear that Amthor had nothing to do with the novel's various killings, Chandler uses Amthor's set-up as he uses Brunette's behind-the-scenes political influence, to suggest a pervasive atmosphere of corruption.  The interview with Amthor ends with Marlowe being knocked unconscious by Second Planting.  When he regains consciousness, a pair of Bay City policemen drive him away and then throw him out of the car and sap him - as often in Farewell, My Lovely, a 'pool of darkness' opens at Marlowe's feet.  The next time he comes round, he is lying 'shot full of dope', locked in a barred room.  Breaking out, he finds that he is in a private hospital and 'crook hideout' run by a Dr Sonderborg and accommodating, in another of its rooms, Moose Malloy.  By the time the police investigate, both Sonderberg and Moose have disappeared.  It is not long before Jessie Florian has been found strangled by a pair of hands so large that only Moose could be responsible.  Like the other damage Moose inflicts, this seems largely unintentional:  'he probably didn't mean to kill herÉHe's just too strong'.
Marlowe insists that, since he has been hired by Mrs Grayle, the police allow him to go ahead with his own investigation.  He decides to sneak on board one of Brunette's gambling boats, where it is thought that Moose could be hiding.  He meets and talks to Brunette, manages to get Brunette to pass a message to Moose, and then  arranges a final meeting in his apartment between Moose and Mrs Grayle, whom he has now realised is actually Velma Valenta.  With Moose hiding in his dressing room, Marlowe gives Mrs Grayle/Velma his explanation of the murders and betrayals that all ultimately connect back to her and to her need to conceal her origins:  the bribing of Mrs Florian, who has recognised the 'girl who started in the gutter' in the wife of the multi-millionaire; the buying off of Lindsay Marriott, who dealt with the monthly payments to Mrs Florian; the plan that Marriott was to kill Marlowe because he had been nosing into the whereabouts of Velma; the killing of Marriott himself.  Marlowe has concluded that Marriott was actually killed by Velma and that it was Velma who, eight years earlier, had turned Moose in to the cops.  When Moose emerges from his hiding place, she empties her gun into him and makes her escape. 
Finally recognised by a detective in Baltimore, Velma kills him and then shoots herself.  It seems clear that, 'with her looks and money', she could never have been convicted, and Marlowe's final redemptive theory is that she took her own life 'to give a break to the only man who had ever really given her one' - to spare her husband the torment of a trial.  As the cop he's talking to says, 'That's just sentimental,' and Marlowe hedges a little, but the sentimental note lingers, qualifying our judgement of a woman who, in her determination to transform herself, has kicked herself free from all other bonds of feeling and morality:  'It was a cool day and clear.  You could see a long way but not as far as Velma had gone.'