This is a great book. I'd never read Chandler before my class this summer, but I'm quickly discovering that he's one of the most interesting American writers of the twentieth century. (Of course, he spent a good part of his life in England, so I don't know if I'd call him strictly "American," but he writes in a distinctly American tone.)
This is one of the last of Chandler's mysteries about his now-famous sleuth Philip Marlowe, and it might be the most lyrical of his stories. He manages to retain a touch of the hard-boiled tradition, while also taking on a new quality. Far from being the fast-paced, dialogue-packed detective story (like Farewell, My Lovely), The Long Goodbye has a slower feel to it, almost as though Chandler was allowing himself to stretch the genre in which he was writing. At the same time, the story is distinctly grim in its view of society and maintains the idea that true change in the world is hopeless. Marlowe is always fighting against the inevitable, but fight he does. It's not optimistic, nor is it hopeful. But it might be a genuine response to the events of the twentieth century, which makes all literature of this period so interesting. After all, the world experienced several major wars and numerous conflicts of varying degrees of severity, leaving people to wonder what hope might really exist. The fact that Chandler created a character like Marlowe--someone who is consciously choosing to do good in spite of what he sees as the inevitability of defeat--indicates something powerful about the human spirit. There is no question that these stories lack a solid Christian worldview (but goodness knows, most of the century did); what is interesting is that people still believed in doing good.
In any event, there's no point in detailing the events of the story. It's a mystery, and in this case it's heavily layered in characters and situations that all seem confusing in the beginning and work out in the end. It's also extremely well-written with some moments of dialogue that are so snappy I would argue Chandler is giving Wodehouse a run for his money. (Exhibit A: the description of different kinds of "blondes" in Chapter 13.) Maybe this is the English influence...
I recommend the story very highly, although I read a review on Amazon which suggested readers peruse The Big Sleep (Chandler's first story about Marlowe) before reading The Long Goodbye. I followed no such pattern and had no trouble understanding the story, but I can appreciate the reason for the recommendation. I'd say readers can take it or leave it. If you feel like getting into a series, that might be the way to go. If you just want to read a good mystery that's highly representative of an era and locale in American history, reading this one alone won't hurt anything.
As a side note, many thanks to my teacher for the image above. Much better than anything I could get from Amazon.