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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The High Window

cover image By: Chandler, Raymond (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (320)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 216: PS3505 .H3224 H5 1945
Contributor: M.A. Moran

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Raymond Chandler Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California; Pasadena, California; Hollywood, California Date of Publication: 1945  |  Original Date: 1942 Setting: urban; large cities with a mixture of plush neighborhoods and sleazy areas Motives: greed, blackmail, jealousy, fear, distrust

Plot Summary

Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by Mrs. Elizabeth Bright Murdock to recover the Brasher Doubloon which she believes has been stolen by her runaway daughter-in-law. In his quest for the doubloon, Marlowe becomes involved in three murders, a counterfeiting scheme, meets a variety of shady characters, uncovers a long-hidden secret which has been the basis for blackmail, and rescues an innocent damsel. When all the loose ends have been tied up, Marlowe remains the solitary man, alone with a drink, a chessboard, and his thoughts.


Major Characters

Philip Marlowe adult male, narrator of the novel, little physical description, probably middle-aged; a man of some intelligence, familiar with chess, Casablanca and Pepys Diary; master of metaphor and simile; seems almost asexual, referred to as "the shop-soiled Galahad", earns $25 a day plus expenses as a private detective

Mrs. Elizabeth Bright Murdock adult female, probably in her 60s, twice widowed, upper class, heavy set, used to getting her own way, not attractive in any sense; drinks port for her asthma. She killed her first husband, claimed it was suicide, but let her secretary carry the blame.

Leslie Murdock adult male, son of Elizabeth, "with the smile of a bored aristocrat", affects a cigarette holder, a weak man under his mother's thumb, adored by his mother's young secretary; responsible for one of the murders, but claims it was not intentional

Louis Vannier adult male, tall, dark, olive-skinned male, dresses like a dandy, acts tougher than he is. A blackmailer, attempts fraud, murders one man and is later murdered himself

Alex Morny adult male, small-time, stereotypical tough guy

Eddie Prue adult male, small-time, stereotypical tough guy

Hench adult male, small-time, stereotypical tough guy

George Anson Phillips adult male in his 20s, would-be detective, plump, nervous; gets involved with the counterfeiters; murdered by Vannier

Merle Davis adult female, in her 20s, easily influenced, plain-looking, Mrs. Murdock's secretary, wrongly believes she killed Mr. Bright

Jesse Breeze adult male, middle-aged, police detective-lieutenant, big, paunchy, prominent pale blue eyes, freckles, nearly bald; distrusts Marlowe at first, but is friendly at the end; fair-minded, honest


Weapons

two men are shot with pistols; one is hit and dies "due to shock and fear." Before the novel begins, Mr. Bright had been shoved out from a window and fell to his death.


Level of Violence

occurs off-stage, although threats are made, and many people have access to guns. Marlowe discovers three dead bodies, but the descriptions are not extreme. No beatings or fights are described.


Sexuality

Lois Morny and Linda Conquest Murdock (a nightclub singer with a "go-to-hell mouth") are the "bad women" of the story. Hard-eyed, husky-voiced, tough-talking and sensual. Merle Davis, on the other hand, is the fair maiden, hurt at an innocent age. Marlowe show no sexual interest in any of them; rather he is a noble-minded loner, who arrives to right a wrong and then fades out of the picture. As Marlowe drives away after returning Merle to her parents, he muses "I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good, and I had lost it and would never remember it again."


Gender Roles

traditional, except that Mrs. Murdock is more of a patriarch than might be usual. The doctor is a male, the nurse a female. No women are mentioned on the police force, and according to Marlowe/Chandler, Merle Davis would "have made a perfect nun....she will probably turn out to be one of these acid-faced virgins that sit behind little desks in public libraries and stamp dates in books."


Ethnicity

"....there was a little painted Negro in white riding breeches and a green jacket and a red cap....He looked a little sad.....I went over and patted his head...." Marlowe does this each time he goes to the Murdock's house. A character named Mr. Palermo speaks with a heavy Italian accent. The pawn broker is Jewish. Marlowe uses the simile "like a fairly clean Chinaman."


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Mrs. Murdock drinks port; Marlowe fixes himself drinks at home. Frequent smoking; Marlowe smokes cigarettes and a pipe.


Law Enforcement

There is nothing to indicate the police aren't working as they should with the murders in the novel. However, when talking with Breeze, Marlowe referes to an old case where a rich man was able to keep his son's reputation clean at the expense of a poor boy. Breeze later admits to being involved in that case, and responds "I sometimes give a guy a break he could perhaps not really deserve. A little something paid back out of the dirty millions to a working stiff -- like me -- or like you."


Added Features

Chandler incorporates numerous colorful similes and descriptive phrases throughout the novel. His hero, Marlowe, is much like a knight-errant on a quest among amoral characters. There are many touches of dry humor, expecially during conversations between characters -- Marlowe and the Morny's chauffeur, Marlowe and George Phillips, Marlowe and Lieutenant Breeze. There is mention of the police case where money influenced what was made public. There is an incident where Marlowe talks with a uniformed guard outside Morny's gambling casino, and a John Reed Club is mentioned. These clubs were started to broaden the appeal of radical socialism in the United States. The guard mentions "the bunch of rich phonies" living around the area.


Subject Headings

Marlowe, Philip/ California - Los Angeles/ California - Hollywood/California - Pasadena/ Greed/ Detectives, Private/ Murder/ Blackmail/ Counterfeiters/ Coins


Psychological Elements

Merle Davis suffers from misplaced guilt and a sense of worthlessness. She fears being touched by men. Leslie Murdock is under his mother's influence, unable to break away. Mrs. Murdock is controlling and unscrupulous.


Film Adaptations

Time To Kill, 1942, Twentieth Century Fox