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Review of The Lady in the Lake

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Cover of the dust jacket of Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake (1943), published by Alfred A. Knopf, Jacket drawn by Norman Reeves.

Cover of the dust jacket of Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake (1943), published by Alfred A. Knopf, Jacket drawn by Norman Reeves.

Raymond Chandler’s Continuing Noir Mysteries

Philip Marlowe, hired to track down one man’s missing wife, discovers a web of murder, extortion, and police corruption that extends beyond Bay City, California.

Degrace Kingsley, fearing more for his own reputation than for the safety of his wife, hires Private Investigator Philip Marlowe to uncover her whereabouts after receiving conflicting reports about her. Marlowe also learns that a woman named Murial Chess, wife of the handyman who looks after the Kingsley’s cabin at Little Fawn Lake, disappeared around the same time only to turn up dead and hidden in the lake. Suspicious of the coincidence, Marlowe begins investigating the disappearances of both women much to the chagrin of Mr. Kingsley, the Bay City police (especially a ruthless detective named Degarmo), and a doctor of ill repute who’s wife also died under mysterious circumstances several years ago.

White Knight, Dark World

As with Chandler’s other novels one of the best sources of tension comes from Marlowe, who does his best to act with integrity in a world where greed, corruption, and apathy all conspire to disintegrate the moral core of every character. Marlowe comes across as jaded, cold-blooded, and detached because he needs to be in order to do his job. In his unguarded moments, though, readers see a man tormented by dreams about the drowned woman, who realizes the emptiness of his personal life, and understands the necessity of loneliness in his line of work even while wishing for more meaningful interpersonal relationships (99, 155-6, 237). Nonetheless, Marlowe manages to deport himself with class and wit that other characters seem to lack all while making progress on several investigations.

In order to get anything done with his cases, though, Marlowe resorts to means that, while effective, are morally questionable. Feeding liquor to an alcoholic for information, breaking and entering, and not contacting the police after discovering a body are all ethically questionable to say the least (39-40, 76, 115). The readers ultimately side with Marlowe because his moral center remains untarnished despite being constantly warned off the cases, bribery attempts, and police brutality (124, 153-4, 173). In each case, Marlowe doesn’t rattle under the pressure. Chandler presents a world in which good and evil—black and white—are inseparably mixed, so readers side with Marlowe whose grey appears significantly less dark that those around him.

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

Technical Noir

An element that is both intriguing and frustrating to readers is the first person point of view. Everything is filtered through Marlowe’s perspective, yet the readers learn little about him directly. He proves his character through his deeds and his analysis of everything external rather than through long soliloquies about his private life and feelings. This development forces readers to pay close attention to not only the intricate details of the plot but also the many subtexts of dialogue and actions characters take to make up their own minds. In this way, Marlowe, too, is a mystery that unfolds alongside the criminal and social conspiracies of the novel.

Chandler also crafts an atmosphere that is distinctly 1940’s American West Coast in that there are direct references to the war effort, such as one man waiting for his enlistment papers to clear and the sentry on the dam at Puma Lake (175). The underlying dread about the war colors the way readers see many characters trying to escape the uncertainty about World War II through vacationing, drug use, identity theft, and occasionally murder.

The Lady in the Lake is a thrilling hard-boiled detective novel that reads at a fast pace in spite of the substantial amount of details to be had. By keeping all the information straight up through the revelatory climax Chandler proves himself once again to be the master of the form.


Chandler, Raymond. The Lady in the Lake. New York: Black Lizard/Vintage Crime, 1992.

© 2010 Seth Tomko


Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on November 03, 2018:

Thank you, Gilbert. I recommend all of Raymond Chandler's books as great hardboiled detective stories and as American Literature.

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Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on October 23, 2018:

Thanks for your well written analysis of The Lady of the Lake. It sounds like a story I would like to read.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on May 30, 2013:

Thank you, lions44. It is one of my favorites of Chandler's books too.

CJ Kelly from the PNW on May 29, 2013:

Lady in the Lake is probably my favorite Chandler work. So glad I found your hub. Great job.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on November 02, 2010:

Thanks for your comments, Huntgoddess. I should have been more specific, but all the citation I provide come from the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard edition I list as my source.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on November 02, 2010:

No problem, dahoglund. I appreciate your hub and think it helps put the books in context.

Huntgoddess from Midwest U.S.A. on November 02, 2010:

Very nice review.

You give page numbers, but without telling us which particular edition of the book they're from. That would be good to know.

Other than that minor issue, this is a good article.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on November 02, 2010:

Good review. It has been a long time since I read this book and you pointed out things I did not notice or had forgotten. Thanks for the link to my hub. I'll put a link to this one in my hub.

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