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This is another Raymond Chandler audiobook adaptation with Ed Bishop again taking on the role of pulp detective Phillip Marlowe. The Lady in the Lake was published in 1943 and while not regarded to be the best of the Marlowe books (I think even Chandler said that he didn't enjoy the book much whenever he picked it up again) it's still entertaining and interesting if you are familiar with the other stories in this series. Chandler is becoming almost as jaundiced and tired as his hero by now and this faint bitterness gives the book a bit of extra grit and edge at times. The story begins with Marlowe being hired by a man named Derace Kingsley. The private detective is wary whenever he has a new client but money is money and he has enough street smarts to be a decent judge of character by now. The fact that he doesn't trust anyone is of course a good defence mechanism too. Kingsley is a company director for a perfume business and wants Marlowe to track down his estranged wife Crystal. The last that Derace heard from Crystal was when she sent a telegram from El Paso declaring that she was about to get married to a man named Chris Lavery. The problem is that Lavery, a gigolo who Kingsley already knows quite well, is currently in Los Angeles and steadfastly claims to know nothing about Crystal's whereabouts. Marlowe begins his investigation by questioning Laverly and then taking a trip to Big Bear Lake where Crystal was last seen in one of the cabins. Laverly seems to be on the level and genuinely innocent of any involvement (although Marlowe doesn't exactly take a shine to him) so what did happen to Crystal Kingsley? This could turn out to be the twistiest and most complicated case our downbeat hero has ever been involved with yet.
The Lady in the Lake is maybe a bit too complicated for its own good at times but this quality does help to whip the rug out from under the audience once or twice and I quite like the fact that you really have to concentrate here to make sense of the story and the investigation that Marlowe undertakes. I always enjoy the way that Marlowe, despite his sardonic assurance, inevitably finds that these cases are far more complicated than they appeared to be at first glance and is always on the cusp of being completely in over his head. It gives him a nice everyman quality and this feels more pronounced than ever in The Lady in the Lake. I like some of the Chandler flourishes too again as Marlowe increasingly regards all around him with a mild distaste and disdain. The perfume business at the start of the story for example seems to Marlowe (and for Marlowe read Chandler) to almost be a perfect metaphor for the emptiness and superficiality of life in the city. "There were perfumes in tall thin bottles that looked as if a breath would blow them over and perfumes in little pastel phials tied with ducky satin bows, like little girls at a dancing class. The cream of the crop seemed to be something very small and simple in a squat amber bottle. It was in the middle at eye height, had a lot of space to itself, and was labelled Gillerlain Regal, The Champagne of Perfumes. It was definitely the stuff to get. One drop of that in the hollow of your throat and the matched pink pearls started falling on you like summer rain."
The detective seems to be at his most misanthropic here and it's as if Chandler was in an especially bad mood when he wrote this novel - the artificial phoniness of Los Angeles now almost more than he can currently stand. Marlowe trusts absolutely no one in this story and seems to be becoming increasingly desensitised to death and the more macabre side of his line of work. This story is not as immediate as The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely but it does have some great flourishes (or Chandlerisms I suppose) and is notable too for taking our hardboiled hero out of the city for a while. Chandler knew all the locations in the book, or at least approximations of them, in real life and seems to enjoy writing about them. "San Bernadino baked and shimmered in the afternoon heat. The air was hot enough to blister my tongue. I drove through it gasping, stopped long enough to buy a pint of liquor in case I fainted before I got to the mountains, and started up the long grade to crestline. In fifteen miles the road climbed five thousand feet, but even then it was far from cool. thirty miles of mountain driving brought me to the tall pines and a place called bubbling springs. It had a clapboard store and gaspump, but it felt like paradise." One thing you do notice with this book is that Marlowe seems to be increasingly centre stage and although he's a great character this is not necessarily a great thing in that one senses that Chandler is increasingly disinterested in other characters.
It's almost as if he can't be bothered anymore sometimes (although Chandler was less than impressed when the film version was constructed in a somewhat bizarre "Marlowe perspective" as if we were him for the duration of the film). Ed Bishop (British based American actor who featured in a couple of Sean Connery Bond films and the Gerry Anderson camp bacofoil live action seventies sci-fi series UFO) is again ok as Marlow although he never quite sounds low slung enough to fully inhabit the pulp hero. A bit more grizzled sardonic weariness is probably needed but he's by no means bad and decent enough. His voice is quite distinctive anyway and this is a good thing even if he isn't really my idea of the perfect sonic representation of the scotch guzzling noir detective. One thing you do notice here though is that the sound isn't perfect all of the time and there are a few parts where Bishop sounds like he's got his head in a bucket. The production could have been a little better and the supporting players sometimes sound a trifle mumbly as if they couldn't quite get their gob up to the microphone. This is certainly not the definitive full cast melodramatic neon drenched adaptation of The Lady in the Lake to end all radio adaptations of The Lady in the Lake but I did enjoy it on the whole and you could do a lot worse on a dull car or train journey. Not the greatest Chandler novel or radio/audio production I've ever heard but The Lady in the Lake is still fun. At the time of writing you can buy this new for five pounds and used for £1.99.
Ed Bishop stars as Philip Marlowe in this powerfully atmospheric dramatisation of Raymond Chandler's novel about the cynical, world-weary, wise-cracking shamus whose honesty in a dishonest world sent him down the mean streets again and again in search of some kind of justice.