When you first pick up Philip Marlowe’s Guide to Life, you could be forgiven for thinking the private eye from the Windy City doesn’t actually have much to say on the matter. However, this pocket-sized compendium of his best observations, put-downs and witticisms covers pretty much everything, at least of importance to Marlowe, in a simple A-Z format – from booze to brass knuckles, from dames to death, Marlowe has a viewpoint, always served cold in his uniquely frank and irreverent style.
The book’s author, Raymond Chandler, has long been known as one of the best exponents of American crime fiction in the twentieth century. He had seven novels published before his death in 1959 - not bad for someone who started writing at forty-five. Marlowe was his hero, the quintessential hardnosed private dick working the mean streets while staying one step above the lowlifes, murderers and criminals he investigated with a relish fuelled by his desire to see people get what they deserve. Marlowe is the archetypal man’s man. He has three interests in life - women (“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window”), drinking (“Alcohol is like love” he said. “The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off”) and his work (“The first time we met I told you I was a detective. Get it through your lovely head. I work at it, lady. I don’t play at it.”).
The beauty of Marlowe and the writing of Chandler is that it has aged magnificently, possibly taking on more meaning in today’s political correctness-obsessed society than it did fifty or sixty years ago. You would probably find that most of the people who enjoy Chandler’s writing and admire his main character also secretly hold a certain yearning for a return to some of the olden day methods and wish there were more people like Marlowe around today. You’ve got to wonder how he would feel about today’s world – horrified would probably be high on his list.
This little gem of a book, although readable in one sitting, is both humorous and thought-provoking. For the Chandler/Marlowe nuts out there, it’s a handy reference guide to some of his best lines and observations. For those of you unfamiliar with his work and unsure about whether to jump headlong into a full Marlowe novel, it’s a perfect opportunity to test the waters.