Raymond Chandler

The Lady in the Lake

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The Lady in the Lake Summary

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The Lady in the Lake is a detective novel published in 1943 by the American author Raymond Chandler. It features Chandler’s trademark character, Philip Marlowe, the Los Angeles-based private investigator played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1946 film The Big Sleep and Elliott Gould in 1973’s The Long Goodbye. In The Lady in the Lake, Marlowe investigates the disappearance of a woman in a small mountain village outside Los Angeles, California.

Marlowe is approached in his office by a wealthy business tycoon named Derace Kingsley. Kingsley and his wife, Crystal, have been separated and estranged for some time. But two weeks ago, she finally sent a telegram to Kingsley asking for a divorce so that she could marry her new boyfriend, a gigolo named Chris Lavery. Unable to reach Crystal, Kingsley pays Lavery a visit, but Lavery claims to have no knowledge of her whereabouts.

After taking the case, Marlowe’s first stop is to Lavery’s, where he suspects Crystal may be hiding out despite Lavery’s claims of ignorance. While staking out Lavery’s house in the nearby town of Bay City, a local scumbag cop named Al Degarmo threatens Marlowe and asks him to leave. Degarmo mistakenly believes that the house Marlowe is watching is the one next door belonging to Dr. Almore. Dr. Almore’s wife, Marlowe learns, died a suspicious death, and some believe that the wealthy doctor bribed the local police to look the other way.

In any case, Marlowe doesn’t need the heat he’s getting from Degarmo and temporarily shifts his investigation to Little Fawn Lake where Kingsley owns a cabin. There, Marlowe meets the caretaker, Bill Chess, who is expecting him. While Marlowe and Chess walk the grounds, a visibly distraught Chess explains that his wife, Muriel, left him around the same time of Crystal’s disappearance. While rounding the lake, the two discover a bloated, decomposed, and waterlogged dead woman that’s washed ashore. While the decomposition and water damage has made the woman’s face unrecognizable, the clothes and jewelry identify her as Muriel. The police arrest Chess, though Marlowe isn’t so sure that Chess is the killer. But it’s not his case, so Marlowe returns to Los Angeles. On the way, however, he decides to drop in on a few hotels, hoping to catch a lucky break that maybe somebody saw Crystal lately. In fact, multiple employees say they saw a woman matching Crystal’s description. What’s more, they say she was accompanied by a man matching Chris Lavery’s description.

When he returns to Lavery’s home, he finds the man murdered in his own bathroom. Meanwhile, the gun he is believed to be murdered with is found on the stairs by the owner of the house, a woman named Mrs. Fallbrook. Reluctant to get involved in Lavery’s murder, particularly in a town full of tough-guy corrupt cops like Degarno, Marlowe leaves to find Kingsley who offers him a bonus if he is able to prove Crystal’s innocence. Marlowe accepts and returns to Lavery’s house where he finally calls the cops and reports the murder.

When Marlowe returns to his office, he finds a note from Kingsley with the names and phone number of the parents of Dr. Almore’s murdered wife. The parents tell him they believe Dr. Almore drugged his wife, then made her death look like a suicide. Meanwhile, they say the detective they hired has been arrested for drunk driving. He also learns from the parents that Dr. Almore had a nurse working for him named Mildred Haviland, who is also the ex-wife of Degarmo. When Marlowe tries to track down the detective hired by the parents, he too is arrested by Bay City cops who force him to drink liquor before arresting him for “drunk driving.” Fortunately, Marlowe is able to talk his way out of the situation and leave the police station.

Back at his office, Marlowe gets word that Crystal has finally contacted Kingsley, saying she needs $500. Marlowe agrees to deliver the money, if only to confront the woman about whether or not she killed Lavery. Marlowe arrives at an apartment in Bay City where she pulls a gun on him. Marlowe accuses her of killing Lavery, but before he can get an answer, Marlowe is hit from behind with what feels like a police baton. When he wakes up, he has gin poured over him. Marlowe realizes he’s in the bed in the apartment. He looks over and sees Crystal’s dead body, beaten, bloodied, and strangled.

Correctly surmising that he’s being set up by the corrupt Bay City police, Marlowe tracks down Degarmo and convinces the venal, greedy police officer that they can pull a much more believable and lucrative frame-up job by pinning the murder on Kingsley. Marlowe needs only to go to Kingsley’s cabin at Big Fawn Lake to collect some fake evidence.

Degarmo agrees, but once the two are at the cabin, Marlowe lays out the truth of what happened: The body Marlowe woke up next to was not Crystal’s; it was Mildred Haviland’s. Her ex-husband Degarmo killed her and, assuming Crystal would never be found or identified, pretended she was Crystal. Meanwhile, the body of “the lady in the lake” did not belong to Muriel but Crystal, who was killed by Mildred Haviland, who wanted to impersonate Crystal so she could avoid being charged with the murder of Dr. Almore’s wife, for which she was responsible. Mildred also killed Lavery, Marlowe says.

Though a bit convoluted in the end, The Lady in the Lake is full of enjoyable twists and a ton of great dialogue.