42 pages 1 hour read

Raymond Chandler

The Long Goodbye

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1953

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Summary and Study Guide


The Long Goodbye is a 1953 crime novel by Raymond Chandler. The sixth entry in the Philip Marlowe series, the novel chronicles a private detective’s investigation of a strange murder in Los Angeles in the 1950s. The Long Goodbye has been adapted for television, radio, and cinema, most notably in a critically acclaimed, though not necessarily faithful, 1973 film adaptation. This guide uses an eBook version of the 1992 Vintage Crime edition.

Plot Summary

Philip Marlowe is a private detective who lives in Los Angeles. One evening in the fall, Marlowe is outside a club called the Dancers. A drunk man with scars on his face introduces himself as Terry Lennox and, over the coming months, Lennox and Marlowe become acquaintances. Lennox rebuilds his life, remarrying his wealthy ex-wife Sylvia and reconnecting with his friends, including an old army buddy named Randy Starr and a local casino operator and known gangster named Mendy Menendez. The following summer, Lennox arrives at Marlowe’s home and begs for help. He asks Marlowe to drive him to Tijuana,Mexico. Marlowe, not wanting to know any details about why Lennox is in such desperate trouble, agrees.

When he returns to Los Angeles, Marlowe learns more about what happened to Lennox: Earlier, Lennox’s wife was found murdered, and Lennox ran away before he could be questioned by the police. After the police arrest Marlowe, they accuse him of helping Lennox escape a murder charge. Marlowe refuses to cooperate with the police. After three days of interrogation, the police release him. They explain that Lennox has supposedly killed himself. His body was found in Mexico with a written confession. Menendez and Sylvia’s family lawyer tell Marlowe to drop the case. When Marlowe returns to his house, however, he finds a letter, signed by Lennox and containing a $5,000 bill.

A publisher from New York named Howard Spencer hires Marlowe to locate an alcoholic writer named Roger Wade who has vanished. Initially reluctant to accept the case, Marlowe only accepts after speaking to Wade’s long-suffering wife, Eileen, who seems to know the Lennox family. Marlowe tracks Wade down at a secluded ranch that has been turned into a rehabilitation facility. When Marlowe speaks to Wade, his version of events does not align with what Eileen and Spencer told Marlowe. Nevertheless, Marlowe takes Wade home. Later, Wade and Eileen want Marlowe to help monitor Wade’s alcoholism. Marlowe refuses but, while visiting their house, he discovers Wade passed out in the yard with a wound on his head. Eileen does not seem to care about her husband’s injury. On another occasion, Marlowe visits and discovers that Wade has a different head wound. Marlowe learns that Wade once had an affair with Sylvia Lennox. In one of his drunken stupors, Wade writes strange screeds about his traumatic past, but he begs Marlowe to destroy the pages. He does not want his wife to read what he has written.

Marlowe takes the typewritten pages from Wade. The writing hints that some unnamed person once died for him but does not explain who. As Marlowe thinks about his situation, he hears a gunshot and rushes to find Eileen and Wade fighting over a pistol. Marlowe intervenes and helps Wade to go to sleep by giving him pills. Eileen tries to seduce Marlowe while in a trance, but he declines her advances. She is convinced that Marlowe is her former lover and that they are still in World War II. After sleeping on the couple’s couch, Marlowe wakes up to find Eileen and Wade behaving as normal. He leaves their home.

A series of people threaten Marlowe, telling him to cease his investigation into Lennox. Marlowe discovers that Lennox once lived under a different name: He was known as Paul Marston and lived in Great Britain with a wife. Wade calls Marlowe and invites the detective to lunch. There, Wade complains about his writing and his drinking. Marlowe asks the drunken Wade about Paul Marston, and Wade unconvincingly dismisses his question. After taking a short walk alone, Marlowe returns to find Eileen has locked herself out of the house. Inside, Wade is dead. Although Wade seems to have killed himself, Eileen accuses Marlowe of murdering her husband. The police question Marlowe over Wade’s death but eventually release him. When Spencer contacts Marlowe, the detective demands to see Eileen. He asks her about Lennox and Lennox’s wife. Marlowe believes that Eileen was once married to Lennox, during the time when Lennox was known as Paul Marston and living in England. He says Eileen saw her husband kill Sylvia in a drunken rage and then pressured him to kill himself. Eileen exits the conversation without confirming anything and, the next morning, Marlowe learns that she has been found dead. Eileen has also apparently killed herself and has left a note, confessing to the murders of Wade and Mrs. Lennox because the pair were having an extramarital affair.

Although the police believe that the case is already closed, Marlowe is unconvinced. He steals the suicide note containing the confession and takes it to a friendly journalist. The journalist warns him that printing the note will turn the police and other powerful people against Marlowe, but the detective does not care. Marlowe believes that printing the note will allow him to finally say goodbye to Lennox by proving that he is innocent of his wife’s murder. A few days after the letter is printed, Marlowe is attacked by Mendy Menendez. The police arrive in time to save Marlowe and take both men into custody. A friendly detective named Ohls arrests Marlowe and takes him to jail. Marlowe knows that he has been set up. Ohls explains that the police manipulated Marlowe, putting him in a position where he would have no choice but to steal the copy of the suicide note and take it to the journalist, thereby forcing Menendez to attack Marlowe. The police used Marlowe as bait to arrest Menendez.

Some time later, Marlowe receives a visit from a mysterious man calling himself Cisco Maioranos. Maioranos tells Marlowe that he was in Lennox’s hotel room on the night Lennox killed himself. Despite Maioranos’s best efforts to explain what happened, Marlowe refuses to accept this version of events. Instead, Marlowe tells the man what really happened: Maioranos is actually Lennox, who has undergone surgery to change his appearance. Lennox confesses that this is true; Randy Starr and Menendez helped him fake his suicide to thank him for saving their lives during World War II. He tries to apologize to Marlowe for the trouble he put his friend through, but Marlowe refuses to accept the apology. He hands Lennox back the $5,000 and tells Lennox to leave. As Lennox leaves Marlowe’s office, Marlowe retains a slight hope that his friend might return. However, Lennox does not come back. Marlowe never sees Lennox again.