Finished it this morning. The detective or mystery plots of Chandler's novels (distinct from their other workings) are so complicated and overdone that I find myself forgetting to care why, where or to whom something happened. Contrast this with Marlowe's often very serious attention to the details of a case and there's this weird disconnect for me as a reader. Yes, yes, he's the hired gun with the heart of gold. I get that, but I also get lost in all the things I'm supposed to remember to care about.
But that’s not all for The High Window. Chandler inhabits his settings. You are there in Los Angeles, in the early years of the Second World War. He is in neighborhood high and low, downtown and the desert, rundown apartments and high-toned mansions. He has the ability to make you feel the effects of place. His client’s home is stifling, closed-up and suffocating. It’s metaphorical, but it’s palpable too. You feel the unpleasantness of the setting and the relief of moving air driving home afterwards.
The dialogue can seem dated at times, but Chandler's better than most writers (mystery or otherwise) at keeping the patter snappy and succinct. There's some slang that might be unclear, but it doesn't seem past as much as it seems unfamiliar. You just might not have heard it before.
Like the two novels before it (The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely) The High Window is assembled from short stories written for pulp magazines. But it’s leading to The Long Goodbye, Chandler’s most sustained attempt at a detective novel about the detective instead of the detecting. The High Window has plenty of introspection in quiet and solitary moments, and a number of scenes in which Marlowe demonstrates dedication to his principles no matter what the cost. The Long Goodbye is about Marlowe having to do all the right things (his definition of right) for his own reasons, and to be satisfied with that alone. The opening piece, in which he recalls meeting Terry Lennox and then eventually sends him off (maybe fifty pages?) is some of the best writing I’ve ever read, by Chandler or anyone else. It’s helped by an underlying tension: is there going to be a mystery to solve or what? where’s this going? It’s almost better if you read it expecting a typical detective story. Because you’ll be surprised by how much it exceeds those expectations.
There’s also a scene in The Long Goodbye (I just remembered) by a hotel pool that is perfectly composed, and might be the best introduction to both Marlowe and Chandler.