I wrote in a status update when I was about half through The Long Goodbye, that reading a Raymond Chandler book is like walking through a fog and watching the landscape around you take shape as your eyes adjust. What you see at the beginning is only a hint of the overall structure of the story, and the picture gradually emerges as more details arrive. Because Chandler is such a master craftsman though, it doesn't emerge in a linear way, with one fact leading to another. It is more that the shape of things becomes clearer to you as you meet more characters and start to see the connections between the people, between the past and the present and all the possible futures. Marlowe narrates action, but he rarely lets you inside his head. He tells you what he does, but not what he thinks. He tells you what other people do and say, but doesn't tell you much of what he thinks about it, or what he speculates is behind a person's words or actions. He misses almost nothing, but keeps his conclusions to himself until he thinks the time is right to speak. Raymond Chandler is one of the greats. His sentences are spare, elegant, and effective. Marlowe is a tough guy, and a self-described romantic. By romantic, he does not mean flowers and candy and sweet words. Well, rarely sweet words. I've been trying to put my finger on what quality of his exactly causes him to describe himself that way. I think it is in his adherence to his own rules, the sense of duty he feels towards people to whom he knows he doesn't owe anything. It is in his preference for natural justice over that of the law ("The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer.") His tendency to keep going even when common sense (and a colorful cast of thugs and tycoons and lawyers) warn him off. The prose is occasionally romantic in its descriptions. For example, from Marlowe's first description of Eileen Wade: "She was unclassifiable, as remote and clear as mountain water, as elusive as its color." However, it is the wry, understated descriptions of scenes and people that fill most of the book. With a light touch of sardonic humor, and a clear eye, Marlowe sees straight to the heart of things most of the time, even when it comes to women, but that doesn't stop him from falling for people, romantically or otherwise. He doesn't go into his feelings, but the reader gets hints. Talking about a chess problem he has decided to work on one evening "Once in a long while when I feel mean enough I set it out and look for a new way to solve it. It's a nice quiet way to go crazy. You don't even scream, but you come awfully close."What struck me rereading this after maybe 20 years, is how on the nose Chandler's conception of the system remains. Speaking of big business, organized crime, petty crime, drugs, sex, government, democracy, bureaucracy, military service, alcoholism, human nature and the nature of society, he cuts through abstraction and tells you what it's about and he's right. No BS, no real judgment, just how things are.And the dialogue, oh the dialogue! "He don't run the police department," Green said. "He admits it. Doesn't even buy commissioners or D.A.'s, he said. They just kind of curl up in his lap when he's having a doze." I could go on, the entire book is beautifully quotable, but instead I will just recommend that you spend some time walking through the lightening fog with one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Many say the Long Goodbye is Chandler's masterpiece, and I would agree. Your "read" shelf is incomplete without it.