The Lady in the Lake

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the novel. For other uses, see Lady in the Lake (disambiguation).
The Lady in the Lake
First edition cover
First edition cover
Author Raymond Chandler
Country United States
Language English
Series Philip Marlowe
Genre Detective, Crime, Novel
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 216 pp
Preceded by The High Window
Followed by The Little Sister

The Lady in the Lake is a 1943 detective novel by Raymond Chandler featuring, as do all his major works, the Los Angeles private investigator Philip Marlowe. Notable for its removal of Marlowe from his usual Los Angeles environs for much of the book, the novel's complicated plot initially deals with the case of a missing woman in a small mountain town an hour or so from the city. The book was written shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and makes several references to America's new involvement in World War II.

Plot summary[edit]

Derace Kingsley, a wealthy businessman, hires Marlowe to find his estranged wife Crystal. Although separated from his wife, Kingsley fears that Crystal - rich, pretty, spoiled and reckless - may have gotten herself into a scandal that could jeopardize his position with the shareholders of the company he is an executive in. The last definite place Crystal was known to have been was at their vacation cabin on Little Fawn Lake. Kingsley had received a telegram from Crystal about two weeks before, (dateline El Paso, Texas), stating that she was divorcing him and marrying her gigolo boyfriend, Chris Lavery. But when Kingsley ran into Lavery in L.A., and asked him "where's Crystal", Lavery tells him that he hasn't seen her, wasn't with her in El Paso, doesn't know where she is, and never agreed, or wanted, to marry her.

Marlowe begins his investigation with a visit to Chris Lavery in the corrupt neighboring town of Bay City (modeled on Santa Monica).[1] Lavery disclaims any interest in or involvement with Crystal Kingsley. While watching Lavery's house, Marlowe is threatened by the police who suspect him of watching Lavery's neighbor, Dr. Almore. A tough cop named Al Degarmo accuses Marlowe of harassing Dr. Almore. Marlowe discovers that Dr. Almore's wife had died under suspicious circumstances, that her death was probably hushed up by the police.

Marlowe moves his investigations to Little Fawn Lake. Kingsley has given him a note to the caretaker of his vacation home, one Bill Chess. Chess is in an alcoholic haze, depressed over having been abandoned by his wife Muriel, at about the same time as Crystal disappeared. As Marlowe and Chess walk over the property, they discover a drowned body that Chess identifies as his wife, bloated from decomposition and almost unrecognizable except by her clothes and jewelry. Chess is immediately arrested for his wife's murder, and Marlowe, although doubtful of Chess's guilt, returns to Los Angeles. Before he returns, Marlowe interviews some hotel employees who remember a woman matching Crystal's description and volunteer that a man was with her, who they describe as similar to Lavery.

Marlowe returns to Bay City to re-interview Chris Lavery given the new information from the hotel employees that contradicts his prior statement. Marlowe finds Lavery murdered in his bathroom. A gun had been fired six times, two of the shots had hit him, and one was fatal. Mrs. Fallbrook, the owner of the rented house that Lavery lives in, confronts Marlowe on his way out, but Marlowe manages to scare her off without letting her discover the murder. Then he goes back to Kingsley, who offers him a fat bonus to prove Crystal didn't do it. Marlowe returns to Lavery's house, calls the police and reports the murder. Marlowe is interviewed by the police and is backhanded several times when he suggests that there was a cover up of the death of Dr. Almore's wife.

Marlowe returns to his office where he finds a note from Kingsley's secretary giving him the names and address of Almore's wife's parents. Marlowe visits them and learns the name (George Talley) and address of the detective they hired to investigate their daughter's death and that Dr. Almore's nurse was named Mildred Haviland. They also tell him that Almore is a "dope" doctor and that they believe he killed their daughter by drugging her and then putting her in the garage with the motor running on her car. The detective they hired was charged with DUI, spent 6 months in jail and is now not in contact with them. Marlowe visits the detective, who is not at his modest home, and is rebuffed by the detective's wife who says that "they" have been there. Marlowe notices someone looking at his car and upon leaving realizes he is being followed. He is confronted by the police again, who force him to drink liquor, beat him up and arrest him for speeding, resisting arrest and "HBD" (had been drinking, modern DUI/DWI), charges similar to those leveled against the prior detective, George Talley. Marlowe talks to a Captain Webber who treats him decently for a Bay City policeman and although Webber isn't convinced by Marlowe's theories on the case he is convinced that Marlowe is mostly telling him the truth and he turns him loose.

Upon returning to his office, Marlowe receives a call from Kingsley who tells him that Crystal called Kingsley's secretary, begging for $500. Kingsley gives the money to Marlowe to deliver. Marlowe is to wear a unique scarf so Crystal will recognize him, though she expects Kingsley. When Marlowe gets to the rendezvous, a bar, he does not recognize Crystal and a Mexican boy comes into the bar to tell Marlowe that Crystal is waiting outside. Marlowe goes out, meets Crystal and insists that she answer his questions before receiving the money. Crystal agrees but only at a nearby apartment where she is staying. At the apartment, Marlowe who has recognized "Crystal" as being "Mrs. Fallbrook", the woman he met in Lavery's house, and accuses her of being the murderer of Lavery. She pulls a gun on him. As Marlowe is about to take the gun away, someone hits Marlowe from behind with a sap.

When Marlowe wakes up he is stinking with gin and Crystal is lying naked, bloody and strangled to death on the bed. Shortly after waking Marlowe hears the Bay City police banging on the door. Degarmo has killed Crystal and is trying to frame Marlowe for it. Marlowe convinces Degarmo that the two of them can most easily frame Kingsley for the sex murder and that he would gladly cooperate. They travel back to Little Fawn Lake to get some evidence Marlowe implies is there. At the Kingsley cabin there is a showdown. Degarmo escapes but is shot when trying to cross the dam across Little Fawn lake which is now guarded by armed sentries due to America's entry into the second world war. The sentries have orders to shoot potential saboteurs who disregard commands to stop.

In the final confrontation at Little Fawn Lake, Marlowe reveals that the murder supposed to be Crystal (in Los Angeles) was actually Mildred Haviland, AKA Muriel Chess AKA Mrs. Fallbrook; she was killed by Al Degarmo (her former husband) in a jealous rage; and that the murder victim supposed to be Muriel Chess (at Little Fawn Lake) was actually Crystal Kingsley, who was killed by Mildred Haviland for revenge and profit, assuming the identity of her victim. Mildred also murdered Lavery.


Chandler wrote many of his novels by a process he called cannibalizing previously written short stories. Chandler would take stories he had already published in the pulp magazine Black Mask and rework them so that they fit together in one coherent story. In the case of The Lady in the Lake, the two main stories that formed the core of the novel were "The Lady in the Lake" (published in 1939) and "No Crime in the Mountains" (published in 1941). [2]

Film, television, or theatrical adaptations[edit]

The novel was made into the film Lady in the Lake, starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. Montgomery tried a technique that had often been talked about in Hollywood but never used on a major film, using the camera as the protagonist (Philip Marlowe) of the film. Other characters talk directly to the camera. The voice for Marlowe is from Montgomery but we only see his face in reflections. The reviews were rather tame for the new approach. Most critics gave it credit for the experimental attempt but felt the experiment had been a failure.[3]

The film did not utilize Raymond Chandler's own 195 page MGM screenplay adaptation, dated 7/5/45, but used a 125 page version written by Steve Fisher, which was filmed two years later.[4] Chandler's original script has yet to be produced. Lux Radio Theater broadcast a 60-minute radio adaptation of the movie on February 9, 1948 with Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter reprising their film roles.

The novel was adapted on BBC Radio 4 by Bill Morrison, directed by John Tydeman and broadcast on 7 November 1977 starring Ed Bishop as Marlowe. It was adapted again for BBC Radio 4 (this time by Stephen Wyatt) and broadcast on 12 February 2011 starring Toby Stephens as Marlowe; the production was directed by Claire Grove.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Bayley, John (2002). "Introduction". Raymond Chandler Collected Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. (xi). ISBN 0-375-41500-9. 
  2. ^ MacShane, Frank (1976). The life of Raymond Chandler (1st ed. ed.). New York: E.P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-14552-4. 
  3. ^ "Lady in the Lake". New York Times. January 24, 1947. Retrieved 16 July 2013. In making the camera an active participant, rather than an off-side reporter, Mr. Montgomery has, however, failed to exploit the full possibilities suggested by this unusual technique. For after a few minutes of seeing a hand reaching toward a door knob, or lighting a cigarette or lifting a glass, or a door moving toward you as though it might come right out of the screen the novelty begins to wear thin 
  4. ^ MacShane, Frank (1976). The life of Raymond Chandler (1st ed. ed.). New York: E.P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-14552-4.