The High Window
Cover of the first edition
|Genre||Detective, Crime, Novel|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Preceded by||Farewell, My Lovely|
|Followed by||The Lady in the Lake|
Private investigator Philip Marlowe is called to the house of wealthy widow Elizabeth Bright Murdock to recover a missing Brasher Doubloon, a rare and valuable coin. Mrs. Murdock suspects that it was stolen by her son’s estranged wife, Linda Conquest, a former singer. On his way back to his office, Marlowe is followed by a blond man in a coupe. Mrs. Murdock’s son Leslie Murdock visits Marlowe and tries to learn why his mother hired him. Murdock lets slip that he owes nightclub owner Alex Morny a large sum of money. Marlowe learns that Linda Conquest had two friends: Lois Magic and a Mr. Vannier; Magic is now Mrs. Alex Morny. Marlowe visits Mrs. Morny at home and finds her with Vannier, who acts suspiciously. Marlowe is still tailed by the blond in the coupe and confronts him. He is George Anson Phillips, an amateurish private detective, who is thinking of enlisting Marlowe’s help on a case that is out of his league. Marlowe agrees to meet him at his apartment later.
Marlowe visits a rare coin dealer, Mr. Morningstar, who confirms that someone tried to sell a Brasher Doubloon; Marlowe plans to buy it back the next day, and after leaving overhears the dealer trying to call Phillips. Marlowe keeps his appointment with Phillips but finds him dead; the police arrest the drunk next door for the murder, although he insists he is innocent. The police give Marlowe an ultimatum to reveal all he knows. At his office, Marlowe receives a package with no address that contains the coin. He calls Mrs. Murdock and is floored when she says the coin has already been returned. Marlowe returns to the coin dealer and finds him dead also. Then Alex Morny’s henchman calls and invites Marlowe to visit Morny at his nightclub. It turns out that Linda Conquest is singing there. Morny demands to know why Marlowe visited his wife, but Marlowe is unfazed, and Morny realizes he is not Marlowe’s quarry. Morny offers to hire Marlowe to find dirt on Vannier, giving him a suspicious receipt for dentistry chemicals that Vannier lost. Marlowe also talks to Linda and decides she is probably not involved in the theft.
Returning to the Murdocks, Marlowe is told a story he doesn’t believe: Leslie Murdock hocked the coin to Morny for his debts, then changed his mind and got it back. Marlowe leaves in disgust, but he begins to suspect a dark secret involving Merle, the timid family secretary, and Mrs. Murdock’s first husband, Horace Bright, who was Leslie’s father and who died falling out of a window. The police say the drunk has confessed to the murder of Phillips, but Marlowe discovers he is covering for his landlord, a local leader who doesn’t want the police snooping around because his fugitive brother is nearby. The landlord is paying the drunk’s legal bills in exchange for his taking the rap. Marlowe gets a call that Merle is at his apartment having a nervous breakdown; he rushes home and she claims to have shot Vannier, although her story doesn’t hold water. Marlowe visits Vannier’s home, finds him dead, and discovers a photo of a man falling from a window. Morny and Magic arrive, and Marlowe hides while Morny tricks his wife into leaving her fingerprints on the gun near the body. He tells her he is sick of her and will force her to take the rap, but after they leave Marlowe puts the dead man’s prints on the gun instead.
Marlowe visits Mrs. Murdock again and reveals what he has figured out: Horace Bright once tried to force himself on Merle, and she either pushed him or allowed him to fall out of a window to his death. The stress of it made her become detached from reality. Vannier knew and was blackmailing the family. Mrs. Murdock coldly admits it is true and says she regrets ever having hired Marlowe to get the coin back. Marlowe makes it plain that the feeling is mutual. He then speaks to Leslie Murdock and reveals what he knows about him: he and Vannier had a plot to duplicate the coin using dental technology. They had Lois Magic hire a dimwitted private detective to sell the fakes. The detective got scared of the assignment and mailed the coin to Marlowe. When Vannier learned Marlowe was on the case, he killed the detective and the dealer to cover his tracks. He threatened to ruin Leslie if their scheme ever got out, so Leslie killed him. Leslie confirms it, but Marlowe says it is not his business to turn him in and leaves. Marlowe tells Merle he knows it was Mrs. Murdock who pushed her husband out of the window and then blamed Merle for it. The police discover Vannier’s role in the counterfeiting plot and his murders of Phillips and the coin dealer, but they rule Vannier’s death a suicide.
Marlowe's last act in the novel is to remove Merle from the toxic environment of Mrs. Murdock's employment. He drives her cross country, away from Los Angeles, to the home of her parents. He watches her and her family on the porch as he drives away and says, "I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again".
One of the themes of Chandler's novels that differentiate Phillip Marlowe from his hardboiled colleagues is that in spite of his cynicism, Marlowe exhibits the idealism of a Romantic hero. Nowhere is this more evident than in The High Window, in which Marlowe rescues a damsel in distress in the form of Merle. Chandler hints at the theme of Marlowe as a romantic knight in the language he uses in the novel to describe Marlowe, such as "shop-soiled Sir Galahad".
Chandler often wrote about corruption in high places. The "Cassidy Case," which Marlowe relates to Breeze in chapter 15, is actually a retelling of the real-life murder in Los Angeles of Ned Doheny, son of oil tycoon Edward Doheny.
Two film adaptations of the novel have been made:
- Time to Kill (1942), directed by Herbert I. Leeds
- The Brasher Doubloon (1947), directed by John Brahm
Two radio adaptations of the novel have been made, as well:
- 17 October 1977 on BBC Radio 4, adapted by Bill Morrison, directed by John Tydeman, and starring Ed Bishop as Marlowe
- 8 October 2011, also on BBC Radio 4, dramatized by Robin Brooks, directed by Sasha Yevtushenko, and starring Toby Stephens; it is available on CD
- Chandler seems to have been aware of the fact that it is very unlikely that a snapshot shows a crime. He therefore has his Marlowe say in the end that he found the incriminating photo "by a fluke of that same sort that was involved in the taking of the picture. Which is a fair sort of justice." In the 1947 film adaptation they used live film footage of a street parade with the crime happening in the background.
- Gross, Miriam (1978). "Preface". In Gross, Miriam. The World of Raymond Chandler. New York: A & W Publishers. ISBN 978-0-89479-016-4.
- Newman, Robert. "The Dialectic Aspect of Raymond Chandler's Novels".
- Chandler, Raymond (1976). The High Window. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-72141-1.
- Chandler, Raymond (1995). Stories & Early Novels. The Library of America. p. 1071.
- McCartney, Laton (2008). The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country. New York: Random House.