The Lady in the Lake

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The Lady in the Lake
RaymondChandler TheLadyInTheLake.jpg
Cover of the first edition
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 and 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 some 80 miles (130 km) from the city. The book was written shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and makes several references to America's recent 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 become involved in a scandal that could jeopardise his position with the shareholders of the company of which he is an executive. The last definite place Crystal was known to have been was 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 Crystal was, Lavery told him that he hadn't seen her, wasn't with her in El Paso, didn't know where she was, and never agreed, or wanted, to marry her.

Marlowe begins his investigation with a visit to Chris Lavery in the corrupt neighbouring 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 neighbour, Dr. Almore. A tough cop named Al Degarmo accuses Marlowe of harassing Almore. Marlowe discovers that Almore's wife died under suspicious circumstances and 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, 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 unrecognisable except by her clothes and jewellery. Chess is immediately arrested for his wife's murder, and Marlowe, 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; their description of the man is similar to that of Lavery.

Marlowe returns to Bay City to re-interview Chris Lavery, given the new information from the hotel employees that contradicts his prior statement. At the house he finds Mrs. Fallbrook, who says she is the owner and has found a gun on the stairs. Once she has left, Marlowe ascertains that the gun has been fired six times and, after a search, finds Lavery murdered in the bathroom. 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 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 they believe the doctor 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 drunk driving, spent 6 months in jail and is now not in contact with them. Marlowe goes to the detective's modest home, where he is rebuffed by the wife, who says that "they" have been there. Upon leaving Marlowe realises 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 drunk driving, charges similar to those levelled against the parents' detective. Marlowe talks to the police 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.

Returning to his office, Marlowe receives a call from Kingsley who tells him that Crystal has called Kingsley's secretary, begging for $500. Kingsley gives the money to Marlowe to deliver. Marlowe is to wear a distinctive scarf so Crystal will recognise him, though she expects Kingsley. He gets to the rendezvous, a bar, where a Mexican boy enters 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 recognised her as Mrs. Fallbrook, the woman he met in Lavery's house, 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 him 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. Soon the Bay City police are banging on the door. Degarmo tries to frame Marlowe for the murder, but Marlowe convinces him that the two of them can more easily frame Kingsley. They travel to Little Fawn Lake together to get some evidence Marlowe implies is there.

In the final confrontation at Little Fawn Lake, Marlowe reveals that the murdered woman in Bay City, assumed to be Crystal Kingsley, was actually Mildred Haviland, killed in a jealous rage by Al Degarmo, who was her former husband, while the murdered woman in Little Fawn Lake, supposed to be Muriel Chess, was actually Crystal Kingsley, killed by Mildred Haviland, who then assumed her identity. Mildred, who had been Dr Almore's nurse, had murdered his wife and had also murdered Lavery.

Degarmo escapes but is killed when trying to cross a dam guarded by armed sentries under orders to shoot potential saboteurs who disregard commands to stop.


Chandler wrote many of his novels by a process he called cannibalising 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. Two stories formed the core of The Lady in the Lake: a story with the same title, 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 in a major film: he used the camera as the protagonist (Philip Marlowe) of the film. Other characters talk directly to the camera. The voice of Marlowe is that of Montgomery, but his face is shown only in reflections. Reviews of the film were not appreciative of the new approach. Most critics gave the director credit for trying an experimental technique but felt the experiment had been a failure.[3]

The film did not use 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 9 February 1948 with Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter reprising their film roles.

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


  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.). New York: E.P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-14552-4. 
  3. ^ "Lady in the Lake". The New York Times. 24 January 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.). New York: E.P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-14552-4. 

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