The High Window (1942) by Raymond Chandler
Pbk, Vintage Crime, 152 p.
When you first start to read a Raymond Chandler novel it can all seem so cliched until you realize that this guy was one of the originators - the real deal. Chandler's Philip Marlowe books were spare, tough and vivid. Chandler could sketch out in a paragraph what would take others pages to do. Take this description of a club he enters:
"The lobby looked like a high-budget musical. a lot of light and glitter, a lot of scenery, a lot of clothes, a lot of sound, an all-star cast, and a plot with all the originality and drive of a split fingernail. Under the beautiful soft indirect lighting the walls seem to go up forever and to be lost in soft lascivious stars that really twinkled. You could just manage to walk on the carpet without waders. At the back was a free-arched stairway with a chromium and white enamel gangway going up in wide shallow carpeted steps. At the entrance to the dining room a chubby captain of waiters stood negligently with a two-inch satin stripe on his pants and a bunch of gold-plated menus under his arm. He had the sort of face that can turn from a polite simper to cold-blooded fury almost without moving a muscle."
Great stuff. In this, the third Marlowe novel, he is hired by a rich old lady to recover a gold coin that she thinks has been stolen by her recently disappeared daughter-in-law. Chandler weaves the story around 40s Los Angeles which he evokes so beautifully. A very worthwhile book to read.