The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (1953)

No, no, no – wait, wait, wait!

Just because you think you might’ve had enough Chandler doesn’t mean you’re not wrong.

Picture this. A beauty so elegant, so divine, she renders her beholder invisible.

The old bar waiter came drifting by and glanced softly at my weak Scotch and water. I shook my head and he bobbed his white thatch, and right then a dream walked in.

Indolent set-up. Slow pace and the not-a-lot-going-on established with the old bar waiter, the drifting, the glanced softly, the shaking and bobbing of heads, the clink of ice, the tick-tick of cocktail sticks.

It seemed to me for an instant that there was no sound in the bar, that the sharpies stopped sharping and the drunk on the stool stopped burbling away, and it was just like the conductor taps on his music stand and raises his arms and holds them poised.

Her arrival sucks the sound out of the room. Like a held breath. Neat alliteration and rhythm in sharpies stopped sharping. Even the burbling drunk notices the change in atmospheric pressure. Chandler’s four ands in the sentence ratchet up the suspense to the point where all movement stops. Is poised.

What an entrance. Okay, catch your breath. You’ll need it.

She was slim and quite tall in a white linen tailor-made with a black and white polka-dotted scarf around her throat.

Throat is so much more carnal than neck, isn’t it.

Her hair was the pale gold of a fairy princess. There was a small hat on it into which the pale gold hair nestled like a bird in its nest. Her eyes were cornflower blue, a rare colour, and the lashes were long and almost too pale.

Savour the delicacy in pale (twice), gold (twice), fairy princess, small, nestle, nest.

I’m thinking bird of paradise.

And cornflower blue? Back in a bit. Need to lie on the lawn.

She reached the table across the way and was pulling off a white gauntleted glove…

Is anyone else hot in here?

… and the old waiter had the table pulled out in a way no waiter will ever pull out a table for me.

Waiter-waiter, table-table, pulled-pull, out-out. Lovely.

She sat down and slipped the gloves under the strap of her bag and thanked him with a smile so gentle, so exquisitely pure, that he was damn nearly paralysed by it. She said something to him in a very low voice. He hurried away, bending forward. There was a guy who really had a mission in life.

Like the determined hurried and bending forward. Like a blackbird trying to get there before it gets there.

And then the coup de grâce we’ve been waiting for.

I stared. She caught me staring. She lifted her glance half an inch and I wasn’t there anymore. But wherever I was I was holding my breath.

Thanks for being here.

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Book Bore

Guy Nicholls, writer and book bore.