Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More Great Mystery Beginnings

This book is a favorite, and one that I taught for a few years when I was lucky enough to teach a mystery seminar. See if you recognize it:

"The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers. The parking lot attendant had brought the car out and he was still holding the door open becuase Terry Lennox's left foot was still dangling outside, as if he had forgotten he had one. He had a young-looking face but his hair was bone white. You could tell by his eyes that he was plastered to the hairline, but otherwise he looked like any other nice young guy in a dinner jacket who had been spending too much money in a joint that exists for that purpose and no other.

There was a girl beside him. Her hair was a lovely shade of dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls Royce look like just another automobile. It didn't quite. Nothing can.

The attendant was the usual half-tough character in a white coat with the name of the restaurant stitched across the front of it in red. He was getting fed up.

"Look, mister," he said with an edge to his voice, "would you mind a whole lot pulling your leg in the car so I can kind of shut the door? Or should I open it all the way so you can fall out?"

The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back. It didn't bother him enough to give him the shakes. At The Dancers they get the sort of people that disillusion you about what a lot of golfing money can do for the personality.

A low-swung foreign speedster with no top drifted into the parking lot and a man got out of it and used the dash lighter on a long cigarette. He was wearing a pullover check shirt, yellow slacks, and riding boots. He strode off trailing clouds of incense, not even bothering to look toward the Rolls Royce. He probably thought it was corny. At the foot of the steps up to the terrace he paused to put a monocle in his eye.

The girl said with a nice burst of charm: "I have a wonderful idea, darling. Why don't we just take a cab to your place and get your convertible out? It's such a wonderful night for a run up the coast to Montecito. I know some people there who are throwing a dance around the pool.

The white-haired lad said politely: "Awfully sorry, but I don't have it any more. I was compelled to sell it." From his voice and articulation you wouldn't have known he had anything stronger than an orange juice to drink.

"Sold it, darling? How do you mean?" She slid away from him on the seat, but her voice slid away a lot farther than that.

"I mean I had to. For eating money."

"Oh, I see." A slice of spumoni wouldn't have melted on her now. . . . "
Raymond Chandler (1953)


Peter Rozovsky said...

Fine opening, fine car. I've read The Long Goodbye. I've never been in a car like that one.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Julia Buckley said...

I've never even SEEN a car like that one (except in photos). And I never noticed how focused on the car Marlowe is--which I suppose is what the author thinks he would be (or else Chandler was obsessed with cars, which I don't think sounds like Chandler).

Peter Rozovsky said...

I seem to recall cars featuring prominently in Marlowe novels, movies and stories, whether themselves the scenes of action or just pulling up outside nightclubs.

In this passage, I think Chandler is less interested in the car per se than as a prop or character marker for Terry Lennox.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"