“Goldfish” by Raymond Chandler

For the most part, the stories collected in Trouble Is My Business were written before Raymond Chandler’s novels, and they all bear a slightly different tinge from his longer works. Chandler condensed is darker and grittier.

In “Goldfish,” Philip Marlowe gets a tip from someone he trusts and sympathizes with that could make him a lot of money. Suddenly he is embroiled in a chase with thugs and vixens; they each gain the upper hand by turns until finally Marlowe gets everything to fall into place. Pretty standard. Except in “Goldfish” it all happens, with just as much precision and detail of scene and character, in a third of the space.

Instead of doing without any of the real Chandler trademarks, the plot just gets a bit simpler. Fewer players are involved; there are fewer twists. There is still real mystery and suspense. But the shrinking of the distance between plot elements means the harsher bits of Chandler’s work seem to come faster and thicker. Marlowe finds his first body after just five pages; normally it would take longer than that to get to the home of his client. And the violence continues through nearly to the last scene.

The villains in “Goldfish” are surprisingly hard and clear for such a short work; they are at least as good as the ones in his novels. And remarkably, while the story begins in LA the bulk of it takes place in Olympia, Washington:

The Snoqualmie Hotel in Olympia was on Capitol Way, fronting on the usual square city block of park. I left by the coffeeshop door and walked down a hill to where the last, loneliest reach of Puget Sound died and decomposed against a line of disused wharves. Corded firewood filled the foreground and old men pottered about in the middle of the stacks, or sat on boxes with pipes in their mouths and signs behind their heads reading: “Firewood and Split Kindling, Free Delivery.”

Behind them a low cliff rose and the vast pines of the north loomed against a gray-blue sky.

Marlowe doesn’t quite make it with those old men, but he doesn’t stay a fish out of water in the Pacific Northwest for long either. And he’s just about at his best in the final scene, with “[a]n icy finger…moving up and down my spine” for only the quickest second before he realizes he’s being played. Very good, and very pulp.

5 comments to “Goldfish” by Raymond Chandler

  • No way, I never knew he wrote a novella set in Olympia! I’ve spent much time in just the area described in the quote you pulled – how fun. Will have to look up Goldfish one of these days.

  • Yeah, it was a really fun change. I love him doing LA but I totally loved him doing the Pacific Northwest too. Not that I know much firsthand about either place!

  • Never read any Raymond Chandler but you have me thinking now. What better time of year? Like how things are looking here!

  • Oh I hope you do; while I can certainly see not everyone loving him it’s something to try out. Because if you do like that sort of thing, he’s pretty delicious.

  • i thought i knew all of chandler, having read all i thought, in the late 80s when i moved into the l.a. area. since i now live in the Puget sound area, I would say that in a few deft strokes he’s got the view from Olympia littoral down pat, the old men are back puttering with another depression going on. and it’s funnee how he puts the main names of the area into these opening sentences too… Olympia, Snoqalme [the main pass across the Cascades], Capitol…. a significant not only in Olympia but in Tacoma and Seattle… x michael r.