Favorite Dialogue of the Week – “Whom did you wish to see?”

ReadingOrinoco

From The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler.

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Private detective Philip Marlowe (the narrator) and police lieutenant Al Degarmo arrive at Bryson Tower—”a white stucco palace with fretted lanterns in the forecourt and tall date palms“—to interview one of the residents about an unsolved murder…

… The entrance was in an L, up marble steps, through a Moorish archway, and over a lobby that was too big and a carpet that was too blue. Blue Ali Baba oil jars were dotted around, big enough to keep tigers in. There was a desk and a night clerk with one of those mustaches that get stuck under your fingernail.

Degarmo lunged past the desk towards an open elevator beside which a tired old man sat on a stool waiting for a customer. The clerk snapped at Degarmo’s back like a terrier.

“One moment, please. Whom did you wish to see?”

Degarmo spun on his heel and looked at me wonderingly. “Did he say ‘whom’?”

“Yeah, but don’t hit him,” I said. “There is such a word.”

Degarmo licked his lips. “I knew there was,” he said. “I often wondered where they kept it.”

Chandler is a dialogue genius, but the reason this particular snippet is among my favorites is that it’s one of the few times Chandler puts a really witty remark in the mouth of someone other than Marlowe.

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