Marlowe's Kit

This is only the beginning of Marlowe’s knowledge. He possesses a fantastical power to name the things of the world – an astonishing vocabulary of plants, fashion and interior design. Sherlock Holmes’s knowledge of the smallest distinctions of the surface world is explicitly won by study and neo-academic forms of research, yet to Marlowe it comes unmediated, unexplained, as if from within. ‘A rather too emphatic trace of chypre hung in the air,’ he notes. He detects the scent of eucalyptus trees and wild sage. He names wild irises, white and purple lupin, bugle flowers, columbine, pennyroyal, desert paint brush, begonias, acacia, winter sweet peas, poinsettia. In one short passage in The Big Sleep he identifies juniper logs in a fireplace, walnut in the wainscoting, and a dozen kinds of hardwood in the parquetry, ‘from Burma teak through half a dozen shades of oak and ruddy wood that looked like mahogany, and fading out to the hard pale wild lilac of the California hills’. In The High Window, while hiding behind a curtain, overhearing a powerful hoodlum and his wife discussing how to make the death of the man she has murdered, and whose corpse is in front of them, look like suicide, Marlowe manages to note that she ‘wears pale green gabardine slacks, a fawn-coloured leisure jacket with stitching on it, a scarlet turban with a gold snake in it’. He also speaks Spanish.