Author(s): Raymond ChandlerDownload
Raymond Chandler’s fifth novel has Philip Marlowe going to Hollywood as he explores the underworld of the glitter capital, trying to find a sweet young thing’s missing brother. Along the way he uncovers a little blackmail, a lot of drugs, and more than enough murder.
Some Reviews: 612 in Goodreads.com
A woman from a small Kansas town hires Philip Marlowe to find her missing brother. What Marlowe finds is himself ensnared in a web of drugs, blackmail, and murder…
As I’ve said many times, noir fiction and I go together like a bottle of cheap vodka and nightmares about being chased by coyotes. The Little Sister by the esteemed Raymond Chandler is no exception.
It may be because it’s been a few months since I’ve read one of Raymond Chandler’s oddly poetic noir masterpieces but I liked The Little Sister almost as much as Farewell, My Lovely but not as much as The Big Sleep. Chandler’s simile-ridden prose pushes Marlowe from one sordid event to the next, making the bloody trip as pleasurable as a walk on the beach.
As is usual for a Chandler book, the plot meanders all over the place. Marlowe takes a kicking but keeps pushing his way forward, solving the case through a combination of luck, good detective work, and top notch dialog.
The case looked simple when it was just Ormafay looking for Orrin. Throw in the blackmail angle with Mavis Weld, some thug named Steelgrave, and people getting murdered with ice picks to the neck every other chapter and I had no idea where things were going for a good portion of the book.
The trip to the end was confusing but quite pleasurable due to Chandler’s sublime prose. I lost track of all the one-liners I wanted to remember. “His nose had been broken and set but hadn’t ever been a collector’s item” is the first one that springs to mind.
I know I saw it with every Raymond Chandler book I review but this is a must read for noir and detective fiction fans. It’s an easy four stars.
“She was a small, neat, rather prissy-looking girl with primly smooth brown hair and rimless glasses. She had no make-up, no lipstick and no jewelry. The rimless glasses gave her that librarian’s look.” But, Marlowe, you surely must know what she would look like without the glasses, wearing her hair loose and a little make-up and jewelry. Beware! A femme fatale in hiding. This has always remained my very favorite Raymond Chandler novel.
And as far as The Little Sister goes, there is more than just one femme fatale. And maybe, according to Raymond Chandler, Hollywood itself is the ultimate femme fatale. Having his face rubbed in Hollywood culture (or anti-culture), Philip Marlowe turns existential. I urge you to read for yourself to see if the concluding chapter amounts to a happy ending. Hint: the novel does not have a Hollywood ending.
Written in the late ’40s when RC was sick of Hollywood and
depressed about his wife’s health (she was 17 years older),
RC was fretful and feeling more insolent than usual. So he used Movieland as his setting. The titular sister, from the midwest, lands in SoCal looking for her missing brother as, we later learn, they both want to blackmail their Almost Famous Sis who’s in Pix. From real life RC borrows a scandal involving mobster Bugsy Siegel who was allowed out of prison for a few days to visit his dentist…see, it’s LA where anything goes. Forget reel life.
As Capote said: there are typists and there are writers. RC was most gloriously A Writer. “California – the most of everything and the best of nothing. I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living-room that had been closed too long. More wind-blown hair and sunglasses and attitudes and pseudo-refined voices and water-front morals.”
Our man Marlowe goes to the movies and sees The Sister in a featured role: “If she had been ten times better half her scenes would have been yanked out to protect the star.” (RC claims this is what happened to featured Martha Vickers to protect Bacall in “The Big Sleep”.) Oh, yes, show biz: “If these people didn’t live intense and disordered lives, they wouldn’t be able to catch emotions in flight and imprint them on a few feet of celluloid.”
Reviewing for The Tatler, 1949, Elizabeth Bowen wrote that “no consideration of modern American literature ought to exclude Raymond Chandler.”
The book begins with an exciting chase scene: Philip Marlowe tries to catch a fly… Actually, I am kidding. The PI, not having any case to work on is so bored that he starts hunting aforementioned fly. When a girl shows up on his door he takes her case for a measly sum of $20. The girl came from Nowhere, Kansas (the actual name of the place is Manhattan – and I do not mean NYC location) and she wants to locate her brother who supposedly lives somewhere in LA. The routine investigation leads Marlowe to two dead bodies in quick succession after which even more dead bodies, mafia thugs, corrupted policemen, blackmailers, movie stars, high-profile lawyers, and other people – dead or alive try to stop Marlowe from uncovering something which is better left buried for a lot of parties.
I was always wondering why Marlowe who lives and works in Hollywood never stumbled upon its main produced goods – movies and people involved in production – movie stars and producers; bad pun is not intended. This time he finally gets on the inside of Kingdom of the Fake Glamor during the investigation.
I always said that the later books in the series are much weaker than the first ones. This is the first novel where the weakness began to develop. Marlowe became more cynical – even by his own standards, the plot is not as tight and fast-moving as before and there were several boring pages, but they were few and between. For this reason I lowered my standard 5 star rating for Philip Marlowe novel by half of the star, but the book firmly deserves the resulting rating 4.5.
This novel used similes that were long and round and thin, like a rattailed file that has been ground smooth.
This novel is a sort of sad whisper, like a mortitian asking for a down payment.
This novel had a low lingering voice with a sort of moist caress in it like a damp bath towl.
This novel felt like a nice leg.
This novel was brought up straight, like the wicked foreman of the Lazy Q.
This novel sounded like somebody putting aways saucepans.
This novel flashed like lightening.
This novel burned like dry ice.
This novel bounced me downstairs like a basketball.
This novel made my brain feel like a bucket of wet sand.
This novel spoke to me like a six-hundred dollar funeral.
This novel made a sort of high keening noise, like a couple of pansies fighting for a piece of silk.
This novel grew on me like scum on a water tank.
This novel burned like a hot iron.
This novel gave me the creeps. Like petting snakes.
This novel felt like four years on a road gang.
This novel had a jaw like a park bench.
This novel had eyes cloudy and grey like freezing water.
This novel was sad, like a fallen cake.
This novel’s similies poured like water through the floodgagtes of a dam.
This novel fell on silence like a tired head on a swansdown pillow.
This novel made me laugh like a child trying to be supercilious at a playroom tea party.
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