The Little Sister – A first Philip Marlowe novel brings this reviewer into an enthusiastic appreciation of Raymond Chandler who makes (for me) the mystery genre something all his own.
Book reviewing is a difficult task when the time for reading has been wiped out by the Hell of Moving. After three months of unpacking, I am down to what’s left of my library. To my surprise and good luck, while unpacking boxes and boxes of books, I discovered a copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister. The Little what? I asked myself when it almost fell out of a box labeled Leftover Books. I have never read Raymond Chandler. How did it get into one of my boxes? And that title? For me, Chandler titles like The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, and Trouble Is My Business were familiar only as films, and since I am not a huge mystery reader, up to now I’ve been happy with his movies. Mystery novels may still not be my favorite genre, but The Little Sister has bumped all of Raymond Chandler’s writing into a favorite genre of its own.
Since The Little Sister is my first Chandler read, I can’t compare it with his other novels. What I can say is that if they are half as much fun to read as The Little Sister, I wholeheartedly recommend them. But let’s get down to The Little Sister. It’s a Philip Marlowe noir mystery and the action is almost nonstop, even when Marlowe is avoiding mayhem. What made it so much fun for me is that I wasn’t sure if I was reading a mystery or watching a movie. And adding to the fun was the fact that I was reading/watching Bogart. Honestly, I could see and hear him, and it made Philip Marlowe come alive. However, the so-called Little Sister was never mistaken for Bacall.
I wish I could say the story is simple. It is not. The setting is Hollywood in the mid-forties. The characters are innocent and not-so-innocent starlets, bad cops–well, hell, bad police departments, a missing older brother, family secrets, drugs, and gangsters. There’s plenty of violence without today’s explicit gore, same for the sex.
A young woman, The Little Sister, with questionable motives, asks Marlowe to find her older brother whom she fears may be in deathly danger. The woman is consistently inconsistent, which keeps the plot and Marlow at non-stop twists and turns. I especially loved each scene when Marlow returns to the sanctity of his office: “The office was empty again. No leggy brunettes, no neat dark men with gangster’s eyes.”
Chandler writes his way visually into a reader’s heart. Case in point – Marlow asks to see a key character at the man’s office and is rebuffed by the receptionist, a “dangerous-looking redhead.” A brisk and insulting tete-a-tete ends with the wiseass receptionist’s threat, “Why the hell don’t you lam out of here, bud? Before I throw a handful of fat coppers in your lap?” Now if those words were seen and heard while sitting in a theater, you’d miss the power of reading, which gives you the time to double over in laughter without having the film move on to the next scene. Book reading is the gift of time, and time is increasingly in short supply.
Is the brother ever found? Dead or alive? And who is the little sister? Are gangsters really a part of Hollywood films? Such questions bring me to my rapidly growing enthusiasm for reading as an escape from whatever might be troubling you: politics, taxes, children, work, and especially The Hell of Moving. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep; The Long Goodbye; Farewell My Lovely; The Lady in The Lake; The High Window; Trouble is My Business; Playback; The Simple Art of Murder; Killer in The Rain; Raymond Chandler Omnibus; The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler; The Little Book of Horrors; The Blue Dahlia; Double Indemnity.
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