Turn left; now go 3.15 miles south and make a U-turn back .34 miles; go right 5.34 miles; and on and on. That was how this hard-boiled noir classic read for me from about half way through to the end. When I thought I had everything in its right place, who did what to whom and why, everything got jumbled again and I’m back to square one and not sure who did what in the last 20 pages I read. It was a very complex novel but an excellent example of my favorite genre from one of my favorite writers and the creator of noir, Raymond Chandler.
The Little Sister is literally that, and named, hold on to your seat, Orfamay Quest from Manhattan. That’s not New York, folks, Manhattan, Kansas. That’s Miss Quest, thank you very much and on her "smooth brown hair was a hat that had been taken from its mother too young.” And of course she considers Marlowe crude and ungentlemanly.
She’s in the big city of LA looking for her missing brother. Her and mom, back home, have allocated the big sum of $20 to hire a private eye to find him. Marlowe, with his big heart, is just the guy to move into action because, in part, he’s just bored.
The book opens when he’s eyeing a bluebottle fly waiting for the fly to “sit down…he just wanted to do wing-overs and sing the prologue to Pagliacci. I had the fly swatter poised in midair and I was all set.” That’s boredom, Philip Marlowe’s boredom anyhow.
Famous for providing vivid color in words, in this book Chandler zeros in on the underbelly of Hollywood including thugs, starlets and cops who will do just about anything to close a case. Some cops anyhow. And the up and coming actress and her reputation must be protected at any cost due to the potential money she can make for ‘the company.’ People are being stabbed to death regularly with a filed ice pick and dying other ways, too. That’s just a small slice of this multi-layered cake of a book.
Although it’s not considered Chandler’s best effort, it was satisfying to me especially for the multitude of ways Chandler describes the mouth and lips of the many characters. Here’s an example, “I put my hand up and rubbed my lip. My mouth had too many teeth in it.” And “his tongue pushed out his lower lip.” My favorite though is his describing the lips pulled back tight showing the little small teeth. When he talks like that, I just ‘see’ it and it just makes me all aflutter.
His use of the English lanuage cannot be compared to another writer and many writers name him as being influential in their desire to write. High compliment indeed.
Was looking at books from my ‘to read’ stack and reading the back of one book I came across the words ‘noir’ and ‘hard-boiled.’ Going to pass it up for another in the stack. I just finished a Raymond Chandler, the writer who created the genre...just finished with the real deal so I’ll wait awhile for any wannabe hard-boiled noirs.