THE LITTLE SISTER by RAYMOND CHANDLER (1949, Hamish Hamilton /Penguin Books Ltd., Paperback, 2010 edition, 298pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Her name is Orfamay Quest and she’s come all the way from Manhattan, Kansas, to find her missing brother Orrin. Or leastways that’s what she tells PI Philip Marlowe, offering him a measly twenty bucks for the privilege. But Marlowe’s feeling charitable – though it’s not long before he wishes he wasn’t so sweet. You see, Orrin’s trail leads Marlowe to luscious movie starlets, uppity gangsters, suspicious cops and corpses with ice picks jammed in their necks. When trouble comes calling, sometimes it’s best to pretend to be out . . .
The Little Sister is Chandler’s fifth Philip Marlowe novel and alongside his next book, The Long Goodbye, shows Marlowe at his most lonely, world-weary and vulnerable. The plot is a complex tangle but concentrates on a core group of characters – all of them fuelled by selfish greed. Chandler takes a number of opportunities for social commentary and displays an obvious dislike for the Hollywood industry which makes gods out of fakes.
The dialogue has a biting wit to it that shows Chandler increasingly digging beneath the surface and replacing what was once seen as mere cynicism with a darker melancholy. Marlowe in particular seems to be fighting his own self-doubts and solitude. The mystery itself weaves in twists and turns as one would expect but almost becomes secondary to Marlowe’s increasing hostility to all around him.
As such the novel will satisfy hard-boiled mystery buffs. For connoisseurs this novel represents a further step in Chandler’s desire to add more substance to his stories. He would go on to take this approach to its extreme with his classic The Long Goodbye.