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on 28 November 2008
THE LITTLE SISTER is terrific mystery that concludes with a gruesome incident of sudden (albeit implausible) poetic justice. By my count, TLS has five murders and a suicide, with Philip Marlowe a step too slow to prevent any crime but way ahead of the cops (and this reader) as he identifies the perps and unravels their interlaced motives.
There are lots of standard Raymond Chandler elements in TLS, including gangsters, devious deadly dames, and a film-noir Los Angeles. But in contrast to other Chandler novels I've read, there seems to be even less effort to elucidate the sour integrity of the lonely Marlowe. Since this is the fifth novel in the series, Chandler probably felt such explication would add little to, and might actually detract from, his spare and disciplined style. On the other hand, Chandler tells us more about the movie business in TLS and his dialogue is never better. Among my marginalia is: "Conversation as combat."
In TLS, it's the cops that bring out the best in Ray. When they're on the page, Chandler's wonderful metaphors seem sharpest, his skillful screen writer's dialogue carries the most freight, and his rhetoric absolutely soars. Here's Chandler letting loose, as Lieutenant Christy French berates Marlowe:
"It's like this with us, baby. We're coppers and everybody hates our guts. And as if we didn't have enough trouble, we have to have you. As if we didn't get pushed around enough by the guys in the corner offices, the City Hall gang, the day chief, the night chief, the Chamber of Commerce, His Honor the Mayor. ...We spend our lives turning over dirty underwear and sniffing rotten teeth. We go up dark stairways to get a gun punk with a skinful of hop and sometimes we don't get all the way up, and our wives wait dinner that night and all the other nights. We don't come home anymore. And nights we do come home, we come home so [expletive] tired, we can't eat or sleep or even read the lies the papers print about us. So we lie awake at night in a cheap house on a cheap street..."