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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..."

Highly recommended.
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On the 50th anniversary of the death of Raymond Chandler five of his novels have been re-released with the original artwork on the covers from the first UK edition, onto these hardback editions. I have read this story many times before but when I saw this one I had a good excuse to replace my battered well thumbed copy.

Philip Marlowe is approached by Miss Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas to locate her missing brother. A relatively simple case you would think, but this becomes one that Marlowe wished he never took on. From something easy Marlowe finds himself embroiled in a very complicated case. With jealousy, greed, blackmail, murder, film stars and a gangster Marlowe is up to his eyes in the thick of it. Marlowe really has to keep his wits about him as he tries to finding the missing person.

Full of great one-liners and deadpan humour Chandler once again showed how he could take pulp crime noir and make it a piece of literary art. If you have never read Chandler before now is a good a time as any to start.
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I think Raymond Chandler was a truly great writer of English and at his best a truly great novelist. Sadly, this isn't one of his great novels.

At his best Marlowe is tough, certainly, but he is also a thoughtful, moral and humane man. His meditative reflections on things are insightful and witty and although they're sometimes very world-weary, there is a sense of decency and sometimes compassion to them. He takes no nonsense from anyone and is quite often provocatively rude, but he has genuine sympathy for people like General Sternwood in The Big Sleep and Anne Riordan in Farewell My Lovely, for example, and his befriending of Terry Lennox and its consequences in The Long Goodbye are genuinely touching. However, in The Little Sister there is a pretty unremitting tide of jaded cynicism, unredeemed by much in the way of humanity.

Chandler is plainly disgusted by much of what he saw and experienced as a Hollywood screenwriter and is attacking it here - which is fair enough - but the unrelenting nastiness and sarcasm much of the time in The Little Sister isn't really worthy of such a great writer. Dialogue, too, is too often reduced to interchangeable tough guys trading wisecracks, rather than the individual, realistic voices sprinkled with brilliant lines which he produced at his best. There are none of the superbly drawn more minor characters he creates in other novels, like Jim Patton, Eddie Prue or Lieutenant Nulty, to name just three which spring immediately to mind. The similes are still there, of course, but seldom of the quality of "he was as thin as an honest alibi" or "I felt like an amputated leg." Marlowe's interactions with women are for the most part downright unpleasant as, one after another, they throw themselves at him...and so on.

I first read The Little Sister over forty years ago. In that time I have re-read Chandler's five truly great novels at least half-a-dozen times each but haven't gone back to The Little Sister until now, and I have been reminded of why. It's not actively bad, but it's no better than a lot of average hard-boiled detective fiction of the period. For a Chandler devotee it's a disappointment; I'm glad to have reminded myself of it, but I probably won't be bothering again. Other devotees will want to read it, of course, but if you're new to Chandler, my advice is to skip The Little Sister and to start with one of these instead - they are genuine classics and immensely enjoyable:
The Big Sleep The Big Sleep
Farewell, My Lovely Farewell, My Lovely
The High Window The High Window: Classic Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction
The Lady In The Lake The Lady in the Lake
The Long Goodbye The Long Good-bye
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VINE VOICEon 4 March 2012
Sleazy, dark, corrupt, fascinating, amoral and that's just Dolores Gonzales! Chandler hits top form again as he features a Hollywood 'reeking with sex', beyond all moral laws, in another bewildering plot ostensibly about little Orfamay's missing big brother.

Now aged 38, Marlowe feels 'jaded and old' from a lifetime of 'knocking on doors of cheap hotels that nobody bothered to open'. He still manages to be the undisputed California wisecrack champion; 'I'll make the gags, you tell the story'.

Chandler has a cynical attitude to the post-war world and how it has changed America. He loathes, 'California, the department store state. The most of everything and the best of nothing'. He despises the impact on Los Angeles 'once the Athens of America' now 'a neon-lighted slum'.

Thankfully, the homophobia of his earlier novels is toned down whilst Marlowe's relationship with the LAPD is back on an ambiguous path.

I was delighted that the Marlowe/Chandler imposters who masqueraded in 'The Lady in The Lake' were replaced by the real thing.

My only reservation is that I agree with Marlowe that the plot was, 'too complicated' and 'my head was dizzy with figuring it out'. What a shame that I may have to read it all again! I shall be forced to revisit the sizzling Mavis Weld and the 'as exclusive as a mailbox' Dolores.
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on 4 December 2015
Despite it's 1960's theme I adore the the film "Marlowe", which was released in 1969 and starred James Garner and had a great supporting cast that included Gayle Hunnicutt, Bruce Lee, Carol O'Connor, the one and only Rita Moreno, and Jackie Coogan et al. I first saw it on TV in the 1970's shortly after my parents had upgraded from a rental B&W TV set to a rental colour TV set. The film was brill and when I found out it was based on Chandler's book "The Little Sister" I became hooked.

In the B&W TV years & then later colour TV years I always watched and thoroughly enjoyed those movies built around Chandler's writing. Bogey & Bacall in "The Big Sleep", Dick Powell in "Farewell My Lovely", Robert Montgomery in "Lady in the Lake" (uniquely filmed in 1st person viewpoint) etc, and thats when I started buying his entire collection of novels and collections of short stories. My collection was complete and over the years I read and re-read all of the books, absorbing all of the stories (even the pre-Marlowe short stories that featured such characters as a hotel detective).

Just over 2 years ago myself and my wife moved house and guess what happened. Finally unpacked all packing boxes and I've lost the entire book collection (it may have been accidently left at a charity shop along with other items that weren't required when we moved, or might even have been left in a bin - I'll never know). The task for me now is to rebuild my collection from scratch.

My 3rd purchase (1st via amazon) is "The Little Sister". A brilliant novel with a very clever plot and a superb denouement. The way the book ends leaves me wanting more and thats such a good feeling. You almost want to complete the story arc to your own satisfaction but Chandler purposely ends the story in that particular way, and it's so utterly mesmerising. A message to Raymond Chandler from beyond the grave. I salute you and I thank you so very much.
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on 3 August 2011
"I hung up. It was a step in the right direction, but it didn't go far enough. I ought to have locked the door and hid under the desk."
-- from The Little Sister

The Little Sister is the fifth of Raymond Chandler's novels featuring the definitive hardboiled PI Philip Marlowe.

Orfamay Quest, a "small, neat, rather prissy-looking girl with primly smooth brown hair and rimless glasses" from Manhattan, Kansas is looking for a detective and Philip Marlowe is the lucky man. Orfamay, has come to Los Angeles to search for her older brother Orrin, who has recently come out to work as an engineer for the Cal-Western Aircraft Company in nearby Bay City. However he has stopped writing to Orfamay and their mother, so she has come out, during her holiday, to look for him. Despite giving Marlowe few leads with which to work and a mere 20 dollars, Marlowe agrees to take the job.

Marlowe's search for Orrin, leads him into the world of movie starlets, gangsters, suspicious cops and corpses with ice-picks jammed in their necks.

The writing is, as ever with Chandler, descriptive and evocative but also humorous.

"Raymond Chandler is a master."
--The New York Times

"Raymond Chandler was one of the finest prose writers of the twentieth century. . . . Age does not wither Chandler's prose. . . . He wrote like an angel."
--Literary Review

For those who like Chandler's 'Marlowe' books the following is a list of his works:

The Big Sleep: A Philip Marlowe Mystery (Penguin Fiction) (1939)
Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
The High Window: A Philip Marlowe Mystery (1942)
The Lady in the Lake (A Philip Marlowe Novel) (1943)
The Little Sister: A Philip Marlowe Mystery (1949)
The Long Good-bye (1953)
Playback (1958)
Trouble is My Business (a collection of short stories featuring Philip Marlowe. Originally published before The Big Sleep between 1934-1939)
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I wrote recently about an omnibus edition of Chandler's novels; this is the one that was missing. All of Raymond Chandlers detective books are excellent and you would be hard pushed to choose one that stands out beyond the rest; each have their qualities, but few are as hard hitting and as dark as this one. The story involves the search for a missing brother, instigated by his little sister. Early on, Phillip Marlowe's suspicions are raised and he hustles himself a Hollywood starlet, in the making, as a client: giving nothing away, the plot is involved and eventually reaches it conclusion with all loose ends tidied up, but no-one escapes from the critical eye that cynically dissects the post-war era and Hollywood and what the City of Los Angeles is becoming - old values gone and the new given over to the selling of sex - in the movie industry, in relationships between people, for the purposes of making a buck, or a lot of bucks, depending where you are in the food chain. This is the darkness, a world weary detective who has seen too much and likes too little of what he sees now, making the whole weary business mean and sordid: no-one comes out of it unscathed. Despite the darkness, this is not a gloomy story; it has pace and action, with written descriptions that make the time and place real. Not to be missed; if you haven't read it, I encourage you to do so and if you haven't got it, get it - it is worth reading again.
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on 11 September 2013
A classic crime and detective novel from the 1940's, but it's still hugely readable and entertaining even now. Some things never change - and the criminals, bad guys, gamblers, corrupt policemen and beautiful women Marlow encounters seem timeless. I read this in 2 sittings and immediately ordered more. Chandlers Philip Marlow is a great character, always just about managing to be a good guy, but only just sometimes, a hard boiled detective who's comfortable in Los Angeles seedy underworld, but who's got his own kind of moral code. A strength of character and integrity greater than those around him. Chandlers one of these authors that can develop a character in a sentence, and the one liners and dialogue are immense, there's hardly a passage that isn't quotable and the characters jump off the page.
Nevertheless, its not just the great characters and snappy one liners, the plot is pacey and exciting and there's a nice twist at the end. Buy one of Chandler's books and it's a cert you'll read them all. I actually quite envy anyone who'll be reading Raymond Chandler for the first time, he's head and shoulders above the rest.
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on 1 March 2014
I'm not sure I followed all the twists and turns of the plot, but just about enough to keep up with the story. Like many of Chandler's readers, I suspect, I read him primarily because of the sheer brilliance and poetry of his language - his ability to capture a scene or a character or an expression. His profusion of similes are in a class of their own. e.g. "She laughed. I guess it was a silvery tinkle where she was. It sounded like somebody putting away saucepans where I was." e.g. "A smile picked delicately at the corners of her lips, very slowly like a child trying to pick up a snowflake."

There are one or two minor irritations. I find it tiresome that almost every female character falls instantly in love with Marlowe, but perhaps that's just jealousy...

This is one of Chandler's great works. I might read it again one day to try and find out what it was all about.
And then a third time, just for the language.
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on 10 December 2009
Having only got around to reading the novels after many years of watching the films, these books are an absolute treat. The words and thoughts on the page just have more impact than when they are spoken. I found myself re-reading sentences over and over.
The language is just brilliant and I can only think of Elmore Leonard who is even in the same class when it comes to crime fiction. Despite being set 50+ years ago they seem very contemporary and not all all past their time.
I would recommend all this series and to read them in order.
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