The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler. Houghton Mifflin (1949), 249 pp.
Orfamay Quest, a doctor’s receptionist from Kansas, wants Los Angeles P. I. Philip Marlowe to find her missing brother, Orrin. Marlowe can’t quite get a read on her. Is she as naïve and straitlaced as she wants him to believe, or do her flashes of flirtatiousness signal a different person below the surface? In order to find out he takes the case and heads off to Orrin’s last address. There he meets the drunken apartment manager, Lester B. Clausen, who seems to be involved in dealing drugs. Marlowe goes to examine Orrin’s old room and has an unproductive conversation with someone calling himself George W. Hicks. He returns to speak with the manager but finds that the man has been murdered with an expertly placed ice pick. More corpses are likely to show up before Marlowe completes his investigation.
This is sometimes considered Chandler’s Hollywood novel. While it’s true that one of its main characters is a movie actress, the story has little to do the film industry. Instead, the author has created another detective yarn in the same style of his earlier books. Philip Marlowe, upright but world-weary, returns with his droll observations and funny one-liners. His narrative style is enough to keep the novel entertaining. Which is a good thing because the plot has some flaws. It’s so complicated that readers may not be able to make sense of its many revelations. Several characters turn out to have come from Cleveland, for example, but the reasons their origin generates lethal behavior remain murky. In addition, the lengthy scenes with police officers, while filled with tough-guy banter, clog the narrative and lead nowhere. Chandler fans are likely to enjoy the book anyway, but readers looking for a carefully honed mystery may be disappointed.