Who writes like this? “It’s a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization.” OR “Mom is in front of her princess dresser trying to paint the suitcases out from under her eyes.” OR “Beyond the swing door is a dark dining room with an open end to a glassed-in lounge into which the moonlight poured like water through the floodgates of a dam.” Raymond Chandler, that’s who, in I’m assuming one of his lesser known Philip Marlowe books, The Little Sister.
I loved every second of this book. I’ll admit the plot and characters are a little muddled, but who cares with writing like this. I could go on and on citing examples of his prose that I think are fantastic.
Briefly, Orfamay Quest (what a name-Orfamay) picks Marlowe’s name out of the phone book for so many irrelevant reasons. She has come from Manhattan, Kansas that is, in search of her brother, Orrin, who has not written home in weeks. She can only pay Marlowe $20, but he accepts the challenge, against his better judgment. This simple search ends with several murders, incriminating photos, and conniving damsels appearing to be in distress.
Chandler paints a picture like no other author, be it a picture of a location or a person or a situation. We use the word ‘riveting’ so often, but in this case that is the only way to describe his writing. You need to read his books slowly to savor every word but you can’t because you need to find out what happens.
Another thrill of reading this book was the book itself. I got the original 1950 Pocket Book paperback version with the above cover art. The paper was thin and fragile. The page edges were red. The spine was in great shape so I didn’t want to bend the book too much. I needed to preserve its condition. I carried it around in a small envelope so that it wouldn’t get crushed in my messenger bag. Call me Crazy. But that, too, is the fun of reading some books.
You probably know I’m a fan of mysteries from the 1920s through 50s and The Little Sister is a prime example of this genre. And the cover art is just great, as well.