“The play was over. I was sitting in an empty theater. The curtain was down and projected on it dimly I could see the action. But already some of the actors were getting vague and unreal.”
Chandler writes about the detective and his city as opposed to detection as many classic mystery novelists. Marlowe’s city is Los Angeles, a place where dreams are made and broken. This quote really hit me from The Little Sister. To me it sums of the ambivalence of Los Angeles, especially in comparison to other cities. Everything has a tinge of the unreal. Everyone is an actor and everywhere is a stage. It’s hard to tell where reality and fiction cross and intertwine. Life is a movie set with a script that is rarely deviated from. This theme resonates throughout the novel. Many characters comment on casting of characters in the novel and lines they feel they must say. For example, when Mavis Weld, one of the main female characters in the novel and an actress, is talking to Marlowe she says: “I can’t think of any lines tonight.” And Marlowe replies, “It’s the technicolor dialogue.” Meaning this is real life, not a movie set. The line has been blurred and crossed and Mavis Weld wasn’t even aware of it. She can’t rely on a script to keep her steady.
This novel doesn’t have as much plot as some of the other Marlowe mysteries, instead focusing more on Marlowe himself, his relationships, and his relationship to the city he loves and hates. Marlowe is particularly down in this novel looking for connection in all the wrong places. One thing I’ve always loved about this detective is he doesn’t solve mysteries because of his superior intellect. He manages to solve cases through dogged determination.
All of Chandler’s characters have this kind of determination in one way or another. They live hard and die hard. They live wildly and eventually must pay the price. There isn’t much sunshine in Marlowe’s world. The Little Sister plays up the trope of the femme fatale more than any other Chandler novel I’ve read thus far. The women in this novel as in charge. They are the puppeteers pulling the strings. They hold the power and remain in the background to play their scenes.
I’m not going to give away the reveal, it’s pretty darn awesome, but will say you won’t be disappointed. The Little Sister is a novel about the underbelly of society and the blurring of lines. There are gangsters, Hollywood screen sirens, and down on their luck cops. Marlowe doesn’t set the world to rights and find the sun, but he does wait around for the finale.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!