The fifth full-length novel featuring Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe opens with the private investigator bored nearly to death when a young woman named Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas comes into the office and asks Marlowe to find her older brother, Orrin. Orrin came out to California and has recently disappeared. Naturally, all the folks back home are very worried.
Orfamay appears to be a timid young woman who has led a very sheltered life and who is like a fish out of water in California. Naturally, though, behind that shy and mousy exterior, there lurks a potentially very sexy and beautiful young woman. She seems desperate and down on her luck, especially what with with poor Ma and Pa back home in Kansas wondering what has become of their son, so Marlowe takes the case for a fee of twenty bucks and starts with Orrin's last known address, a seedy hotel in Bay City, a fictional suburb. The brother has left the hotel but before Marlowe can get out of the dump, someone will be stabbed with an ice pick and Marlowe will already be in deep trouble.
As is usually the case in these novels, the bodies will continue to pile up. There's murder, blackmail, drugs, sex and a plot that will become convoluted almost to the point of being indecipherable. But who cares? As always, one reads a Raymond Chandler novel not for the plot, but for the characters and the great dialogue and narrative descriptions as, for example, when we first meet Orfamay:
"She didn't have to open her mouth for me to know who she was. And nobody ever looked less like Lady Macbeth. She was a small, neat, rather prissy-looking girl with primly smooth brown hair and rimless glasses. She was wearing a brown tailor-made and from a strap over her shoulder hung one of those awkward-looking square bags that made you think of a Sister of Mercy taking first aid to the wounded. On the smooth brown hair was a had that had been taken from its mother too young. She had no make-up, no lipstick and no jewelry. The rimless glasses gave her that librarian's look."
Like all Raymond Chandler novels, this one is a great read and it's hard to imagine a fan of classic, hard-boiled crime novels that wouldn't love it.