This is the sixth and last of the full-length novels that Raymond Chandler wrote featuring his iconic detective, Philip Marlowe. It's also the most personal in that Chandler seems to have based two of the characters, Terry Lennox and Roger Wade, at least in part on himself.
At the book opens, Marlowe meets a man named Terry Lennox outside of a nightclub. Lennox is very drunk and his date drives off and leaves him. Marlowe, being a good samaritan, takes Lennox to his own home, sobers him up and then drives him home to the mansion that Lennox shares with his very promiscuous and extremely wealthy wife. On the basis of this incident, Marlowe and Lennox strike up a friendship of sorts and occasionally get together for drinks. Then one night, Lennox turns up and asks Marlow to give him a ride to Mexico, no questions asked.
Well, what are friends for?
Marlowe gives Lennox a ride and from that point, things generally go to hell in a handbasket. It's very difficult to say anything else about the plot of the novel without giving things away that the reader will want to find out for him or herself. This is, though, one of Chandler's best novels, full of the social commentary and great prose for which Chandler was so deservedly famous. This plot is actually a little less convoluted than some of the others and it's fun to watch it unfold. I finished the book this time around, after reading the other Chandler novels in order, regretting even more than ever the fact that there are only six of these novels along with a number of short stories. I could have used a lot more.
On a side note, this novel was published in 1953 and is set sometime around 1950. It was finally filmed by Robert Altman in 1973, starring Elliot Gould as Marlowe and the story is set in the early 1970s rather than the early 1950s. A lot of people like the movie a lot, but I've seen it twice and have never been able to warm up to it. Given the way that Humphrey Bogart inhabited the role of Marlowe and really made it his own, I just couldn't buy Gould as Marlowe. Also, Marlowe, who seemed to perfectly belong to the late 1940s and early '50s, seemed out of place in the 1970s--almost anachronistic. For my part, then, when I need a Philip Marlowe film fix, I'll stick with the Bogart version of "The Big Sleep," and I'm sure I'll be coming back to this and the other novels again and again in the coming years.