RAYMOND CHANDLER – The Little Sister. Philip Marlowe #5. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1949. Reprinted many times.

   A mousy little young lady, Miss Orfamay Quest from smalltown Kansas, hires Philip Marlowe to find her long lost brother. She’s terribly proper and is afraid her brother may have succumbed to the sinful temptations of Los Angeles.

   The story’s as convoluted as Chandler’s usually are. But the patter is, for my money, the most hilarious of any of Marlowe’s adventures.

   At first she’s not sure about Marlowe: “I don’t think I’d care to employ a detective that uses liquor in any form. I don’t even approve of tobacco.”

   “Would it be alright if I peeled an orange?” Marlowe responds.

   Marlowe’s got nothing better to do, so he takes her pitifully proffered twenty dollars and gets to work on it — but not before getting Miss Quest’s description of her brother. “He used to wear a little blond mustache but Mother made him cut it off.”

   Marlowe: “Don’t tell me. The minister needed it to stuff a cushion.”

   Marlowe meets up with some heavies at brother Quest’s last known address. He takes a skiv and pistol from the first guy he sees, who says: “Maybe we meet again some day soon. When I got a friend with me.”

   Marlowe: “Tell him to wear a clean shirt…. And lend you one.” “What happens to people who get tough with you? You make them hold your toupee?”

   He meets up with a Hollywood femme fatale “almost as hard to get as a haircut.” The walls in her apartment are “monkey-bottom blue”. When she pleads with Marlowe that she’s lonely, he suggests she “call an escort bureau.”

   As usual, it turns out that Marlowe’s client is full of shit. Miss Quest knows precisely where her brother is all along and she’s just trying to squeeze her way into his blackmail scheme against their much more successful Hollywood starlet of a half-sister. They’ve got some dirt on good old sis that ties her to the mob and they want to bleed her for all she’s worth.

   Invited to join in the blackmail, Marlowe demurs: “I’d never get anywhere as a blackmailer. I just don’t have the engaging personality.”

   There’s murder and drugs and backstabbing galore, and Marlowe comes as close as ever to imprisonment and losing his license.

   Marlowe metes out justice in his own idealistic ways, protecting the innocent at his own peril, while doing his best to make sure that the guilty get theirs, whether via the law or other more karmic means.

   The book is one of Marlowe’s more neglected and maligned. But for me, it’s one of his best.