Philip Marlowe is hired by a wealthy businessman to find his wife who supposedly eloped to Mexico with a lover. While investigating the couple’s isolated vacation home, a body is found in the nearby lake but it’s apparently not the missing woman’s.
This is a rather classic noir with all elements present: a femme fatale, corrupt policemen, infidelity, drugs, and, of course, murder. The L.A. heat is unbearable, and people’s emotions run as high as the temperature while trying to hide all sorts of secrets. This is smartly contrasted with the peace and relaxed life in the much cooler San Bernardino Mountains where part of the story takes place. The calm that imbues this place, however, is rather deceptive as the secrets are just as big as in the sweltering city. In general, what makes the book is the descriptive prose and the atmosphere created by it. It is like reading a movie; Chandler’s depiction of settings and people is so good that you can almost see the sweat run down someone’s neck or smell the distinct sandalwood perfume of the businessman’s secretary. The dialogues are also on point, and the dry wit in Marlowe’s narration is perfect.
The plot, on the other hand, is a bit of a letdown. It is overly complicated because there is such a thing as too many twists and turns, and this is what happens in this book. The ending as a whole is unsatisfactory because not only does it feel rushed but what happens to the murderer seemed rather dumb to me. On top of that, most of the characters are more or less stereotypes, like the bumbling sheriff, the pretty but dimwitted gigolo, the shady doctor, the brutish cop, and so on, although, to be fair, in some cases at least, first impressions can be deceiving. Still, a little more care and imagination in this regard would not have been amiss. However, there is definitely more good than bad, overall, and it is a fun and engrossing read.