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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Little Sister

cover image By: Chandler, Raymond (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (750 - 1st printing)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 216: PS3505 .H3224 L4 1951
Contributor: J. Lukin


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Raymond Chandler Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California and Bay City, California (fictional suburb) Date of Publication: 1950  |  Original Date: 1949 Setting: urban; seedy hotels and rooming houses, Hollywood studios, police headquarters Motives: blackmail, murder, jealousy, madness Alternate Title: Marlowe

Plot Summary

Confusion reigns in this intricately plotted novel. A prudish young woman from Kansas comes into the office of private investigator Philip Marlowe, asking him to track down her wayward brother. Pursuing this seemingly simple case, Marlowe finds the brother's trail littered with corpses. In the vicinity of one such corpse, he meets a Hollywood actress in distress. She inspires his loyalty, and he sets about persuading her to hire him, in the process meeting a colorful gallery of film-industry characters. Making his best effort to fight the parties who are blackmailing the actress, Marlowe manages to run afoul of the police, a retired gangster, and a mob physician. He also has to resist a number of women who seek to seduce him for their own purposes. One of these women, a hot-blooded Mexican moll, holds the key to the various mysteries that have arisen. Marlowe saves only one of the various people he has set out to protect: the rest are lost to death, corruption, or madness.

Major Characters

Philip Marlowe adult male, near 40, tall, attractive, cynical, professional private investigator

Christy French middle-aged male, competent and intelligent but embittered police lieutenant

Orrin P. Quest adult male, 28, tall and thin, former pre-med, former engineering student, former aircraft builder, thug

Orfamay Quest adult female, 20, small, brunette, receptionist

Dolores Gonzalez adult female, wears black, affects a Mexican accent, an actress with mob connections

Steelgrave adult middle-aged male, thin, gambler and restaurateur who's come West to retire from organized crime

Dr. Vincent Lagardie middle-aged male, thin, dark, tense, a shady physician who's come down in the world

Mavis Weld adult female, blonde, a Hollywood actress on the verge of stardom, with dangerous friends and relatives

Mileaway Marston a.k.a. Dr. Hambleton, a.k.a. George W. Hicks, middle-aged white male, chunky, bald, small-time grifter

Jules Oppenheimer elderly male, Hollywood producer, dog lover

Level of Violence

three people shot to death, three stabbed to death (two have their spines severed by an icepick), one bites through his tongue in a fit of madness, two frustrated police officers lash out with their fists, one deprives a witness of sleep for a night. Violence is described with realism and disgust.


no sex is depicted, but various evil women's flirtations with Marlowe are described graphically. He resists such come-ons and claims no interest in a liaison with the only woman in the novel who's both honest and beautiful. Marlowe mentions the arrival of homosexuals in his list of the ways in which L.A. has deteriorated.

Gender Roles

traditional; women are either actresses or receptionists, but they tend to be less honest than the majority of the men introduced. The novel's chief femme fatale is prone to jealous rage and has the capacity to drive men mad.


all characters are European-American, with the exception of a woman who claims to come from Mexico and may indeed have Latin ancestry. She is depicted as hot-blooded and violently passionate. Marlowe expresses contempt for the ethnicity of a sycophantic Jewish character.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

social drinking; most characters smoke. A couple of thugs smoke marijuana. Marlowe is anaesthetized by a cyanide-laden cigarette.

Law Enforcement

The L.A.P.D. and the district attorney are honest, smart, efficient and highly sensitive to criticism. We briefly meet a thuggish Bay City cop. Marlowe explains the cop's bitterness: "Civilization had no meaning for them. All they saw of it was the failures, the dirt, the dregs, the aberrations, and the disgust."

Subject Headings

Marlowe, Philip/ Actresses/ California - Los Angeles/ California - Hollywood/ Detectives, Private/ Motion Pictures/ Murderers/ Police/ Bitterness/ Cynicism/ Rage/ Corruption/ Greed/ Insanity

Psychological Elements

mortal sins are in full force: two men are driven mad by lust (or is it love?), two characters (at least) are psychopathically greedy, two cops are full of suppressed rage, a betrayed woman will do anything to avenge her pride and sate her envy of her rival, the film industry caters to a gluttonous consumerism, Marlowe chides himself for intellectual sloth that leaves him a step or two behind the criminals, no better than a languid hotel detective. All this iniquity makes it hard for Marlowe to avoid descending into a bitter misanthropy, seeing Los Angeles as a swamp of moral decay, but he tries hard not to be devoured by cynicism.

Film Adaptations

Marlowe, 1969, MGM