The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler – Book Review

This is my penultimate Philip Marlowe novel and I am so happy with it, you guys.

The Little Sister is as self-reflective, exhausted and close to broken that I’ve seen Raymond Chandler’s PI get. He’s not having an easy time with what promised to be a simple enough missing person case, full of deceptive femme fatales, drugs, corpses and very angry cops. For once, Marlowe doesn’t get his teeth kicked in by the fellas at the local precinct, but it’s not for lack of desire on the part of certain of his new copper friends; makes for a nice change of pace, though, dunnit?

There’s an air to cynicism to The Little Sister which will stay on with you longer than you might be comfortable with; but it’s easy to relate to Chandler for underlining it. The almighty dollar is powerful indeed, folks. That’s a little something the cast of characters, no matter the societal class they belong to, no matter all else that might bind them together, are conscious of; worse than conscious, they’re ready to trod on any joint human relation if it means lining their pockets.

Philip Marlowe is the antithesis of that, a man who, despite his disillusionment with the world at large, has a strong moral backbone, a man unwilling to look the other way when injustice is being carried out. It’s his defining trait, and in the hardboiled world of the old-school crime thriller, it’s as good as you can hope for.

You have to admire Chandler, you have to. What he does with language, the force of his metaphors and flourishes is as much the reason behind the continued popularity of these novels as his plots and characters, perhaps more so. Reading him is like catching a whiff of asphalt fumes in a candy store; sweet as the prose is, it’ll always shock you, the things he comes up with:

Wonderful what Hollywood will do to a nobody. It will make a radiant glamour queen out of a drab little wench who ought to be ironing a truck driver’s shirts, a he-man hero with shining eyes and brilliant smile reeking of sexual charm out of some overgrown kid who was meant to go to work with a lunch-box. Out of a Texas car hop with the literacy of a character in a comic strip it will make an international courtesan, married six times to six millionaires and so blasé and decadent at the end of it that her idea of a thrill is to seduce a furniture-mover in a sweaty undershirt.

And on occasion, when he writes a line like this one: “She jerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me,” you know Chandler was a man who could take the piss out of himself, someone who knew how to keep the balance between serious and soul-crushing.

Ray Porter’s narration is, as ever, an easy 5/5. He is my Philip Marlowe, it’s as simple as that.

Few other paragraphs could beat this one for my favourite quote in the novel:

Philip Marlowe, 38, a private licence operator of shady reputation, was apprehended by police last night while crawling through the Ballona Storm Drain with a grand piano on his back. Questioned at the University Heights Police Station, Marlowe declared he was taking the piano to the Maharajah of Coot-Berar. Asked why he was wearing spurs, Marlowe declared that a client’s confidence was sacred. Marlowe is being held for investigation. Chief Hornside said police were not yet ready to say more. Asked if the piano was in tune, Chief Hornside declared that he had played the Minute Waltz on it in thirty-five seconds and so far as he could tell there were no strings in the piano. He intimated that someting else was. A complete statement to the press will be made within twelve hours, Chief Hornside said abruptly. Speculation is rife that Marlowe was attempting to dispose of a body.

Thanks for reading! Have a song to get you in the proper mood for a Marlowe story.

The Enemy by Lee Child – Book Review (Jack Reacher #08)

Child rarely goes back all the way to Reacher’s military career but this one tackles a pair of decisive moments for everyone’s favourite army policeman, one personal and the other one professional, both coinciding and intertwining in ways that change Reacher forever.

The Enemy sees Major Jack Reacher of the US Army welcoming the New Year posted in a military point in the middle of some rural state in the vastness of the States. A call comes through notifying him of the death of a two-star general at a motel nearby. Reacher has never seen a dead two-star before, he’s curious. Besides, you got a general dead thirty minutes away from a military base, you want to make sure nothing’s rotten.

But it’s a Jack Reacher novel, isn’t it, which means of course something isn’t right. Two-star looks like he had himself a bit of fun before the old ticker blew up. Seems a likely enough explanation – a general is as virtuous as the next soldier and often enough he’s plenty worse. Only, this general was heading to a conference and his briefcase is missing. In that briefcase? The agenda of the conference. Only, none of the other would-be attendants admit to this document’s existence. That’s when Reacher knows something is fishy…because if there’s one thing the army loves, it’s tightly-planned agendas.

What follows is an investigation that disillusions Reacher and changes his views on the one organisation that’s always been home to him – the U.S. army. The way this case develops, I’d be disillusioned too in his place – and I ain’t nowhere near as tough as that tall bastard.

On the personal front, we’ve got Reacher and his brother facing down a life without their mother, one hell of a tough French lady dying from late-stage cancer that’s eating I loved everything about this part of the plot – some fantastic revelations which shake the character of Reacher to the core at the worst possible time. Makes for great drama.

Lee Child’s unique brand of noir prose, solid supporting characters, fine antagonists and one hell of a mistery — what more can you want from a Reacher novel?

And do I even have to get into the narrator? When I read Reacher, I hear Jeff Harding’s voice in my head – his voice embodies the tough as nails military cop, if that makes any sense. He is brilliant! 5/5! 10/10! A hundred percent badassery!

Book Recommendation: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

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I enjoyed my time with Annihilation.

The plot of the novel takes place in Area X, a self-contained environment quite capable of winning the 2015 Nebula award for science fiction. More important, Area X is home to a mysterious tower that goes not up, but down into the ground. This tower houses unusual, even alien life. . . and other mysteries, besides.

Characters: Our lead is the biologist, a woman detached from the world. She is one part of a four-woman expedition into Area X, the twelfth known expedition so far. The previous expeditions all ended in failure.  The three other members of the team are the psychologist, the surveyor and the anthropologist.

No pressure.

The biologist is an unreliable narrator. Her actions are the drive of the story, and her descent into greater and greater isolation makes for a thrilling character journey. In a place that defies a person’s entire life, the biologist desperately needs a ‘slice of reality’, as someone on Goodreads said, to use as a bridge to understand just what the hell is going on.

Atmosphere: There really isn’t much I can tell you about this book without spoiling it. Then again, I’m not sure that to spoil it would take away from the tension. A lot of people who’ve posted opinions and reviews about Annihilation have called the title ‘horror’. I was never once scared. Rather, I’d make the argument that Vandermeer’s novel is a venture into the unsettling.

What this reminded me of, in a very peculiar way, was Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. That, too, wasn’t scary as much as it was profoundly weird and deeply fascinating.

The prose is wonderful, flowing easily and creating suspense with a masterful stroke. This is my first Vandermeer novel but his prose would be reason enough to investigate his titles further, even if I hadn’t liked this particular one (which I did).

Closing thoughts:

Annihilation is a very atmospheric novel, and the opening act to a trilogy which, I hear, doesn’t close quite as strong as it opens. Perhaps I’ll see. Truth be told, though, I’m not entirely sure I want to delve further into the mysteries of Area X. I quite like them as they are.

P.S. I just solved one of the mysteries the book offers, while writing this. You have to love books that offer you clues to a given question but don’t spell out the solution.

Thank you, friend who gave me this book, for giving me this book. It was a fun read. This one lies somewhere between sci-fi and mystery, in my opinion. You might also find it in the horror section, if your librarian looks like he scares easy.