A milestone in the genre, this novel demonstrated for the first time that hard-boiled fiction could serve as a vehicle for social comment and critique. While the apparent plot is slower paced and less metaphoric than Chandler's previous novels, the revealed plot shows him using his own life as a material, an autobiographical turn that prepared the way for Ross Macdonald.
Marlowe meets and befriends English expatriate Terry Lennox, a drunk who has been abandoned by his ex-wife Sylvia, at The Dancers Club. Months later he spots Lennox drunk again, runs him home, and sobers him up, giving him traveling money to Las Vegas. Lennox sends repayment and re-marries Sylvia, after which Marlowe shares an occasional drink with him: during one, Lennox accuses Sylvia of infidelity. He next appears at Marlowe's door in flight to Tijuana, apparently because he has killed her. Marlowe drives him there and stonewalls policemen Green and Dayton when he returns, spending time in jail. He refuses to cooperate with a lawyer sent by Sylvia's millionaire father, local magnate Harlan Potter.
Marlowe won't talk even after the D.A. says that Lennox wrote a full confession before shooting himself in Mexico. A reporter suggests to him that there is a cover-up, which is confirmed by calls from the lawyer and warnings from gangster Mendy Menendez, an old friend of Lennox, who explains that Lennox was captured by the Nazis during World War II. Marlowe gets a letter from Lennox, which waffles on his role in the murder and contains a $5,000 bill.
A second apparent plot begins when Howard Spencer, a publisher's representative, hires Marlowe to baby-sit hack novelist Roger Wade (Chandler's self-portrait). The alcoholic writer can't finish his novel and is missing, but his stunning blonde wife Eileen provides a note about "Dr. V" and details of Wade's stays at drunk farms. Marlowe gets information on these places from an old friend in a big agency and narrows his list to three suspects....
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