Review (Amazon): When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.
My Review (Spoilers!):
Executive Summary: familiar
We picked this book as our mystery for the year, however, I’d say that it’s not so much a mystery as it is a detective story. Apparently this book was the start of the noir genre, and reading it after being exposed to so many stories which have used this theme, it seems a little cliche. It was written in 1939 so it is obvious that it was what created these cliches, but it is still strange to read.
The detective/main character of the book is Phillip Marlowe, and this was his first book appearance. He’s a sharp talking, scotch drinking, lady ogling sort of guy. You know the type. He’s the original. He’s hired by General Sherwood to find out who is blackmailing Sherwood’s youngest daughter Carmen. Sherwood is on his death bed, and is very wealthy. When Marlowe meets with him, Sherwood mentions that his older daughter, Vivian, was married to Rusty Regan, but Regan has disappeared. Marlowe likes Sherwood and agrees to take the case of investigating the man who is blackmailing Carmen. Carmen has been blackmailed before, by a man named Joe Brody, but this time it’s by a bookseller named Arthur Geiger. When Marlowe’s leaving the house, he meets Vivian who is convinced that he has been hired to find Regan.
Marlowe heads to Geiger’s bookstore, and realizes after asking the clerk, Agnes, a few questions that the book store is definitely a front. While he is there, a man came in and dropped off a package which was then delivered to the back of the store. Marlowe follows the man and realizes that the store is a front for pornographic books. Marlowe stakes out in front of the house to wait for Geiger and eventually sees him enter and eventually leave the store. He then proceeds to follow him to his home. Eventually a woman pulls up to the house and goes inside. The car window is open allowing Marlowe to determine that it’s Carmen’s car. Marlowe continues to wait, and he sees a flash of light and hears an odd scream from the house. He goes to the door and as he’s about to knock, he hears three shots fire out followed by footsteps running away.
Marlowe lets himself into the house where he finds Geiger dead, and Carmen naked and completely dazed. There is a camera set up pointed directly at Carmen although it has no film in it. The flash of light Marlowe saw was obviously the camera, and the shots were someone’s response to it. Marlowe dressed Carmen and takes her home and then walks back to Geiger’s. When he returns, the body is gone. He takes a little time investigating the house, but the only real thing of interest is Geiger’s notebook of customers.
The next morning, Marlowe is awakened by a phone call from a cop friend to let him know that one of the Sherwood’s cars is being pulled up from the pier. And there’s a guy inside. Marlowe immediately assumes it’s Regan so he heads down to see. He finds that it’s the Sherwood’s chauffeur.
Marlowe heads back to Geiger’s shop to talk to Agnes. He asks if Geiger’s in, and she stammers and tells him that Geiger’s out of town. He notices the boy who was driving Geiger’s car loading some boxes of books into a truck, so he gets a taxi to tail them and finds out that the boxes are going to someone named Brody. He heads back to his office where he finds Vivian awaiting him. She continues to press Marlowe about why her father hired him, but he doesn’t relent. She then shows him the envelope that she received of the picture of Carmen from the previous night. It accompanied a phone call asking for $5000 (~$85000 today). They discuss what happened with the chauffeur, but Vivian doesn’t know anything. It wasn’t his night off, and she was gambling at Eddie Mars’ casino. Everyone thinks that her husband ran off with Eddie’s wife Mona which is why he’s nice to her.
He returns to Geiger’s house where he finds Carmen snooping around. Carmen tells Marlowe that it was definitely Joe Brody who shot Geiger, but she’s just playing along. While they are there, Eddie Mars arrives. They talk about what happened to Geiger, Eddie playing along in hypotheticals to see what Mars knows.
From there, Marlowe goes back to Brody’s and gets Brody to talk by offering up the customer list. Once he’s inside, he realizes that Brody and Agnes are in on it together. Marlowe’s pressing him hard about the pictures of Carmen when she arrives there too. Between the two of them, they manage to get the pictures from Brody. Carmen leaves and Marlowe questions Brody a bit more to learn that he blackmailed Vivian because he’d already hit up their dad before and he’s short on cash. The chauffeur found out about the blackmail and because of his crush on Carmen, went to Geiger’s and shot him. Brody was there and followed the chauffeur, but didn’t see how he ended up off the end of the pier (No one knows who killed the chauffeur or whether it was suicide.) and took the opportunity to take over Geiger’s dirty business. As Brody, Marlowe, and Agnes are wrapping up the story, there’s another knock on the door. Brody answers the door thinking it is Carmen and is shot twice. Marlowe races out the door and after the perp, eventually finding the boy from Geiger’s. Turns out he was Geiger’s gay lover who kept a secret room at Geiger’s house. (seems quite scandalous for 1939).
Marlowe instructs him back to Geiger’s house where they find Geiger’s body which the boy hid to keep him protected. He believed that Brody had killed Geiger so he decided to take matters into his own hands. Marlowe reaches out to his police friend who takes over from there.
And then with the real mystery over, Marlowe decides to look into what happened to Rusty Regan which is where the story gets a bit confusing in my opinion. He goes to talk to his cop friends to find out what came out of the missing person investigation which isn’t much. No one saw him take his car out and the only lead is that Eddie Mars’ wife also went missing. So Marlowe goes to speak to Mars. Vivian is at the casino winning big.