Marlowe shows up at the Sternwood estate to undertake a quickie investigation into an apparent blackmail attempt (and, hopefully, to suppress the matter) at the behest of a dying old man who is clinging to life even as he angles to protect the two miscreant daughters of his twilight years. Both daughters are wild and careless of others, and prone to fall in with bad company . . . and to do even worse things. But Marlowe soon learns that the trail to the putative blackmailer he must follow leads inevitably from murder to murder, while the one person who means the most to old man Sternwood still hovers, missing, in the background. What happened to ex-bootlegger Rusty Regan and why did he take a powder when he had everything going for him including the beautiful elder daughter, and all the money she stood to inherit, of General Sternwood?
As Marlowe follows one trail into another, the deaths get messier, the cops get angrier and Marlowe approaches his own brush with mortality at the hands of a deadly gangland enforcer. The dark and decadent ambience of mid-twentieth century L.A. hangs like a sullen rain cloud over this entire tale as Marlowe fumbles about, trying to figure the real mystery behind the series of apparently coincidental killings he is faced with until, in the end, he confronts the big sleep that awaits us all.
This tale seemed rambling and almost accidental in its construction, just like real life, albeit with a tad more style. And it kept me hooked and satisfied, like a good drag on a newly lit cigarette in a noirish Bogart flick, right through to the end. I'm ready for another.
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