A change of scenery as Marlowe heads out of the city and into the hills in a search for a missing person. Perhaps inevitably, what he finds is a corpse. But there is nothing inevitable about the rest of the story. All the usual elements are there, but they are woven into something new and the differences in setting provide a refreshing contrast to earlier works.
Although written much more quickly than the previous novel, it does not show. Chandler brings the same level of professionalism to this work as to all the rest, but it does mark a change in his life. His first four novels were written in a five year period. There were only three more completed in the last sixteen years of his life. True, he produced some good work for the movies, but the burst of energy and anger at the hypocrisy in society which produced the early novels had been spent.
The complexity of the plot required an explanation at the end which is perhaps a slight disappointment. Anyone reading the novel with care (and, of course, it is a book that can be re-read) will follow the twists and turns, but it is handled better than in most novels and whilst it slows the pace, it does not create an anti-climax.
The writing has also matured. Chandler was a vivid writer from the start, but his descriptions of the lake and its community are extremely well done (Marlowe’s several brief encounters with deer are both amusing and pin sharp in their accuracy. But whilst the contrast between rural and urban life is pointed, there is no dewy eyed romanticism. It’s not the scenery that commits murder, it’s the people.
With an end that fittingly marks what would be the last Marlowe novel for some time; this is yet another fine work that uses a specific genre to explore the universal verities of human existence.