A little less "Chandleresque" than his early novels (fewer clever similes, less machine-gun dialogue, etc), but superior in pretty much every way, with the gravitas and pathos of the best literary fiction. Every impeccably crafted sentence carries great weight and sadness. Philip Marlowe is one of American literature's greatest creations and this book is the best exploration of his character: a world-weary moralist, a displaced romantic, a sentimental cynic, a quietly tragic hero who follows a personal code at the expense of what most of us would call happiness. This book is about a bunch of things: friendship, alcoholism, Los Angeles, crime, upper-class hypocrisy, postwar malaise. But what lingers most is Marlowe's desperate battle to stay human in a corrupt and uncaring society. It barely qualifies as a genre entry at all, but still: if you only read one detective novel in your life, read this book.