Marlowe is hired to meet a train arriving from out-of-state and follow one of the passengers to find out where she will be staying. He has a bad feeling about the job from the start, particularly since the client refuses to say who the woman is or why the client is interested in her whereabouts. It's not long before things get complicated, but Marlowe sticks with it — maybe it's because he's still a sucker for a beautiful woman in trouble, maybe it's just because the only way he'll ever find out what the hell's going on will be if he digs up the answers himself.
They say history repeats itself. Maybe this time things will work out better. There's always a first time.
This novel contains examples of:
- Driven to Suicide: The night shift garage attendant at the Casa del Poniente hotel commits suicide after being forced to help cover up the death of Larry Mitchell.
- Follow That Car: While Marlowe is tailing Betty Mayfield, she gets in a taxi; Marlowe gets in another and asks the driver to follow. The driver is initially reluctant, but once Marlowe persuades him by showing his detective license (and the color of his money), he goes one better: since Betty's taxi belongs to the same taxi firm, he radios dispatch to find out where it's going and gets Marlowe there first, ready to pick up the tail when Betty arrives.
- Gold Digger: Larry Mitchell makes a living by hanging out in resort hotels and picking up rich girlfriends to sponge off.
- Locked Room Mystery: Larry Mitchell's body on a hotel balcony that he couldn't have climbed up to, and the occupant of the room is insistent that she never let him in that way. It turns out that he fell from the floor above.
- Newspaper-Thin Disguise: While tailing Betty Mayfield, Marlowe spends some time watching her from behind a newspaper he's pretending to read.
- The One That Got Away: Linda Loring from The Long Goodbye. It's a year and a half later, but Marlowe isn't over her and keeps being reminded of her. At the end of the novel, she phones him to admit that she's not over him, either.
- Reading Lips: Marlowe gets some useful information from a deaf old man who hangs out in the hotel lobby people-watching. He tells Marlowe that some of what he's learned (including how he learned enough about Marlowe to decide on approaching him) is because people don't realize he can read their lips.
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Marlowe has a scare while he's sneaking into the hotel at night:
- The night man was looking right at me. [...] he wore glasses and the light shone hard on the glasses.
- It turns out to be a subversion: the night man is harmless, and when Marlowe gets closer it becomes apparent that the shiny glasses are hiding the fact that he's sleeping on the job.
- This Is Reality: The cab driver's initial response to Marlowe's request to Follow That Car is that that sort of thing only happens in books.