The Big Sleep is the first novel by Raymond Chandler to feature the iconic Philip Marlowe.
Quick Review (read on for the full review)
Fast-paced and atmospheric, The Big Sleep is a complicated but gripping read full of vivid descriptions and sharp dialogue. 4.5 / 5
Summary (from Amazon)
Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is hired by wheelchair-bound General Sternwood to discover who is indulging in some petty blackmail. A weary, old man, Sternwood just wants the problem to go away. But Marlowe finds he has his work cut out just keeping Sternwood’s wild, devil-may-care daughters out of trouble as they prowl LA’s dirtiest and darkest streets. And pretty soon, he’s up to his neck in hoodlums and corpses . . .
This book is full of quotable lines, but these two are my favourites:
I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be.
“A nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy”…
This is my first time actually reading anything by Raymond Chandler. I’m not entirely sure how it has taken me this long, given my love of detective fiction. Prior to this, I had only listened to a couple of BBC dramatisations for radio, where Toby Stephens played Philip Marlowe – which I enjoyed very much.
When it comes to hard-boiled detective fiction, Raymond Chandler is not only in a class of his own but sets the standard for the genre. He is also responsible for a number of the common tropes we readers expect in this type of detective story today. His powerful style and vivid descriptions bring glisty and gritty Los Angeles and California of the 1930s jumping off the page, revealing the dark underbelly of Hollywood society.
Fast-paced, The Big Sleep doesn’t relent for a minute. Marlowe is a good guy with a sharp tongue. His dialogue is full of wit and peppered with smart remarks – something that not everyone he runs into finds endearing. Some find it insulting, others don’t quite know how to react to him.
One of the stand-out aspects of Chandler’s writing is his ability to capture a character’s personality, and there are plenty of characters to meet along the way. Not many of them are likeable and it’s hard to feel much of anything towards them when you are given a glimpse of the corruption all around them.
Marlowe, of course, is the star of the show. Though flawed, he is the hero of the piece, a good guy in a corrupt town full of shady characters.
The story is complicated, but in a good way. The reader understands as much of what is going on as Marlowe himself. The language is fantastic, and the atmosphere it conjures is evocative. Slang is a prominent part of the dialogue, some of which I was familiar with, for example, referring to women as “dames”, but “frails” was new to me.
I am eager to read the second of Chandler’s novels to feature Philip Marlowe, Farewell, My Lovely.
4.5 / 5