Penguin, mm pb, 254 p.
Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is working for the Sternwood family. Old Man Sternwood, crippled and wheelchair-bound, is being given the squeeze by a blackmailer and he wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. But with Sternwood’s two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA’s seedy backstreets, Marlowe’s got his work cut out – and that’s before he stumbles over the first corpse…Raymond Chandler is recognized as having a strong influence on many of the detective stories written since, so I was curious to try a proper hard-boiled novel for myself, and The Classics Circuit Golden Age of Detective Fiction Tour was the perfect push to actually do so.
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.The Big Sleep introduces us to the tough and cynical private eye, Philip Marlowe as he uncovers murder, blackmail, pornography, organized crime, and plenty of other seedy endeavors. He isn’t terribly likable, and neither are any of the other characters for that matter. It’s a very macho story filled with beautiful, weak women surrounded by chain-smoking, hard-drinking tough guys.
The strength of the book lies in Chandler’s wonderful setting of the scene. The corrupt, L.A. underworld is vividly portrayed, with the sleazy, noir atmosphere almost a character in its own right. Chandler also had quite the clever, entertaining way with words. As Ian Rankin says in the short introduction to the Penguin edition that I read, he is the king of the descriptive one-liner.
“She bit her lip and turned her head a little and looked at me along her eyes. Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain.”I have to admit that I had some problems though with the overall storytelling and plot, which I found rather disjointed, and messy. And especially with the slang. All of which did affect my enjoyment somewhat as it left me often confused, and kept me from really getting into story. I suppose they did, but I also couldn’t help wonder if people really did talk that way then, and if so, my how the language has changed!
“A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.”
‘You got good sense. You and me’ll go out and talk to her. All I want is to find out is she dummying up on you, kid. If it’s the way you say it is, everything is jakeloo. You can put the bite on the peeper and be on your way. No hard feelings?’Overall I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I’d hoped, but it was still worth reading for the experience. I’m also curious to perhaps try one of Dashiell Hammett’s books now, as Chandler was heavily influenced by Hammett and they are often jointly referred to as the masters of hard-boiled detective fiction.
‘No,’ Harry Jones said. ‘No hard feelings, Canino.’
‘Fine. Let’s dip the bill. Got a glass?’ The purring was now as false as an usherette’s eyelashes and as slippery as a watermelon seed. A drawer was pulled open. Something jarred on wood. A chair squeaked. A scuffing sound on the floor. ‘This is bond stuff,’ the purring voice said.
There was a gurgling sound. ‘Moths in your ermine, as the ladies say.’
My Rating: 2.5/5
The Big Sleep Wikipedia page
The Big Sleep on TIME's list of 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to the present
Buy The Big Sleep at: Amazon.com | BookDepository.co.uk
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