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The Big Sleep (A Philip Marlowe Novel) Paperback – July 12, 1988
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"His thin, claw-like hands were folded loosely on the rug, purple-nailed. A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock." Published in 1939, when Raymond Chandler was 50, this is the first of the Philip Marlowe novels. Its bursts of sex, violence, and explosively direct prose changed detective fiction forever. "She was trouble. She was tall and rangy and strong-looking. Her hair was black and wiry and parted in the middle. She had a good mouth and a good chin. There was a sulky droop to her lips and the lower lip was full."
From Library Journal
Chandler is not only the best writer of hardboiled PI stories, he's one of the 20th century's top scribes, period. His full canon of novels and short stories is reprinted in trade paper featuring uniform covers in Black Lizard's signature style. A handsome set for a reasonable price.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Big Sleep" finds Marlowe in the employ of General Sternwood, a wealthy but dying oil tycoon. Sternwood wants Marlowe to track down a blackmailer who is trying to bleed some money out of the old general. The problem is Sternwood's two daughters, Carmen and Vivian. Both women have major problems; Carmen is just plain weird, suffering from seizures and a penchant for sleeping around with scum of the earth types. Vivian is not much better; she is a heavy gambler who dates (and marries) mob types. In the course of working the case, Marlowe uncovers underground pornography shops, blackmailers, gambling dens, a couple of murders, and other seedy events in the growing town of Los Angeles. Like other Chandler novels, what we initially see is hardly the whole enchilada. While working the case, Marlowe stumbles on deeper and deeper mysteries involving a missing mobster and his abducted wife.
While "The Big Sleep" is Chandler's best known work, it is not his best novel. It seems that Chandler is still working out the style and form later expressed so gallantly in "The Long Goodbye." "The Big Sleep" is classic Chandler; there is plenty of the gritty atmosphere, amusing wordplay and slang, and despicable characters found in Chandler's later novels. The problem with "The Big Sleep" is that the story does not hold together well. Far too often, I found myself wondering why things happened the way they did, or I had trouble following the twists and turns of the case.
Even a somewhat confusing story line does not cause much damage to the entertainment value of "The Big Sleep." You still get the classic snappy dialogue between Marlowe and everyone he encounters, and that is always fun to read. Even more exciting is the realization that you are reading the first book length effort from a master of noir fiction. You can see how he develops his technique by comparing this book with his later novels.
What is also amusing is seeing how Chandler paints L.A. at the end of the 1930's. By that time, Los Angeles had yet experienced the enormous growth of the post World War II era. At one point, one of the characters in the book states that L.A. is still a growing town. You have to chuckle over Marlowe's discovery of a pornography shop operating with police protection-this in what is today the home of the pornography industry!
Any fans of Chandler will want to read "The Big Sleep" eventually, although I recommend starting with some of his later novels first. Nearly forty-five years after Chandler's death, there is still no one who can touch the master. That fact alone should convince anyone interested in crime novels to read everything Chandler ever wrote.
Part of the problem is that the family poor Marlowe is trying to protect are some of the most unappealing characters in modern literature. Marlowe seems to feel sympathy for old General Sternwood, but I think he's an awful old bastard. As for his two crazy daughters, the less said about them the better.
Of course, being Marlowe, our hero doesn't stick to the job at hand, but branches off whenever an interesting side-line appears on the horizon. He can never resist a challenge and he can never force himself to stick to the task at hand (the one he's supposedly being paid for.) It's what makes Chandler's stories fascinating, but not terribly realistic. A real detective follows the money. Marlowe follows his nose.
Some critics say that Marlowe is a modern-day knight, battling the dragons of corruption. In 1930's Southern California, he has plenty to keep him busy. Prohibition has been repealed and rum-running is only a fond memory, but the enterprising types who made a good living at it have transferred their talents to drugs and illegal gambling and pornography. And the bad, beautiful Sternwood sisters are right in the middle of it all.
There are some good characters, including the Sternwood's forceful old family retainer Norris. Norris is an anomaly in the Sternwood household and you have to wonder how he hooked up with them and why he stays. I also liked gambler/racketeer Eddie Mars. He's a man who operates outside of the law, but with the law's full knowledge and cooperation. He's a crook, but an intelligent one.
Mars isn't bound by any code of ethics, but he knows that violence creates trouble and trouble costs money. He prefers negotiation over strong-armed tactics, which makes him more predictable (and therefore less dangerous) than the low-level grifters who hang around the edges of large-scale crime. They're hoping to pick up crumbs dropped by the big crime bosses, but stupidity and greed bring them down.
A jarring note is the introduction of the pornographer's boyfriend and Marlowe's heavy-handed reaction to him. It doesn't advance the plot and it's not in keeping with Marlowe's tolerant persona. I suspect that Chandler wasn't yet sure enough of his talents to step out of the shadow of Dashiell Hammett, whose MALTESE FALCON created a sensation by featuring the forbidden topic of homosexuality. I've read all of Chandler's books and I don't remember him ever returning to this topic.
It's Chandler and it's good. It's just not as good as his later books. However, it launched him as a legitimate novelist and paved the way for FAREWELL, MY LOVELY and his other great books. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Chandler's writing is just terrific. He is very descriptive, what every author should strive to be. The plot was riveting, even though there are some things left unexplained. As for the protagonist, he is a knight in a dirty world full of corruption. He tries to do the right thing which he finds more important than making money. Even when asked not to do something because it was against his client's wishes, he did it anyway because he believed it was right and would benefit his client.
Fans of Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly, please read this book. You can't go on to write about a private eye or any kind of detective without reading from the greats and those they admired.