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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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This is Chandler's best because it examines the issues that shaped and complicated his life. Terry Lennox and his two gangster friends are bound by ties forged in a WWII foxhole. Chandler himself served in the trenches in France during WWI and knew that combat experiences (and the men who shared them) could never be erased.
Then there's alcoholism. Best-selling author Roger Wade has a lovely home and a gorgeous wife and a publisher who wonders why he's drinking himself to death. Chandler knew all about the lure of the bottle. Starting as a bookkeeper, he worked his way up to Vice-President of an L.A. oil company by 1931. The following year he was fired because of his alcoholism and the problems it created at home and at work.
And there are suicides. A suicide that was a murder. A suicide that was a suicide. And a suicide that haunts Marlowe until he finally solves the puzzle. Chandler claimed that it was the suicide of a talented writer friend that made him turn from reporting to bookkeeping. The collapse of his business career sent him back into writing and his own threats to commit suicide played a big role in that collapse.
THE LONG GOODBYE was published in 1954 and marked the end of Chandler's productivity. His beloved Cissy was dying and he himself was suffering from years of overwork and hard drinking. The book is filled with Chandler's trademark sardonic humor (the essay on blondes and the description of the photogenic, empty-headed sheriff are particularly fine) but it's a dark book. Although he grew up in England, Chandler loved the American West and its eccentricities and excesses. He just didn't have any illusions about it. This is a classic. If you haven't read it, you should.
I love Raymond Chandler's style. He writes with detail and a rough attitude that is in most of the characters, but ultimately belongs to Marlowe because the book is from his point of view.
Here's a dialogue example:
“Talk it up. Who wants him?”
“The name's Marlowe.”
“This Chick Agostino?”
“No, this ain't Chick. Come on, let's have the password.”
“Go fry your face.”
And here's a narration example:
He handled the second slug with one hand. I did a fast washup in the bathroom and the bell of the timer went just as I got back. I cut the flame and set the coffee maker on a straw mat on the table. Why did I go into such detail? Because the charged atmosphere made every little thing stand out as a performance, a movement distinct and vastly important. It was one of those hypersensitive moments when all your automatic movements, however long established, however habitual, become separate acts of will. You are like a man learning to walk after polio. You take nothing for granted, absolutely nothing at all.
But it isn't just the Chandler style that appeals to me. His plot is complex and interesting. I had my theories as the book progressed. Most of them didn't turn out to be right, but some did. I like a detective story that's logical enough to figure out, but doesn't hit you over the head.
There were a few coincidences that weren't believable, I didn't like the way Marlowe met Terry Lennox in the beginning of the novel because they became too friendly too soon, and I thought it a bit implausible that there were so many drunken philanderers in Idle Valley. But those were minor gripes. This is a great book that everyone who likes crime stories should read.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions