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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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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 Prohibition has been repealed and rum-running is only a fond memory, but the enterprising types who made a good living at it have transferred their talents to drugs and illegal gambling and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.
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
Most recent customer reviews
I bought this to see how it compared with the movie.
And it was well worth it!