Monday, March 20, 2017

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep
© 1939 Raymond Chandler
277 pages

A dying old man who lives in a greenhouse, sustained only by its heat and the fear of his children shaming the family,  has summoned Philip Marlowe for a job. The family is being blackmailed, and old man Sternwood wants Marlowe to find out who's doing it, what they've got on him, and to handle the actual paying-off if need be.  Turns out the blackmailer is a local cretin mixed up with other lowlifes who want him dead, and what seems like a simple job will have Marlowe stumbling into a river of blood. The phrase 'big sleep' explicitly  refers to death, the equalizer of punks and patricians alike,  What is not dead is Chandler's writing; only PG Wodehouse rivals him for sheer prosaic fun.  Having watched the movie months before didn't too much spoil the outcome here, as the stories develop somewhat differently.  (One plus: Bogart did all of the narration while I read.)     This is enormous fun as a noir thriller, in part because the narrator doesn't take anyone's games seriously. He has a job to do and  his own sense of honor to abide by  -- and no amount of coy women or thugs with guns is going to get him off the case.

Some early lines:
"I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it."

"I'm thirty-three years old, went to college once and can still speak English if there's any demand for it. There isn't much in my trade."

"I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings."

"Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead."

"Tsk, tsk," I said, not moving at all. "Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You're the second guy I've met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail."


  1. I *love* Chandler and Noir - both in book and film form. It is a brilliant genre which I've enjoyed greatly over the years. Strangely, given my love of the movie versions, I only started reading the novels after enjoying William Gibson so much and hearing him described as the SF Raymond Chandler - go figure! I have some Noir crime fiction coming up later in the year that you might like. No Chandler planned I'm afraid....

  2. I'll have to look at Gibson, then -- if his writing is anything like Chandler's! I read this in part because a friend purchased a collection of mystery stories with authors like Christie, Doyle, etc. Chandler was included and I realized I'd never read him despite enjoying the movie so much. Of course, I'll be reading Christie in company in April, for Read of England...

    1. I can recommend:

      Neuromancer (1984)
      Count Zero (1986)
      Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988)

      They're very Chandler-like in their sparse prose. I still remember the opening line to one of them: The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.'.... LOVED it!

  3. RC was definitely one of a kind... i've read all of his work and didn't find one i didn't like... i liked Neuromancer, but found it a bit hard to follow; but on CK's recommend i'll try the other two... tx for the interesting post...


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