The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

Book # 599

Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily

TBS A little while ago I reviewed one of the other Raymond Chandler entries on the 1001 list, Farewell, My Lovely as did Beth.  We both agreed that it was well worth reading.  As a result I thought I would work my way through the other two – The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

Today we will visit Philip Marlowe on his very first outing.

In this story we meet Marlowe when he is hired by a General Sternwood to deal with a case of blackmail.  The General is father to two wild daughters, Vivian and Carmen.  The elder being married to an ex-bootlegger and the younger prone to drugs and men.  In this case it is the younger who is causing her father to hire Marlowe, but at the same time the General hints at another need – to find the missing husband of his eldest daughter.

This seemingly straightforward case of warning off a blackmailer takes Marlowe through the dark underbelly of Los Angeles.  Along the way we have illicit pornography, drugs, murder, and various forms of racketeering.  All of this by a wide-ranging cast of characters.  It is a complex plot, but easy enough to follow as you read.  The language is gritty and ‘hard-boiled’, as you would expect.  Having read the books out of order, I can clearly see this as a softer version of Marlowe both linguistically and as a character, but all the essential elements are there just waiting for firming up.

Here he is, in his own words to General Sternwood.

‘Sure, but there’s very little to tell. 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 worked for Mr Wilde, the District Attorney, as an investigator once.  His chief investigator, a man named Bernie Ohls, called me and told me you wanted to see me.  I’m unmarried because I don’t like policemen’s wives.’
‘And a little bit of a cynic,’ the old man smiled. ‘You didn’t like working for Wilde?’
‘I was fired.  For insubordination.  I test very high on insubordination, General.’

Yes he does.  Very high.  And once again we get another set of insights in his first conversation with Vivian Regan, the elder Sternwood daughter.

‘I didn’t ask to see you.  You sent for me.  I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle.  I don’t mind your showing me your legs.  They’re swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance.  I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners.  They’re pretty bad.  I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.  But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.’

And how can you pass up the option to read a book that contains one liners like this.

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

Or, better yet, this.

‘A little weak,’ I said. ‘But pass it. You’re broke, eh?’
‘I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.’

Oh yes, very vivid imagery.

Once again I can recommend you take a spin around 1940s Los Angeles with Raymond Chandler and his tough-talking private detective.  A great book for a quick and enjoyable read.  Perfect holiday reading.  Well deserved place on the list.

Now I’m off to find a copy of The Long Goodbye.


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