Thursday Reviews: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep (Vintage Crime)The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The trick to reading this with a straight face is to remember: This was First. Dames, gams, etc., are all Chandler’s (and Hammett’s). Today it’s hard not to think of Dragnet and a whole host of other movies or books that make fun of this. Stylistically, this is The Original so Chandler racks up points for writing in the same time period as Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf, and P.G. Wodehouse and ripping in a whole new, American style.

For example, Chandler gets to write “Go _____ yourself” where the others don’t.

My rating is a reflection on the hangups (generally my own) I couldn’t quite get past. Biggest problem: I wasn’t sure what problem I was supposed to be focusing on. The legendary character, Philip Marlowe, is hired to deal with a blackmail issue involving the wealthy Sternwood family. Pornography seems to be the big focus, as well as protecting the Sternwood reputation. However, there’s a missing son-in-law.

Now, Marlowe tells multiple characters that he’s not looking for the son-in-law. So I took him at his word (I know, my own problem for doing that in a mystery, right?). Turns out, the reader needs to pay attention to the missing son-in-law. Otherwise Marlowe’s actions don’t make a whole lotta sense. Saying one thing, doing another….

The other issue I had, and this is an issue with the storytelling style, is the habit of giving a physical description for someone (usually a woman) I’ve already met and then giving the description again when the character reappears–and then not telling me that “Oh, by the way this is Sue who you met in chapter two” until the end of the new introductory paragraph. Irritation. There are only so many blondes with long legs I can keep track of.

However, the characters are colorful. I was reminded, pleasantly so, of L.A. Confidential. Especially when Chandler describes the ‘seedy underbelly’ of L.A. The thugs are good and convincing. Marlowe is also convincing as a character who can deal with those thugs. It’s entertaining and admirably crass. (And I consider that complimentary.)

View all my reviews

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