The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (audio)

I know Chandler as the mystery author who inspired, among others, Michael Connelly. Connelly is one of my favorite genre authors and cites Chandler as an influence on his work. In fact, Shelf Awareness quotes him (as their Book Brahmin on April 22, 2011), in answer to a question of the book that changed his life: “The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. I was a casual reader of genre fiction. This book made me want to write it.” Thank goodness for that!

I read The Long Goodbye first (and before the above quotation!), and found it to be delightful. I recognized Connelly in his writing style and Harry Bosch in the style of his lead detective. (Of course obviously the influence went the other way around.) So when I saw The Big Sleep on audio – unabridged, necessarily – I snapped it up. I believe the latter was actually his most-renowned work.

You can’t help but like a guy who doesn’t write that “time passed slowly”, but rather writes

Another army of sluggish minutes dragged by.

That’s pretty great. And this:

‘It’s goddamn funny in this police racket how an old woman can look out of a window and see a guy running and pick him out of a lineup six months later, but we can show hotel help a clear photo and they just can’t be sure.’

‘That’s one of the qualifications for good hotel help,’ I said.

You see my point, right? There are some awfully clever, funny, classic moments in this story; Chandler is a fine writer with a distinct style.

The actual story qualifies, too, as clever, funny, and classic. It’s easy to see that this man is one of the fathers of the genre I love. I’m a bit ashamed to note that I’ve read mostly recent authors, and neglected their heritage.

In this novel, Philip Marlowe, PI, is asked to look into a little matter of blackmail for General Sternwood, who has two young, beautiful, highly deviant and troublesome daughters. Marlowe is a man of relatively few, but quite witty words. He fends off both sisters at various point or another while looking into the missing husband of one, unasked. He’s a classic PI; he drinks alone in the morning; I’m pretty sure he wears one of those pulp detective hats – a fedora? At any rate, he releases the Sternwoods from the blackmail and pulls all the pieces together at the end to explain the missing husband too. It’s a tidy little ending, crowned by some grumbled musings on The Human Situation and The Big Sleep.

I liked this book very much and recommend it to readers of detective fiction who want to go back to the genre’s roots.

Do you read in the present or in the past? Do you miss the past, if you read in the present? I know I love my current genre authors (Lee Child, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Elizabeth George) but it’s important and definitely enjoyable also to appreciate the pioneers. I’ve enjoyed Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and one little gem from A.A. Milne; I’ve got a P.G. Wodehouse waiting in the wings. What are YOU up to?

7 Responses

  1. and now you are ready to enhance your appreciation of the author & the genre – and the chemistry between Bogart & Bacall – by watching the 1946 film of this book; another classic

  2. Hm, I think Husband might even go for that!

  3. […] A book with a size in the title: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler […]

  4. […] brush up on the roots a bit. I’ve read some older, classic-style mysteries lately including Raymond Chandler and A.A. Milne; I’ve always enjoyed Agatha Christie. I felt like Wodehouse was a bit of a […]

  5. Solid review. I wasn’t as taken with the novel as you were that mostly stems from my slight indifference to the genre. Here’s my review if you’re interested:

  6. […] 1973 film is based on the 1953 book by Raymond Chandler, which I read so long ago (and apparently pre-blog) that I don’t entirely trust my recollections. I’m pretty sure there are significant […]

  7. This prompted me to peruse about half of The Drowning Pool – 133 pages or so – to see how many similes I could count. (I’m using the Vintage Crime Black Lizard edition from May 1996). I counted thirty four and no doubt missed a few. I haven’t done the legwork, but I think some of the later books might have a slightly higher ratio. That’s a lot, but in any case I would argue that many of Macdonald’s similes are so strong that they infinitely enrich the work. Not only that – they are so strong that they put many “serious” writers of fiction to shame.

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