Saturday, 27 March 2010

Book Review: The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler (1939)

The Big Sleep is a richly textured, mind-bending detective novel that exudes a remarkably cool vibe. A good 80 years after it was written, it remain a gripping, super-charged thriller with a brilliant set of characters and a stunningly convoluted plot.

Add in pornography, blackmail, murder, gambling, gangsters, homosexual relationships, drugs, mental cases and sex addiction in a world where the rich and loose collide with the rough and tumble, and The Big Sleep just rocks.

At the middle of it all is private detective Philip Marlowe, narrating events in the first person with a sardonic eye for detail, picking up on the slightest glint in the eye, curl at the mouth and distant sound in the night. Every detail in The Big Sleep matters, and every seemingly irrelevant character and minute observation will thunder back to prominence.

Marlowe accepts an assignment from the dying millionaire General Sternwood. Carmen, one of the General's daughters, is being blackmailed, and Marlowe is asked to put an end to it.

In the meantime, Rusty Regan, the ex-criminal husband of Vivian, the General's other daughter, has disappeared. The General does not ask Marlow to find Regan, but for some reason, a lot of other people want to know if Marlowe is going to try anyway.

From this already complex starting point, events rapidly spiral pretty much out of control as the body count mounts, all manner of crooks, gunmen, sleazoids, thugs, and female companions show up, and Marlowe has his work cut out for him to stay one step ahead of the flying bullets and the police accusations that wherever he goes, dead bodies are inevitably left behind.

Writing in a smooth, silky style that effortlessly conveys the details of each location and character, Chandler just manages to maintain control of events, although one of the deaths famously remains somewhat unexplained. It just adds to the beautiful chaos; The Big Sleep is a timeless classic boasting in equal measures masterful writing and a brilliant story.

Published in paperback by Vintage.
231 pages.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review No. 37.
The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

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