Review: The Big Sleep

I read The Big Sleep over the course of three weeks so the plot is a bit hazy now, actually it was already hazy while I was reading which is either because it´s very simple or very complicated. I haven´t figured out which yet.

The Big Sleep is the first book in Chandler´s crime series, introducing private detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood on a blackmail case, and while the blackmailer is quickly found, there is a lot more going on in this mystery. The biggest source of trouble are the General´s beautiful daughters, one gambles and the other is childlike and crazy. There are also missing persons, dead bodies, and a lot of great one-liners involved.

The mystery itself is actually pretty good, it was not impossible to guess whodunnit once I had figured out which one was the central mystery. There is a lot of other distracting stuff going on. Marlowe is more or less the typical hardboilt detective, although I found him to be not as jaded and pessimistic as expected, he still cares about people.

I´m not the biggest fan of hardboiled detective fiction although I love the parodies of it, but I enjoyed The Big Sleep immensely. What makes this book special is Chandler´s prose which, at the cost of sounding like a snob, is surprisingly literary and poetic. And his one-liners are witty, sarcastic and vivid. I could practically hear a rough male voice saying the lines.

Here are some examples:

`I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn´t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars´.

He was a grey man, all grey, except for his polished black shoes and two scarlet diamonds in his grey satin tie that looked like the diamonds on roulette layouts.

Dark silent mystified eyes stared back at me solemnly, the doubt growing larger in them, creeping into them noiselessly, like a cat in a long grass stalking a young blackbird.

One thing that annoyed me was the censoring. I´m not sure if it´s my edition (not the one above) or if Chandler had to do it, but someone telling a person to “go – yourself” is just weird and unnecessary. But perhaps that´s just me, I don´t get the moral high ground some people take on swearing. Overall a great book though and I´m sure I will read more by Raymond Chandler.

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6 thoughts on “Review: The Big Sleep

  1. Glad to know that you liked Chandler’s ‘The Big Sleep’. I love Chandler for his one-liners! I liked all the quotes that you have given. I remember the censoring that you have mentioned – I remember it being the case when I read Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’ too. It looks like in the era that the books were published, authors had to be bit careful.

    1. The one-liners really are great, I´m very curious about the movie now. The censoring sucks, it seems especially riduculous with all the other `risky´ stuff that´s going on in the story.

      I´ve only read Hammett´s The Thin Man (because I adore the movies), I´m going to put The Maltese Falcon on my list 🙂

  2. I prefer cosy mysteries to hardboiled ones, but I’m curious about this one, as it’s said to be one of the best. I’m glad to hear the writing is so good! And I’m completely with you on the swearing thing.

    1. I´m more of a cozy crime reader myself, but once in a while there´s a hardboiled mystery I enjoy, and this is one of them. I´m glad I haven´t scared you off with my attitude to swearing 🙂

  3. I had to study the film The Big Sleep in school, when I was probably a bit too young to appreciate it. I mainly remember being very confused and as a result have never wanted to read the book. But I like the writing style of the passages you’ve quoted, maybe I’ll have to try a different book by Chandler.

    1. That´s too bad, school can really scare you off books 😀 Chandler has written 6 other Marlowe mysteries and I think a couple of short stories. Perhaps you could start with those.

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