Crime novelist most likely to....

Afficionados of Bookhound may remember that some time ago I reviewed Raymond Chandler's Farewell my lovely and was hugely disappointed. I so wanted to love it, but it just left me cold. Anyway undaunted I decided to give The big sleep a go. This was Chandler's first novel, published in 1939, when Chandler was aged over 50. I like this for a start, it gives all us would-be novelists hope that we still have a great work and a potential career in front of us, however middle-aged we may be feeling.

Disappointed by Farewell my lovely, I was inspired by The big sleep. It is a great, great book. Beautifully written, quirky, funny, dead-pan; it's got snatches of inspiration from Dashiell Hammett, but it's very much its own book. If I was handing out Best first novel ever awards, this would be way up on my list of First time crime novelists most likely to attain immortality. It's unforgettable with some fabulous set-piece moments, and great quotations: "A case of false teeth hung on the mustard-coloured wall like a fuse box in a screen porch", "Dead men are heavier than broken hearts".

I'm not the only one who thinks it's superb. It's made it onto Time's list of the 100 best novels, and was also rated by Le Monde. And it's inspired many novelists since - I can't imagine L.A. Confidential, for example, without the earlier Big sleep.

The story's pretty impressive too. Philip Marlowe, a private detective, hopes to pick up a bit of money doing a sleuth job for the wealthy General Sternwood, an elderly, sick man, with two daughters, who are a whole lot of trouble. Complications arise though when what appears to be a case of blackmail turns into a case of murder. Marlowe attempts to solve the crime, while staying true to his own sense of honour. Marlowe is a lovely character. He is a modern version of Chaucer's "veray parfit gentil knight" slaying dragons, rescuing maidens, dispatching bad guys, and making sure that the innocent are treated kindly (if possible) and avenged (if not). He lives in a grey world - there are not many characters in Big sleep who are entirely innocent; and this, is I think what makes him such a modern, even a post-modern, character.

The novel is often shockingly modern. There were moments when I actually checked the publication date convinced that it must have been written much later than 1939. There are some wonderfully evil characters such as the hired killer Canino (one "dog" that Bookhound would definitely not want to meet), but there are also characters such as the brave little man, Harry Jones, ostensibly a villain, he will end up dying from loyalty to a friend.

This is just such a good book, I could enthuse about it for hours, but rather than wasting your time by reading my bletherings, I will just give you one instruction "Go out and read The big sleep now! Go on, you know you want to do it..."


Unknown said…
I love Chandler, especially The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. You might like another favorite of mine, Megan Abbott's Die A Little.

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