The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this book because it was listed on a book lover's web site entitled something like "Great Books Too Short Not To Have Read" or something like that.
Raymond Chandler created the template for the hard-boiled detective story. He was not the first to write in this genre. In fact, the origins can be traced back at least as far as the knight-errant tales of the Middle Ages. Chandler's Phillip Marlow is cynical, world-weary, and tough, but he is honorable and honest. His honesty is both his greatest asset and greatest curse as he makes his way through a world of self-serving deceivers. He won't betray a client, even when the client deserves betrayal. He helps the weak, especially women, but he won't be taken in by their seeming helplessness.
In The Big Sleep, Marlow is summoned to the home of General Sternwood, a wealthy, elderly man who has two daughters in their twenties whom he done a very poor job of raising. Sternwood is being blackmailed for something his youngest daughter, Carmen has done. This is not the first time this has happened with Carmen. Sternwood wants Marlow to take care of the matter. He also mentions that his eldest daughter, Vivian, has recently married a hood named Rusty Regan, but Regan has disappeared. Marlow's job does not include finding Regan, but Regan's disappearance figures into the plot of the story.
I am not a fan of detective novels or murder mysteries. Chandler's writing, though, I find fascinating. He is so fond of similes and analogies, that I wonder if he kept a bank of them somewhere close to his typewriter to pull out and insert in appropriate places. For example:
"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings." The sentence captures both Sternwood physical and moral decrepitude.
I also loved Chandler's setting descriptions. He describes Vivian Regan's room thus, "The room was too big, the ceiling was too high, the doors were too tall, and the white carpet that went from wall to wall looked like a fresh fall of snow at Lake Arrowhead. There were full-length mirrors and crystal doodads all over the place. The ivory furniture had chromium on it, and the enormous ivory drapes lay tumbled on the white carpet a yard from the windows. The white made the ivory look dirty and the ivory made the white look bled out."
I recommend The Big Sleep to those who are detective and murder mystery fans as well as English teachers looking for a great source for teaching descriptive writing and the use of figurative language.
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