Title: The Big Sleep
Author: Raymond Chandler
Genre: Crime Noir
Length: 234 pages
Read: May 27-31, 2011
Summary: Slick and stylish.
Continuing my between the wars “hard-boiled” novel kick, I followed up on The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Maltese Falcon with The Big Sleep.
The novel is very much influenced by Dashiell Hammett‘s classic. It shares the atmospheric quality, complex plot, moral ambiguity, and dark wit. Stylistically The Big Sleep has slightly more straightforward and less quirky prose. It’s a little more wry, a little less over the top than the earlier novel. Both have extremely compelling voices and stark style. The lean irony of the narrator in the The Maltese Falcon gives way to the dark cynicism of Sleep‘s Marlowe and his first person voice. “If you can weigh one hundred and ninety pounds and look like a fairy, I was doing my best,” is a typical zinger. The dialog is fantastic, although not as oblique and contrary as in Falcon. It’s a little more natural.
Marlowe is more likable and less belligerent than Sam Spade, although they’re both minted from the same cool-cucumber tough guy template. The plot is involved, and to tell the truth even having seen the movie twice, I had no idea until the end what Marlowe was digging at with his investigation of Vivian’s missing husband. Occasionally some bits of action took me for a loop too, requiring that I reread them to find out exactly what happened. But these are minor complaints. The book really is great. Marlowe’s compelling voice pulling you through at breakneck pace. But at the backbone for me was the sinister portrait of pre-war L.A. While visually tame by today’s jaded standards, this is a dark book, with realistic characters. The movie is forced by 40s standards to gloss or smooth over many of these darker elements, but the novel exposes them for what they are.
I do have to say that these hard boiled detectives are awfully confident in their ability to read dangerous situations!