Friday, August 26, 2011

Phillip Marlowe? No thanks, I have plenty of wine in my glass...

Welcome once more to

Bookworm's Book Club!

The Big Sleep (Pocket Books, 1958)   Although I've seen several movies based on his books, this was the first Raymond Chandler novel I've ever actually read. It was a lucky start, as I managed to pick up his first novel featuring his famous detective Philip Marlowe. As this introductory adventure gets underway, Marlowe is hired by old rich guy General Sternwood. The general is being blackmailed for shenanigans one of his two daughters is mixed up in, and he wants Marlowe to look into the matter. Marlowe takes the case, and it starts to get complicated pretty quickly as it turns out each of the Sternwood girls is a wild child with plenty of interactions with the seamy side of life in Los Angeles. As more and more people come in to the case through myriad connections to the principal players, Marlowe finds himself working an incredibly complex case. Then, the murders start, and he also realizes it's incredibly dangerous. Can even a smart and tough cookie like Philip Marlowe solve his first case or will he wind up pushing up daisies in an unmarked grave?

Raymond Chandler
This was a very cool read, and I'm not even referring to the story - yet! The paperback I have was printed in 1958 (pictured above) so the book was swaddled in 50+ years of history before you even opened it. The novel itself was written in 1939, but seemed at leasr relatively timeless, which is a very good thing. I was quickly captivated by Chandler's writing. There are a lot of spoofs of hard boiled detective fiction, and it's Chandler's prose they're parodying. But the real words have a quiet poetry to them, with evocative descriptive passages that I would stop and re-read a couple of times because they were so good. The characterizations are solid, if not spectacular, with Marlowe's first person narration obviously providing the most insight to him. The mystery is very complex, and here's where we'll turn the corner and hit the points that haven't held up so well. First off, the mystery is so complex, even Chandler didn't know who committed one murder! And as can be expected for a book written in the 1930's, and though he does a pretty good job of working around it - the limits on the salty language (that he obviously wanted to use) and even the plot points (pornography, homosexuality) work against him a bit. And while we're on the subject, his treatment of homosexuality is not very enlightened either - it's not that he has seedy or perverted characters who are gay - it's that he has characters who are seedy and perverted because they're gay. That was the time. There's not much in the way of "it was the time" racism adding in, at least. But looking past those points - if you can - this is a crackerjack old time detective story full of twists and turns and tough guys and tawdry gals, and you really should check this one out!

Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Craig: This is one of my favorite films! Bogey was of course perfectly cast and his banter with Lauren Bacall is classic (horserace scene). I've never Chandler's books but I love his voice as a writer. I've parodied his style quite a bit in my writings (Hot Night in Bedrock...my parody of the Flintstones and a Chandler-style mystery).

  2. Oh, yeah. I wanted to mention my favorite quote:
    How do you like your brandy? In a glass.

  3. Luana - Yes! The movie is incredible in its own right for sure! That's awesome that you've used Chandler's style for some of your own writing! And great quote! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Every single thing that Chandler wrote is worth your time. Might I suggest The Long Goodbye? One of my all-time favorite books--and you know how I feel about books!