The doyen of American pulp fiction is Raymond Chandler. I knew this even though I’d never actually read his work. I relied on the brilliant, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, film The Big Sleep (1946). So I was unprepared for a clever plot driven story and was well rewarded with snappy dialogue. Laconic, insightful and benchmark setting. Chandler’s The Big Sleep features Philip Marlowe as a character. All the usual tropes associated with British ‘detective inspector’ novels are in place. A loner, alcoholic, straight-forward, trustworthy (but ready and willing to bend rules for the greater good), sexy but seemingly impervious to women, recklessly brave, with limitless confidence in his own ability. Chandler’s Marlowe is an act of genius and Bogart immortalised him.
Nobody came into the office. Nobody called me on the phone. It kept on raining.
Norris appeared… His acid-blue eyes were as remote as ever, his greyish-pink skin looked healthy and rested, and he moved as if he was twenty years younger than he really was. I was the one who felt the weight of years.
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.
Astonishingly Chandler went to the same sleek expensive private school as P G Wodehouse when his family lived in London. The notion that Chandler is merely an American pulp fiction writer massively understates his ability. Like Wodehouse you can read him for the sheer wonder of his writing.
Why you should read this book: It’s a terrific read
Why you shouldn’t read this book: It’s inevitably dated and that might put you off.
The film: Usual sources. It’s brilliant and Bogart has a stellar performance but it is dated. You might worry about passive smoking and alcoholism as there is heroic smoking and drinking throughout.