Book Review: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep was Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel, written in 1939. There have been two adaptations for the movies, one with Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe (1946), and one with Robert Mitchum (1978).

A lot of people have probably seen the Humphrey Bogart version at one time or another but maybe not as many have read the book. I really like Chandler’s writing. Marlowe is the kind of guy that some part of nearly every man wants to be. He’s a loner who plays chess against games he remembers from dead grand masters, honest, and therefore relatively poor, tough, and doesn’t kowtow to anyone. He’s tough but gets pushed around by cops and occasionally knocked out on the back of the head, but rarely loses a fair fight.

In the Big Sleep, Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood, a very old, very rich, disabled man to find out why one of his wild daughters is being blackmailed. The blackmailer is killed while Marlowe is trailing him, and he ends up running a gauntlet of racketeers, tough guys, drunk rich guys, and cops (mostly honest in this novel, but not in all of Chandler’s novels), following the two young women and the missing husband of one of them.

In the end Marlowe figures it all out and keeps the worst of the truth from his client, the old general, and keeps the general out of the police official version. He does this at great risk to himself and his detective license, but that’s what you owe to a client. And he does it all for $25 a day and expenses, when he can get them.

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