Sunday, July 01, 2007

book of books - The Big Sleep

A picture of a gun toting Humphrey Bogart adorns the front cover and in the background is a glamorous blond. But although sex is offered the women are nothing but trouble for Raymond Chandler’s lead character Philip Marlowe. He manages to survive only just by shaking off their advances, although it almost costs him his life.

Although reading Chandler might feel like a guilty pleasure this is well worth it because the sense of enjoyment is there throughout the book. There is a pace that drags you in and makes you feel as if you are sitting on Marlowe’s shoulder and that is a pleasure worth feeling plenty of guilt about.

Plot summary
Hired to solve a black mail case Marlowe cannot keep away from the bigger mystery of what happened to the son-in-law of his client, a wealthy general with two wild daughters. He manages to solve the blackmail case and on the way get embroiled in a couple of murders with the blackmailer, an erotic bookseller named Geiger, as well as those trying to make advantage out of his demise, Brody another blackmailer, getting bullets lodged in their guts. With the apparent blackmail case solved Marlowe turns back to the question of what happened to bootlegger Rusty Regan, who was meant to have run off with the wife of nightclub owner Eddie Mars. But Marlowe gets tipped off about the whereabouts of Mrs Mars and although he almost gets killed and has to kill a man to escape there is no sign of Regan. He then works out that the younger of the general’s daughters killed him in a frenzy and after she tries to do it to him he informs the older sister that he has worked it out and tells them to leave town. Meanwhile he has also worked out that Mars worked out what had happened and was waiting to blackmail the daughters once they came into their father’s fortune.

Is it well written?
This is almost like two books with the Geiger case dominating the first and then the search for Regan the second. The result of that slight gear change is that you have to drop and then rebuild the pace. Maybe it is because my recent Chandler reading has been short stories but that drop and then rebuilding of pace is something slightly difficult to get used to. There is also more of a personality on show here with Marlowe displaying the traits of the lonely and damaged and when he is almost seduced by Carmen, the younger daughter, his reaction is slightly more than is required. That sort of depth is often lacking in the short stories but Chandler doesn’t really take it anywhere so you are left with a flawed hero without much explanation why. Overall though the one-liners, sharp eye for detail and a twisting and turning plot make this an enjoyable read.

Should it be read?
If you like Chandler then it is not a question of if but when you will get round to reading this book. Because of its Hollywood connections this might be a recognisable title and therefore get chosen ahead of some of the other books. That would not be a bad thing because it lays out Philip Marlowe and the world he inhabits as well as anything else I have so far read. In terms of the demands it makes on a reader there are not too many and it is just a question of finding the time to read this book rather than having to sit there with a dictionary or other reference works.
Blackmail and lies cost lives and make a lethal mix when a dose of youthful madness is added to the mix

Version read – Penguin paperback

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