Review of the Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 13: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

The Big Sleep is the first novel featuring the iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe. This is one of the books that would be instrumental in the evolution of the private eye character in the noir films with dark characters. Chandler’s writing style immediately evokes the feeling of watching a classical private eye or crime movie and he takes us to the darker side of Hollywood in the 1930s. Philip Marlowe is the intelligent but hardnosed investigator asked to investigate an attempt to extort the elderly patriarch of the family. The investigation quickly walks into the murky world of pornography, gambling and drinking (in the immediate aftermath of prohibition), and murder.

The book’s style seems tailor made to become the movie it would be made into multiple times. Raymond Chandler does a good job of balancing giving enough information to show the reader the scene in their mind without becoming bogged down. It is a quick paced read but the characters seem somewhat two dimensional. Philip Marlowe is the tough guy investigator who is intelligent but has no emotional depth, and the other characters are given just enough story to fit their place in the plot. It is very different from many of the other books in the Time Magazine top 100 list, but it probably finds its place here to represent the noir investigative genre that has continued to exercise popularity. It is an invitation to the smoke-filled world of tough guys who drink all the time and walk on the dark side of 1930s Hollywood.

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