"It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars."
- Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep
And thus began the criteria for what a private eye would look like and what his moral code would be. Raymond Chandler, author of the Philip Marlowe series of crime novels, set the bar high and generations would follow in his writing footsteps.
Raymond Chandler is considered to be one of the most influential writers of crime fiction and his phenomenal creation of the detective Philip Marlowe has survived decades.
Every time a modern reader discovers a new private eye who is facing some interesting and very tough times but is able to do it with integrity and a strict moral code alongwith a "soldier's eye"; you are meeting Raymond Chandler the writer all over again. And Philip Marlowe his creation is playing a pivotal role in the background.
Raymond Chandler wrote seven detective novels but THE BIG SLEEP is probably his best out of the three in this edition. He was in his fifties when he wrote these novels; yet the first novel cited: THE BIG SLEEP would become an American landmark in the hard-boiled detective genre and would really launch Chandler into the icon that he is today.
The reader will discover unified themes with strong and fully developed characters with incredible imagery and metaphors. Chandler's literary style is distinctive and very crisp. You will love his writing and it brings back nostalgia for a time long past. If you are new to hard-boiled detective stories, this is the series that I would start with
In the first novel THE BIG SLEEP you will be introduced to the Sternwoods: General Sternwood, Vivian and Carmen and all three are interesting studies and all three as General Sternwood notes hasn't "any more moral sense than a cat." General Sternwood is on his deathbed and hired Philip Marlowe to check out why he was being blackmailed by one Arthur Gwynn Geiger. His two daughters, Vivian and Carmen, are quite a handful but General Sternwood feels in part responsible for his plight. As he tells Marlow, "I need not add that a man who indulges in parenthood for the first time at the age of fifty-four deserves all he gets." He describes his two daughters as being "spoiled, exacting, smart and ruthless with the younger girl as being the type who likes to pull wings off flies".
Chandler's novels do highlight crooks and morally-corrupt characters and derelicts, but they are counter-balanced by Marlowe, Bernie Ohls, and General Sternwood--all of whom possess a strong sense of honor, a consideration of what is proper and are for the most part trying to live a life above board.
There are numerous murders that take place in all three of these detective Marlowe novels and a tight interwoven plot which will keep you on the edge of your seat until you get to the last page.
Just as an interesting sideline, when THE BIG SLEEP (the first of Chandler's novels) was published in 1939 there was only an advance of 5,000 copies by Alfred A. Knopf. However, Knopf knew the power and the contribution that this novel would make. They actually took out an advertisement for this book on the front cover of the Publisher's Weekly which was most unusual for a novelist's first book.
The dust jacket flaps read:
"Not since Dashiell Hammett appeared has there been a murder mystery story with the power, pace, and terrifying atmosphere of this one. And like Hammett's this is more than a "murder mystery": it is a novel of crime and character, written with uncommon skill in a tight, tense style which is irresistible."
And so it was. I would highly recommend reading these crime novels and being introduced to Philip Marlowe. THE BIG SLEEP was made into a movie starring Bogart and Bacall with the screen play being written by William Faulkner no less.
Don't miss these novels. I almost did.
Note: This Everyman's Library is a great buy. It is a hardcover and for $18.15 with some offerings of $14.95, the buyer can get three (3) Chandler novels. The paperback for THE BIG SLEEP alone is $10.36!
The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; The High Window (Everyman's Library)