Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Look Back At "The Big Sleep," Raymond Chandler's Arresting New Formula For Crime Fiction

The British newspaper the Guardian looks back at Raymond Chandler classic crime novel, The Big Sleep.

Seventy-five years ago this week a revolution in crime-writing began when Knopf published The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler's first novel. Reviews in 1939 were wary and unenthusiastic, however, and only gradually was it recognised that Chandler had pulled off a bold fusion of highbrow and lowbrow – much-applauded by authors such as WH Auden, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, but also much-imitated by fellow chroniclers of murder.

What was so new? Almost everything in the first chapter, which introduces Philip Marlowe as he visits the Sternwood family mansion. Marlowe speaks to us. Whereas Holmes, Poirot, Maigret, Sam Spade are observed externally, Marlowe is the detective as autobiographer, starting three consecutive sentences in the first paragraph with "I" (ending with "I was calling on four million dollars").

He is a private detective, yet not patrician. By showing him meeting his social betters, Chandler's opening contrasts him as a man of the people (like a cop in this, but too nonconformist to be one) with the likes of Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey, who don't need the money. Even calling on a potential client – Holmes waits for them to call on him, Poirot has agreeable invitations to country houses – sets him apart.

He is single, and attracted and attractive to women. The opening's flirtatious encounter with kittenish Carmen Sternwood differentiates him from his predecessors, who tend to be either sexless or married.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also read my Crime Beat column on Raymond Chandler's influence on crime films and crime novels via the below link:

Note: The above photo shows James Garner (on the left) as Raymond Chandler's iconic priviate detective character Philip Marlowe in the 1969 film, Marlowe. The film is based on Chandler's novel The Little Sister. A good number of actors have portrayed Philip Marlowe, but James Garner is my favorite.  

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