(A Belated) Book Review: The Big Sleep

Disclaimer: There are a few small spoilers, but nothing that betrays the ending.



Genre: Mystery


When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.

Onto the story:

Chandler knows how to sketch a decent plot. Perhaps my favorite thing about this book was how, despite how interwoven all the crimes were, Raymond Chandler was still able to keep them neatly tucked into place. Two issues, though. First, we’re given the supposed suicide of a man (the second dead person in the novel; I won’t say who or his connection to the story, but it’s there), and the police insist that he was actually murdered, but once that deduction is made, Marlowe makes no moves to figure out who killed him. This might not be odd in and of itself, except Marlowe takes his job very seriously, and solves all other seemingly unrelated aspects of the case. Even Rusty Reagan’s disappearance, despite the fact that he was not paid to solve that mystery, was something Marlowe eventually ended up doing. So with this suicide, we’re left with an open-ended question that Chandler doesn’t bother to mention again.

Second issue: Rusty Reagan’s disappearance is what ties the entirety of the book together. It’s the mystery presented in one of the first few chapters,  and it’s one that people keep bringing up to Marlowe throughout the story until he resigns himself to solving it. We figure out what happened to Rusty, except it’s under very convenient circumstances. If one of the character’s hadn’t admitted to Marlowe’s being right, I probably wouldn’t have accepted the situation as true.

This brings me to my next point. There have been arguments that the detective fiction genre doesn’t properly focus on realism, and instead would rather just set up an intriguing puzzle for the detectives to solves… never mind if it actually makes sense in a real-world setting. Raymond Chandler wrote The Big Sleep with that in mind, and managed to write a fairly legitimate portrayal of crime and murder in the real world.

When it comes to the characters, however, the realism falls short. For the most part, each character feels real. They don’t seem to be there simply for the sake of the mystery, like some detective novels. Each character has their own motivations, even if we aren’t told what those motivations are. But… let’s just say that minorities are portrayed in a very specific way.

Carmen and Vivian Sternwood, Mona Mars, and Agnes are all written as catty, seductive. Carmen is crazy, Agnes is stupid, and both Vivian and Mona are icy cold. Only Vivian, I think, is capable of matching Marlowe’s mental capacity, but she’s by no means a main character.

Continuing that point, the man who owns the porn shop is gay/bisexual, and Marlowe has a run-in with the porn shop man’s lover (also a man). Every interaction that involved a mention of these two characters was more than uncomfortable, as Marlowe viewed homosexuals very unfavorably. Yes, yes, it was written in a time where homophobia ran rampant, but that didn’t change how frustrating it was to hear Marlowe talk about women and gays like that. Especially if you consider how Chandler portrays his main character.

Marlowe is an alcoholic, but he’s supposed to be some honorable private eye, a guy who looks into things supposedly because he knows you can’t trust the cops (never mind he is definitely in it for the money as well). He’s got plenty to say about the rich and the corrupt, and he “stoically” ignores women when they try to use their wiles on him. Then he goes and spends an entire paragraph describing a woman’s legs, or he goes out of his way to call gays/bisexuals by homophobic slurs.

In sum, the plot was fairly interesting, but its presentation and the characters included in it were not enough to keep my focus. I found the story rather bland, so I’m giving it three stars.

Favorite quote:

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.


In terms of book reviews, I recently checked out A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas from the library, and I believe we’re reading The Talented Mr. Ripley next in my detective fiction course, so keep an eye out for those two book reviews in the coming weeks.


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