“You’re broke, eh?”
“I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.”
This is the novel that penned the hardboiled genre, giving greatness to short, snappy sentences and tough anti-heroes. What this is not, however, is a noir novel. One is defined by the terse sentence structure, the tarter protagonist and various tropes involving femme fatales and whatnot. The other is a book about a dark tone and atmosphere, created by the former.
The Big Sleep is not a noir novel, no matter what people say. That said, I am a noir man, not a hardboiled reader. That may be my disappointment in this novel, a classic in the detective genre.
The plot was one fallacy, a complex simplicity, if that makes any sense.
The story is pretty strange, following one death to the next. But the way it unfolds is the weird part, thinking you have the murder figured out, and then blowing expectations another way. This wasn’t exactly a great thing, an amazing twist. I could guess plot points easily. That might be that Chandler was the father of his genre’s particular tropes. But a breakthrough book does not make it a great book today. Maybe a respected book, but not a book to be read by someone who’s read around.
Chandler even expounds in an interview, saying plot was never a strong motivator for his novels. Not even the author knew who the killer was for the butler. That in itself is sloppy writing. I don’t care who you are.
One more tick in the wrong box is his use of 1930s slang. I’m not well versed in the time period, resulting in incomprehension on my part. The dialogue was quite jarring throughout the novel, making this short book hard to slog through. Pacing kept me moving forward, all the fight scenes and what have you rushing along faster than a well-placed bullet.
The great thing, however, is his characterization and writing.
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”
Marlowe is the typical private eye, a tough addict trying to earn a quick buck in a world that has only one job for him. Add in a big dash of sarcasm and you have a great picture of this detective. Coupled with being a genre savvy protagonist, Chandler creates one respected character in the crime genre.
Side characters are interesting as well, having humor in even the darkest of places. Women were a little unrealistic, like the blonde femme fatale, Carmen Sternwood, the daughter of Marlowe’s employer.
She is pictured as a ditsy girl, trying her best to seduce guys along with the MC. He doesn’t fall for the act, all the thumb sucking and stuff. This actions is consistent with every relationship of his, a smarmy water of pushing (or punching) people away with vitriol.
And the dialogue of his is what makes the story great. Even if I didn’t understand it all, the parts I did were simply spectacular. The acerbic parleys were genius.
That doesn’t make this classic a must read, though. A great novel; even a read for the hardboiled fans. But a work to sit beside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, and the other greats inventors in mystery writing? Not a chance. Maybe back in the 1930s. Not in the 21st century.