Raymond Thornton Chandler was an American novelist and screenwriter. In 1932, at age forty-four, Raymond Chandler decided to become a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Depression. His first short story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in 1933 in Black Mask, a popular pulp magazine. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. In addition to his short stories, Chandler published just seven full novels during his lifetime (though an eighth in progress at his death was completed by Robert B. Parker). All but Playback have been realized into motion pictures, some several times. In the year before he died, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. He died on March 26, 1959, in La Jolla, California. Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American popular literature, and is considered by many to be a founder, along with Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and other Black Mask writers, of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, along with Hammett’s Sam Spade, are considered by some to be synonymous with “private detective,” both having been played on screen by Humphrey Bogart, whom many considered to be the quintessential Marlowe. Some of Chandler’s novels are considered to be important literary works, and three are often considered to be masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949), and The Long Goodbye (1953). The Long Goodbye is praised within an anthology of American crime stories as “arguably the first book since Hammett’s The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery”. (Source: Goodreads)
Novels: The Big Sleep (1939); Farewell, My Lovely (1940); The High Window (1942); The Lady in the Lake (1943); The Little Sister (1949); The Long Goodbye (1953); Playback (1958); and Poodle Springs (1959) – incomplete; completed by Robert B. Parker in 1989
However, as I discuss in my Raymond Chandler essay, “The Amateur Detective Just Won’t Do: Raymond Chandler and British Detective Fiction,” Chandler in fact was an admirer of two British detective novelists who sometimes have been dismissed as dull (“Humdrum” even), Freeman Wills Crofts, a major subject of my book Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery who recently has been reprinted by the British Library, and R. Austin Freeman, whom in Masters I dub the father of the so-called “Humdrums.” (The Passing Tramp)
(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Alfred A. Knopf (USA), 1939)
The Big Sleep (1939) is a hardboiled crime novel by Raymond Chandler, the first to feature the detective Philip Marlowe. It has been adapted for film twice, in 1946 and again in 1978. The story is set in Los Angeles. The story is noted for its complexity, with characters double-crossing one another and secrets being exposed throughout the narrative. The title is a euphemism for death; the final pages of the book refer to a rumination about “sleeping the big sleep”. In 1999, the book was voted 96th of Le Monde’s “100 Books of the Century”. In 2005, it was included in Time magazine’s “List of the 100 Best Novels”.
The Big Sleep, like most of Chandler’s novels, was written by what he called “cannibalizing” his short stories. Chandler would take stories he had already published in the pulp magazine Black Mask and rework them into a coherent novel. For The Big Sleep, the two main stories that form the core of the novel are “Killer in the Rain” (published in 1935) and “The Curtain” (published in 1936). Although the stories were independent and shared no characters, they had some similarities that made it logical to combine them. In both stories there is a powerful father who is distressed by his wayward daughter. Chandler merged the two fathers into a new character and did the same for the two daughters, resulting in General Sternwood and his wild daughter Carmen. Chandler also borrowed small parts of two other stories, “Finger Man” and “Mandarin’s Jade”. (Source: Wikipedia)
Book Description: Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is working for the Sternwood family. Old man Sternwood, crippled and wheelchair-bound, is being given the squeeze by a blackmailer and he wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. But with Sternwood’s two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA’s seedy backstreets, Marlowe’s got his work cut out – and that’s before he stumbles over the first corpse . . (Source: Amazon)
The Big Sleep has been reviewed, among others, at Mysteries in Paradise, Mystery File, the crime segments, Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, Past Offences, Bitter, Tea and Mystery, and Golden Age of Detection Wiki.
My take: Although my favourite Chandler’s book is The Long Goodbye, I have chosen The Big Sleep as the most representative of his novels and a good starting point to become acquainted with Chandler’s works.