The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler
Introducing...Philip Marlowe. Chandler's first detective novel gives us the educated, streetwise private eye. A man who can handle himself, a gun, and all the dames and tough customers that life throws at him. In his debut on the investigation stage, Marlowe is hired to make the drop on a blackmail payoff for elderly General Guy Sternwood. But the detective is blunt and honest and he can't stand to see the old guy get bitten.
As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it's going out of style.
So Marlowe takes on more than he's paid for and finds himself in the middle of murder spree that seems to have connections to the disappearance of Sternwood's ex-bootlegger son-in-law, Rusty Regan. He also tangles with the daughters--both of whom alternately seem to hate him and want him in their beds...but for all the wrong reasons.
I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bac. I grieve over them during the long winter nights.
Marlowe doesn't seem to fall into the mold of the hardboiled detective who jumps into bed with every dame that gives him the glad eye (even if he suspects she might be out for his blood). He keeps his head and his eye on the investigation. He's determined to find out what's really behind the blackmail...and, just maybe, find out what happened to Rusty Regan along the way.
"Hard-boiled, mean streets" detective novels aren't normally my thing. But I picked up this edition of the novel because it was a digest-size paperback and I love those. And Chandler is kind of a big deal in American detective fiction. I read it now because I needed a book that "everyone has read" and I chose to interpret that as the most people from my Facebook friends group. I presented them with a listchallenge with all the mysteries on my TBR pile (there are A LOT) and asked them to mark all the ones they had read--whichever book was marked the most would be the one. So here we are with The Big Sleep.
Marlowe is my kind of private eye--honest, courageous, and ready to help out an old man who wants to believe his daughters aren't as naughty as they really are. I enjoyed meeting Philip Marlowe and following him as he tried to get to the bottom of the blackmailing game. The mystery was well done and Chandler certainly knew how to handle language. I was right there on the mean streets with Marlowe and I believed every moment of it. A very good American private eye story. ★★★★
First line: 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.
Last line: All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again.
Deaths = 5 (three shot; one drowned; one poisoned)