Goodreads: The Big Sleep
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.
The Big Sleep follows private investigator Phillip Marlowe after he is hired by a dying millionaire to take care of a blackmail attempt against one of his two daughters for some supposed gambling debts. Events take a surprising more dire turn as Marlowe realizes that both the women may be caught up with a number of dangerously illegal activities.
I think the big draw for much of the novel is the plot. It’s partly a mystery as Marlowe investigates the veracity behind the original blackmail notes, but there is not always a clear overarching question of “Who committed x crime?” as Marlowe finds himself going deeper and deeper into the case to discover an increasing number of crimes he didn’t know he was going to become involved with. The novel continuously teases readers, making them what to know what will happen next and discover how all the threads of the story will ultimately tie together.
Marlowe himself narrates all this and seems like a pretty standard hard-boiled detective type. He’s tough, doesn’t play games, and maybe likes to flirt with the ladies a little bit. He seems to know when to keep silent and when to talk, which I thought was an interesting aspect of the story. He perhaps goes overboard on description for my taste, but I suppose it is the job of a detective to notice things in-depth. However, he also gets into a number of tight spots while tailing and interrogating suspects, so the book has it fair share of action.
The other characters are generally interesting as well, and there’ enough information for readers to try to start putting pieces together and figure out who had motivations to do what. Practically no one in the novel seems that nice, however, unless it’s the dying millionaire, who play a fairly small role. These people fascinating, but they’re primarily the seedy underbelly of LA, so there’s no one much to invest in beyond Marlowe himself.
The story kept me guessing enough that I read the book in one day. For a crime novel, I think it did its job. I was in it primarily for entertainment, however, so the parts where it veered off into moralizing, particularly at the end, were somewhat odd.
Note: The book is somewhat a product of its time (1930s) and contains homophobic statements and possible misogyny. The homophobia is mostly in the form of overt comments from the narrator’s perspective. The misogyny is more in the fact that the female characters are primarily frivolous, sexy little fools. Even the more cunning ones are not really that clever; the narrator clearly thinks they’re like children trying pitifully to match themselves against men.