My favourite of all of the Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler - I once watched a documentary on fictitious American private eyes and the critical testimony, brutally harsh and accurate, of two Dashiell Hamnet adherents regarding Marlowe's rather easygoing approach to being adequately paid for his sleuthing, still couldn't put me off holding this shop soiled knight in tarnished armour's adventures in such high regard.
Early memories of seeing the first Robert Mitchum starring version of The Big Sleep as a child in the 1970s (Candy Southern hopped up and naked in a big wickerwork chair, Joan Collins as an upper crust grifter, etc) all collided when I finally read this book in the late 1980s, after reading references to the influences of Chandler and Hammet's Frank (Batman: Year One/The Dark Knight Returns) Miller work on Marvel Comics Daredevil title*.
While I can appreciate Chandler's way with descriptions, prose style and setting a scene, it's the emotional content of his books that endear me the most to him in crime fiction; I like Marlowe's tough guy character, I like his cheek and most of all, I love Chandler's perpetual habit of never letting Marlowe get the girl.
More than anything, it's the sentimental and bittersweet fleeting assignations and Marlowe's hardboiled observations thereof that move me more than anything else in Chandler's stylistic armoury: the sheer unrequited romanticism in his writing.
I know this isn't the most intellectual review of Chandler's The Big Sleep but I don't watch, read or listen to things from a technical POV - I just want to be entertained and have my emotions stirred up and the emotional frequency that Chandler wrote on presses all the right sentimental buttons in me.
So, poor old Marlowe...he never did see Silver Wig again.
If you're unsure of taking the plunge into the Marlowe milieu, don't be - the book is beautifully written and the final paragraph, where the expression 'Mean streets' must surely have come from is SHEER poetry. Only someone who could feel so much could have written something so affecting.
Hammet and Cain and other writers of American crime fiction may be more palatable to aficionados of tough, two fisted detective fiction but Chandler made the emotional themes count as much as the plot and prose themselves and for that, I'll always be a Philip Marlowe fan.
The Big Sleep - a five star rating, no contest.
*I believe it's Daredevil (vol.1) issue 189 where, having lost his powers, writer Frank Miller has DD paraphrase a line of Marlowe's from Farewell My Lovely, "Ok, DD - you've fought crooks, Hulks and Kingpins. Now do something REALLY difficult....like, cross the road!". Marlowe, drugged to the eyeballs and imprisoned in a sanitorium somewhere, finds getting out of his bed rather difficult and challengers himself to walk to the (locked) door...