The slick and hard hitting style employed in this book belies its deeper social satire, metaphor and significance as a great character study. The character study is of both Marlowe and the glitzy, dirty world he inhabits. Themes include the effects of success on a personality, honour in places where people don't play by the rules, misplaced love and corruption in the heart of not only a judiciary system, but also the infrastructure of a whole area. It works well as a piece of literature filled with allusion and metaphor. It also works well as a thrilling detective novel - the distinctive and influential prose doesn't miss a beat, nor does the plot, which is lubricated with a pulled gun whenever things start to stick.
I've said all that without really touching on the main draw (in my opinion) of the book - Marlowe. I'll let Chandler say it like it is:
"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."
-- The Simple Art of Murder; the words mean streets were an inspiration for the title of Martin Scorsese's film Mean Streets.
Now buy this book and dangle before I start pumpin' lead!
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