Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”

Humphrey Bogart reading a copy of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

After reading one of the later books in the Philip Marlowe series, The Long Goodbye, before heading back to the first installment, The Big Sleep, I was concerned it would be a cause of hindrance in the enjoyment of the series. Debunked, as the cause of my concern was unfounded! Both books stand on their own, respectively. There is very little of a connection between the plots of the two stories other than the appearance of the main protagonist, Philip Marlowe! A great place to start for any reader who is new to the series could not go wrong by starting at the very beginning with The Big Sleep. However, depending on the initial approach to reading any of Raymond Chandler’s writings, you could either read the novels first before his short stories or vice versa. By chance, I happened to have read a few of the short stories, Killer in the Rain and The Curtain, before I moved on to read The Big Sleep. Both of these short stories were integrated into the primary plot for the novel and slightly altered for the sake of cohesion of the story.

Even though I knew some of the events that were going to unravel as I worked my way through the book, it was still an enjoyable read. It was nice to see how Chandler was able to pull the two stories together and iron out the material to make it mesh well with one larger story. The novel was an easy read, and I enjoyed the witty banter of dialogue between the characters.

The only relevance the novel’s title has in connection with its plot could be directly associated with the catalyst of the story: General Sternwood. He is a dying, old man who hires Philip Marlowe to investigate a blackmailer who may ruin the family name. Sternwood is portrayed as someone who desires to be in control of everything in his life, but hesitantly accepts his inability to control the action and behaviors of those around him. It is with an internal observation Marlowe begins to wonder towards the end of his investigation if anyone’s opinion of our name and legacy should really matter, when it will no longer be of a personal concern once we are gone from this world.

The first 4 ½ minutes of the BBC Radio Drama adaptation.

There are a total of seven novels in the Philip Marlowe series written by Raymond Chandler; each one centers around an investigation prominently featuring the gritty sleuth with a decent work ethic, a questionable interest in booze, and a nose for getting on everyone’s irritable side.

Here is the complete list of novels, in order of their publication:

  • 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)

Also available in paperback from Bookshop.org

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