Sherlock Holmes. Miss Marple. Jessica Fletcher (hush, you!). And Phillip Marlowe. These great detectives of our culture have long been cemented — in thousands of pages and hours of film — as icons of our culture. Yet I had somehow never actually experienced Chandler before. I’ve only really ever been exposed to the hard-boiled detective genre through tributes and pastiches like Star Trek‘s Dixon Hill or “special episodes of shows like Castle or Psych. I was excited to turn to an original and classic like The Big Sleep.
I was not disappointed but I was also not prepared. As a fan of detectives like Holmes, I expect my detective stories to follow certain patterns of evidence and deduction. Marlowe doesn’t really go for that sort of thing. There is even a nice moment where he explains that he doesn’t do that because, in reality, the police don’t miss many clues when they are really looking — it was a lovely reprimand from an author from seventy-five years go.
Instead, The Big Sleep focuses on the who instead of the how or why of detecting. Chandler was not so much interested in building a proper mystery as he was in having Marlowe deliver the perfect mot juste when questioning a suspect. And if the story’s resolution doesn’t make perfect senses, does it really matter so much if you had a good time getting there?
Once I embraced the differences between this and every other detective novel I’ve ever read, I was able to come on board and enjoy the ride.