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.
I am no fan of the environment. Indeed, I am far more of an antifan. I long for the day when we are forced to flee to giant domed cities where we can finally solve the problems of insects and animals and humidity and sunburn and angry plants and all the other little evils waiting to strike in “the environment”. I am also not a fan of terrorists. I hate them even more than I hate the environment.
All of which is to say that I am not the target audience for this book in which the main characters are all eco-terrorists and the plot follow their eco-terrorist activities as they attempt to spread unnecessary mayhem across the Southwest. I am not even in the neighborhood of being the audience for this book. Had the author known me, I am almost certain that he would not have been able to find any use for me. And I am pretty sure that I would feel the same about him.
So it was a tremendous surprise when I started liking this book. I’m not saying that it’s a great book. And I wouldn’t recommend it. But I was expecting this review to be a long catalog of the book’s faults without a kind word for it.
And while there are certainly many faults to list (the most prominent being the weird notion that having a character pee is the height of comedy…), my heart just isn’t in it.
The book is fine. Even entertaining. It didn’t make me sympathetic to eco-terrorists but that would be a pretty tall order for a novel. So whatever.