Ha! I tricked you guys. I deviated from my Spring Reading Challenge book list in a big way and read something completely off the map:
I chose this book because I should've read it a long time ago (I've seen the movie). It is consistently referenced by crime/thriller/mystery writers as an icon of the genres and I considered it "homework." If only I had enjoyed my homework this much when I was actually in school.
I've heard people say that The Big Sleep is expertly plotted, and it is certainly a great example of tightly plotted detective fiction. But the true genius (as if there were any question) of The Big Sleep is Chandler's hero, Philip Marlowe. Forget the fact that he is the very model of a P.I. that most others have sprang from–everyone knows that. From the first sentence to the last, Marlowe is a fully developed, complicated character whose outlook on life is as unique as it is dark. Not so dark, however, that he doesn't have an iron-clad code of ethics that he sticks to under any circumstance. It just might be all he has, though I'm not sure he recognizes it as his (and the world he inhabits) only chance at redemption.
I talked about the trouble I was having with descriptions a couple of posts ago and this too is an area where Chandler shines. Here, for example is the description of a home he is entering:
"Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some long and convenient hair."
And of his first encounter with Mrs. Regan:
"She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-lounge with her slippers off, so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stockings. They seemed to be arranged to stare at."
Chandler's Los Angeles, as seen through Marlowe's eyes, is a gritty, lonely place. One you're not sure you'd like to live in but sure don't mind visiting if you can keep it within the pages of the book. But I love this city, and always have, even as I drive through it and see the carcases left over from Marlowe's time here. For me, he captured the romance of Los Angeles perfectly–a romance that still exists here and there if you know where to look.
I'll end with Chandler's own words about Philip Marlowe:
"I see him always in a lonely street, in lonely rooms, puzzled but never defeated."