My father owned many paperbacks by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I’m not sure if he had their complete works, but it must have been close. I read them all in quick succession sometime in my early teens and developed a deep affection for them. I recently reread The Big Sleep and it was every bit as good as I remember.
There is such originality and wit in Chandler’s writing. In the very first paragraph Philip Marlowe tells us, “I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.” The first bit of dialogue goes like this:
“Tall, aren’t you?” she said.
“I didn’t mean to be.”
He packs a great deal into short descriptions, for example, “Her smile was tentative, but could be persuaded to be nice.” The wonderfully entertaining noir tone never flags, and the story is full of complications, with an ending that fits the characters and the world they inhabit.
For pure entertainment you can’t do better, and the level of craftsmanship is inspiring. I also love the descriptions of 1930s Los Angeles and the cultural references to that era. The movie version with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is great fun too, but if you have never read the book, you should treat yourself to the original.
You can buy it here.