I was away last week for a work conference, so I’ve spent the past nine days thinking about programming and web development instead of writing. But I did manage to read Raymond Chandler’s first book, The Big Sleep. It was an entertaining read, and I learned a whole lot about writing “hard-boiled” crime fiction, I do have to say I was a bit confused by the plot structure. The book reads more like two novellas that connect rather than one cohesive novel. The big shootout with who you think is the ultimate bad guy happens in the middle of the book, and then there’s a slow burn (“burn” is too strong a word here) to the end when a thing is revealed that the first half of the book seemingly keeps insisting isn’t important.
Something that I had to keep reminding myself while I read it is that this book isn’t a parody of anything. It’s one of the big, originating masterworks in the pulp crime fiction genre. It is to that genre that Lord of the Rings was to fantasy. When I saw the first LotR movie in the theaters, I was kind of bored with the whole thing because it was just about “elves and shit.” What I failed to understand/appreciate at the time (and extending through to today) is that LotR is ground zero for fantasy fiction. The thing I thought was a rip-off from all the other fantasy movies was actually that actually made those other fantasy movies possible. And that’s what I had to keep telling myself about The Big Sleep.
So, all in all, I kind of like The Big Sleep. It was just some dumb fun. It was a slightly racier, more sexist version of The Riddle of the Traveling Skull. I’ve started in on Chandler’s second novel, Farewell, My Lovely, and will probably have something to report back after I finish it by the end of the week.