"Dead men are heavier than broken hearts."
"I sat there and poisoned myself with cigarette smoke and listened to the rain and thought about it."
Phillip Marlowe was one tough detective. And Raymond Chandler introduced him in his 1939 novel The Big Sleep. Marlowe is cool, hardnosed, and wisecracking. He sometimes breaks the rules; but he has a code of honor that he will not break.
Marlowe is hired by millionaire General Sternwood to investigate a main who is blackmailing his daughter Carmen. The blackmailer is murdered, and Carmen tries to seduce Marlowe and Carmen's sister Vivian tries to seduce Marlowe and the family chauffeur is found dead in the river and then it gets complicated.
It's a gritty novel of crime and betrayal and urban tough guys and femme fatales and all the elements of a noir detective story.
The narration is often poetic - filled with imagery and metaphors. So many writers have copied and parodied this style that it may sound cliché to hear this style of storytelling.
Chandler's similes are remarkable
"I was as empty of life as a scarecrow's pockets."
His description of people gives the reader a taste of the character he is describing and of the one doing the describing
"She lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air."
"As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where it's going out of style.”
The author often injects humor into serious situations.
"Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”
"She bent over me again. Blood began to move around in me, like a prospective tenant looking over a house.”
Chandler succeeds in providing a view of the world around Marlowe, as well as the effect in has on his hero.
"It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.”
"I went to the kitchen to make coffee - - yards of coffee. Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved. The lifeblood of tired men."
The Big Sleep a complex story; and it's sometimes hard to keep straight all the characters and all the plot twists. But Chandler wraps it up well in the end and Marlowe has one last chance to philosophize about life and death.
"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that...You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now."