Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Big Sleep’ invites you to explore the seedy underworld of murder, bribery and gambling in 1930s Los Angeles. This is the first novel in Chandler's Philip Marlowe detective saga and this is the book which helped Chandler break into the literary scene as a recognised and respected writer of literature, rather than pulp fiction.
The story starts out with Marlowe being requested by the general Sternwood for a seemingly straightforward blackmail case. However, things become a lot more complicated as the story progresses and what began as a simple case hulks into an intriguing and complicated story of murder which sends Marlowe on a voyage of Los Angeles' corrupt underworld.
The story is told from Marlowe's point of view. This is where the book really becomes alive, as with every place Marlowe visits and every person he meets, the reader is given Marlowe's own views on the case. A great example of this can be seen when Marlowe describes Sternwood's daughters: 'Vivian is spoiled, exacting, smart and quite ruthless. Carmen is a child who likes to pull wings off flies. Neither of them has any more moral sense than a cat.' Marlowe more often than not has a sarcastic and witty point to make and this really adds an extra layer to the book.
Chandler's attention to detail in the novel also has to be admired. He has a great way of describing a setting or a character in such a way that captivates the image in the reader's mind. An excellent example of this can be seen through Chandler's description of a rug: 'there was a thick pinkish Chinese rug in which a gopher could have spent a week without showing his nose above the nap'.
If you're looking for a classic crime fiction novel which strays from your norm of Agatha Christie or P.D. James, then I would say 'The Big Sleep' would be a perfect read.