Every now and again, you just have to re-read a classic to remind yourself what great writing is like.
So being about to embark on my fourth mystery/noir offering, I figured it was time to pull 'The Big Sleep' off my bookshelves. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is, after all, the grandaddy of all private eyes - or 'private dicks' to use the vernacular (though I must confess that conjures up entirely different images for me).
Well, it's every bit as good as I remember it, possibly the definitive hardboiled detective story. The cynical protagonist, hard-bitten and world weary, pursues his investigations through the lowlife of LA guided by his own moral compass and sustained by wise-cracks and whisky. Secrets and corruption abound, illuminated by Chandler's incomparable one-liners: "He wore a blue uniform coat that fitted him the way a stall fits a horse."
There is something of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' about the plot line. Marlowe's client, General Sternwood - like Lear - is betrayed by his daughters' extravagant and self-serving ways, and violence is never far below the surface. Chandler himself once described the American crime novel as being 'dark and full of blood'.
"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."
But although 'The Big Sleep' gives you much food for thought about human behaviour and motivations, it is above all a fun read. Femme fatales, sleezeballs and tough guys leap out at you from the pages. The dialogue sparkles like diamonds in a drain.
Grab it, light up a cigarette and read. You know you want to, doll-face.