LA Private Eye Philip Marlowe has been around the block a few times and knows more than he'd like to about the city's seamy underbelly. When he's hired by a wealthy retired general to investigate an extortion case, Marlowe thinks the job to be a welcome break from the more sordid affairs he's grown used to. The case of General Sternwood chiefly involves his two daughters, Carmen and Vivian, both beauties and somewhat scandalous for their wild ways. Carmen is involved with a man named A.G. Geiger who's been blackmailing the old general for increasingly large sums of money and, as Marlowe abruptly finds out, may be mixed up with the older daughter Vivian's estranged husband Terence Regan.
Things swiftly turn deadly when Marlowe hooks on to Geiger's trail only to discover him lying dead--murdered--at his home with Carmen Sternwood in the vicinity. When the next lead takes him to the location of one Joe Brody, a crony of Geiger's, Marlowe questions the man only until Brody himself is shot during the inquiry. With the case intensifying and the bodies piling up, Marlowe's asked by the DA as well as General Sternwood to back off; but to no avail. In too deep to back out now, Marlowe starts digging deeper into the case, re-evaluating the other Sternwood daughter, Vivian, and soon uncovering more corruption, more dirt and more violent confrontations right up until the very last secret . . . and the very last bullet.
Nothing sets the tone of hardboiled crime fiction like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Perhaps no other character, with the exception of Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade, epitomizes the grim, sordid world of private investigating and its knack for cleverly revealing the darker elements of human behavior. Rated among the best novels of the twentieth century, 1939's The Big Sleep is a masterpiece of crime and mystery fiction, meshing the elements of private secrets, personal confrontations, grotesque evils and professional affairs which inevitably lead to very intimate encounters. Additionally it's the way Chandler writes dialogue, all the clever back-and-forths which make for exquisite reading and even more scintillating live action--Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe in several movie adaptations (and Robert Mitchum later on) in which the character quotes and conversations remained largely intact from the book. It's also a story highlighting the admirable gritty nature of the protagonist, a character as good as a man can be within a world where pretty much everyone is corrupt. (MYS CHANDLER)