Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Evolution of the Mystery Genre

The Big Sleep


Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep was Raymond Chandler’s first novel although not his first published work. Due to his meager financial circumstances during the Depression, Chandler discovered his latent writing talent and earned a living, teaching himself to write pulp fiction by studying the Perry Mason story formula of Erle Stanley Gardner. Chandler's first professional work, Blackmailers Don't Shoot, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933; his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, featuring his famous Philip Marlowe detective character speaking in the first person.

Chandler’s first novel is noted for its complexity, with many characters double-crossing one another and many secrets being exposed throughout the narrative. The title is a euphemism for death, referred to frequently in the book about "sleeping the big sleep".

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1888, Chandler and his mother moved to England in 1907 after his father deserted the family. Supported by his uncle, he became an English citizen and didn’t reclaim his American citizenship until three years before his death in 1956. He returned to America in 1912 and lived in San Francisco. He finally settling in the Los Angeles area in 1918 where he began and ended his writing career.

He wrote only seven novels all of which were made into films most more than once. He twice received Academy Award nominations for his screenplays.

Some of Chandler's novels are considered to be important literary works, and three are often considered to be masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely, The Little Sister, and The Long Goodbye. The Long Goodbye is praised within an anthology of American crime stories as "arguably the first book since Hammett's The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery".

Novels by Raymond Chandlier:

The Big Sleep 1939
Farewell, My Lovely, 1940
The High Window 1942
The Lady in the Lake 1943
The Little Sister, 1949
The Long Goodbye, 1953
Playback 1958

Raymond Chandler
(July 23, 1888-March 26, 1959)


  1. Virginia,

    Thanks for the history lesson. I was quite surprised to learn that Raymond Chandler wrote so few novels. Rather like Dashiell Hammett, who wrote only four.

    My husband and I lover the old classics when it comes to movies. We've watched both versions of The Big Sleep at least once and have watched the original with Humphrey Bogart numerous times. Man! They just do not make movies (or actors or actresses) like that any more!

    We recently had the extreme good fortune to stumble upon a CD that had the first version of The Big Sleep on one side and the second version on the other side. Both Bogart and Bacall, but one was made early, then held up because of the end of World War II. The second one was released with changes. A special feature on that CD explained why the delay and why the changes. It was quite interesting.

  2. Glad you enjoyed this, Carrie. I'm learning a lot researching this series of articles.

    I love the old movies also. Right now I'm trying to get my hands on both versions of Farewell, My Lovely, one with Dick Powel and one with Robert Mitchum. Chandler wrote quite a few short stories for magazines, but only seven full length novels. Turner Classics is my favorite movie channel. I love all the old Hitchcock movies with Ingrid Bergman, et al.

  3. Add me to the list of those who prefer traditional mysteries and old movies. I much prefer stories that focus on plot and character rather than explosions and frantic action.

    Have you read The Simple Art of Murder? This is Chandler's essay on how he writes and what he thinks of mystery writing. The book also contains several short stories.

    1. Haven't read that, Elise. I'll check it out. One of my all time favorite old movies is Notorious with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Love that flick. And let us not forget Casablanca.


  4. Virginia,

    A quick update. After reading this post, I went to the library and checked out two Agatha Christie's (The Pale Horse and Elephants Can Remember). But I also got The Long Goodbye. Woo-Hoo!

    The Christie's went back to the library this evening, so I'll be starting the The Long Goodbye before going to bed. I think I might analyze the story structure as I read. One could sure do a lot worse in finding a teacher, couldn't one?

    Thanks again,


  5. I intend to read some of these. I've been told my 1940s series and even my contemp novels to some extent have the rhythm of these earlier novels.