For the uninitiated, Raymond Chandler, whose birthday falls at the end of this month, was a spectacular novelist and founder of the hardboiled genre. His signature creation, the legendary Philip Marlowe, a hard drinking womanising wise cracker, has been portrayed on the silver screen by some of the greatest actors in the world, including the iconic Humphrey Bogart. If you’re not familiar with these stories then here is a selection of the best books to start you off on your journey through the Los Angeles underworld.
- The High Window: Called to investigate the theft of a rare coin, a Brasher Doubloon, from the collection belonging to the late husband of a wealthy woman, Marlowe is swiftly entrenched in a fiendish murder case. What makes this novel a great place to start is the true ingenious nature of the plot, the fast pace of the narrative and the witty dialogue, all of which are key characteristics of the best of Chandler’s work.
- The Lady in The Lake: A great example of Chandler’s ability to take the reader’s mind off his convoluted plots, The Lady in the Lake has an example of every one of the classic genre traits: from a strained relationship with the authorities to an eye for the ladies and a taste for drink, the Marlowe we see here is a hardboiled detective at his very best.
- The Long Goodbye: One of Chandler’s more successful attempts to use his crime fiction as an outlet for his criticism of the 50s Hollywood lifestyle, with a particular venom reserved for the wealthy, this deeply personal novel (written whilst his wife was dying) is highly engaging and fascinating, offering a scathing glimpse into the murky world of a highly believable society populated by those who believe the rules do not apply to them. Such a scathing class critique is not to be missed.
- The Big Sleep: The book that inspired the now cult film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is a great place to start your love affair with the roughish Philip Marlowe. Employed by the arachnid esq. General Sternwood to stop the blackmail of his wild younger daughter, Marlowe quickly becomes embroiled in a much larger case of deception, sex and murder.
- Farewell, My Lovely: It might seem unusual to start with the second book, but Farewell, My Lovely is the pinnacle of hardboiled detective fiction; with its ludicrous, fast paced plotting, dastardly villains and eclectic cast of characters, this is the ideal novel to get you hooked. I rattled through this terrific read and was desperate for more by the end, and I am in no doubt that you will feel the same.