The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep cover

The Big Sleep is the first book by Raymond Chandler that I’ve read but I’ll definitely be tracking down his others. This book was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book which features the private investigator Philip Marlowe. I must have seen the 1946 film of the book umpteen times, if I see it’s on TV I’ll always watch it again if possible, I’m a Bogart and Bacall fan.

Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood to track down whoever is blackmailing his daughter Carmen. Sternwood is wheelchair-bound and obviously a very ill man, he has two daughters and they’re both spoiled, the youngest Carmen is really out of control. The eldest daughter Vivian is married, but her husband is missing which is also a worry to Sternwood as he got on well with his son-in-law. Vivian is addicted to gambling, playing roulette.

Marlowe’s investigation uncovers a world of gangsters, gun-runners, pornographers and murderers. The plot is great but the writing is even better – honestly I had no idea that Chandler was such a good writer. I love that he describes everything and everyone, but manages to avoid overdoing it somehow. Writing the screenplay must have been a fairly easy task as Chandler had already written all the action and dressed all the actors. Add to that Marlowe’s dry wit and classiness, this book is a very entertaining read.

I was really surprised to read that Chandler went to school in England and even joined the British civil service. In 1917 he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fought in France with the Gordon Highlanders.

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Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

Cloak of Darkness cover

I still regard Helen MacInnes as a Scottish author as she was born and grew up in Scotland and graduated from The University of Glasgow, however she married an American and moved to the US in 1937.

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes was first published in 1982 and it was the author’s second last book, she died in 1985. Despite being in her 70s by then this book was just as full of suspense as her earlier books and as there’s not much chance of travelling right now it was good to travel vicariously with most of the action taking place in Switzerland.

Robert Renwick is an American ex-CIA man who is now working for Interintell which is an anti-terrorism organisation peopled by agents from various western countries. Renwick is in London with his young wife Nina when he receives a cryptic phone call telling him to go to a particular London pub. There he is given a list of names, it’s a list of targets for assassination, and his name is on it.

So begins an adventure full of suspense and mystery as Renwick takes on a group of illegal arms dealers who have friends in high places. He also has the added worry that they will target his wife given half the chance, he just doesn’t know who he can trust.

I’m so glad that I still have a lot of Helen MacInnes books left to read.

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Checkmate to Murder by E.C. R. Lorac – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

 Checkmate to Murder   cover

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1944 but has been reprinted by British Library Crime Classics who kindly sent me a copy to review. It’s just the second book by the author that I’ve read but I’ll definitely read more as I enjoyed it. I read her book Fell Murder last year.

The setting is London during World War 2 and Lorac makes a great job of evoking the foggy and dank atmosphere of the city. In Hampstead an artist Bruce Manaton and his sister Rosanne are renting a large studio, they also live there and their ancient and miserly landlord lives next door. Rosanne is a bit of a doormat, supporting her brother and putting up with his moods and as the mystery begins she’s cooking supper for her brother and two friends who are playing a game of chess while Bruce paints a portrait of an actor who is dressed as a cardinal.

Rosanne is constantly worried about money and is afraid that if their windows aren’t screened properly and show a chink of light then the special constable will fine them £5, they’ve had trouble in the past with him. But when there’s a commotion at the front door it’s the special constable who has a young soldier in custody, he claims that the soldier has just committed a murder.

Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called in to sort things out, but it’s not an easy task as everyone has an alibi.

E.C.R. Lorac lived in London throughout the war which no doubt went a long way to making the setting seem so authentic, you can just about smell the fog. Lorac also wrote under the name Carol Carnac, Lorac is obviously Carol backwards, but she was born Edith Caroline Rivett and wrote a lot of Golden Age mysteries.