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Publisher's Summary

Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is working for the Sternwood family. Old man Sternwood, crippled and wheelchair-bound, is being given the squeeze by a blackmailer and he wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. But with Sternwood's two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA's seedy backstreets, Marlowe's got his work cut out - and that's before he stumbles over the first corpse.

Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888 and moved to England with his family when he was 12. He attended Dulwich College, Alma Mater to some of the 20th century’s most renowned writers. Returning to America in 1912, he settled in California, worked in a number of jobs, and later married.

It was during the Depression era that he seriously turned his hand to writing and his first published story appeared in the pulp magazine Black Mask in 1933, followed six years later by his first novel. The Big Sleep introduced the world to Philip Marlowe, the often imitated but never-bettered hard-boiled private investigator. It is in Marlowe’s long shadow that every fictional detective must stand – and under the influence of Raymond Chandler’s addictive prose that every crime author must write.

©1939 Raymond Chandler (P)2014 Audible, Ltd.

Critic Reviews

"Anything Chandler writes about grips the mind from the first sentence." ( Daily Telegraph)
"One of the greatest crime writers, who set standards others still try to attain." ( Sunday Times)
"Chandler is an original stylist, creator of a character as immortal as Sherlock Holmes." (Anthony Burgess)

Featured Article: Whodunit Whizzes—A Shortlist of the Best Mystery Authors


Who doesn't love a good mystery? Listening to mystery audiobooks is a great way to feel some semblance of order in an often chaotic world. The clues are there for you to solve along, and by the end, it will all come together in an incredibly satisfying manner. There’s a formula to the genre, sure, but the best mysteries still surprise you and often subvert expectations. These mystery writers take the genre to a new level. Here's our pick of their best listens.

What listeners say about The Big Sleep

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  • Overall
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Class Noir

There is very little that has not been written or said about Chandler. Interestingly, not much of that critique is negative. Maybe that's because he defined the genre. He is what everyone remembers of Bogart and Becall. He wrote the smart Alec into existence. Like Hammett, he forged a path that so many have followed it is now a ribbon as wide as Hollywood and populated by more wanabees than, perhaps, any other genre. He took pulp fiction and made it mainstream, populated by Mitchum, Gambon, Downey, Gould and many, many more. I haven't done the research, but I suspect that there are more Philip Marlowes credited in movies than any other character.
So what is defining? I don't know and it's too far down the road to try, but this work (the first credited as a Marlowe mystery and written by Chandler at the ripe age of 51) is the epitome of the class. It has the fast track mouth, the classy babes, the trouble when they walk in the room atmospherics and the rank smell of smoke, whiskey and inexpensive perfume. It has a crime (although, what crime, it is unclear until the credits are rolling), a solution and the great detective that solves every other problem, but this one. Just perfect.
I enjoyed Ray Porter's performance. It reminds me more of Mitchum than Bogie or Gould. A real, "Who gives a Flying ..." delivery. I'm looking forward to listening to more of him.

PS: this is an unabridged version. There are plenty of abridged versions, including radio plays, but the devil is in the detail with Chandler, so I suggest you don't miss a line.

69 people found this helpful

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Detective Noir at its finest


It's hard not to picture Bogart, but there is so much that is lost on the silver screen. The movie 'stage punches' and dated cinema left me feeling disconnected, whereas in the book, the grit and brawn came to life in color.

40 people found this helpful

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Great Story, Narration of female parts annoying

Sets the bar for noir...
However, I know the lead female parts are supposed to be annoying but it was too much.

11 people found this helpful

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Decent, but a little disappointing

I was very excited to see that many of Ray Chandler's books were now available with Ray Porter as the narrator. Ray Porter is one of the aces among narrators and Ray Chandler a pioneer among detective novelists - would seem to be a slam dunk for an audio book but it really turned out to be only mediocre. I think the way Chandler writes didn't sync well with the way Porter reads, which made it one of those books that was difficult to follow. I found myself perpetually re-listening to a part trying to figure out what had just happened.

39 people found this helpful

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The first southern California literary masterpiece

Raymond Chandler is the Homer of Lalaland. What Faulkner was for Mississippi, what Hemingway was for the Florida Keys, what Emerson was for Massachusetts; that is what Raymond Chandler was for Los Angeles. He was the author who defined the regional vernacular, who determined the appropriate literary form for all subsequent regional writers.

You may find that statement overblown. You will say, Raymond Chandler was just a mystery writer,. But that misses the point:

The mystery novel is the classic genre of southern California. It captures the tawdry, banal, amoral essence of southern California. It reifies the sordid human drama that grubs out its existence against the southland’s pastoral but polluted landscape, it dramatizes the jejune dreams of quick fame and lucre played out by philistines upon a paradise meant for something more ethereal. The southern California murder mystery is the objective correlative of the despoiled dreams and perverted ambitions of the mercenary felon, the felonious mercenary, who attempts to mint southern California’s “beauty in to power” (apologies to Jackson Browne).

There was no southern California literature before Chandler. Homesick one-offs like F Scott Fitzgerald’s “Last Tycoon” don’t count. Supercilious hatchet jobs by eastern aesthetes like Nathaniel West don’t count. Quick bullet-train excursions by northern Californians like Steinbeck and Norris don’t count. There was no literature in southern California before Chandler. And since Chandler, all writers have been, in some measure, his apprentices. The mystery novel has developed as the essential southern California genre from Chandler through Ross McDonald, and James Ellroy, to the early works of T Jefferson Parker, as a coherent tradition. And the art form could only maintain coherence if it spoke to something tangible and real in the southern California culture.

So read Raymond Chandler. Read everything. Start at the beginning with “The Big Sleep”, and keep going till you get to “The Long Goodbye”. Don’t ask which is best. It would be like asking which Faulkner novel is best. You can’t just pick and choose. They’re all part of a landscape, and you won’t see the entire panorama until you have read through them all.

64 people found this helpful

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Mean streets

The Bogart / Bacall movie of The Big Sleep is a favorite of mine, but I'd never more than skimmed the novel. It turned out to be interesting to compare the two.

At first my impression was that the movie loses a lot compared to the novel. Chandler writes beautifully, with genuine wit, and his male characters are well realized, as far as they go. Very good dialog, sensible interactions with the police and D.A.

In the audiobook, Ray Porter's performance really ties it together. It's hard to imagine a better Marlowe, and he's very good at the rest of the male characters. He's terrible at the women, as he'd be the the first to acknowledge, though given something to work with, as in Farewell, My Lovely, he's much better.

But then, what female characters? There's Vivian, the Bacall role, who here is basically just corrupt. There's Carmen, who's very crazy and very corrupt. There's Agnes, whose boyfriend is literally willing to die for her, though she regards it as an inconvenience when he does. There's a bookstore owner, "an intelligent Jewess," who doesn't play any real role. And there's Silver Wig, who is held up as an example of womanly virtue, since she stands up for her man. Marlowe actually approves of her, so he crowds her against a wall and kisses her, which she returns. Virtue magnetically drawn to virtue, I guess.

And that's where the whole thing starts to feel rotten to the core.

In this novel Chandler is bizarrely misogynistic. Carmen is the most obvious example. She's mad, bad, and dangerous to know, the end. Willful, childish, drug addled, and with some kind of psychosis that bears no relationship to anything I've ever heard of. She's so corrupt that when Marlowe finds her in his bed, naked, he tosses her out of his apartment, and rips out the sheets so he won't have to sleep in them and get, I suppose, bad girl cooties. Afterwards he complains that he woke up with a hangover, not from alcohol, but from women.

He's similarly homophobic, and goes on and on about it. It's hard to avoid the impression that the two go together, and that Chandler had some real personal problems. His biography seems to support that. Two of the women he knew best claimed he was a repressed homosexual.

Fine; everyone's got their mishegas. Assuming that Chandler's friends were right about that, it's certainly possible to feel some sympathy, since it was a bad time to be in that position. But Chandler's response here is to join the enemy, in a particularly nasty way. He attempts to sound worldly and knowledgeable about it, as if he's just explaining the facts of life. There's something corrupt in that, and it goes some way toward explaining why I've felt put off whenever I've tried to read Chandler, good a writer as he is. For all that posturing about how "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid," there's something in Chandler, and in Marlowe, that feels a little shifty.

This isn't one of those tired arguments about whether or not particular racist or sexist attitudes were just artifacts of their time. Compare Hammett, for example. He's happy enough to show you corruption, but he's not self-righteous about it, his women aren't freaks, and he has a lot of gay characters, without making too much of it. Wilmer, Gutman, and Cairo in the Maltese Falcon, for example (the term "gunsel" that he uses didn't refer to a guy who carried a gun).

When Marlowe is shown as a paragon of virtue, it doesn't ring true. For example, at the end of the novel, Marlowe has been sapped and shot at, and he's killed a man, as well as saving General Sternwood's daughter from a murder rap. Yet he wants to return his fee, because he hasn't accomplished what he thinks Sternwood really wanted, which is something Sternwood explicitly told him not to look into. This comes off as a clumsily contrived way to show off how righteous Marlowe is. Methinks he doth protest too much.

The movie takes the good parts out of The Big Sleep and stays out of this Freudian morass, and it's a lot of fun. Far from having Chandler's queasiness about sex, it revels in it, and presents a happy plasma in which everyone is randy. If Marlowe takes a cab, it will have a good looking woman driver, and she'll ask him out. When Marlowe walks into a bookstore to keep an eye on the store across the street, the owner, played by Dorothy Malone, immediately closes the store. (Ah, Dorothy Malone ...) Whether or not it was because the movie censors wouldn't let Hawks mention that characters were gay, they fit into this supercharged atmosphere in a natural way.

The song that Lauren Bacall sings at one point is a bit weird, no question. But on the whole, the movie comes off as a lot healthier than the novel, and it steals all the best lines.

34 people found this helpful

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“It wasn’t a game for knights.”

It's mid-October and Philip Marlowe, private detective, has donned his powder blue suit: “I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it.” Why the dress up? He’s calling on “four million” in the person of rich old General Sternwood. The first thing he sees upon entering the Southern California gothic mansion is a stained-glass panel featuring a knight in armor not really trying to untie a maiden garbed only in her modestly concealing long hair. Before he can get to see the General in his orchid hothouse, he’s approached by twenty-year-old Carmen Sternwood, with her “little sharp predatory teeth.” She notes Marlowe’s height (“Tall, aren’t you?”) and looks (“Handsome too”) before biting and sucking her finger-shaped thumb and falling into his arms. Marlowe coolly tells the smooth old butler, “You ought to wean her. She looks old enough.” Marlowe is duly hired by rich, old, declining, and (to Marlowe anyway) appealing Sternwood to deal with some guy trying to blackmail his younger wayward daughter Carmen. He also lets slip that his older wayward daughter Vivian’s husband Terry Regan has gone missing, but refrains from asking Marlowe to find him. Neither daughter “has any more moral sense than a cat.” It’s quite an opening to Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe hardboiled detective novel The Big Sleep (1939).

There will be smut and gambling. There will be a two-bit chiseler and a big-time underworld type and a seedy unsavory blonde and a classy charismatic blonde. There will be some gay types. The book is homophobic as befits its era: in one uncomfortable scene, Marlowe feigns an effeminate voice suitable for a fay book collector (“If you can weigh 195 pounds and look like a fairy, I was doing my best”), and in another uncomfortable scene a young gay man ineffectually punches Marlowe, for “a pansy’s punch” lacks a certain force). There will be some rather clean (given the city and the era) police captains and DAs and such. The Sternwood femme fatale daughters are “cute,” trying to insult or seduce Marlowe by turns, succeeding only in making him say things like, “the rich can go hang themselves” or “I was sick of women.”

There will be terse and cool dialogue, as when Marlowe is threatened by a gangster on the phone and says, “Listen to my teeth chattering.”

There will be many similes, some of which fail awfully (e.g., “The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings”), most of which succeed finely (e.g., “His Charlie Chan moustache looked as real as a toupee”). Chandler’s good at a vivid, seedy poetry of observation, like “The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty, meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.” Or like “The world was a wet emptiness.”

He writes some nice lines, too, like “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

Chandler’s also good at making Marlowe withhold his suspicions and conclusions about cases until he suddenly reveals them through conversations with clients and suspects and enemies and the authorities and the like. This keeps us guessing long after Marlowe has figured something out.

The biggest achievement of Chandler is to present in Marlowe a cynical loner who drinks, plays chess, and says things like “the knights don’t belong in the game” and sees things like stained glass knights failing to rescue nude damsels in distress and thinks things like “Me, I was part of the nastiness now,” but who despite it all remains above the sordid sump of Los Angeles (and the USA) by sticking to his “professional pride,” whereby a Private Investigator keeps his clients’ personal information private and where he refuses to take advantage of amoral women who literally throw themselves at him and where he stubbornly tries (at financial and other costs to himself) to protect the gradual deathwards decline of a rich old man. He’s satisfied with his $25 per day plus expenses. On the other hand, Marlowe is not above smacking a troublesome girl on the side of her face: “Probably all her boyfriends got around to slapping her sooner or later. I could understand why they might.”

Audiobook reader Ray Porter does female voices too high, whether it’s a Jewess with a “smoothly husky voice,” a spoiled and decadent rich girl, or a character played in the movie by Lauren Bacall. Porter is no Bacall! He's fine with male characters and most importantly with Marlowe, but he is sure poor at female voices, and listening to him try is unpleasant.

One problem I found with The Big Sleep is that I didn’t really care about the characters, apart from or wait even occasionally including Marlowe. As an early example of the hardboiled detective genre, The Big Sleep is “cute” in the way Carmen Sternwood is cute: unsavory, taut, bone-scraped face, predatory teeth, inane giggle, liable to show up unannounced and naked in your bed one moment and ask you to teach her how to shoot a gun the next.

But it is great nonetheless. For “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.”

3 people found this helpful

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Fascinating

Absolutely loved it.
What a fascinating story. well read, too.
Chandler is the writer I would like to become some day. Clean, scorched, brutal prose. a surety of touch. An absolute lack of hesitation. Fascinating.

17 people found this helpful

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My first Chandler. Great narration, great writing.

Some really excellent storytelling and top notch narration. Hard boiled classic, I see why he's been so influential, and it holds up REALLY well. Will buy more in the Marlow series.

16 people found this helpful

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Good listen

I really enjoyed this book. When I first bought this book I was concerned it would be difficult to relate to, due to the fact it was originally published in the 1930's. In fact, there were only a couple things that made it seem "old":
1) Cigarettes, they were smoking everywhere.
2) prohibition has recently ended
3) An abundance of derogatory slurs towards homosexuality.
The 3rd was the only thing that really bugged me about the story. Though not enough to really take anything away from my enjoyment, more of an annoyance. This aspect has a similar feel to H.P. Lovecraft and his racist comments throughout his works, if you are familiar.

Ray Porter is a fantastic narrator. In fact, I found this book by searching for Ray Porter on Audible. He always gives a solid performance, this was no different.

If you're a fan of books like Lee Child's Jack Reacher, you will like this book. Philip Marlowe, the novel's main protagonist, operates very similar to Reacher. The differences being Marlowe is less violent a character, and he is an actual Private Detective.

All in all, a good story with great narration. Highly recommended.

29 people found this helpful

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  • Hannah
  • 10-22-17

Oh Philip....

This is beautifully read and in places very funny - and perceptive. (Four more words required according to Audible - Chandler at least knew when to stop.)

47 people found this helpful

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  • Suswati
  • 02-02-17

Complex classic film noir style

This is a classic. Most people will probably know the Humphrey Bogart big screen version but Raymond Chandler was clearly the original. Gritty, dark and twisted - unusual for its time - he broke boundaries with some of the themes described. As brilliant as it is written, the plot at times gets too complicated and if you're not concentrating, you'll end up missing important clues. The narrator has an amazing voice, fit for the genre, you immediately feel like you're in a black and white film.

19 people found this helpful

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  • cyberdonkey
  • 03-24-15

Better than Betty Grable's Gams!

As I'm sure you know, Raymond Chandler was a genre defining crime writer & his character Philip Marlowe,depicted so memorably by Humphrey Bogart, is the template for the film noir Private Eye.

Chandler's prose crackles & hums with the electricity of Los Angeles in the early mid twentieth century. He will hit you with similes that chime with the times " her eyes became narrow and black and as shallow as the enamel on a cafeteria tray" and Marlowe is true to his own code.

I listen to a lot of books and rarely have I encountered a better narrator than Ray Porter; like his female counterpart Lorelei King,he is a one person cast, clearly defining the characters with vocal dexterity. The passage where Philip Marlowe pretends to be a book collector is a case in point. Ray Porter manages to pull off Marlowe acting a part while still retaining Marlowe's tone. Much as Lorelei King can convincingly portray male characters, Porter can "do" women,a variety of women.

Although I think of Chandler in Black & White his prose is often descriptive of vivid colours and smells. The opening lines are a great example of this attention to detail. There is a dry wit and a quart of whiskey behind much of the brilliance Raymond Chandler writes, but also a heart and an ethical framework.

In short, for me, Raymond Chandler is literature that happens to be in the crime genre. Ray Porter delivers the text with meaning and understanding and with the actors respect for the writing that some only reserve for Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams.

a five star experience!

40 people found this helpful

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  • Chris Lilly
  • 02-27-15

Hard Boiled As A Ten Minute Egg.

Lots of people try to reproduce Chandler's baroque tough-guy prose. For my money, Ray Porter has succeeded far better than most. I'm off to listen to "Farewell My Lovely" while I'm still in the mood. Highly recommended.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Alistair Stobie
  • 11-30-17

a book like a film

so visual. a book written and narrated like a film. I can't remember watching the film, but I feel I must have done.

very enjoyable

6 people found this helpful

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  • Amazonian
  • 10-13-17

Mesmerising

What a fine, lyrical writer Chandler was! I found myself stopping and rewinding often for the sheer pleasure of hearing a dazzling simile, a metaphor, a physical description again. And as a professional voice artist myself, I take my hat off to Ray Porter, who is simply superb at portraying Marlowe - even better than Bogart!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Jim
  • 06-04-17

Reading

Very well read overall especially the reader's ability to switch so smoothly from one character to another, even convincing female voices

4 people found this helpful

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  • Philip
  • 03-18-17

LA Noir Cool

Very cool, languid prose and a surprisingly complex plot define Raymond Chandler's first outing with Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe. Exceptional narration by Ray Porter. As detective fiction goes - an oldie, but a goodie.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 11-12-17

Phew

This was an exciting and bumpy ride. I felt I was there, I could smell the sweat and feel the rain. So much better than the film.

3 people found this helpful

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  • A. Curtis
  • 12-16-16

True classic Noir

Would you listen to The Big Sleep again? Why?

This book is a true classic. It's the benchmark of Noir detective stories. I expect this will be a many time listen!

Who was your favorite character and why?

The main character, Philip Marlow.

What does Ray Porter bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

The world, times, styles and wonderful descriptive way this book is written really transports you to LA. Every character is so brilliantly written.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes totally.

Any additional comments?

This is a must listen. The narrator is perfect. He sounds, reads and acts the part perfectly. The best in fact over many books I have downloaded.

3 people found this helpful

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  • luke edwards
  • 01-15-21

One of my favourite books

I love this book so much. It’s perfect. Ray Porter is perfect. He embodies Marlowe perfectly.

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  • Rhys Wilson
  • 05-19-20

An All-Time Classic Thriller

The biggest take-away I have from Raymond Chandler’s debut novel ‘The Big Sleep’ is that he writes with a lot of style - & I mean a lot of style! Paragraphs ooze with wonderful descriptions of the surroundings that the equally stylish protagonist Phillip Marlowe finds himself in. The story of The Big Sleep is about a crippled millionaire with rapidly failing health that hires Philip Marlowe to investigate a seemingly simple blackmail case involving one of his daughters... but as the story progresses becomes more & more complicated with lots of different twists and turns & players in this game of intrigue and deception.

It’s clear within the first dozen or so pages that Chandler took Noir which was considered simple Pulp & turned it into an art form that has since inspired a wealth of books, films & television series. Chandler is a great writer making sure to keep his plot (which grows ever more complicated as it progresses) moving at an almost break-neck pace & he keeps his characterisation of the key players short and to the point.

Highly recommend this to anyone who wants to see one of (if not THE) the books that really changed crime fiction for the better.

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  • MS L C STEWART
  • 11-11-19

I really wanted to like this book :(

I had heard so many rave reviews of Raymond Chandler's genius, and of this book in particular...but it just didn't grab me in any way. I get that it's a product of its era, but I found the objectification of women really tiresome even as I tried to forgive it in that context. A lot of the imagery - pointy teeth and such - was just irritating to me.

I feel like I've missed something here - this book is probably technically good and I've just missed the point somehow. But oh boy am I glad I'm through this now and I can move on with my life and never read another of Raymond Chandler's books again - genius or no.

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  • Thomas
  • 10-04-19

Classic noir fiction

Hard boiled. blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blugh blagh blogh blergh

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  • Joshua
  • 01-29-19

A classic well told.

Chandler's style is timeless and the narrator did a good job conveying Marlow as the sarcastic knight errant.

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  • william ian neill ross
  • 01-11-17

Loved it

First Raymond Chandler full novel for me. An expanded version of Killer in the Rain read by Elliott Gould. Go to this on next. A bit of a repeat but then more short stories included. wonderful.

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  • Rodney Wetherell
  • 08-13-16

Great writing but confusing

I had never read this classic book before, and found my head reeling from the proliferation of characters. I enjoyed Chandler's descriptions of people and places, and the suspense. the reader was excellent.

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  • briandamagespg
  • 07-01-15

Easy read

This was a quick and easy read. Humorous in parts and a pretty solid story