The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

2052I was wearing my powder blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

So begins PI Philip Marlowe in Chandler’s classic hard-boiled detective noir. I think that quote perfectly sums up the atmosphere of the novel and gives you a little glimpse into why this book is included in TIME Magazine’s top 100 novels written since 1923.

The Big Sleep is all about two crazy dames! The sisters (Vivian and Carmen) are always getting into trouble. This time Carmen is being blackmailed and her extraordinarily rich and dying father has hired Marlowe to get things handled all quiet like, see? What follows next is an almost dizzying romp of murder, mayhem, and pornography with a side of misogyny and homophobia. Ahh…the 30s.

Clearly, Chandler was a master of setting and atmosphere. I was immediately pulled into this world through his gorgeous (albeit, bloody) imagery. The dialogue is golden and holds fast to a time long since past. Thirties slang is the name of the game and it can be hard to keep up with but so much fun to try! I quite literally didn’t know half of what they were saying and had to constantly reread scenes to figure out what had happened in conversation. A man could lose his life without me noticing. That’s how much language and slang have changed in 80 years. Both a pro and a con to this story.

The plot was fast paced but ultimately predictable. I’m not sure that’s the book’s fault. In the thirties, I’m sure this felt fresh and new but so many books have emulated since. Still well worth the read to see how such novels came to be. I loved seeing where some of my favorite modern day entertainment got its inspiration – specifically Veronica Mars. I might have even replaced Marlowe with Mars in my mind once or twice which was confusing because there was an actual character named Mars. But that’s just a me problem…

As for the misogyny and homophobia – definitely a sign of the times and hard to read at moments. Some jovial slapping of women takes place and several derogatory statements are made concerning gay men. So if you’re sensitive to that be forewarned, but I think books should be read as a study of their time. I like seeing how far (or not far) we’ve come since the thirties.

I’d recommend this book to those explorers of literature who want to read the novel often cited as the birth of this particular sub-mystery/detective genre. A quick, fun read – a moment of time to relive. I’m not sure, however, that I’d add this to my own personal top 100 list, but I don’t regret reading it in the slightest!

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Vanity Fair Readalong: Midway Check-In

Vanity Fair Button

At least it’s midway for some lovely folks! I, however, have fallen a bit behind, or rather I got a late start. I set aside the audio of IT in order to spend all my time listening to Vanity Fair in a desperate attempt to reach the finish line on time. Despite my slight failure at the midway point, I’m fairly positive I’ll finish up along with everyone else. For the sake of this update, I’m on chapter 29 when we should have read through chapter 34 – not too shabby! So what do I think so far?

There are far too many people named Crawley. And no one has a first name so they are impossible to follow. I feel like audio makes this even more difficult for some reason. Or maybe my mental capacities just fall short when I don’t have words to stare at.

Our two protagonists – Amelia and Becky – are interesting opposites who play well against each other. I don’t particularly like either of them, but look forward to seeing where their separate plots will take them. I’m also enjoying Amelia’s growing disdain for Becky and eagerly anticipate someone bitch slapping Becky soonish.

As for the men, I don’t even know what to think. Honestly, most of them bore me to tears and I’d marry not a single one of the bunch.

What keeps me going in Thackeray’s little story are the plot twists. While I haven’t encountered too many as of yet, the ones I have stumbled upon only promise more delicious delights in the near future. I can feel a trembling underfoot – something insanely wicked is sure to happen soon and I wouldn’t be opposed to this or that character biting the dust. With old Boney and the Battle of Waterloo quickly approaching our strapping young men, I predict bloodshed and weeping women soon enough. Is it wrong to look forward to this?

To be completely honest, Vanity Fair hasn’t lured me in like many other Victorian novels. I’m feeling rather lost in the minute details that don’t seem to matter much, the headache of remembering one Crawley from another, and this overwhelming feeling that none of it matters.  Hopefully, a turning point will come soon and I’ll race through the latter half of the novel.

If you want to join along in the discussion, it’s never too late! Just hop on over to Trish’s or Melissa’s blog and get chatty! They are our fine hosts for this readalong and pretty much group read experts at this point! Now I better get back to the Fair!!

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

I’m fascinated by Louisiana and the New Orleans area – always have been.  There’s just something so uniquely Southern about this part of the country, an almost haunted feeling of past meshing with present that intrigues me so much.  So when I know a story is set there, I absolutely cannot resist.  The Cutting Season, Locke’s second novel, captures the tension of antebellum plantations and modern day perfectly, only enhancing my obsession with the spirit of Louisiana.

Caren Gray has come home again, back to Belle Vie, the plantation where her family spent generations as slaves cutting cane and where she grew up while her mother played cook to the current day owners, the Clancy family.  But now Caren is manager of the property and trying to come to terms with her family’s history and how to reconcile an ugly past with a promising future.  To complicate matters, a migrant field worker is found murdered on Belle Vie’s property and now a killer is on the loose.  Before long, Caren realizes that this present tragedy is all too similar to a past crime against her ancestors.  Can Caren find the killer before someone else gets hurt or an innocent party is thrown in jail?

Attica Locke can write, plain and simple.  I loved settling down in her prose for hour after hour of time more than well spent.  The Cutting Season really transcends any sort of typical murder mystery to become this haunting historical mystery novel full of atmosphere and a strong sense of place.  There’s so much more to care about within these nearly 400 pages besides the whodunnit.  Caren’s relationship with her mother and her own daughter is nuanced and complex.  The bridges and gaps between who we were, who we are, and who we will be are deeply studied and brilliantly realized.  I believe Locke has written a novel worthy of any college classroom that simultaneously satisfies picky plot-driven readers.  I can’t wait to pick up a copy of her first novel – how did I ever miss it to begin with?

I will say that the first third of the novel travels a bit slowly.  Locke spends a hundred or so pages painting a detailed picture of Belle Vie, her characters, and the murky past that will come into play so heavily during the much more quickly paced latter half.  But hang in there and you won’t be disappointed.  And the killer is far from easily spotted.  I suspected multiple shady and not-so-shady characters throughout the pages!  The resolution was so tightly plotted and realistic – these events could so easily happen in real life that it almost felt like really well done narrative nonfiction.  I literally googled the historical facts surrounding the murder case before remembering everything was fiction!

All-in-all, a great read and a perfect selection for October – just the right amount of spookiness and atmosphere for Halloween.  Attica Locke is an author you don’t want to miss out on, I promise!

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing the review copy in exchange for my honest review.  Check out the other tour dates here!

Black Water Rising, Attica Locke’s first novel, was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize in the UK in 2010. It was nominated for an Edgar Award, an NAACP Image Award, as well as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Strand Magazine Critics Award.Black Water Rising was also a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

Attica Locke has spent many years working as a screenwriter, penning movie and television scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, HBO, and Dreamworks. She was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab and is a graduate of Northwestern University.

A native of Houston, Texas, Attica now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter. She is a member of the board of directors for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Most recently, she wrote the introduction for the UK publication of Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying. Her second book, The Cutting Season, will be published by HarperCollins / and Dennis Lehane in September 2012.