Raymond Chandler helped to create the myth of Los Angeles as much as the city created his. It is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. When Chandler, well versed in the classics and well into middle age, decided to start writing novels, he chose his adopted hometown as setting, and hard-boiled detective pulp fiction as his canvas, drawn to the honesty and moral code inherent in the genre, which he believed could be elevated from mere formula to a true form of literature.
Shadowing his prototypical, tough and wisecracking private eye, Philip Marlowe, Chandler takes us through the entire breadth of the people inhabiting a Los Angeles on the cusp of a world war and monumental change, as the former frontier town he had known grew overpopulated and mean, cast in a hard-boiled shell of sunwashed cynicism, filled with dreams as dry and dying as “the unpruned shoots of last year's poinsettias tap-tap against the cracked stucco wall.” Marlowe is a detached man in a rootless place, guided only by his uncompromising moral code in an effort to shield himself from the restrictions of a corrupt society. Chandler’s chosen genre allows Marlowe, who exists somewhere outside of the world in which he inhabits so fully and effortlessly, to serve as a Dantean guide through the slums and mansions of the city, its desperate and its idle, its sinners and its damned, from the foothills to the sea, preserving a stylized but eerily true vision of a city as complete as Joyce’s Dublin, or Dickens’ London. The bright and guilty place of Chandler’s Los Angeles proved the perfect setting when Hollywood began to adapt his stories into the emerging world of film noir.
This volume comprises Chandler’s definitive first two novels, The Big Sleep (1939) and Farewell, My Lovely (1940). The Big Sleep centers on a dysfunctional dynastic family patriarch (modeled after Edward Doheny, the Irish oil baron who helped build Los Angeles) and his two wild daughters. A sordid pornography and blackmail ring leads us through the oil wells, bookstores and bootlegging underworld of pre-war Los Angeles. Farewell, My Lovely, takes us from the jazz clubs of Central Avenue, to the gambling boats once docked in the Santa Monica Bay, outside the city’s legal reach, and up into the sage-scented canyons to unravel a story of dope-running, obsession and betrayal where nothing is as it seems and the fog of the cool night air can disappear as quickly as the unseen swish of a blackjack to the back of the head.