Recently a couple of people have mentioned to me that they are unfamiliar with Raymond Chandler’s books or have outright asked for a recommendation on where to start. So, here’s a quick primer.
Chandler published seven novels, which are (in chronological order): The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye and Playback. Reading them in roughly that order would not be a bad course to follow. Don’t start with Playback. It’s by far the weakest. And, even though it’s my favorite, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with The Long Goodbye, either. I think that book has more power when you’re nominally familiar with Marlowe already.
If you’ve never read any Chandler and only have time for one novel, it’s hard to go wrong with The Big Sleep.
There are also several short story collections, comprised from his early pulp work, and a couple collections of letters. If you get really involved, I would recommend all of these, because even if they are lacking as a formal body of work, there are wonderful Chandler lines and touches scattered throughout them all like gems.
Also, Chandler wrote screenplays. The most famous is Double Indemnity, which was written with director Billy Wilder, but has Chandler’s trademark wit and sharp dialogue all over it. He also wrote The Blue Dahlia, which suffers from lack of restraint and inferior production to the other film, but it’s still a good noir.
I’m honestly not a big fan of any of the film adaptations of Chandler’s books. Most of the 1940s ones are fun watches, but I don’t think any capture Chandler’s spark. Yes, even Hawks’s The Big Sleep. I like Bogey. I like Bacall, but not in this role. It’s just missing something essential the book has.
Now, go forth and read.