5 All-Time Raymond Chandler books to Binge- Read

Need help with that summer reading list? Don’t worry, we have got your back with the following excellent reads from a genius writer of the 20th Century, Raymond Chandler. Get ready for the adventures into the mysteries of L.A with Chandler’s impeccable descriptive writing and characterization, packed in each separate novel.

Meet Phillip Marlowe, a former investigator for the District Attorney's office turned private, who resembles Sherlock Holmes in no ways, shapes and forms. Instead, he’s hard-drinking, gritty and weary – the loner-type with flaws that makes him the protagonist in Chandler’s novels and a permanent figure in the American imagination. He’s distant yet enigmatic enough to get you hooked on one episode and eager for the next.

best Raymond Chandler books Reviews 2020

The Big Sleep (1939)

This is the first published novel in Chandler’s writing career and the start of fame for our cynical Marlowe. Picture this:

1930s Los Angeles and Hollywood during the Depression, a rain-soaked city where Private detective, Phillip Marlowe, is hired by an ailing millionaire to take on an investigation of blackmailing that involves his troublesome daughter; only to find out there is more to the case: kidnapping, violence, pornography, and murder are just a few of the complications he has yet to uncover. 

Like the wardrobe in Narnia, this is the needed introduction to the series, your entrance to the dark, dirty, and immoral L.A: corrupted policemen, double-crossing women, shady blackmailers, hired hitmen and one quintessential tough detective. Suspension awaits!

Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

Spurred by curiosity and pity, this time, our investigator Philip Marlowe is about to give up on a mundane case of thievery when he finds hapless ex-con Moose Malloy and decides to help the man in the search for his ex-girlfriend followed by the discovery of a jewel thieves gang, another murder, a fortune-teller, a couple more murders, and more corruption than your average graveyard.

What? More murder cases? Not just that.

Cue for Female Characters and In-depth characterization.

Imagine our hardboiled protagonist shows actual interest in women! First, it’s Anne Riordan, a gorgeous amateur detective whom Marlowe “would have married if he had been the marrying kind”; and then, we have Helen Grayle, a wealthy attractive but married mistress.

In this follow-up, Marlowe continues to show humane flaws, unfit to be a role model, but enough to be our anti-hero.  

The Long Goodbye (1953)

Down-and-out drunk Terry Lennox has a problem: his millionaire wife is dead and he needs to get out of LA fast. He turns to his trusted friend, private investigator Philip Marlowe who is willing to help but things become nasty when adulterers and alcoholics come into the picture. Marlowe is sure Lennox didn't kill his wife, but how many stiffs will turn up before he gets to the truth?

Earlier novels, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, don’t really show Marlowe getting emotionally involved with clients or with anyone else. However, for the first time, we get to see Marlowe’s sentiments towards Terry, for whom he is willing to take risks. Marlowe also has a chance at romance with Linda Loring, a woman tangentially involved in the investigation. Marlowe, the lone knight in the City of fallen angels, is finally showing some emotional attachments.

The Lady in the Lake (1943)

Marlowe’s new objective: missing wives – one of a rich man and the others, a poor man. As usual, Marlowe is hired to find the missing person but soon, discovers a series of related crimes as he goes on.

This is probably the one book that the author himself may have received more negative critics. One may debate, the novel is not Chandler at his peak yet it remains an intriguing and satisfying mystery that is as efficient as they come. As a compensation, it comes with a diversity of characters: Kingsley’s exotic secretary, the Sheriff from Little Fawn Lake who is unexpectedly wise, ugly grading DeGarmo as Marlowe’s obstacle, and lastly, the curious newspaper woman; each plays a role to mimic reality – arguably, the essential element of arts.

Trouble is My Business (1950)

In the four long stories in this collection (in order: Trouble is My Business, Finger Man, Goldfish, and Red Wind), Marlowe is hired to protect a rich old man and his adopted son from a gold digger, runs afoul of crooked politicos, gets a line on some stolen jewels with a reward attached, and stumbles across a murder victim who may have been an extortionist.

With these stories, you can see Chandler breaking off his short story mindset. Instead of wearing out the success of previous “pulp fiction”, these novellas are prototypes of the Marlowe novels, a bridge between Chandler’s short stories and his novels. Yet, Chandler manages to maintain the attitude and deceptively simple wordplay and imagery throughout. Trouble Is My Business is not just an enthralling collection of short detective fiction but also, an intriguing reflection of a great writer’s evolution and growth in his craft.

Final Thought

By now, hopefully, we've persuaded you to read Chandler’s novels. Might not look like it, but Marlowe can be a modern-day knight with chivalry. While seeking for the truth, he also displays flaws that put his character in the realm of realism.

These are what makes his character still so relevant to our own lives. We may not have to face dragons or bullets on a daily basis, but hardships can take many other forms.  Marlowe's unchanging commitment for justice speaks to our own efforts to lead an upright life, despite being the creature of imperfection.

This is the lesson that will stay with you when you go through each new mystery with Raymond Chandler’s cynical Phillip Marlowe, the private eye.

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