The Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler
Recommended Age: 14+
In his very first novel, Raymond Chandler launched a long series of hardboiled detective stories featuring a handsome Los Angeles gumshoe named Philip Marlowe. Many Marlowe mysteries have crossed over into the world of film and TV - a classic movie based on this book, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, comes immediately to mind - but I remain particularly fond of this one, which I have read many times since I was a kid. Loaded with fascinating, corrupt characters, viewed through the eyes of a wisecracking sleuth who, at one point, gives his name as Doghouse Reilly (I just love that), it leads you down a convoluted trail with multiple murders, multiple suspects, multiple similes (Marlowe never tires of making them), and multiple agendas leading to an explosive finale.
It begins when an ailing millionaire hires Marlowe to find his missing friend and son-in-law. Marlowe's investigation is hindered by the unwelcome attentions of the old man's two beautiful daughters, each of them dysfunctional in her own way. Soon he is up to his crime-sniffing nose in gambling, bootlegging, blackmail, theft, vanishings, and of course, murder, murder, murder.
Chandler triumphs in a whodunit that is ahead of its time in gritty realism, depicting a shady side of society where the line between good and evil is often hard to see. At least, I think he triumphs. Read the book; if you agree, there are lots more after it for you to enjoy as well, including Farewell, My Lovely; Trouble Is My Business; The Long Goodbye; and The High Window, just to name a few.