You know what I realized, though, having read THE BIG SLEEP, is that while I'd never read any of Chandler's work, I was very familiar with his voice.
Reading THE BIG SLEEP, it hit me instantly - Phillip Marlowe--the P.I. protagonist of virtually all of Chandler's important works--was not just an early hard-boiled detective. He is the archetype for the American P.I., and his voice--Marlowe's voice--is one that resonates throughout detective fiction for the last eighty years. I've read and digested and internalized so many writers' detective characters' cases and adventures, and it really all started here. The voice of Marlowe is the voice of so many other P.I.s: sarcastic, but earnest; disillusioned and world-weary but hopeful; expecting to be betrayed at every turn, but hoping to be wrong. When his worst fears come to pass, he pretends to brush it off and move on, but each time a little bit more of him dies.
There are so many detectives, so many types of detectives in fiction, but it all comes down to this: Phillip Marlowe is the great-grandfather of of them all. The ancestor of my own Jack McGriskin and Tom Ahearn characters--both P.I.s, but rather different from each other; read their stories and find out--without my ever realizing it.
And that's amazing. That's flabbergasting. That's... that's Chandler's legacy. That's how deeply and irrevocably he and his colleagues of the time changed American literature.
That's the kind of legacy I think all writers aspire to, whether they realize it or not. I wonder how many of us realize the debt of gratitude we owe Mr. Chandler. It may not be much, but allow me, at least, to offer my thanks.
And now, I think I'll go read THE LADY IN THE LAKE.