The Big Sleep Summary

Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep

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The Big Sleep Summary

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The Big Sleep is a 1939 hardboiled crime novel by American author Raymond Chandler, the first featuring his iconic character, the private detective Philip Marlowe. Set in Los Angeles, California, the book focuses on a case in which Marlowe is hired by a dying millionaire to handle the blackmailer attempting to extort money from one of his two troubled daughters. As the case develops, Marlowe find himself pulled into a much bigger scheme involving kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder, and soon finds his own life in danger. The title comes from a euphemism for death, and mortality is a recurring theme throughout the novel, along with betrayal, family secrets, and what drives people to evil acts. Critically acclaimed for its complexity and fast-paced plot, it was named one of Le Mondes 100 Books of the Century in 1999, and in 2005 was included in Time Magazine’s “List of the 100 Best Novels”. It has been adapted to film twice, first in 1946 starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and directed by Howard Hawks, and later in a London-set remake in 1978.

The Big Sleep begins in October with private investigator Philip Marlowe being summoned to the home of the rich, elderly General Sternwood. Sternwood wants to hire Marlowe to deal with a bookseller named Arthur Geiger, who has been blackmailing his daughter Carmen. This is not the first time Carmen had been blackmailed; her wild ways have already led l a man named Joe Brody to attempt blackmail. Sternwood mentions that his older daughter, Vivian, is in a loveless marriage with a man named Rusty Regan, who recently vanished. Marlowe wonders if Sternwood wants him to find Regan as well. He heads to Geiger’s bookstore and meets Agnes, the clerk. After finding out that the store has a secret pornography-rental business, he follows Geiger home and sees Carmen enter the house. He hears a scream, gunshots, and sees two cars speeding away. He enters to find Geiger’s dead body and Carmen, naked and out of her mind on drugs, by an empty camera. He takes her home, but when he returns, Geiger’s body has vanished. The next day, he gets a call from the police who tell him that Sternwood’s car was found off a pier, with the chauffeur’s body inside, dead from a head injury. They also seem interested in Regan’s whereabouts.

Marlowe continues staking out the bookstore, and sees the contents being taken by Joe Brody. He gets a visit from Vivian and she tells him Carmen is being blackmailed with the nude photos taken of her. She tells him that her husband, Rusty, ran off with Mona, the wife of local casino boss Eddie Mars. He later catches Carmen trying to break into Geiger’s house. She pretends to remember nothing about the night before. They’re confronted by Mars, who is revealed to be Geiger’s landlord and who is also searching for him. Marlow plays dumb, telling Mars he’s no threat to him. Marlowe heads to Joe Brody’s home and finds him alone with Agnes, the clerk. He tells them he knows they’re behind the blackmail. Carmen arrives with a gun to try to take the photos back, but Marlowe grabs her gun and orders her out. He’s able to piece together the story from interrogating Brody – Geiger was the blackmailer, but Owen Taylor, the dead chauffeur, wanted to stop him. He snuck in and killed Geiger, and took the film. Brody had been stalking them and chased Taylor down, killed him, and stole the film. Suddenly, the doorbell rings. Brody opens the door and is shot dead. Marlowe chases the shooter and catches Brody’s male lover, who thought he was shooting Geiger. When the case is officially over, Marlowe remains curious about Rusty Regan. While the police think he just ran off with Mona Mars, and Eddie seems unlikely to target them when he’d be the main suspect, Marlowe suspects otherwise. Mars, in a show of nonchalance, invites Marlowe to his casino. Marlowe notices Vivian there, and suspects a relationship between her and Mars. Both Vivian and Carmen attempt to seduce Marlowe that night, but he rejects them.

Marlowe is approached by a man named Harry Jones, who is working with Agnes, and who offers to sell him Mona Mars’ location. Marlowe makes plans to meet him later, but Mars’ henchman Canino catches wind of this and kills Jones. Marlowe meets with Agnes in secret and gets Jones’ information. He heads to Realito, a live-in repair shop, to find Mona. However, Canino and the garage worker Art Huck ambush him and knock him out. He wakes, tied up, in the same room as Mona Mars. She says she hasn’t seen Rusty in months, and she insists Eddie had nothing to do with his disappearance. She helps Marlowe get free, and he’s able to get the drop on Canino and kill him. The next day, Marlowe visits Sternwood, who is still looking for Rusty. He gives Carmen’s gun back to her, and she asks him to teach her how to shoot. They go to an abandoned area, and she attempts to shoot Marlowe. However, he saw this coming, and loaded the guns with blanks. The shock causes Carmen to have a seizure. Marlowe takes her home and tells Vivian the truth. Carmen killed Rusty after he spurned her advances. Eddie Mars, helped Vivian hide this to protect Carmen by coming up with a story about his wife running off with Rusty. Vivian says she only wanted to hide the truth from her father. She promises to have Carmen sent to an asylum, and Marlowe agrees to consider the case closed. Marlowe heads to a bar and orders several double measures of Scotch. He thinks about Mona, but never sees her again.

Raymond Chandler was an American novelist and screenwriter, primarily known for his detective fiction. He was first published in 1933 in the pulp magazine Black Mask, and The Big Sleep was his debut novel. In all, he published seven novels during his lifetime, with an eighth being completed by Robert B. Parker after his death. All but one of his novels was made into a motion picture, and all featured Philip Marlowe. He also released twelve short story collections, collecting the dozens of short stories he wrote in periodicals during his lifetime. He was also a successful screenwriter, writing five produced screenplays, including the critically acclaimed Double Indemnity, The Blue Dahlia, and Strangers on a Train.