The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep is a 1939 novel by Raymond Chandler, filmed twice in 1946 and 1978. It is the first novel to feature the detective Philip Marlowe, and is considered one of Chandler's greatest works.


Private investigator Philip Marlowe is called to the sprawling mansion of the incapacitated General Sternwood. He tells Marlowe that he is being blackmailed by a purveyor of rare books named Arthur Gwynn Geiger. Geiger is apparently involved with the General's nymphomaniac daughter Carmen. Marlowe tells the general that he will try to persuade Geiger to stop. On the way out, Vivian Reagan, the General's other daughter queries Marlowe about the nature of his visit. She is under the impression that he is looking for her ex-husband, Sean "Rusty" Reagan who had disappeared a month ago. He visits Geiger's bookshop, where he discovers that the assistant, Agnes, knows absolutely nothing about rare books. A customer visits the back room of the store and leaves with a book. Marlowe follows him and takes the book (which is revealed to be pornography) off him. He deduces that Geiger loans the pornography, and then blackmails his customers. Marlowe follows Geiger from his store to his house, and waits outside. He then hears gunshots and a woman's scream. He breaks his way into the house and deduces by the dcor that Geiger is a homosexual. He finds Geiger dead on the floor in front of a camera, and Carmen, nude and drugged with laudanum. Marlowe searches the camera to find that the negative has been stolen. He takes Carmen home, but doesn't call the police. He returns to the scene to discover that the body has been removed.

The next morning he is telephoned by Bernie Ohls, a policeman friend, who informs him that the Sternwood's chauffeur, Owen Taylor, has been found dead in the harbour. He apparently drove off the pier and drowned, but the doctor finds the cause of death to be a blow to the back of the head. Marlowe visits the bookstore again, and finds that the dirty books are being relocated to the premises of Joe Brody, a friend of Agnes. Marlowe goes to his office, and finds Vivian waiting for him. She informs him that an anonymous woman is trying to extort her for the nude photos of Carmen. Marlowe visits the crime scene again, to find Carmen (who does not remember the events of the previous evening) looking for the pictures. They are interrupted by Eddie Mars, a gangster who runs a local casino. He was Geiger's landlord and claims to be looking for the rent.

Marlowe then visits Joe Brody, who he believes has the photos of Carmen. Brody admits to seeing Owen Taylor drive off the pier, but denies being the murderer. Brody is eventually persuaded to give the photos to Marlowe, but then Carmen arrives with a gun. She is very excited and shoots at Brody but only grazes him. Marlowe gives her the pictures and tells her to go home to her sister. Another caller knocks at the door and asks for Brody. Brody goes to the door but is dead before he can open the door. Marlowe runs after the caller, captures him, and recognises him as the other assistant from Geiger's store. The man identifies himself as Carol Lundgren, Geiger's lover. Carol shot Brody as he believed Brody killed Geiger to gain control of his racket. He had moved Geiger's body to another room and laid it out with black candles. Marlowe hands him over to Bernie Ohls.

Marlowe visits the missing persons bureau and discovers that Reagan apparently ran away with Mona Mars, Eddie Mars' wife. He is called to Eddie Mars' club, where Mars tries to bribe him into giving up the case. He sees Vivian winning a large amount of money in Roulette. Marlowe later realises that this is all an act to make him believe that Mars is not involved with Vivian, and is blackmailing her. When he goes home, he finds a nude Carmen in his bed. He throws her out.

Some days later he meets a man named Harry Jones, who wants to sell some information to him. Marlowe agrees, and discovers that Mona Mars is being held at a certain location by Eddie Mars' hitman, Canino, and that she never ran off with Reagan. Jones asks Marlowe to meet him at Jones' office at night with the money. Marlowe goes to the appointment, and hears Canino talking to Jones through a doorway. Canino makes Jones tell him where Agnes, who has the information is staying. Jones lies to him and Canino poisons him with cyanide. Marlowe visits Agnes, who has been involved with three men who are now all dead, who gives him Mona's location.

On the way to the safe house, Marlowe's car has a flat tyre, so he visits a mechanic. The mechanic is actually a front for Eddie Mars, and Marlowe is knocked unconscious and brought to the house. When he wakes, he sees Mona Mars, who frees him after he says the famous line:

"You know what Canino will do? beat my teeth out and kick me in the stomach for mumbling"

Canino comes back and a gunfight ensures. Canino is killed and Marlowe goes to the police who let him go. Marlowe visits General Sternwood the next day, who thanks him and hands him his fee. On the way out, Carmen asks Marlowe to teach her how to shoot. Marlowe takes her to an oil field. He gives her a gun and sets up some cans on a platform. As he walks back to her, Carmen tries to shoot him and then has an epiletic fit. Marlowe had loaded the gun with blanks. Marlowe visits Vivian and tells her the real story. Reagan had thrown Carmen out of his bed, just like Marlowe. Carmen had asked Reagan to teach her how to shoot, and she shot him dead. She told Vivian, who then asked Eddie Mars to cover it up, but then he tried to blackmail her. Marlowe promises not to go the police as long as Carmen is taken away to an institution. The novel ends as it began, with Marlowe at the steps of the Sternwood's house.


Phillips, G. (2000). Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-9042-8

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