Author: Raymond Chandler
First published: 1939
Used edition: 2005
Philip Marlowe goes to the Sternwood mansion for an appointment with General Sternwood.
The Captain explains Philip that he is being blackmailed again. Almost ten months earlier he paid a guy named Joe Brody 00,- to leave Carmen, his youngest daughter, alone. This time a seller of rare and antique books named Arthur Gwynn Geiger had sent an envelope with Carmens gambling depths; a couple of thousand dollars. Philip accepts the case of tracking down this blackmailer and making him stop.
Vivian, the eldest Sternwood daughter, thinks her father hired Philip to find her husband, Regan. She summons him to her room but their conversation ends with her getting mad because Philip doesn’t want to tell her anything. Philip leaves and goes to the Hollywood Public Library to do some research on old editions and rare copies to have an excuse to look in Geigers shop.
Philip goes to Geigers shop where an ash blonde young lady with green eyes and a black dress is waiting for customers. He asks her for a Ben Hur from 1860, 3th edition and for a Chevalier Audubon from1840. She has neither of them so Philip asks if she really sells books. She doesn’t really answer and Philip sets himself in a chair and starts smoking. A customer comes in and goes through a door in the back of the room. When he returns, Philip trails him, but eventually lets him go when the man leaves the book he just bought in Geigers shop in some bushes for Philip to take with him.
Philip goes to a small bookshop near Geigers store and tries to find out what Geiger looks like. The woman who owns the shop refuses to help him at first, but later on she tells him what Geiger looks like. Philip returns to his car and checks the book. It appears to be an old library book.
Philip buys himself a bottle of whiskey and drinks it when he waits in the car in front of Geigers shop. Around four, Geiger arrives. Around a quarter past five, he leaves the shop and gets into a car. Philip follows him. The car stops at a house outside town and Geiger goes in. After a couple of hours another car arrives and the woman who drove it goes inside the house. Philip takes his flashlight and checks the registration card in the second car. It turns out to be Carmen Sternwoods car. An hour or so later Philip sees a flash of light, hears a scream and then three shots. He runs to the house and hears how someone leaves it from the backside, gets in a car and drives away. When Philip gets in the house, he finds a dead body and a stoned girl.
Carmen is sitting straight up in a chair, naked, completely high on some drugs. Geiger is lying dead on the floor in front of some kind of totem pole, in which a camera is placed, that is pointed at Carmen. The film is no longer inside it. Philip dresses Carmen and checks the house. He finds a book in which someone wrote all kinds of addresses in some secret code. He takes it with him.
Philip drops Carmen of at her home (in her car) and tells Norris that whenever someone asks, miss Carmen never left the house that evening. He walks back to his own car at Geigers place, where he finishes his bottle of whiskey, smokes and decides to check the house. When he enters, Geigers body has disappeared. He checks the rest of the house but no clues can be found.
Bernie Ohls, a police agent who gave Philip the Sternwood case, calls to tell that one of the family’s cars is fished out of the sea that morning, with a dead body in it. He and Philip leave to see the place where the accident happened. The dead body turns out to be Owen Taylor, the Sternwood chauffeur. He probably drove of the pier around nine thirty the night before, has a strange wound on his head but died of a broken neck, and turns out to have run away with Carmen about a year ago with the intention to get married, which did not happen. He also has quite a record, including some time in jail for an attempted hold-up. Philip leaves for Geigers shop to have another look.
Philip goes into Geigers shop again and tries to get entrance to the backside of the store, but again, the ash blonde, Agnes, denies it. He says he’ll return the next day. At the backside of the building he asks a taxi chauffeur to drive him around and follow the truck that leaves with Geigers books. At some apartment complex the truck stops and Philip gets out the car to check the names of residents next to the mailboxes. One of them is Joseph Brody. Philip goes back to his office, where a customer turns out to be waiting.
The customer is Vivian Sternwood who brought an envelop that contained the naked picture of Carmen and tells Philip that some girl called and said that they want 00,- delivered that same night to a secret location, which will be communicated later on. Vivian also tells that she was gambling at an establishment owned by Eddie Mars, “Eddie Mars’s Cypress Club” and that Rusty Regan ran of with Mars’s wife.
Philip goes toe Geigers place, where Carmen turns out to be hidden in the bushes. He lets her in with Geigers keys. They start a conversation after he tells her that her pictures are already gone. It turns out that Carmen knows where Joe Brody lives, though she does not want to tell. Just when they want to leave the house someone comes in.
The guy who enters is Eddie Mars. He lets Carmen take her leave, but wants to talk to Philip before he can go. Eddie has the house keys because it turns out to be his house, while Geiger was his tenant. He says that he came over to check if everything was all right, since Geiger didn’t came to the shop that day, nor did he pick up the phone. Philip throws up a theory in which somebody hid Geigers body to have all the time he needed to clean out the store before the police got into it. After a long conversation, Eddie lets him go, though he does not seem to be happy to do so.
Philip goes back to the apartment building of Joseph (Joe) Brody, who indeed turns out to have Geigers books, though he acts as if he doesn’t know who Geiger is. A shoe sticks out under the curtains, and it turns out to be Agnes. Philip blames Joe for the Geigers murder but he denies, though he admits to have Carmens pictures. At that moment the doorbell rings.
Joe opens and gets a gun pressed against his lips by Carmen, who wants her pictures back. At the same moment do Agnes and Philip start a wrestling for a gun, which Philip wins. Joe tries to get Carmen’s gun and she accidently shoots. Joe pretends to be shot but than tackles Carmen. Then Philip is back on his feet en gets everyone silent. He collects Joes gun, Carmen’s gun and Carmen’s nude pictures and brings her home.
Philip returns to Joe’s apartment and decides, after a big conversation with Joe, that Owen Taylor was in love with Carmen and mad at Geiger for the things he did with her. Owen was at Geigers house, went in via the back door, saw Geiger making nude pictures of Carmen, shot him dead, took the film out of the camera and ran outside. Joe was outside, waited for Owen to come out the house, follows him in his car and gets him to stop. He pretends to be a policeman, gets the pictures but is kicked knock-out by Owen. Than the doorbell rings again, Joe opens it and is shot to death. Philip chases the murderer and gets him. Philip tells him he killed the wrong guy and takes him to Geigers house. The boy turns out to be Carol Lundgren, Geigers lover.
It turns out that Carol laid Geiger on his bed in the main bedroom. Philip calls Bernie Ohls, who directly heads toward Geigers house with his men.
Ohls, Philip and Carol drive to a guy named Taggart Wilde. In his office there is also another guy, Captain Cronjager. He tells that they took a young ash blonde woman into custody that was near Joe’s house. Philip tells his theory about the situation, but Wilde doesn’t believe him until Philip shows the evidence he has. After a lot of talking it is the decided to leave out a couple of facts since the police is also involved. They allowed Geiger to have his little business, which turns out to be in pornographic literature. Philip does not tell the two man about several parts of the story where Carmen is involved.
In the morning, the papers report the story just like Eddie Mars wanted it. Later, Eddie calls to tell that he want to reward Philip for not telling everything to the cops. They decide that Philip will pass by at Eddie’s casino where Eddie will tell him where Regan is.
Philip goes to the Missing Persons Bureau and asks information about Regan. It turns out Regan left the 16th of September in one of the Sternwood cars, which was later retrieved at a bungalow near the place where Eddie Mars wife used to live.
Norris calls to pay Philip since he and the Sternwoods feel that the case is closed after reading the story in the newspapers that morning. After the phone call, Philip reconsiders the entire case and calls Eddie Mars to tell that he’d like to drop by. The visit doesn’t really help him any further with finding Regan but gives him the opportunity to bring a problem up: Philip knows he is being followed by somebody in a grey Plymouth and wonders if Eddie has something to do with that, but when he confronts him with this fact Eddie reacts a little worried and denies. Philip leaves him and goes into the casino.
Vivian is at one of the tables, winning a gigantic amount of money. Philip leaves just before her and hides on the parking lot. When Vivian comes out in the frog a man tries to steal her handbag with the money.
Philip stops him and drives her to some café where they drink coffee and whiskey before they continue on their way. They kiss but when Philip asks what is going on between Vivian and Eddie she gets mad and demands that he drops her home. He does and leaves.
When Philip arrives at his house, he finds Carmen in his bed, naked. He refuses her and, with some difficulty, gets her out of his house.
Philip is again being followed by the grey Plymouth when he goes to his office. He goes to the car and asks the man up in his office. The man introduces himself as Harry Jones sent by Agnes, who is loose again. Harry tells Philip that Agnes will tell him where Eddies wife is for 0,-. Philip refuses at first so Harry tells a couple of facts after which Philip decides that Harry really knows what he is talking about. He promises to pass by with the money, so that Harry can bring him to Agnes.
Philip goes to the place where he promised to meet Harry and decides to take the fire escape on the outside of the building. When he gets to the floor where he has his appointment he hears Harry talking to Canino, a guy who works for Eddie Mars and does his nasty jobs. Philip hides near the room where Canino and Harry are talking and overhears their conversation. Canino tells Harry that Eddie hired him to take care of some idiot that is following Philip, because Eddie doesn’t like it. Canino asks Agnes’ address, which Harry gives. After that, he poisons Harry, who dies. Canino leaves and Philip calls the address he heard Harry give to Canino to warn Agnes. It turns out to be a false one. Seconds later, the phone rings. Philip picks it up and it turns out to be Agnes. They make an appointment to meet in an hour or so.
Philip gives Agnes the money and she tells him that Eddie’s wife is hiding at some gas station / garage, owned by a guy named Art Huck, not far away. She leaves and Philip decides to check the neighborhood of Art’s place. He makes a mistake while driving in the pouring rain and ends up with two flat tires. He goes to Art’s place and asks for entrance, which is refused him. He starts knocking the door and Art lets him in. Canino is standing in the same room. On Canino’s command, Art leaves to repair Philips tires. Canino and Philip share a (non-poisoned) drink. When Art returns with one of the tires, Canino is talking to Philip to distract him. Art pulls the tire around Philips neck and Canino beats him knockout.
Philip wakes up in the house behind the garage, next to Eddie Mars’ wife, Mona. They talk quite a bit and she lets him go, though she can’t free him from his handcuffs since Canino has their keys. They seem to fancy each other (he calls her “Silver-wig") and kiss.
Philip manages to get outside and finds his car with two repaired tires, ready to flee. He decides against it and pretends to climb in it as to flee, starts the car and dives outside it, behind the wheels. Canino, who has been waiting for Philip in another car opposite Philips, opens fire on the car at the same moment. Philip makes sounds as if he is hit and dies, and Canino believes it. He goes inside the house and when he comes out of it again, he has Mona with him as a sort of shield. They walk to Philips car and she screams that she can see him through the window. Canino doesn’t believe her, pushes her aside and gets shot by Philip. Canino dies. Mona frees Philip from his handcuffs.
Philip goes to Captain Gregory at the Missing Persons Bureau, who tells him that they knew where Eddie’s wife was, but where playing along with the game. Eddie has already passed by and has told some made up story. Philip leaves and goes to bed. In bed he starts to rethink the entire case again and again, but feels that he still is missing something, that some detail is not right. Norris calls to tell that General Sternwood wants to speak to him as soon as possible. Half an hour later, Philip calls at the Sternwood place. Norris brings him to the General, who is pissed that Philip went to look for Rusty Regan when the General didn’t ask him to do so. Philip explains to him why he went on with the case and after a lot of talking, the General tells him he wants Philip for another job: finding Regan.
When Philip leaves the house he finds Carmen outside. He gives her back her little gun and tells her he cleaned and loaded it. She asks him to teach her how to shoot. He promises to do so and they leave in his car to some abandoned place near the old oil wells with which the Sternwoods made their fortune. Philip goes to place a nice target to practice with. When he walks back to her she suddenly points the gun at him and starts to shoot, but there are no bullets in the gun. She gets some kind of epileptic attack and faints, and Philip catches her when she falls. She wakes up in the car when they are halfway near the house, but she can’t remember anything. The incident makes Philip realize how all the links connect and he is finally able to solve the entire case.
Vivian comes out of her room and sits next to Philip. He tells her the entire story, from Geigers blackmailing to Carmen shooting him, to see if she will confirm his suspicions. She does; Vivian gets more and more panicked; calling him a horrible man several times, while Philip just keeps talking. He tells her that he knows that Regan did teach Carmen how to shoot at the same spot Philip and Carmen went that day, and that she killed him. He also tells that he believes that Carmen tried to kill him and killed Regan because both men refused to have sex with her. He suggest that Canino got the 00,- Regan had in his pockets at the time of the killing, for his disposing of the body when Vivian went to Eddie Mars for help. Vivian admits it and tells him that Regan was dumped in the sump. Philip gives her three days to get Carmen in some place where they might cure her and promises to talk to Eddie. Philip leaves and starts to think about being dead, that nothing mattered when you were because you were just sleeping the big sleep. He stops at a bar and gets drunk while thinking of “Silver-wig”, who he never saw again.
Explanation of the title
The title, “The Big Sleep”, is a synonym for death. In the last chapter of the book, Philip (the main character) thinks to himself the following: “What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now.” [Pag. 250 – 251]
On the cover you see a red gun in which the books title is printed in yellow, so it matches with the yellow background of the cover. In the left corner is a small orange drawing of somebody holding a gun and the text “a Philip Marlowe mystery” next to it.
Brody, Joseph “Joe”
Joe is the guy who has successfully blackmailed the Sternwoods some time for the story begins. He is a money-hungry man who wants to take over Geigers business and sees another blackmail opportunity in Carmen’s nude pictures. He gets killed by Carol Lundgren, who thinks that Joe killed his lover Geiger, which Joe didn’t do.
Canino is a cruel man that seems to enjoy murdering people. He works for Eddie Mars. During the story, he kills Henry Jones by letting him drink poison, and attempts to kill Philip by shooting him from a kind of ambush, but fails. Philip kills him in the end.
Geiger is a seller of pornographic books. He is in his 40’s, has an average weight but looks a little fattish, has a fat face and his left eye is made of glass. Owen Taylor kills him for the games he plays with Carmen. He has a homosexual relationship with Carol Lundgren.
Harry is not a very smart guy who tries, together with Agnes, to get some money out of their knowledge of the whereabouts of Eddie Mars’ wife. Actually he is a good man, because he protects Agnes by giving Canino the wrong address, just before he drinks the poisoned drink Canino has given him.
Agnes is the girl who works in Geigers shop. She has a relation with Joe Brody, and after his death she has one with Harry Jones, in both cases to make easy money, because she doesn’t seem to give a damn about both men when they are dead.
Carol is Geigers young and beautiful lover. He kills Joe Brody because he thinks Joe killed Geiger. Overall, it seems he is really in love with Geiger.
Philip is a private detective somewhere in his thirties, who is the main character of this novel. He is honest, good-willed and clever, but seems to have a drinking problem. He is hired by General Sternwood to find some blackmailer. He solves the entire case but in the end seems to accept a lot of money to keep his mouth shut about Carmen killing Regan, though this is not certain when the story ends. He also seems to have fallen in love with Eddie Mars’ wife.
Eddie is the corrupt owner of a gambling racket. He is, in one way or another, involved in all the murders that take place in the novel, though he always hires other people to do the dirty work. He manipulates the other characters in the book in several ways, among others so called “protection”. He helps Vivian when Carmen shot Regan, but only for a lot of money.
Norris is the butler of the Sternwood family.
Regan is an Irish guy who was an officer in the IRA and was married to Vivian Sternwood. It appears he was a nice man who liked the General enough to endure hours in his greenhouses, talking and listening. During a big part of the novel he is just missing, but in the end it turns out that Carmen murdered him.
Carmen is the youngest daughter of General Sternwood and a complete freak. She pretends to be young and cute all the time, but if a man dares to refuse to have sex with her, she has no problem in killing him. She lets men like Geiger play weird games with her and make nude pictures, drinks to much, uses the wrong stuff and always gets away with it because others protect her and because she is rich. She killed Regan and attempts to kill Marlowe, because both refused to have sex with her.
Sternwood, General Guy
The General is a rich, old, dying widower with two loose daughters. He took a fancy in his son in law, Regan, and is sad that the guy left the family without a word or anything about his present whereabouts. He hires Philip to get rid of a blackmailer and eventually asks Philip to find Regan for him. Because of his old age and apparent illness, he is always cold, so he keeps his own tropical greenhouses with orchids, where he sits the entire day to have some idea of warmth in his bones.
Vivian is the eldest daughter of General Sternwood. She has been married twice before she married Terrance Regan, but it’s a loveless marriage, until he suddenly disappears. She plays roulette quite frequently and with large amounts of money. She is the one who asked Eddie Mars for help when Carmen shot her husband, because she did not want that the police would get Carmen, since Carmen is a mentally ill person.
Owen was the Sternwood chauffeur who had fallen in love with Carmen. He killed Geiger because he saw the games Geiger played with Carmen and caught him taking nude pictures of her. It is uncertain whether he committed suicide or is killed.
Time and place
This story takes place in the USA, somewhere in the 1920’s or 1930’s.
Raymond Chandler has a easy to read style of writing. Sentences are of a nice length, not to many difficult words are used, there is a good balance between conversation and thoughts, and there aren’t too many endless descriptions of the surrounding. He has a nice, easy and flowing style of writing.
The entire story is told from the perspective of Philip Marlowe, the main character. In Dutch we would say that the book is written from “ik-verteller” perspective.
Themes and motives
In the novel, several themes and motives are recognizable. I’d like to point out one theme: the corruption of the American society. During the story, a lot of characters are presented, and most of them are corrupt and money-hungry. Geiger, Mars, Canino, Agnes and Brody are just a couple of them, all hungry for (more) money and corrupt in their ways of getting that money and making sure now one knows about them getting their money that way. For instance: in the book it is actually said that there was a link between Geigers business in erotic books and the police allowing him to.
About the autor
Raymond Thornton Chandler (July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959) was one of America’s greatest and most influential writers. He started writing when he lost his job as an oil company executive just before the Great Depression. His writing had an immense stylistic influence upon the modern private detective story.
I really liked this book. It is not that thick, is written in a nice, easy style of writing and has some really good and unexpected turns in the plot. I would really recommend this book.
Let op! Er is ook een Nederlandse versie van dit verslag.
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