The Big Sleep (1939) is a hardboiled crime novel by Raymond Chandler, the first in his acclaimed series about detective Philip Marlowe. The work has been adapted twice into film, once in 1946 and again in 1978.
The story is noted for its complexity, with many characters double-crossing each other and many secrets being exposed throughout the narrative. The title is a euphemism for death; it refers to a rumination in the book about "sleeping the big sleep", and is not descriptive of the plot.
In 2005, Time magazine included the novel in its 100 Best Novels published after 1923.
Private investigator Philip Marlowe is called to the mansion of the elderly and paraplegic General Sternwood, who asks Marlowe to deal with a blackmailer Arthur Gwynn Geiger, apparently a purveyor of rare books. Geiger is involved with the General's daughter Carmen, and makes her sign promissory notes. Before Marlowe leaves, Vivian, the General's other daughter, queries Marlowe about the nature of his visit. She is under the impression that he is being hired to look for her husband, Rusty Regan, who disappeared about a month before.
Marlowe visits Geiger's bookshop, where he discovers that the assistant, Agnes, knows nothing about rare books. While he is waiting, a customer visits the back room of the store and leaves with a book. After following him and taking the book, Marlowe deduces that Geiger loans pornography, and then blackmails his customers. Marlowe goes back to the store to see Geiger leaving, and follows him to his house. After some time, he hears gunshots and a woman's scream. He breaks his way into the house and finds Geiger dead on the floor in front of a camera. Carmen is posing naked and drugged. He takes Carmen home without calling the police. When he returns to the scene, the body has been removed.
The next morning Bernie Ohls, an investigator for the DA, calls to tell Marlowe that the Sternwoods's chauffeur, Owen Taylor, has been found dead in the harbor. He apparently drove off the pier and drowned, but the doctor suspects the cause of death could be a blow to the head. Marlowe visits the bookstore again, and finds that the books are being relocated to the premises of Joe Brody, a former lover of Carmen who had been paid by General Sternwood to leave her alone. Marlowe then goes to his office, and finds Vivian waiting for him. She informs him that an anonymous woman is trying to extort her for Carmen's nude photos. Visiting the crime scene a third time, Marlowe finds Carmen looking for the pictures. They are interrupted by Eddie Mars, a gangster who runs a local casino, claiming to be Geiger's landlord.
Marlowe visits Joe Brody, whom he believes has the compromising photos of Carmen. Brody, along with Agnes, is trying to take over Geiger's business, including the blackmail. Carmen arrives with a gun, extremely agitated. She shoots at Brody but misses him. Marlowe confiscates the gun and tells her to go home. Marlowe questions Brody who describes seeing Owen Taylor leave the scene of Geiger's murder, and how he chased and caught up with Taylor, then knocked him out and took the photos of Carmen from him, but he denies killing Taylor. Another caller knocks at the door and asks for Brody. Brody goes to the door but is shot dead before he can open it. Marlowe runs after the caller, captures him, and recognizes him as the other assistant from Geiger's store. The young man is Carol Lundgren, and Marlowe deduces that he's Geiger's homosexual lover who shot Brody in revenge, mistakenly believing him to have murdered Geiger. Lundgren had moved Geiger's body into the garage and later to another room and laid it out with black candles. Marlowe hands Lundgren over to Bernie Ohls at the DA's office.
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